Who said, “You never have a shortage of money-just relationships?” Maybe I heard it in an audiobook, but I suspect it is left over in my brain from years of watching those with “connections” get ahead in life and business.
As a therapist-turned-consultant, one of my specialties is relationships. While my track record for saving marriages speaks for itself, as a coach, I’ve discovered my skills are equally valuable: I am REALLY good at saving the relationship between owner and business.
But the owner-business relationship is rarely the first one that entrepreneurs consider. Like most people, when problems arise, the first reaction is to look at others. And it’s a good thing they do because there are several relationships beyond the owner-business relationship that are fundamental to a successful business. Each deserves a closer look.
Team Relationships: You could spend countless hours researching what makes a good team, but no matter how many articles you read, it comes down to one simple truth: People want to know they matter. More specifically, they want to feel like their supervisor cares for them.
As we’ve all heard, “People don’t quit jobs, they quit bosses,” which is why this relationship comes in second only to the owner-business relationship. Strong supervisor-team relationships ensure team members feel valued. And an individual who feels like she matters will not only go the extra mile for you but will do her best to support everyone else on your staff.
Only a committed, cohesive team delivers authentic customer service stemming from empathy and passion for a cause. If your team doesn’t feel appreciated, you can guarantee clients will see right through the facade and take their dollars somewhere else.
Relationship with Community: No business exists in a vacuum; the community you serve is vital to your success. It’s up to you to connect with them and share your passion for what you do.
In my own community, one of the business owners who does this exceptionally well is Mark Smith of Midas of Richmond. Every single time you see one of his loaner cars, receive an email from him, or watch any of his advertisements, it is immediately obvious that he is passionate about serving the community that has supported his business and his team.
While the kind of exposure Midas of Richmond gets for all their community-focused efforts could be considered a form of advertising, the sharing that happens is not done in a boastful way to proclaim “we’re the best.” Rather than selling, Midas of Richmond markets by communicating their passion for serving their community. Do they get sales as a result, even though they’re not putting out sales messaging? Absolutely. Their efforts to support their community sparks a desire to return the favor in kind.
If I spend money with a business that I know is investing in our community, I actually feel good about my investment. It’s easy to think, “If they are this passionate about helping our community, the least I can do is allow them to help me with my car.” Suddenly, getting my oil changed just became a philanthropic gesture. Sure, I am serving myself by taking care of my car, but I am also making sure that 100 families have food this evening. I’m supporting the blood banks by making sure they have the funds they need to save lives. I’m making sure kids have a backpack full of school supplies to start the school year.
The lesson? Connect with your community, but not just to sell. Invest your time, energy, and resources into a cause you are passionate about, and showcase your passion and your efforts to those you serve. They will understand that you are in business not just to make money but to make a difference.
Relationships with Clients: Though often listed as a company’s top priority, client relationships cannot thrive without solid foundational relationships with self, team, and community. But once those pieces are in place, it’s time to show your clients how much you appreciate them.
The more a client feels like they have a positive, personal relationship with someone in your company, and the more they respect and connect with your brand and values, the more money they will be willing to invest in your product or service. Period. And, if you take care of them, the more potential they have to be an incredible referral source. See how this is good for business?
It is not just about customer service. It is about customer relationships.
Creating and maintaining this relationship can happen via electronic communication such as an email blast to thousands of clients, but it can also be done on a very intimate, one-on-one level. Personally, I see client relationships as ongoing and ever-evolving; I know my business grows and changes just as my clients expand and evolve. For that reason, I believe in a high level of connection and transparency, but no matter how you choose to invest your time and energy into developing a strong relationship with your ideal clients, I guarantee your business will thrive.
Relationships with Vendors: When it’s time to outsource, how do you choose who to work with? Vendor relationships are a huge topic for many of my clients. The first thing I tell them is to never shop based solely on price. Doing so can be damaging to every other relationship on this list. If you go with the cheapest vendor out there, and you offer an elite product or service, you likely will not receive the level of high-quality vendor support you need in order to keep standards high for your clients.
Think about how carefully you hired your team, ensuring they were aligned with your values and vision before agreeing to allow them on board. Your vendors should be given the same level of scrutiny. Before signing any new contracts, I like to test-drive the experience by calling the company’s customer service department, even though I don’t have an actual problem for them to solve. I’ll intentionally throw the customer service representative off by asking, “How do you like the company you work for?” I can’t tell you how many times I’ve learned way more about a company by asking this question than any amount of research or price comparison will ever tell me. And I’ve passed over plenty of vendors because of it.
While being selective with your vendors to protect your reputation is vital to maintaining your brand, it also pays to have great relationships with your vendors if you need special or bulk pricing, have a rush job or could use a little flexibility with the due date of an invoice. I have an amazing group of vendors that I work with, and with all of them, I’m on a first-name basis and have a direct line to a contact who can help me get things done almost immediately. Our vendors take care of me, my team, and my client’s thanks to strong relationships.
Relationships with Strategic Partners: Strategic partners are one of the best referral sources for any business, but the best strategic partner is not the one who sends you the most referrals. Much like vendor relationships, strategic partnerships are rarely given the attention and care they deserve.
I had a strategic partner who sent me a ton of referrals, but while I appreciated his attempt to send me leads, I quickly discovered they were all the wrong people. I recognized the problem was not the prospects themselves but that I had not spent enough time investing in our relationship for him to clearly identify and send me the kind of prospect I could serve. It was my fault he did not know who my ideal clients were, not his.
I ended up flying out to take him to lunch, and we spent the better part of the afternoon together. I did not tell him his referrals were horrible; instead, I focused on the goal of increasing clarity while building a stronger relationship. At the end of the day, he shared with me, “I really appreciate your time. And, I have a referral for you.” Before I could suggest that we pause with the referrals for the moment, he continued on, saying, “I think I need to become your client. I would be honored to work with you. Before today, I did not know how important it was to really connect with someone, rather than just focusing on what they needed. I want to understand how to grow my business with quality rather than quantity.”
Today, this strategic partner-turned-client sends me amazing referrals, and he is also working with some of my other incredible strategic partners who, just like me, are taking the time to build solid relationships with their clients in their areas of expertise. Because of how carefully I have built my relationship with them, I actually have received testimonials from prospects whose lives have been changed just because I introduced them to my strategic partners!
Relationships with Your Team’s Values: During a strategic planning session three years ago, I asked an impromptu question that I’d never posed before. After we’d clarified professional goals and timelines, I invited attendees to identify their individual goals and outcomes as well. If they increased productivity and reduced the number of missed shipments within the company, what would that mean for them personally?
One gentleman said, “I could go to a baseball game and not have to worry about my phone ringing with an angry client.” Another woman wrote down, “I could bring my kids to work and be proud of the impact I am making, rather than feeling like a cog in a machine that no one cares about.” As we went around the room, the facial expressions around the table changed. Almost as one, every person realized they were sitting at a table with not just coworkers but other humans, each of whom had a life and passions they were pursuing outside of the company.
Following our retreat, the company had a record-breaking year. When we debriefed at the end of the year, the group gave credit to two specific shifts. First, they were motivated by the clarity of seeing how their professional efforts helped fulfill their personal dreams. Secondly, they appreciated knowing their team saw them as people, not just the company’s human capital. As a result of these shifts, team members now asked each other for help with a spirit of empathy and compassion. They were more present in their interactions, and underlying resentment had dissolved. The whole dynamic of the company had changed.
Relationship with Yourself: As important as every relationship I’ve mentioned is to the success of your business, the relationship with yourself, as the owner of your business, is the single most important relationship there is. Sadly, it is also the most neglected relationship in most businesses.
I’ve seen far too many business owners lose themselves and compromise their core values while trying to build a business. And I get it: If you’re a kind, compassionate person, it’s easy to put yourself last. But as anyone who has ever ridden on an airplane knows, you’ve got to put the oxygen mask on yourselves first if you want to survive. The same is true in business, which is why I carefully arrange my schedule to keep me moving forward. (If you want to know more about how I leverage my time to run multiple businesses in 18 hours a week, read more here.)
Every week, without fail, I set aside time for personal development, which I call my self-care time. During self-care time, I invest in myself by working specifically on my own personal development because I know I am the most important resource to my business. Each week, I also reserve what I call CEO time. This is my opportunity to carefully reevaluate my big vision and my businesses, using the insights gained from my self-care time. In all my years of following this approach, not once have I regretted investing in myself. Every time I choose to invest in me, I receive a powerful, positive return on my investment.
Now before you start blaming yourself for your hectic schedule, I want to be clear that it’s surprisingly easy to lose your identity to your business when you do not have a strong sense of self and a plan for how to keep your goals, dreams, and personal needs aligned. If that is where you are, find someone who excels at guiding business owners through this discovery process. Invest in yourself by investing in that relationship, and then make a point to tell that person what a difference they made in your life.
I truly believe that when people get to know themselves better, take time to get clear on what they are passionate about, and invest in themselves by getting support to fulfill their passion in a way that supports their personal lifestyle, the world becomes a much better place. It all starts with one relationship: your relationship with you. You have the power to make this world a better place. I know you can. And I hope you do!