Andrei Petrik is the CEO and Co-founder of NetHunt CRM. His sole mission is to bring more productivity to your working day.
As a leader, I find it’s good to break the cycle sometimes and let seeds of an idea grow and blossom. I like to let new things take priority for a bit while the old things take a backseat and enjoy the ride. Recently, I took a short hiatus and looked around, evaluated where I am and appreciated what I’ve got.
This time, my look around helped me appreciate something that I’ve always had but taken for granted: relationships. I’m talking about the relationships with those around me, particularly my team and my business peers as we grapple with small-business growth together. As a Software-as-a-Service business, another relationship stands out more than most: the one I hold with my customers.
Small businesses might not have the resources, reach or experience of larger ones, but I believe small businesses can still hold a huge advantage. After all, business is powered by the relationships we develop; we’re in complete control of them. As such, it’s time to address how improving those three relationship types — employee, community and customer relationships — can benefit you and your company.
Running a business is tough. As a leader, you have long days, huge responsibilities and perhaps even a nagging feeling that everything could come crashing down at any moment. Being part of a growing business is tough, too. Small-business employees are shapeshifters; they do everything and anything we need them to do. They’re the backbone of business growth, and they deserve to be treated as the vital part of the journey they are.
Don’t neglect employee relationships. Happy employees are your greatest asset. I believe happy marketers, for example, create happy materials, and happy salespeople catch happy customers. Employees are the frontline of your business, and they represent your brand to your audience. To me, time spent nurturing employee relationships is worth 10 times the time you could spend speaking to a lead on the phone.
Beyond simple team-building exercises and team trips down to the pub, employees should feel respected, listened to and appreciated at work. This requires instilling a facilitative, sharing working culture. Listen to the next person’s idea — whether it be about sales, marketing, development, internal processes or whatever else — as much as you expect them to listen to your own. Multiple perspectives offer a deeper pool of ideas, inspiration and expertise to draw upon.
For example, every so often, I’ll buy a couple of coffees and go for a walk in the park with, say, my editor. We talk about absolutely anything, from football to balancing an entrepreneurial lifestyle with being a dad. I tell him what I’m thinking so he can communicate it in his work. I talk to him, tell him my thoughts, and, in turn, he tells me how the business can express those thoughts and communicate them with our audience. We brainstorm, and we offer feedback on each other’s ideas. It’s all mutual.
I’m a big believer in building a strong business community. From my perspective, small businesses offer valuable ideas, drive and passion for the respective products they have, even with less staff than larger offices might have. The key is to share those attributes in honesty and with an open heart. Networking is an invaluable tool that can help with this and allow us to all grow together.
Social networking can be a good place to start. You can make connections on LinkedIn from the comfort of your easy-recline office chair. Still, making connections willy nilly and commenting, “Great share — bookmarked for later,” on someone’s posts doesn’t do anything for anybody. Networking involves embedding yourself in the business community and talking and listening in equal measure.
In other words, networking is like a big, mutual mentorship. Like the conversations with my editor, I put my ideas out there to understand whether they’re any good. I help others improve their business skills, which naturally improves my business skills. My community gives me contacts, ideas, product-growth opportunities for integrations, marketing-collaboration opportunities, brand awareness and more. When you dive into your community and put yourself out there, the rewards are limitless.
As a progressive business owner who wants even and organic business growth, I’d say that strong customer relationships are the result of strong employee and community relationships. As a SaaS provider who needs to pay the bills, my customer relationships matter more. I rely on their happiness and satisfaction to keep them on board, paying their subscription fee.
Your business success depends on your customers’ success. It’s as simple as that. If they want a feature implemented, go as far as you can to explore it as an opportunity. Perhaps you can offer extensive, ongoing demo sessions with their teams so they can get the most out of your product. At my company, we even check in on customers when we see their usage is down. We do everything we can to ensure they are successful. In turn, we are successful ourselves.
You can even ask for something in return beyond their monthly fee: user-generated content. There’s nothing quite like the word of a happy client to seal the deal for new customers. To do this, you can hold interviews with existing clients — the ones you have the best relationships with — to find out not only how they use your product but also how they run a business. Talk to them about life, the universe — everything. The goal is to build lasting relationships.
Better business relationships build better businesses. As a small-business owner, you don’t have to deal with the long command chains, bureaucracy and procedures of big business. You know everybody. By strengthening your relationships with all of those around you, you can build a stronger foundation for when you are a big business yourself.
With better business relationships, I believe the dream becomes reality.