Anyone with a bit of business sense will recognize the importance of building and maintaining good working relationships.
These relationships are essential for smooth business operations, being able to deal with difficult partnerships more easily, and because a good reputation is key for attracting stakeholders on all levels.
Business relationships tend to be transactional in nature, and if we like the people we are doing business with, then all the better. There is however, a grey area in which certain business relationships operate, which stand the risk of making transactions notoriously awkward in nature even when the relationship is a good one. This grey area is the one in which we undertake business transactions, with personal contacts. There aren’t many in business who haven’t outsourced some work to a personal contact, hired someone they knew through personal contacts, had gotten business from or through a personal connection and so on. And with that personal connection, comes a number of expectations, or perceived expectations on both sides which can make business transactions more complicated. Being hesitant about asking for payment, giving discounts in excess of that which would be offered to even the best of customers, a reluctance to criticize sub-standard work, and agonizing over how to address such matters in a way that does not damage the personal relationship are just some of the challenges that come within the territory. It really can be a minefield!
Whilst I am a businesswoman, I also consider myself to be a people’s person. I enjoy connecting with people and develop personal relationships fairly easily, and this is perhaps why I am very guilty of developing business relationships with personal contacts, and have had to learn the hard way that in order to build and maintain business relationships with these contacts, I needed a strategy. This has been a strategy which I’ve employed even when it was difficult, and it is something which now works very well for me. I’m going to share this quick strategy with you, and hope that it will prove useful in helping you avoid some of the pitfalls of engaging in business relationships with personal contacts, if you have chosen to do so.
1.Think about what you stand to lose
Think carefully about the relationship and what you stand to lose personally if the business relationship was to affect the personal one. If you are certain that there will be no negative outcome, or that any negative outcome is one that you are prepared to accept, then move on to further considerations.
2. Consider the value that will be offered by your personal contact
Is this something that is needed or wanted? It does not matter whether it is essential or desirable, think carefully of the business case for it. If there is sufficient business reason, then proceed to the next step.
3. Think about terms and remuneration
When deciding on terms, you may not wish to employ the same strict terms you would for other business transactions, but you do need to decide on terms, and make these known. I find it particularly useful to have a direct conversation, pointing out that while I acknowledge that there is a personal relationship, during the period when work is being done, there will be certain expectations. I specify what outcomes are required, and highlight that I wouldn’t want our personal relationship to be affected so if there was any chance the outcomes couldn’t be met, then it was best to renegotiate at the outset. I also find it useful to make sure that my personal contact knows that during business transactions, I would be ‘wearing my business hat’ and that a professional exchange could be expected, rather than a personal one. This may seem like a strange conversation to have, but believe me, it makes matters a lot easier thereafter. Your personal contact may very well feel that they don’t want to work in this way, but that would raise questions as to why, if they could actually deliver, then there is no reason for hesitation. It’s important to emphasize though, that these discussions are towards the end of protecting your personal relationships, so it’s important to go about them sensitively.
4. Decide on costs and pricing
If the terms you decided, and perhaps negotiated on, are acceptable, then be sure to have the conversations around cost and pricing. It may be difficult taking payment from friends, and at times there may be the expectation that if your friends are charging you then they should apply ‘mates rates’ but I urge you to base your pricing and payment on value and market rates. It is completely acceptable to offer discounts, but set yourself a standard discounted amount that you apply. Be careful not to undervalue your worth, or that of your personal contacts, because what initially may be seen as a favor, could very quickly turn into the impression that good nature is being taken advantage of. Now by no means I am saying that favors can’t be done if you choose to, but set limits, make these known and always think of long-term implications.
The arena of business relationships with personal contacts is a complex one, and it’s worth recognizing that not all personal relationships can translate into business ones. You’ll find, however, that having a strategy in place which includes agreeing terms and conditions, and emphasizing mutual respect and value, will go a long way to ensuring the business outcomes you want, whilst protecting your personal relationships.
(c) 2015, Noleen Mariapppen