When the oldest of my first four children was in elementary school, I found myself wanting to be “that mom.” The confident mom who knew everyone and everything about school, but I traveled a lot and was building a business so I wasn’t able to be involved nearly as much as I would have liked. I turned to writing checks to fill the void, but it wasn’t enough so I made some time.

A few years later, it was Open House night, and I was wearing a dress and a casual jean jacket. My husband urged me to take off my jacket. He knew I was to receive an honorary service award and he thought that I’d want to accept the award sans jacket. Little did he know that something as seemingly inconsequential as a piece of clothing would soon prompt an ever-evolving history of community service.

That night I fastened my first award pin to the collar of my jean jacket, starting a long tradition of adorning my jean jacket collar each time I received a pin for service or involvement. It became a natural action for me and was a “private joke” for this fashion maven — one that many of my friends came to know as the bling on my collar grew.

With the acceptance of that first pin, it awakened my drive to always be doing, to always be connecting. I was bitten by the “service bug,” and found myself getting more involved in a variety of school district projects and committees ranging from homework policy change and working up to be chairperson of the District Advisory Council to serving as a founding board member of Conejo Schools Foundation. Currently my jacket collar has two dozen pins fastened to it, including PTA Honorary Service Awards, the Ventura County Chapter of the National Association of Women Business Owners and a Rotary Paul Harris Fellow. I love that I’m running out of space.

I use the jacket as a visual reminder that relationships matter, community service matters and doing more than you think you can matters. It’s not only good for you, it’s good for your business.

Through my years at Mustang Marketing, I’ve found it’s no secret that an essential quality of any successful business lies within its ability to not only forge new relationships, but to maintain and grow them as well. I consider myself a people person. I like to meet people and I like to have friends. This has naturally led me to develop relationships and friendships, not only locally, but state and nationwide. And, as you’ll come to learn, it’s amazing what you can accomplish with People. (Pun intended as my work was featured in an article in the magazine about homework policy change, which lead to more connections.)

As a trustee for the Ventura County Community College District, I recall a recent panel with other elected women, including Assemblymember Jacqui Irwin. When asked the traditional question of how we got started, I held up an elementary school year book. Jacqui and I were PTA moms together. We later worked together to secure city funding to the tune of $3.3 million for our three local high school stadiums. Years later, we are still good friends and our separate paths in service have often entwined as we each continue to serve our community. Each friendship I’ve forged has been just that — a friendship first. And with the friendships and relationships I’ve developed all throughout my life, my network of support has grown tremendously in ways that have had an impactful effect on not only the person I am, but the growth of the company I’ll be taking full ownership of at the end of 2019.

It’s no secret that in order to run a successful marketing firm, you have to be able to network and connect with people. You have to build trust and do so in a meaningful way. Marketing and networking isn’t about using connections to get to the next level; it’s about finding how you can help one another both achieve goals. A relationship should be built on mutual respect and the support of both parties finding success.

At Mustang, it’s extremely important to me that each of the clients we accept are clients that we can develop strong relationships with, based on trust and respect. In order to develop long-term marketing plans and identify company goals for our clients, it’s important that we take the time to get to know each other, understand our clients’ needs and incorporate that information into a strategy that will work for each individual client. This is why we make sure that consistent in-person meetings are part of our agreements with those we work with.

Developing a strategic marketing plan is so much more than determining different vehicles to share your messaging. It’s truly understanding the motivation behind the company and the vision, so that we’re on the same page, identifying the true goals and best plans to achieve them. This understanding is cultivated through meaningful relationships.

Each time I view the pins on my jacket, I remember the many relationships I’ve developed and people I’ve collaborated with along the way. Have you gone out and gotten your own jean jacket yet?

Dianne McKay is a partner at Mustang Marketing in Thousand Oaks.