How to establish productive relationships with your business partners

No business is an island. Vendors, clients and associates play crucial roles in the functioning of any company. And mutually beneficial relationships with those groups will help keep your business running smoothly and efficiently.

Any association, however, can become stagnant. Therefore, consider this article to be a form of relationship counseling for entrepreneurs.

1. Keep the lines of communication active

To paraphrase Billy Joel, tell them about it. A foundation for any business relationship — or any personal relationship — is regularly checking in with the other party. If you have questions, concerns or even complaints, you must feel free to express them respectfully yet candidly.

At the outset, tell your business partners your corporate priorities, your expectations and what you won’t accept (late shipments, for instance).

Learn the names and faces of all your partners, too. After all, you never know when they might drop by the office to say hello.

Of course, with advanced business communication technologies like cloud-based mobile applications and VoIP, you can speak to your partners wherever you are. In fact, whenever you have a free moment, you might pick up a mobile device and briefly video conference with someone you haven’t spoken to in a while.

When your partners feel comfortable talking to you, you might get privileged information and advance notice about price increases, policy changes and so on.

2. Treat associates as you’d like to be treated

Yes, the Golden Rule can apply to business. Having a good relationship means being a good partner. Thus, live up to your agreements, and don’t try to harass vendors into lowering their prices. Not cool!

Also, you could occasionally ask your business partners for advice in their areas of specialty. Doing so will probably flatter them and make them realize that you value their input.

In addition, let your associates know that you can act as a resource if they have questions about your fields of expertise. They’re sure to appreciate the offer, and it can lead to a more trusting alliance.

Being dependable boosts your professional reputation. That makes it easier to secure great business partners in the future.

3. Know when to break it off

It’s true what they say about corporate relationships. They’re not personal; they’re business. If a certain alliance no longer makes sense for your brand, end it — amicably if possible, but as soon as you can.

Sure, you should definitely seek long-term partnerships whenever possible. It’s not good business practice to, say, keep switching vendors just to save small amounts of money.

Nevertheless, it’s wise to keep soliciting bids and comparing prices. If you discover a reputable vendor that’s significantly cheaper, a switch is in your interest.

Also, keep systematically measuring the results that you get from your partners. Are they maintaining their standards? Are they meeting their targets? Are they always transparent?

If you feel that one of your partners has declined in quality or become unresponsive, why put off finding someone new?

When your business relationships are healthy, it really pays off. You might receive insider tips, special discounts and other benefits. Just try to offer value in return, and be sure that your communications tools are in working order. That way, you’ll never miss a message.

So go ahead: Grab your phone and reach out to a partner right now. That conversation could lead to valuable insight, a great business idea or even a strengthened relationship.