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One thing that is key to your success as a small business owner is the ability to build relationships with other people. It’s doubtful you’ll be successful if you hunker down and shut yourself off from the world. It’s a given that your success is dependent on you, but it’s not quite that simple.
“It’s good to have a healthy sense of self-respect, but don’t take it too far,” says Ty Freyvogel, author of ‘It’s Not Your Smarts, It’s Your Schmooze,’ ‘Seize the Century!,’ and founder of MakingSenseOfYourBusiness.com. “The going-it-alone mentality may cause you to forget the employees, vendors, customers, and others who help keep your business running smoothly. Not only should you make it a point to strengthen these critical relationships, you should make it New Year’s Resolution #1.”
To help you put that into action, Freyvogel offers ten ways you can start strengthening your business relationships in the upcoming year.
- Learn as much as you can about everyone you work with. Then, act on that knowledge. You need to know as much as possible about everyone from your customers to your vendors to your employees so that when their needs change, you can be there to provide them with what they need to stay happy with your business.
- Treat your vendors like honorary employees. It’s important to nurture relationships with those people who aren’t necessarily working for you but who service you or your company regularly. This can mean anyone from the package delivery guy who stops by every day to the materials supplier who keeps your warehouse stocked to the designer who keeps your website updated.
- Know everyone’s birthday. You might be thinking, How much of a difference will saying “Happy birthday” really make? Well, the answer is a big one. People love to be acknowledged no matter the reason. And in a world where everyone is so wrapped up in their own lives, getting a happy birthday wish from the people you regularly come into contact with is becoming a rarity.
- Encourage a sense of ownership among your employees. Whether it comes from having a voice in major decisions, being able to work directly with clients, or actually owning stock, a sense of ownership will go a long way toward creating strong ties between your employees and your business. Inspiring your employees to love your business as much as you do will strengthen your company’s foundation and your business will be that much more likely to survive setbacks and grow to great heights.
- Have one-on-one conversations with your customers to find out what you can do better. Most of the time unsatisfied customers don’t approach you with a detailed list of the things they’d like for you to improve on. They just leave you for one of your better-equipped competitors. Therefore, you must set aside some time to ask them what they need from you.
- Make your start-up loan payments on time, no matter what. Always have enough money in your account to make your monthly loan payments when they’re due. It’s also a good idea to set up a separate emergency account and make sure you put something in it every month — someday you’ll be glad you did. You don’t want to gain a reputation with your bank as someone who doesn’t make loan payments on time. Staying close to your bankers can also help you secure your finances. Set up a safety system with them to ensure that all of your deposits are going through in a timely manner.
- Contact your mentors frequently. Think about those people who gave you valuable advice when you were trying to get your business off the ground, or that person you call immediately when you need advice. That person is your mentor, and you want to have a close relationship with her so that she is willing to go that extra mile to help you build your business.
- Constantly recognize a job well done. Everyone likes to be told they’ve done a good job on something, especially your employees. Typically, people who are interested in working for small businesses are driven more by recognition than by dollars. So whether you implement an Employee of the Month plaque or simply say, “Thanks for the great job!”, never miss an opportunity to give your employees the recognition they deserve. And when a client compliments an employee’s work, never steal the credit — indeed, be sure to pass the glowing review along to the rightful owner! And let everyone in the company know. It’s good for morale to know that recognition might be coming their way some time in the future.
- Be flexible with the people you count on. As a business owner you should know that rarely will a day turn out exactly how you had planned for it to. That is why it is so important for you to be flexible when those around you run into problems and need to change their schedules in a way that affects your business. Maybe one of your vendors needs to make a delivery earlier or later than normal or maybe an employee has to leave to take care of a family problem. Don’t sigh and act annoyed, says Freyvogel, even if it’s very inconvenient for you.
- Make sure employees have everything they need to do their jobs. Nothing frustrates a high-performing employee more than having to struggle to do his job because he doesn’t have the right computer program or because he must make do with faulty equipment.
Here’s the bottom line: no matter how determined, hardworking, and talented you may be, you simply can’t be a successful entrepreneur all by yourself. It takes a village to run a company. Never forgetting that fact is critical to your success.
“Always be on the lookout for ways to show your key players that you want to be their favorite business owner,” says Freyvogel. “Make sure they are getting as much out of the relationship as you are. Show them you care. Creating and nurturing positive business relationships will make being an entrepreneur a hugely rewarding experience. The more people who care about you and your business, the easier it will be for you to maintain your company’s success in 2008 and in the years to come.”