Life & Business

5 Techniques for Improving Your Business Relationships (and Your Results!)

by Sabrina Smelko


Anyone who runs their own business knows just how many details there are to juggle at any given time. Especially when you’re first building your business, it seems that there are so many more important things to consider than building relationships. Although it may not be at the top of your to-do list, what people don’t often acknowledge is that, just like in friendships, business relationships need care and attention, and putting in that time and effort can make all the difference when you’re trying to get off the ground.

Nina Kaufman and Nicole Delger are the dynamic duo behind Brand Strong, an online course for small business owners. Their course teaches a whole new approach to building a business, mixing learning with critical skill-building, guiding you to set a vision for your business and then helping you plan the steps needed to bring it to life. And like the many clients they help, Nina and Nicole know firsthand what starting a business entails and just how important relationships really are — it’s what has led them to where they are today!

Nina and Nicole are joining us to share their advice for building and maintaining great business relationships — be it co-workers or clients — that garner even greater results with five simple, time-tested tips. –Sabrina

Photograph by Sarah Deragon of Portraits to the People.

Whoever said “it’s all about who you know” only had 20% of the equation right. You can reconnect with people you know any day of the week, but the other 80% of the equation is about cultivating and maintaining trust-based, productive relationships.

Whether it’s the relationships you have with your clients and customers, vendors, business partner, the business next door, investors, employees, or someone else, you are building and/or maintaining many relationships in your business every day, and each of these relationships requires a different approach.

Perhaps you want to create a personal bond with a client. Perhaps you’d like to keep things more formal with the business next door. Or maybe you want to show potential investors that you’ve got smarts and a kick-butt vision for your company. No matter what your affiliation, how do you make an authentic and meaningful connection while keeping it positive, professional, and productive?

The good news is that, while the content of your communications will vary, there are universal skills you can put to use that will make you feel energized and maintain authenticity in your business dealings.

For the past three years, we’ve been developing communication approaches to use with each other, with our vendors, our clients, and our audience. From our collective experiences and our mutual commitment and determination to honing these skills, we’ve learned and developed some darn-good best practices.

Here are five techniques we’ve shaped and polished, which we use daily to help us foster solid-as-a-rock relationships with each other and all of our professional connections.

1. Define (and communicate) what ultimate business success looks like, and make sure all who need to be on-board are on-board.

Since the definition of success is personal, we are talking about that big, dreamy place that — once you reach it — will make you feel like you’ve really made it as a business owner.

How we do this: Sure, we’ve set specific revenue goals for our business, but before that, we talked about what success looks and feels like to each of us. This means we took the time to describe things like our dream schedule, work environment, and the lifestyle we want to enjoy outside of work. We made sure that our ultimate hopes and goals were in alignment, and sometimes, this meant we compromised, but only to a place we could both live with.

Pro-tip: Be clear about what constitutes success to you. If you have employees, articulate your vision for the business and make sure your team is on the same page. If you’re in a partnership or co-leadership position, take time to develop a shared vision of success that everyone feels good about. Have fun with this and let yourself be open to exciting possibilities. This is about more than just getting on the same song sheet, it’s really about the motivation and clarity that comes from working toward an inspired stated vision.

2. Agree on your desired outcomes before doing anything.

Desired outcomes are the specific results or changes you want in place by the end of any given project, event, meeting, or conversation.

How we do this: We use (and teach about!) a planning tool that helps us thoughtfully come up with our desired outcomes (think: our picture of success), and then we find the best methods for getting there. For anything we need to do — from writing a simple blog post, to having a conversation with a vendor, to developing something big like our website — we use this process to map out our plan. This helps us stay hyper-focused on each step of the planning, and keeps us from being distracted by random ideas that don’t solve anything or push the project forward.

Pro-tip: Next time you start a shared project of any kind, take time to agree on your shared, desired outcomes. Then (and only then), begin to plan what actions you’ll take to ensure that you’ll reach those outcomes. You’ll be amazed at how easily you can cut out the clutter of irrelevant ideas and get much better results in everything you do.

3. Know what you value (and what others value).

Values are the things that matter most to you personally in your life or business (for example, you may value growth, creativity, family, balance, etc.). An often-overlooked fact is that many disagreements and pains arise because someone’s values are being compromised or stepped on.

How we do this: We took the time to identify our shared business values and reveal our personal values (for us, these are things like community, health, authenticity, growth, and strategy). We’ve written down our shared values and have explained to each other the “why” behind what is most important to us individually. This helps us work well together and understand each other more because we know what motivates the other on a fundamental level. We also think about what our clients, contractors, and supporters value so we can best honor and support them.

Pro-tip: Contemplate these questions: As a business owner, what are some situations that have left you feeling very frustrated? What values do you think were being stepped on? And on the flip-side, can you think of a moment when you felt really proud? Which of your values were being honored or supported there? Now find ways you can more fully bring your values to the surface in your business and more regularly avoid things that will step on your values. For example, if health is one of your strongest values, stop working crazy hours and start holding yourself to getting to that yoga class you’ve been skipping!

4. Embrace other people’s areas of expertise.

What got you into your business is your passion and expertise, and you’re good at what you do! But that same passion can sometimes make it hard to let go when working with others.

How we do this: Nina has a business coaching and teaching background, and Nicole has a communications and marketing background. Sometimes, one of us is leading a project that puts her at the forefront of our customers’ or vendors’ attention. Nicole may do an interview about marketing, while Nina is filming a segment to teach our customers a new business skill. It can be really tough to not get that moment to shine, especially when we know we poured tons of our time into working on the other’s pieces behind the scenes.

But in our business, when we let go of making everything look 50/50 on the outside and embrace that what matters most is that we effectively reach our outcomes, it makes for a better customer experience and allows us to excel where we naturally do. We know that we’ve supported each other’s work 100/100 on the inside, and that gives us an even better connection with and respect for each other.

Pro tip: Next time you find yourself gripping the wheel-of-control, be conscious that it may be your ego getting in the way. Remember: It’s not about you; it’s about the ultimate outcomes you’re looking to create. (Remember tool #2?) Ask yourself, “What’s best for my clients?” or “How can I help the person I’m working with be the best version of themselves?” When you let go of your need for recognition and credit, it’s amazing how you can step back and step up as needed. And you can truly create the best product and experience possible for those you are serving, both inside and outside of your company.

5. Separate facts from feelings.

Facts are the cold, hard truths, and feelings are the spontaneous, sensitive things that sometimes warm your heart and, at other times, light your temper on fire.

How we do this: Separating fact from feeling is a key technique because in work and business, feelings can get intense. When working through these challenging moments, it’s important to acknowledge the heart and soul of the people who are involved, yourself included, while distinguishing those feelings from what happened (the facts).

We are both even-keeled, easy-going people. Still, whenever our emotions are triggered by our work, we openly talk about how we’re feeling, without any judgement about why we have those feelings or how an issue needs to be fixed. A solution can come later if needed, but often just sharing the feeling and being heard with compassion helps alleviate the issue, which we prefer to letting it fester and come up in other ways in our relationship or business.

We are careful not to blame, and we simply take responsibility for what is going on for us. We share and air our stuff: “I just want you to know that I’ve been feeling this way.”

Pro-tip: We highly recommend doing a quick “check-in” with teammates at the beginning of each meeting to share what’s going on in your lives. For us, this is usually an update on our families. These moments aren’t the time to dump out heavy baggage; instead, they are a little window into our lives outside of work.

Taking five minutes to listen and share before diving into business helps to keep you emotionally connected so that you know the joys and stressors you’re each facing. It allows you to stay more compassionate, knowing what your colleagues are dealing with at any given time.

You got ’em! These five tips will help you improve your communication with everyone in your work life on a regular basis.

Looking to learn more about how to grow your business? We cover that in depth in our Brand Strong course, open for enrollment today through October 21, 2015! We’re diving deep into topics like how to articulate your vision of success, map a plan to reach your desired results, and communicate with others, plus learn better tools for managing your business, all around. Check out our site at BeBrandStrong.com, and while you’re there, enter our contest for a chance to win the Dremel® sponsored seat in our course as well as a Dremel prize pack full of power tools that anyone will love!

Suggested For You


  • What a great article! As someone that has worked with both Nina and Nicole, I can’t recommend their class and expertise enough. They are brilliant business ladies and I can’t wait to see what they do next.

  • You are so right about clarifying and agreeing to outcomes before working on methods. It’s essential that work partners share the same vision of success and it is this shared vision that energizes them to actually reach their goals!

  • Great read. I think sometimes we forget that in order to keep our business relationships strong, we need to nurture them and be clear about expectations and objectives…. and ensure that we are giving, not just taking. xo