Many of us are emerging from COVID-19 shutdowns with a greater appreciation of how important business relationships are to a company’s success. Read these tips on strengthening your relationships with your employees, vendors, customers and support networks.
Working Remotely Is No Longer the Future
Because the situation was forced on them with little warning, many businesses struggled to adapt to a remote workforce. It’s understandable if that created a negative first impression. But forward-thinking business leaders have since recognized that the remote-work model offers many advantages that they can retain once they resume normal operations. As Magnus Nicolin, CEO of Ansell, a major supplier of personal protective equipment, told the Wall Street Journal, “The way this company's going to be managed post-COVID is going to be quite different from the way we managed it before. We are probably going to be traveling less, because we've learned we can actually run this company virtually, quite nicely. We're probably going to have smaller offices, and the offices are going to primarily be for meetings and training and technical support and far less for sitting and doing your job. If our customer service teams can work from home with good system support, then why not let them?”
Why not, indeed? Things like reduced travel not only save the company money, but also valuable time. And for many team members, the ability to do most of their work from home, while also visiting the office periodically to reconnect with coworkers, is the best of both worlds. While the coronavirus lockdown has produced an obvious strain, it has also provided businesses a dress rehearsal for enacting sensible work-from-home (WFH) policies and effective methods to communicate with team members remotely.
Stay on Good Terms with Landlords, Vendors and Other Contractors
It’s common sense, as well as common courtesy, to honor the terms of your lease. That means not just paying on time, but also adhering to any restrictions regarding noise levels, parking, hours of operation, etc. Any business owner that had a strained relationship with a landlord suddenly found themselves in a very vulnerable position when a coronavirus-induced cash shortage left them unable to pay rent.
At the same time, being a responsible tenant doesn’t mean being a pushover. A good lease should benefit both parties. Because moving can be such a disruption, some business owners will tolerate landlords who fail to promptly deliver promised services, such as snow removal, or who hit them with regular rent increases, whether they’re warranted or not. Well, if that’s how your landlord treats you in good times, why would you think you could count on their support during a crisis like the coronavirus pandemic? If your landlord has needlessly made the strain of the COVID-19 outbreak worse, take your cue and move at the earliest opportunity.
The same goes for your relationships with vendors, independent contractors and everyone else with whom you do business. Reinforce your ties with those you could rely on during this crisis and weed out the rest.
Source a Backup Supply Chain
At first blush this might seem contrary to the advice in the previous section. Again, good business relationships work both ways. If you expect loyalty from your vendors, shouldn’t you be loyal to them, too?
Absolutely. To be clear, I’m not suggesting that you abandon a long-time vendor because a competitor offers you a slightly cheaper price. You should line up an alternative supplier in case your regular source can’t fill your order because of the kinds of supply-chain interruptions we’ve seen since the pandemic began.
Communicate With Your Customers
The biggest lesson here is to be transparent. Don’t make your customers work to get answers. Offer information about any changes in prices, the availability of products or services or hours of operation rather than waiting to be asked. If you have an email list, use it. Chances are your customers will understand if you tell them you need to close for a few days. Remember: It’s easier to retain an existing customer than to attain a new one.
Know Your Banker
Find a banker with whom you can establish a positive working relationship. Look beyond a low-interest rate offer to choose a bank you can depend on when your business needs extra support — handling a quick turnaround on establishing a line of credit or helping you navigate something like the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). Even if you only have a depository relationship with a bank, make sure they know who you are, and make sure you know the bank’s decision makers.
Keep Your Bookkeeper Up to Date
You need real-time financial insight in order to make informed decisions, especially in times of tremendous flux. For example, pre-COVID, few business leaders would have thought to budget for $0 in sales. Now we all appreciate the need to know what our fixed costs look like so we can meet them in the worst-case scenario of zero revenue for a month or longer.
Establish frequent meetings with your bookkeeper and controller so you can make sure they have the most up-to-date information about your business and can supply you with accurate financial data, analysis, and cash forecasting. With this information, you can plan for upcoming cash flow issues in your business.
Focus on Yourself and Your Family, Too
Finally, as a business owner, it’s admirable that you’re doing everything you can to support your employees. Just be sure not to overwork yourself to the point where you get sick, or to overlook the most important relationship you’ve got — the one with your family.