Five Critical Business Relationships Every Entrepreneur Must Nurture

But there is one big difference: while matrimony is all about maintaining a healthy relationship with another person, being married to a business is all about maintaining healthy (and profitable) relationships with several groups of people. In fact, there are five main relationships that distribution executives must nurture: relationships with customers, employees, vendors, bankers, and mentors.

Smart distribution executives never forget that their own success is intertwined with a complex network of other people and organizations. All of those relationships must be constantly tended and nurtured. Even though your interaction with each of these five groups will be different, your reason for creating positive relationships with them will be the same—building a successful business.

Entrepreneurs, here are the five most critical relationships to focus on and why your efforts with these people and organizations can make or break your business:

CUSTOMERS Of course, any foodservice distributor wants his customers to be happy. But you need to ask yourself, "Am I really going that extra mile to ensure that my customers have the ultimate positive experience?"

Particularly if you're a distribution executive, your customers are your bread and butter. Not only do you want them to be so happy with your service that they come back, you also want them to go tell someone else that they loved the experience they had with your business. Learn as much as you can about your customers, so that when their needs change, you can be the one to provide them with the new services they need—not one of your competitors.

Constantly ask them, "How can we continue to provide value for your company?" They'll appreciate your efforts to help them be as successful as possible. Always treat them with the utmost respect and do everything in your power to make them happy. That may mean anything from throwing them the occasional discount that's "especially for them" to remembering their kids' birthdays. Take care of all of the little things and not only will your customers be coming back, but they'll be bringing their friends along.

EMPLOYEES The importance of seeking out the most dedicated, honest, and passionate employees you can find can't be stressed enough. After all, you have to trust these people to serve your customers, protect your brand, and help your company grow.

When you have found the best employees for your business, do everything in your power to hold onto them. Your employees are the face of your organization when you aren't there. So they must feel like they have a stake in the business. Encourage a sense of ownership among your employees. There's no better way to keep them happy than by giving them the recognition they deserve.

Have one-on-one conversations with each of your employees on a regular basis to let them share their problems with you and to give you a chance to recognize their good work. Make sure you find out which jobs within the organization they are the most passionate about and put the right people in those positions. Remember, passion equates to hard work.

Nurturing your employees to love your business as much as you do will strengthen your company's foundation—and your business will be that much more likely to survive setbacks and grow to great heights.

VENDORS It's important to nurture relationships with those people who aren't necessarily working for you but who service you or your company regularly. This can mean anyone from the package delivery guy who stops by every day to the materials supplier who keeps your warehouse stocked to the designer who keeps your website updated.

Think of your vendors as "honorary employees." Show them that you appreciate what they do for you and also that you care about them and their companies. Get their e-mail addresses and cell phone numbers and stay in touch with them. You never know when an emergency might arise in which you could use their help.

Your company may not always grow 10% a year, and you may have to ask for an extra 30-60 days to make your payment. If you already have a good relationship with them, they will be more willing to give you extra time and to work with you to get back on track. Never treat them like they are serving you. Always acknowledge when they have gone above and beyond the call of duty to make you happy. It's also important that you make sure your vendors are getting as much value out of their relationship with you as you are with them.

BANKERS At the beginning of your foodservice distribution venture, it's likely that you will require a start-up loan of some kind. Therefore, the best way to nurture your banker is to make sure you always have enough money in your account to make your monthly loan payments on time.

With my businesses, I always made sure I had some emergency cash saved up to use in case I had a rough month. You don't want to gain a reputation with your bank as someone who doesn't make loan payments on time. Staying close to your bankers can also help you secure your finances. Make sure you set up a safety system with them to ensure that all of your deposits are going through on time.

I once had a manager who was embezzling money from one of my businesses. I had a close relationship with my bank and the bank manager noticed that something wasn't adding up with my account. He called me to let me know and we were able to set up the necessary precautions with them to ensure that no one was ever able to embezzle from me again. Thanks to my close relationship with him, I was able to correct a problem before it became even more costly for me.

MENTORS It's great to have someone to go to when you are first starting your own business and when you run into problems along the way once it is up and running. Find a successful fellow entrepreneur who you respect and who is familiar with the foodservice distribution industry.

Ask him or her to be your mentor. Always show him or her respect and be thankful for help. It's also a great idea to put your mentor on your business's advisory board. It's likely that your mentor will have many connections in many different areas.

You want to have a close relationship with your mentor so that he or she is willing to go that extra mile to help you build your business. Don't contact your mentor only when you have a problem. Regularly contact him or her even if it is just to offer an update on how things are going. You never know, you might learn about a contact that could help you in a certain aspect of your business, for instance, or tell you about problems. Always send a thank-you note after you've received help — it's a small gesture that has a big impact.

Here's the bottom line: no matter how determined, hardworking, and talented you may be, you simply can't be a successful business owner all by yourself. It takes a village to run a company. Never forgetting that fact is critical to your success.

Always be on the lookout for ways to show these key players that you want to be their favorite distribution executive. Make sure they are getting as much out of the relationship as you are. Show them you care. Creating and nurturing these positive relationships will make being an entrepreneur a hugely rewarding experience. The more people who care about you and your business, the more successful you're going to be.

Ty Freyvogel is an entrepreneur who has launched and grown numerous successful small businesses over the course of a 35-year career. He started his first venture in 1975 following graduation from college and a stint as an officer in the United States Army. Before the breakup of the AT&T monopoly in the mid-1970s, Ty saw the potential for growth in the telecommunications market and launched a consulting firm to provide client businesses with communication services. Today, 33 years later, Ty's consulting firm (now called Freyvogel Communications) is still serving the telecommunications needs of Fortune 500 and mid-sized businesses.


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