I attended an event in the US last week, where I met fellow business professionals from around the world. At lunch, an acquaintance asked me about doing business in the Arab Gulf States. I discussed the changing business landscapes, and the emergence of notable international small and medium sized businesses (SMEs).
He then proceeded to say his impression based on what he had heard was that hard work didn’t really matter much. Getting things done, he said, is defined by one’s contacts and that 'wasta' or utilising influential connections to get things done, was the key ingredient behind a certain business’s growth.
I have to admit that I wasn’t very surprised by the gentleman’s comment. It’s a stereotypical image many people around the world have about people from our region, even though entrepreneurs and renowned business owners work hard to build and develop their businesses.
“Wasta” aside, the people you do know, and ones who you maintain constant contact with are crucial to your business’s success. My mentor once told me to conduct work with people I love to be around, and I’ve lived by his advice ever since.
I’m writing this column in a café designed by an acquaintance turned friend I met years ago. I got to know her through her sister, who helped me develop my fashion design business. I’ve seen her grow, and become a leading interior designer. Though I’ve worked with her on small media projects in the past, this is the first time where I will be working on a marketing project for her.
These are the kind of people you would like to conduct business with, people who you enjoy their company, and who appreciate your work. That doesn’t come easy. It takes time, and effort to develop the right connections.
Spontaneous opportunities like gaining a client after meeting them at an event or a direct request for business through one’s website are great. But that’s not always the case. Sometimes one needs to pay the bills, and be in business with people you may not like.
Learning how to nurture connections and invest in relationships with people whose company I enjoyed has helped me be successful. These kinds of relationships and the success that comes as a result of them are fruit of hard work, and investment.
Work schedules can get in the way of maintaining relationships. I found the best way to stay connected was to touch base with my contacts at the beginning of every quarter. I invite them for coffee or lunch, or call them if they’re not in town. I also make sure to invite them to relevant events, and send gift baskets and greetings on holidays and special occasions. I’ve pencilled this in my schedule. I’d check in on them from time to time, and I help them out whenever possible, such as connecting them to the right people.
My mother’s wise advice to invest time and effort into relationships for them to flourish stands true. My business is performing today successfully thanks to her and the advice of mentor.
Manar Al Hinai is an award-winning Emirati journalist and entrepreneur, who manages her marketing and communications company in Abu Dhabi