We’ve discussed how to come up with ideas, generate passion, plan out your road map, and what business type would be best for your business, but one thing that cannot be overlooked when it comes to business is relationships. The personal and professional interactions that you encounter daily play a huge role in the success of your business and you should focus on building them whenever you can.
In business, you’re reputation precedes you more than you’ll ever know. How people perceive you before they even interact with you can make or break certain deals and, depending on your industry, can cause you to sink or swim. Relationships can even open up new avenues that you never even realized existed. These can take your business to the next level and really get you over the top.
In my line of business, the reputation of the owner, the consistency of the food, and the satisfaction of the customer are everything. The service industry demands that the owner or manager provides a satisfactory experience in every interaction with customers, vendors, and employees, or it will just not work. Each interaction we have with the people we work with gives us the opportunity to build our reputation and goodwill amongst them. Think of each interaction as chance to make a deposit into the trust bank.
When the people surrounding your business know they can trust you as the owner and rely on your business when they need it, you will become extremely wealthy when it comes to loyalty and getting things done. We have worked extremely hard building a brand that people associate with consistency and reliability and we hear about it all the time. People know exactly what they’re going to get every time they walk through the door because our reputation precedes us. In a small tourist town like Joseph, word of mouth is everything and because of the relationships we’ve built with people, we are able to get a lot of referrals from locals and other business owners alike. These referrals have allowed us to expand our customer base and add to Old Town’s trust bank.
In the same vein, small town business relies even more heavily on relationships because everyone knows everyone. This can be a blessing and a curse, but if you play your cards right it can be incredibly rewarding in the end. We’ve gained the reputation of being one of the few places people know will always be open. They know that no matter what, Old Town will be open from 7 am to 2 pm every day of the week and I think customers are more comfortable with that. They can count on getting biscuits and gravy when they have a real hankering for it, and they know that when they walk in they’re going to get the same quality every time. Without that consistency and trust, they could just as easily frequent another establishment that does it better, but because we have that reputation, we have increased our business during the slowest time of the year.
Probably the all time best example of customer relations is Zappos.com. If you’re not familiar with the company, they are an online shoe retailer that heavily focuses on customer service and relationship management. Every single employee from the top down has to work in the customer service call center to truly get how serious the company is about quality customer relationship management. I won’t go into too much detail about them here, but I’ve linked a video about their company culture and mantra to give you a better idea of how they operate. In short, though, Zappos always attempts to WOW the customer. Every interaction they have with a customer is meant to be unforgettable and build the trust bank that they have with consumers. This brings them back time and time again to purchase the companies product.
These regular customers are key to survival in any industry whether it’s a small town restaurant, or a giant online shoe retailer. Long term customers or clients will make or break any venture and it is crucial in building trust with them. They get you through the hard times and provide a base to build from as you grow your small business.
The customer is probably the most obvious relationship that needs to be built, but another important trust system that is imperative is the connection you have with your vendors. These can be office supply companies, raw goods suppliers, or even janitorial services. To them, you are the customer and they will work hard to build customer relations with you. You as the end user need to build a vendor relationship with them.
In the case of Old Town, our number one vendor relationship is with our food servicers. We draw from various different suppliers for different products, but every single one of them is as important as the others. Without them we have no food to provide to the end consumer. Having a good relationship with them ensures that we get what we need when we need it and with as few obstacles as possible in the process.
For the big vendors that we use the sales representatives are our major contacts with the company. To us they are the company they represent and they are the ones who fight to get us what we need. The relationship with them is based entirely on trust and that goes both ways. We trust that they will get us the product we need, and they trust that we’ll pay on time and continue to do business with them down the road. If either party breaks that unspoken bond, then their can be consequences. If we don’t get what we want from one of them, we can just as easily get it from somewhere else.
With vendors you don’t always have to keep things wonderful and happy 100% of the time. It is important to keep each other honest and not be afraid to push back if you feel they aren’t giving you what you need. There have been countless times in the past year that we’ve had to get after sales reps about not getting us the product we wanted and we’ve switched product from one company to another. It keeps them on their toes and allows you to get the best deal possible.
An Aside on Delivery Drivers
I will say, however, that one particular faction of vendors that you should get in good with is your delivery drivers. They are amazing and can get things done that can take entirely too long if you go through the sales reps. Our delivery guys have solved problems on the fly way more times than I could begin to tell you. One of our delivery guys is so good to us that he takes the time to make sure the product is exactly where we want it and even rotates some of our inventory for us so that we use it in the proper order. These individuals are great and I urge you to do anything to get on their good side.
Probably the least obvious relationship that you need to build is one with your competitors. It may seem like the prime directive is to seek out and destroy the competition when, in reality, that’s the opposite of what you want to do. Having an amicable relationship with your competitors allows you distinct advantages when it comes to getting things done.
Think of the old expression,”A rising tide raises all ships.” It really is true. Having competition in your market keeps everyone honest and really allows all competitors to benefit. It forces everyone to put out the best product they can and actually draws in more customers in the process. The end consumer is more satisfied with what you’re putting out and both you and the competition gain when it comes to the trust bank.
Another added bonus is that your competitors, often times, carry similar raws goods as you and in an emergency they can loan you product that you need to get through the day. However, if you have the reputation of not being a team player, they will likely say, “Sorry about your luck,” and be on their merry way taking your customers with them. There have been numerous times when we’ve had to borrow product from other restaurants and other restaurants have borrow product from us. It pays to have that relationship and will truly benefit everyone in the long run.
What’s more is that by being friendly with the competition you can actually open up opportunities for alliances you didn’t know were there. Whether it be promoting a cause or coming up with a joint product, a good relationship can give your company access to a whole new pool of information and consumers. Actually, sometimes promoting other companies helps your business in the end too. Here is a great article on how promoting other companies can actually benefit you in the end.
The perfect example of this idea goes back to Zappos. Customer service representatives go the extra mile to make things easier for the customer and one of those things is referring them to other websites to buy shoes. If Zappos didn’t have it, they would find it and refer the customer to whomever carried it. In doing so, the customers felt a debt of gratitude toward Zappos and caused them to come back the next time they were looking for shoes. They had the attitude of lose the battle, win the war, and it paid off as Zappos eventually built such a consumer base that they were purchased by Amazon; talk about a win.
Regardless of the size of your company in the beginning, you’re bound to have employees eventually. How you hire, and who you hire can have an enormous impact on your company. Creating a company culture that gives employees satisfaction in what they do will have a huge impact on all other relationships surrounding your company. If an employee feels like they are appreciated and love what they do, they are far more likely to go the extra mile to make everyone else happy.
We strive to give our employees every opportunity to be happy as we can. Obviously there are going to be times when you need them to do something hard, but if you treat them with respect and lead by example, they are more likely going to be willing to carry out whatever needs to be done. Olivia and I work incredibly hard to make things easier for our employees. Whether it be covering shifts, or helping them with advances on their paychecks, we make every effort we can to get them what they need. In return, we have found that we have extremely loyal employees and have had fairly low turnover in the past year.
The trust between an employer and an employee is absolutely paramount. If you know you can trust them, and they can trust you, you’re going to get a whole heck of a lot more done than you would otherwise. Sometimes you need to push them a little and light a fire under their butts, but if they know you’ve got their back you usually don’t need to. Inspire them to get things done instead of being a driving boss. I’m going to have an entire blog post dedicated to the difference between being a boss and being a leader, but for now I’ll just say that it is much easier to inspire passion in others than to get them to do something they don’t want to do by yelling.
We’re going to go back to our running example of Zappos to really sum up the idea of employee relationships and here is a video that highlights what I mean perfectly:
When it comes to your small business, relationships are vital to its success. Whether it’s customers, vendors, employees, or competitors, building trust amongst them plays a pivotal role in how your company operates. You have to make daily deposits into your trust bank and know that your reputation precedes you in every interaction you have with others. You represent your company both during business hours and in your free time. Always keep this in the back of your mind and you’ll be set on the road to success.