Every Time a Bell Rings...

By Mo Bunnell

Here is the secret area of margin: relationships.

We have talked over the last four articles about the importance of margin, having just a bit more than you need. And so far, we have talked about three different types of margin: strategic margin, measurable margin, and process margin.

But the most important type of margin is relationships. I am not a huge fan of “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” It implies expertise doesn’t matter, and I can tell you expertise does matter.

But it misses another point too. Knowing someone is helpful, of course, but it really is only half the battle. The other half is what do they think of you. Do they think of you positively? Would they say they are better off having known you? Have you been a giver to them, or a taker?

This is where margin in relationships comes in. Here is an example.

Take two people, completely equal in the other three areas of margin, and a bad thing just happened: their strategy for their technology start-up did not work out. They just ran out of funding and they are late on getting their product to market. With no revenue or funding in sight, it looks like the end. Five years of work down the drain.

Person A is a taker, someone that was always taking from their relationships. They only called when they need something, not keeping in touch. You know the type. Everything is all about them.

Person B is a giver, someone that is always there when you need an ear, someone that connects people together, someone that checks in proactively to see how you are doing. They add value in every interaction. Sometimes they add value by giving a new idea, others just by making you smile. They are authentic. They are about you. 

Person A is sunk. They have no relationship margin built up. Person B, however, will either find a way to save the start-up, or quickly find a new path. At the same time, Person B will likely be thinking about everyone else who will be impacted, not just themselves.

Relationship margin is magical. You cannot see it, but it is the powerful force that moves us all. My favorite two examples of not having or having margin come from the movie 'It’s a Wonderful Life'.

One of my favorite lines comes from Mr. Potter, who says, “George, I am an old man, and most people hate me. But I don't like them either so that makes it all even”. It is something sad, but true in its own way.

My other line comes what Clarence writes in the Bible he gives George: “Remember, George: no man is a failure who has friends."

None of us are either 100% Potter or 100% George. We are somewhere in between. The more we can invest in others, the more relationship margin we can build, the better off we will be.

Positive margin in our relationships might be invisible, but it is out there, working hard to help us every day. Invest in it heavily, always adding a bit more than you take, and people will come out of the woodwork to help you when you need it.

So, to conclude our five-part series on margin, I will leave all of you with this advice. Investing in your relationships is one of the most essential and powerful things you can do for yourself, in business and in life.