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The 5 Most Important Relationships for Startup Founders

It’s not that you don’t want to, but as a startup founder or small business owner, you simply don’t have time to build deep relationships with everyone you meet. 

 

While every person deserves courtesy and respect, you have to think carefully about how you spend your time. Fail to invest in the right relationships, and you could cost your company a big opportunity. Worse, you could walk headfirst into a problem a partner could have helped you avoid.

Who should founders consider their key partners? Ask whether you’re doing enough to keep these five relationships going strong:

1. Accountants

You trust your accountant to make sure your money goes where it should. But if you hit a payroll snag, do you know him or her well enough to actually pick up the phone? Better yet, does your accountant know you well enough to identify issues proactively?

According to research from payroll solutions provider OnPay, only 21% of small business owners talk to their accountants more than monthly. Most owners (61%) talk to their accountants quarterly or even less frequently. People who communicate that rarely can’t develop meaningful relationships.

An accountant you know well won’t just lend a hand at tax time. Your accountant can help optimize your cash flow, evaluate potential opportunities, and avoid mistakes that would cost you serious cash. For nearly every business question you have, an accountant holds the answer. 

2. Investors

Your startup may not have taken venture capital, but it has investors nonetheless. Whether you got funding from a local bank, a grant, family members, or a crowdfunding campaign, your investors deserve to know what you’re up to. In fact, the people who believed in your business enough to fund it might be able to help solve its biggest problems.

Regardless of who signed a check for your company’s future, the best investor relationships benefit both sides. You should never feel like your investor is a parental figure making sure you’ve done your chores. In strong investor relationships, each side helps the other stay informed about industry developments and brainstorm for the future.

Even when growth slows, keep your investors in the loop. They’d rather hear about your struggles early, when they can still offer help. This dynamic applies to crowdfunded companies, too. By keeping your backers informed, you can get early feedback on your company’s direction. You can assure your audience members that you remain a good steward of their funds.

3. Vendors

Your business can’t fulfill its promises without vendors. If your vendors see you as untrustworthy or rude, they won’t prioritize your orders. That could cause a chain reaction of problems, ending with unhappy customers.

Make sure your vendors have all the information they need to complete your orders. If you anticipate big changes next quarter, don’t wait until order day to drop an unexpected demand. A simple phone call to keep your vendor informed could save you serious headaches down the road.

Remember that your vendors run businesses, too. Be the kind of customer you want your own company to attract. Don’t haggle for every spare nickel or act like a VIP every time you get on the phone. Treat your vendors as equal partners: The closer your vendor relationships grow, the better your position when market winds change direction.

4. Mentors

Even the biggest names in business need advice sometimes. Before Facebook became one of the most valuable companies in the world, Mark Zuckerberg received business and life advice from Apple founder Steve Jobs. The two regularly shared ideas — Jobs even told Zuckerberg to make a spiritual pilgrimage to India at one point. The relationship made both men better leaders.

No one makes it to the top without help from people with experience. Your mentors may be former bosses, investors, or colleagues from other industries. Wherever they originate, don’t let those relationships stagnate. 

As in every good relationship, both sides benefit from a mentor-mentee arrangement. You don’t need to set up formal meetings to talk about your problems. Grab lunch or a drink after work once a month or so. Those little conversations build more trust than any big meeting could provide.

5. Family

Research from Bank of America revealed how much entrepreneurs rely on their families as they build their companies. While only 14% of founders depend on financial support from relatives, 57% receive emotional support. Many families even get involved in day-to-day operations, with 29% of entrepreneurs receiving volunteer help from family.

Plenty of entrepreneurs have struggled to balance work and family life. What they don’t realize, however, is that investments in family are often investments in business. In dark times, founders who feel supported by family members can rebound and try again. Those who let family relationships wane may not have the same support.

If you aren’t close with your blood relatives, don’t worry. Family can take many forms. Relationships with your circle of college friends, your trivia team, or your fellow founders can be just as gratifying and helpful. Whether you shared a bedroom as kids or a dorm room at school, make a point to keep your family involved. 

It takes a village to build a business. Prioritize the relationships that matter so you have the support you need when you need it. And remember: Relationships go both ways. When your vendors, family members, and mentors need you, be ready to help however you can.

Author : Holly Hutton

Born in the Big Easy and raised in the Sunshine State, Holly has spent the last five years brunching in the Big Apple and bantering with Big Ben. As a wandering writer, techy-in-training, and avid alliterator, Holly has written everything from educational policy and political news briefs to web content and travel blogs. She is thrilled to be a part of the KS team and working with a community of smart, savvy, entrepreneurs on all things startup!

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