Relationships aren’t just important when you start a new business, they should be fostered all the time. When things are busy and your business is running successfully, it’s easy to lose sight of the people who helped you get there — vendors, colleagues, clients and even your own employees. Nurturing and maintaining business relationships long after the ink dries on your business card is essential to the future of your business and the success of your brand. Often, it’s the strength in these steady, known relationships that will carry you through tight deadlines, challenging times and periods of uncertainty.
Depending on the nature of your work, it also can be important to build and maintain relationships with your — gasp — competition, or those you perceive as your competition. There can be opportunities to do business together, learn from one another or just be a resource. I’ve learned a lot of things throughout my long career in PR in Sacramento — everyone knows everyone, people want to work with those they know and trust, and you’re very likely to cross paths with former business associates at some point. These things apply to just about every business out there. I still do business with the PR and advertising agency where I worked more than 15 years ago. I’ve found the relationship to be very valuable because I know and respect them, trust the quality of the work they do and have always found them to be honest and credible. I like to think they think the same about me, and that’s why the relationship is still strong years later.
The reality is, business relationships are just like any other relationship. They require some effort to maintain and they must be mutually beneficial to last. You also need to be willing to give, share and support, not just take or receive. All of us have been on the receiving end of what seemed like a one-sided relationship — be it with a friend, a colleague or an employer. Not only does the sourness of the experience live on for a long time, it encourages us to think differently about how we interact (or whether we do) with that person or entity again in the future. Those uncertainties can make a business weak and put its potential for long term success at great risk.
Some people have relationships that are purely self-serving and choose not to nurture them for that reason. But most of the time, the fatal flaw is that business owners forget to make the time. But even when time is tight, it’s important to cultivate your relationships, or risk watching them fade away. Here are a few actions you can take to help build and maintain strong, lasting relationships.
It’s important to establish a solid business reputation if you want to succeed, be respected and trusted. People are more willing to work with someone who is reliable and truthful. You can build a positive reputation for yourself and your business by always being honest and keeping your word. Simple things like keeping scheduled appointments show that relationships are important and that your word means something.
Just because you run your own business doesn’t mean you have to pretend to be something, or someone, you aren’t. And, you should avoid doing business with people that do.
I’ve found the relationships that have been the most meaningful in my life — both personally and professionally, are the ones where I both like and respect the person I’m dealing with. I like them because they’re real — they don’t posture, they don’t condescend, and they spend more time trying to get to know me and how we can work together in a mutually beneficial way. Building business relationships should be natural and they should always be genuine.
It’s easy to forget to say thank you in business, and yet, it is incredibly important to the people you do business with. Trust me, they remember when you don’t and that can dramatically impact their willingness to do business with you again. It doesn’t take much to show your appreciation to those you work with, but it goes a long way. Next time customers or clients tell you they are happy with the product or service you provided, stop and thank them for trusting you with their business. Next time you get a referral from colleagues, send them a quick handwritten note thanking them for the opportunity. Next time employees do a really good job for you or put in extra effort when they aren’t required to — send a quick email and remind them how much they mean to your business.
Chances are, if you don’t make it a point to establish yourself as an honest, dependable and appreciative business owner and work hard to build and maintain your relationships — someone will come along and steal those relationships away from you, and by then, it’ll be too late for you to repair the damage.
This article originally appeared in the November 22, 2014 edition of the Sacramento Business Journal found here