Many people have had occasion to comment on my anally retentive qualities. I’m actually quite proud of them. I always know where my keys, phone and wallet are and my dishwasher stacking skills are second-to-none.
So, you’d think that when I began my business I would have been equally pedantic with systems and procedures right from the beginning, wouldn’t you?
Starting out as a one-man band and being responsible for all aspects of your business often means that you work on autopilot. Who needs written systems and procedures when you know exactly what you’re doing?
But, when you start to grow and add in the management of staff as well as clients and customers, your ad hoc approach to systems can often lead to problems, not the least in terms of communication issues and managing your relationships.
Having experienced what can happen when you don’t set boundaries by establishing your communication policies and procedures, I know firsthand how damaging to your relationships it can be. Not only are you not keeping all your stakeholders, staff, clients and suppliers, informed and up to date in a logical and timely way, but you also run the risk of developing feelings of resentment over constant interruptions as well as being overwhelmed and disorganised.
When you grow your business and move forward from the sole trader to small business employer you are likely to be managing the same clients across that period, in addition to forming new client relationships. Not only do you have to supervise the developing relationship of your staff and existing customers, you may run into difficulties in terms of establishing more formal boundaries for long-standing clients who are used to a much more casual, ‘always available’ approach.
If you haven’t thought through your communication policies and procedures right from the start, where you establish boundaries and set expectations, you may run into issues when you need to stop being on call for those early clients who have benefited from your undivided attention.
Providing clear, concise policies and procedures with regard to your ability to answer and return phone calls and emails, how often you’ll report back and what format you will report in, takes the emotion out of potentially charged situations. And, deciding that you really are important enough to establish this practice from the moment you hang up your shingle is probably one of the wisest decisions you’ll make in business.
Nothing works better in business for establishing relationships than one-on-one meetings in person and picking up the phone to add some small talk and deeper connections. We’re human. We need that kind of interaction to develop a mutually beneficial long-term relationship. But, all relationships need clear boundaries for them to survive in the long run.
And, if a business relationship can’t survive when you have a firm framework for communication and clear channels for contact, it’s obviously a relationship that is not destined to work anyway.
In those early days of business it’s easy to relax any standards you’ve carefully established for that one big client you need to impress. But don’t be tempted down that rocky road. I’m not suggesting you can’t add value and establish ways to form strong bonds with clients, but be mindful of where these deviations are heading.
Forming and, more importantly, sticking to your established systems and procedures, takes determination and a large helping of self-discipline. The sooner you get onto it, the bigger the benefits for your business, your team and all the external organisations you deal with.
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