All businesses, large and small, at their core are really built around relationships. Your relationships as a small business owner include those with customers, vendors, employees, mentors and your friends and family. Where people are involved, there are always unique challenges and being successful requires that you manage these relationships well and identify and solve problems early.

Maintaining an open and transparent work environment fosters strong relationships. When you are honest and respectful, you are less likely to be challenged when difficulties arrive with a vendor or customer. People must be able to speak with you freely for your relationship with them to remain strong.

Customer relations are the heart of your business. Staying in contact with your customers allows you to troubleshoot and put out small fires before they consume your business. Admitting error and correcting course quickly actually increase loyalty versus making no errors at all! The old adage “the customer is always right” mostly stands and it is important that, at minimum, they feel that way.

Vendors can be a source of frustration for small business owners. Why? Because their issues often cause problems for your customers who do not want to hear excuses. Be up front with vendors about your expectations. When addressing a problem like late product delivery with a vendor, explain how it impacted you and the customer. Don’t let small frustrations build to the point of anger. If problems continue, shop around early for a new vendor.

Your employees support you and your customers, as well as provide positive word-of-mouth marketing when they are happy. Managing these relationships are crucial. One unhappy employee can create a negative work environment for everyone. Be open to listening to concerns and problems and let them know how they fit into the success of your business.

To keep your team happy, provide them with challenges, rewards (which aren’t always monetary) and flexibility. Sometimes, however, a poor hiring decision was made or an employee is suffering through performance issues that are not work-related. If they continually impact your business, the rest of your team and customers negatively, you may need to end the work relationship. By following your human resource policies and employment law, you can do so without worry and know that it was the right decision.

Your friends and family are affected by your business, though we often forget this. Small business owners can be consumed by their business which eats up much of your free time. If you can, let them know before starting a new venture what your schedule will look like. Don’t whitewash it! New businesses take years to get firmly established. You do, however, need to set strong boundaries around your time and delegate appropriately when possible. Be available for your friends and family to discuss their concerns with you.

Taking care of all of your business relationships, the obvious and the less so, is a part of successful business management. Be aware of subtle cues and respond quickly. Appreciate those who support you and you will find your daily work life goes much more smoothly.


by Steven Schlagel – October 26, 2009