Running a small business often means having to hire specialists to help get you where you’re trying to go.
Most small business owners don’t have the funds or resources to hire a full-time person for every position, so they rely on contract workers or partners, like marketing or ad firms, to fill in those gaps. Finding a good partner can really help you grow and work smarter. On the flip side, a bad partner can potentially cost a lot of money, take up too much of your time and hurt your organization’s morale.
In 2016, Busy Beaver Button Co. hired a small web development firm to completely redo our e-commerce website. We took the usual precautions during the vetting process, but it turned out the developers lacked the necessary skill level to execute the project. It was hard to discern this at the beginning—they assured us they had all the right credentials and we believed them.
However, there was a moment when I ignored my gut: when approaching them with valid concerns they in return asked me to just “trust them”. RED FLAG! But we continued with the project because so much time and money had already been invested. Now I realize that trust is a thing we need to build with each other, not necessarily something to default to.
Long story short, the site we launched was terrible—REALLY terrible. We lost traffic, we lost our SEO equity, and the site kept breaking; it was the worst website launch you could imagine. Over the next two years, between the loss in sales and the costs to fix it, this website almost destroyed our business.
Armed with these important lessons learned, we very carefully vetted and selected a fantastic new web development partner and our business has steadily recovered.
My co-workers and I definitely didn’t want to go through this type of experience again! So after the dust settled, we sat down and talked about what we learned from the experience. What made the first vendor relationship “bad” and the second one “good”? What had my gut been warning me about? From this discussion, we came up with the concept of a “trusted partner”.
Here are the results of our “Trusted Partner” discussions. Please use this as a guide the next time you need to hire an outside company. I hope it will spare you some pain in the future!:
Top Ten Traits of a Trusted Partner
They understand how you do business.
At Busy Beaver Button Co, our job is to help our customers promote their ideas through wearable and shareable buttons. Timeliness, high quality, and caring service are key to how we serve our customers, so we expect the same from our business partners. Also, they should know what makes out business tick and how we do things from beginning to end.
They are excellent at what they do.
Only choose business partners who are excellent at what they do—and have the successful track record to prove it. Never take someone’s word for it. Ask probing questions that delve below the surface to test their true knowledge and ability. Speak to at least 2 or 3 of their past customers. If they receive anything less than outstanding reviews, it’s best to choose someone else. No matter how nice someone is or how well they understand your business, if they’re not excellent at what they do, they will never be a trusted business partner.
They understand it’s a collaborative process.
Communication is key! Regular meetings to discuss status are essential. Both sides need to be honest with each other about the project’s progress, and all concerns should be promptly addressed. It should never feel like a battle— you and your business partners need to be on the same team in order to get the best possible outcome! Honesty, empathy and kindness go a long way.
They have your best interests in mind.
When selecting a business partner, it’s important to choose someone who genuinely wants your business to succeed. They aren’t just executing some generic template, they’re actually thinking about what’s best for you. Some of our best website features were developed when our partner considered what was best for the specific way we run our business and for our customers.
They communicate in a timely fashion.
Expectations about acceptable response times can vary by person, so be upfront about your definition of “timely fashion”. For us, we typically reply to our customers within 2 business hours so we expect a similar type of quick response. After discussing expectations with our partners, we decided that a 24-hour response time worked best for everyone.
They deliver what’s been agreed upon, on time.
Trusted Partners always let you know as soon as possible if they are unable to meet a promised deadline, so you can plan accordingly. We are all humans and things happen, but missing deadlines should not happen very often and never at key moments when they are being counted on.
They set clear and achievable project goals.
A Trusted Partner should have a logical, efficient, and well-organized plan and be able to walk you through it. I personally don’t like the planning part but it helps a lot when someone talks me through it to paint the overall picture. Although contracts can be a pain to read, they lay things out so clearly. If you ever have a question, you can refer back to your plan or contract to clarify scope, stay focused and ensure all expectations are achieved.
They can be reached during an emergency.
This is one card you don’t want to use very often, but sometimes it’s needed. At Busy Beaver, we seldom require help outside of office hours, but if our website goes down we need to know that we have someone we can contact to get it fixed immediately.
They are willing to be a resource.
You should feel comfortable asking their advice or using them as a sounding board for related projects. Of course, you can’t lean on them too much unless they are under contract, but you should be able to have a quick chat and exchange ideas.
They are respectful and trustworthy.
Trusted Partners must be respectful of others and very honest and trustworthy. Good business relationships are based on mutual respect and trust and It is never recommended to work with someone who is not worthy of your trust.
When any of these essential traits are missing, you should consider it to be a red flag.
If a current business partner is failing to meet these criteria, it may be possible to make some course corrections to save the business relationship. However, if this approach doesn’t get the results you’re trying to achieve, it’s time to find a better business partner.
In those circumstances when you’re forced to be stuck with a less than perfect partner, it’s very important to clearly lay out all the ground rules and regularly follow-up to hold the business partner accountable. It may also be helpful to reconsider your needs, renegotiate a contract, or reach out to a trusted third party to represent your interests and help with communication.
Business partners who lack these traits are a constant drain on time and resources, but having a “Trusted Partner” can be such an asset to your business! One of the wisest business decisions you can make is carefully selecting all your business partners and developing strong relationships with them.