With the world of business becoming increasingly more complex, a small-business owner will find it extremely difficult to be an expert in all of the specialized disciplines a small business needs. Despite the relentless requirement for small-business owners to generate and manage cash flow while bringing customers in the door, it is also critically important for them to cultivate and nurture relationships with a reliable support team.
This group may include customers, employees, bankers, accountant/tax specialists, lawyers, insurance representatives, sales/marketing professionals, skills trainers, and technology consultants.
Since it is unlikely that all this expertise will be available in-house, it is crucial for ownership to develop and maintain close working relationships with many of these outside caregivers of the business before any emergency need arises.
Although thinking in terms of a "relationship" with employees might seem a little odd for a business owner, that relationship could be the most important of all of the relationships for the owner to cultivate. Because good employees represent a major resource in a small business, the time and effort the owner invests in nurturing that relationship has a huge return on investment (ROI). Employees who feel respected, appreciated and that they have a voice that is listened to by management quite often produce more than expected.
Employees represent – in fact they are – the company to the customers. The business relationship with customers largely depends upon their experience and interaction with the employees. Happy employees tend to want to satisfy the customers, do a good job and work hard to retain the job. This is important to the continuity of high-quality customer service and avoids the significant expense of employee turnover, retraining and inevitable "rookie mistakes" of new, inexperienced employees. In addition, having trusted, long-term employees can free up the owner to handle off-site duties as needed.
(For more on what can help with employee retention, read Retirement Plans the Small-Business Owner Can Establish.)
A banking relationship is an obvious need – not only for routine business banking, but particularly when capital is needed to grow, increase inventory, buy a building, bridge a short-term gap between payables and receivables, or address the seasonality of the cash flow in the business.
The banker to whom an owner goes for a loan should know the business owner, understand the history of the business and have an understanding of the owner's judgment and credibility regarding the use and payback prospects for a loan. If the long-term relationship is there, or it is at least in the process of being built, the loan request has a much better chance of being approved. If the business has borrowed and repaid loans in the past, the established track record and relationship greatly enhance the prospects of being approved.
(Looking to protect against future financial difficulties? Read Is Loan Protection Insurance Right for You?)
Accountant or Tax Specialist
A relationship with an accountant is equally important if the business owner is to be confident in the quality, clarity, timeliness and understanding of the financial reporting provided. A relationship with an accountant can also enhance the business's credibility with a banker when the business is seeking additional capital.
Many small businesses combine the accountant and tax-specialist functions in one outside entity for convenience, time-saving and cost reasons. This is fine if the accountant has a great deal of tax experience for the industry and expertise in tax management for the specific business the accounting firm serves.
(To learn more, read Crunch Numbers to Find the Ideal Accountant.)
Every business owner should have a relationship with a business lawyer, liability attorney or legal firm. When an owner invests money and effort in building a business, it must be safeguarded from loss as a result of a lawsuit. While it is important to work with an attorney whom you can trust, it is also critical to choose a lawyer with extensive experience in the area of law for which you require their services.
(To learn more, read How to Pick the Right Lawyer.)
As part of business risk management, a business should have a relationship with and seek out the trusted advice of an insurance representative who will help provide the optimal levels of coverage in the areas of needed protection, keeping in mind any constraints of the budget.
(Learn more about minimizing the threat of litigation on your business assets in Asset Protection for the Business Owner.)
Depending on the owner's sales and marketing expertise, a relationship with a marketing professional is highly advised. Most small businesses start with an entrepreneur who has a specific technical skill, a trade certification or has built up a following of customers for good work done.
When the owner wants to grow the business beyond the established customer base, he or she should have a well-defined marketing plan that addresses the following issues:
- targeting the market
- optimizing the media used in marketing efforts
- branding strategy
- assessing the competition
- getting the best value for any marketing money spent
A similar situation often exists with training both the owner and the employees. In a small business, especially in a startup, the owner often hasn't had time to acquire the types of skills necessary for managing a growing business with more employees, constantly evolving digital tools and systems, enlarged inventory, additional vehicles and more customers to manage. A relationship with independent business-skills trainers can fill that need.
A more recent arrival on the needed-relationship list is the enterprise systems or information technology (IT) specialist. The business owner should have someone who can come in to analyze the existing systems and suggest ways to effectively and efficiently manage costs and optimize processes. That person (or organization) should suggest specific ways to keep the business competitive in terms of administrative, project-management and operating costs while ensuring the scalability of the business model through process improvements, enhanced system capacity, flexibility and information security best practices.
The Bottom Line
This might seem like a lot of relationships to sustain for a busy small-business owner. While these relationships aren't necessarily time-consuming, they are absolutely essential to long-term business success and are worth their weight in gold when the business needs experts to help solve problems or to take full advantage of a business window of opportunity.
(For more reading for the small-business owner, check out Six Steps to a Better Business Budget.)