Strong, long-term business relationships are an integral part of the success of any small business. It’s always easier to do business with people you know well – you have a basis of trust and understanding (and even friendship). You’re also likely to work better together if you know you’re in it for the long haul rather than for a one-off event.
Whether the loyal relationships are with your business vendors, your professional business advisors, or your customers and clients, you’re going to benefit from investing the time and energy you need to cultivate those relationships. Here are some tips to help build those strong foundations and help your long-term business relationships thrive.
Tip #1: Remember That You Reap What You Sow
This first tip may sound like common sense, but it bears stating: any new relationship takes time and energy to build and grow and you’re going to get out what you put in. From day one, demonstrate that you are reliable, respectful, committed, and trustworthy. Make your payments on time and in full. Keep the lines of communication open and make sure you’re aware of what they need and they’re aware of what you need. Treat the people you do business with the way that you want them to treat you. In a good long-term business relationship, they’ll treat you the same way. If they don’t, it may be time to consider moving on.
Tip #2: Ask for Help When You Need it
It may seem counterintuitive to say that admitting you’re at a loss for an answer can help you connect with others, but it’s true. We all love to be needed, and that applies to business relationships, as well. Your business network will grow over time if you learn how to ask for help when you need it.
Finding mentors and qualified advisors can help you circumvent common problems, learn the ropes of a new industry, and develop new skills. Develop your network by reaching out to those who can help you when you need it. Your mentors will appreciate sharing their expertise, and you’ll gain a trusted advisor.
Tip #3: Connect With Like-Minded People
It will easier for you to build long-term relationships if you’re authentic about who you are, what your business represents, and what your professional goals are. Be up front about it and you’ll have an easier time connecting with people that think the same way you do – that gives you a built-in foundation for a long-term business relationship.
At the same time, remember that you are going to have to work with people that may not share your mindset. You’ll need to work extra hard to connect with them and to always be respectful of their ideas.
Tip #4: Demonstrate Loyalty But Don’t Limit Yourself
One of the fundamental keys to long-term relationships is demonstrating loyalty. If you have a vendor that you’ve worked with for years, then they will be more likely to help you out and reward your loyalty with better service, special deals, or extra attention when you need it.
Say you’re running a bakery and you need a specialty pan, but your regular supplier doesn’t stock that product. Consider going to them first and asking if they can get ahold of it. If not, it’s ok to look somewhere else. In fact, your supplier may be able to refer you to someone who can get you those pans. And now, going forward, you can maintain your relationship with your long-time supplier and also build a relationship with the new vendor for specialty items.
Tip #5: Schedule Face-to Face Time
In today’s online social world, it can be hard to make real world connections. By setting up appointments for face-to-face for business meetings, you foster better communication and more personal relationships. If you have mentors, mentees, or other business colleagues, setting up a regular time on your calendar to get together for discussion can make a big difference in how you work together.
Going The Distance
Like any relationship, long-term business relationships take time, effort, and energy. But they’re also crucial for the success of your business. Put in the work to build those relationships and it will pay off. Let the people you work with know that you value them and respect them and they’ll treat you the same way. They’ll prioritize you and your business over others folks that haven’t put in the work. They’ll also be more willing to work with you when things come up, as they inevitably do. Someone you have a close working relationship with will be a lot more willing to give you a few extra days to make that last payment than a stranger would.
And in the end, those long-term business relationships will make your job more fun and fulfilling. You’re creating a network of like-minded people – people who will become friends as well as business partners.