Recently, I’ve been trying to make a big change with party packages at my current non-profit. My goal by the end of the year is to actually have party income over the summer! Since our pool is indoors, and you can only really enjoy West Virginia outdoors during warm periods, that’s what people do. Down with the indoor pool! Most folks wander off and freeze their memberships and swim in a lake or at least an outdoor pool. Gotta get that tan in. Plus, our local outdoor pools are quite nice. I LOVE my Y, but even I’m outdoors.
So how do we make up that lost income? With membership holds, cancellations, and a reduction in parties overall, it can be a little bitter in the summer months. So I’ve been working on partnering with local businesses to try and get some cool stuff going. I started something called a Messy Fun party, which is where kids sorta just…make big messes and let us clean them up (you can see an example here, I blogged a little about it). That’s all internal though, and I have a blast making random playdoughs. Ha!
So I decided that we could also do bounce houses in our basketball gym. It rains here a lot in WV, and so setting up a bounce house indoors sounded like a fantastic idea! At least it would be an excellent backup plan for those who insisted on a bounce house (or who had kids who insisted on a bounce house…).
My original hookup kind of bowed out of the whole shindig, so I went to someone else that has been doing bounce houses and parties for over 20 years. He was mostly just a party supplier, but he had just opened up a retail location with bounce houses and fun prizes in the local mall. Most might view this as competition…I figured if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.
He seemed skeptical at first, but we had a good long conversation on the phone one day and started working on something. In the meantime, I got his phone number. He texted me pictures of what he had in mind. I friended him on Facebook and gave him unlimited view of the life I post there so that he could see I was in fact a real person. In turn, I got to see pictures of HIS family – an adorable trio of huskies.
We had trouble coming to an agreement because, well, let’s face it – a lot of the people you’re going to want to partner with don’t know you. The best deals are worked out between those who know one another because more trust is involved. So you have two choices: accept less than ideal terms, or…earn their trust.
My proposed first step of earning someone’s trust is this: ask, talk, negotiate and come to terms only with great compassion.
Not just compassion for the business, but compassion for them as a person. Compassion is the root of building deep and abiding trust. While you don’t have to have that sort of trust with everyone you work with, laying the foundations goes a long freakin’ way. In this case, my new associate’s pup had cancer, and a few weeks after I friended him, he was forced to put her to sleep. I learned the dog’s name. I liked and loved his photos. I left meaningful comments on the things he posted about her. I could feel his pain – these were his kids, his life, his loves. I learned how to spell his last name. The best part – I meant what I said every time I said something because I could relate to losing something I cherished. I stopped by his retail location and gave them money to let my kids play for an hour, and I chatted with him. I got to know him. He got to know my family.
I was raw. I was honest. I was supportive and I sent him a card when his dog died. Acknowledgement is such a powerful thing.
Today, he called me, and came to me on my terms. He threw out actual numbers; he said he really appreciated my kind words, and that he knew he could trust me. He knew that I would be honest with him (and I will be). I don’t do this for just anyone, he says. I don’t just give $10,000 things to just anyone on the block. I only do that with people I know I trust.
Notice he didn’t say “business he trusts” or “established business” or even “friend”. He said PERSON he trusts. I showed him the face behind the mask of a company; I showed him I’m a real boy and I’m not just made out of wood. He’s doing me a favor, even though he operates his business in the same niche I want to enter. Even though I don’t really know him – because I asked humbly, with great compassion.
You won’t always get what you want this way. Other people are allowed to say no. But at least you know you did your BEST, and you didn’t just read off some script to try and network. Usually scripts get you a permanent “no”. Compassion gives you a better chance at “yes” and a perhaps only a “no” currently.