Did you just relocate to Las Vegas? Are you finding it difficult to establish meaningful relationships? Is it becoming a challenge when meeting new people, and finding out that they are already connected to who they need to be connected to, making it nearly impossible to offer the service or product that you are marketing? Or, are you a longtime resident and struggling to make new contacts as you attempt to expand your professional network?
I was in my late 20s when I decided to make Las Vegas my new home. I was born and raised in Silicon Valley, and the glitz and glamour of Sin City looked appealing from afar. At the time, I was a business development banker, and worked in the financial district in San Francisco for over a decade. I purchased an 800-square-foot condo and my mortgage payment and association fees were nearly $3,000 a month. My then-fiancée (now wife) and I were looking for some financial relief. When I left the Bay Area, I felt like my relationships in the community were strong. I had an intimate circle of family, friends and business contacts. So why did I struggle during my first 15 years living in Las Vegas? I wanted to build solid relationships, and I always left empty-handed.
As a commercial lender and business relationship manager, my responsibility to my firm is to solicit and service prospective entrepreneurs and nonprofit leaders. This includes producing a variety of commercial loans, as well as generating and managing a portfolio of business and corresponding relationships, while seeking new accounts through calling efforts, marketing and referrals. I have always been passionate about people, and I enjoy playing this role while serving my community. Securing friendships with the local commercial and nonprofit space is just icing on the cake.
Las Vegas did catch me by surprise, though, initially. This town has a big-city feel with small-town vibes—everyone knows one another, it is a close-knit community. Looking back, I remember wishing I had taken a crash course in relationship building in an area like Southern Nevada before I decided to embark on a banking career in this new city, where I struggled to cultivate meaningful relationships. I hope here to share some of my key takeaways about how you can obtain meaningful relationships. To be clear: I have been in business development and relationship banking for nearly 30 years. Building genuine connections fosters trust, opens doors to collaboration and enhances overall well-being. Personal connections can positively impact both professional and personal aspects of life. My hope is that this sparks a conversation on building robust community relationships. Strengthening our bonds fosters unity, collaboration and a supportive environment for everyone.
There are three things that every relationship should be based on, which I wish I had known when I relocated here in 2004. I attended many random events, gathering as many business cards as possible. I remember at the time sitting in my car in the parking lot after an event ended, intent on emailing every person I met on my Blackberry. It was a standard message: “Great meeting you,” I would write. “Let’s stay connected and I’d love to grab a cup of coffee with you in the following weeks.” Although this sounded pleasant, it rarely gave me the results I was looking for.
Keep it real
Just be real and be you. Be purposeful: You are an interesting person. It might make sense to determine what your personal brand is first. Ask yourself, “What makes me different from my peers?” Creating your personal brand is important in a city like Las Vegas because so many people have transplanted here from other areas of the world. As a result, this is the ideal place to be different. Whether you are an entrepreneur or an employee, creating an authentic personal brand is so critical while engaging, and this is especially true when engaging with our business community.
Take inventory of what you want your personal brand to look like. Then, ensure moving forward that you are transparent and consistent in executing that brand across all social media platforms and while engaged in community efforts. What do you care most about in life? Communicate your values clearly, and consistently deliver on any promise you make. This will ensure that you are perceived genuine and will help build trust one relationship at a time. Also, find commonalities between your personal brand and your company brand. Be unapologetic in your marketing efforts. Your pictures, any discussions you have with others and any public speaking engagement that you do should always include a discussion around these values and culture.
Collaboration of values
Make sure you are clear on what your values are. Are they lined up with the company’s values? What drives you to perform at top levels each day? Do others on your team embrace these as well? It’s helpful when others in the community meet your colleagues, and can say with certainty that the values carried by each individual representing your company brand match up with your personal brand. This was an important lesson for me. And once I learned it, engaging with authenticity in the community became so much easier. As I got to know each new connection, I learned what made each person tick. Some said it was their family, others enjoyed working hard to serve their customer base. Others enjoyed the thrill of serving and causing a positive impact in the communities around them. I tend to focus on these non-negotiables during my discussions.
This became critical as I navigated through the number of people at events. I realized that focusing on securing as many business cards as possible wasn’t as important as I got more connected to the community. Rather, it was more important for me to find an individual or two who lined up with my values. I always found commonalities. I looked for people I could hang out with, and those were usually the ones who I was interested in following up with and having additional one-on-one time with. When I started focusing on quality over quantity, engaging with like-minded professionals became much more fun and so much easier.
The contacts I made became so powerful that eventually they would introduce me to other people in their network. They knew what was important to me, and seemed to always line me up with others who had similar values as mine. And eventually, my network grew stronger and referrals began to increase.
During my first decade in Las Vegas, I spent a majority of my time cold calling. I would blindly call as many people in the community as I could. I would generate various lead lists and hop on the phone and call prospective businesses with the goal of scheduling an appointment. I also attended as many functions as I could, ensuring that I worked the room, trying to connect with anyone who would speak with me.
My final cold calling efforts included canvassing—this involved finding an area in the city that was heavily concentrated with businesses. I would walk into the business and ask to speak with the owner. A gatekeeper, usually the receptionist, would take my business card. It was rare that I would meet the decision maker. These cold calling efforts were the least effective in establishing quality relationships, since there was no way to ensure the person I connected with would even benefit from a discussion with me. Since I never interacted with the prospective customer, my primary goal was to move from an interruption into a scheduled meeting, where I would have the prospect’s undivided attention.
Mutually beneficial relationships
My final suggestion to developing strong relationships is to put the focus on the person you are connecting with. It is pretty rare when I am meeting someone in the community that I speak about myself, unless I am asked questions specifically. I like to make the conversation about them. I pay attention to things that are important to the other person. Even during the discussion, I check in regularly to ensure that I understand important details about their values and goals. I look for ways to offer help to them and their organization. Would an introduction to someone in my network be helpful? My main focus is to make myself invaluable by offering assistance, advice and support to anyone in my network. This creates authenticity and shows that you are invested in the success of others.
I will also do everything I can to research whoever I am meeting with. During any follow-up meetings, find mutual connections that can help strengthen the relationship or things that the new contact is deeply passionate about.
In-house relationships are equally important. My relationships with my colleagues, and even my manager, became more important as I got older. My perceptions became important. Was a narrative that was being circulated internally accurate? This narrative was usually crafted by other people. And this is why the relationship premise is so critical. On my current team, we talk about our value openly on a regular basis. So much so that when we are looking to bring in any new teammates, we always want to be certain that they fit our culture. I have an open line of communication with my manager. We also ensure that our corporate office is in line with our team here in Southern Nevada.
Being authentic and finding commonalities in brand identities, values and goals can turn cold calls into mutually beneficial discussions. When relationships are based on a foundation of mutual understanding and shared principles, they are far stronger—and this applies to relationships between people, and between firms and their clients. Teaming up and being guided by human touch and introduction by people who are trusted makes this process much more pleasant for everyone involved. Now, how can this be accomplished? My idea is to focus on that personal touch and having discussions that have nothing to do with the daily grind of the business world. Consider sponsoring a community event, providing clients with entertainment, sending text messages or even cards to mark holidays and special occasions, or just sparking up a sincere and meaningful personal conversation. Las Vegas is a special place, and as we grow our community by being purposeful and collaborative, we can create a value-driven ecosystem.
Bernard Bermudez is a senior vice president, relationship manager at Enterprise Bank & Trust. He has nearly 30 years of experience in relationship banking.
This story originally appeared in Las Vegas Weekly.