Nothing personal, it’s business

By: Darren Leighfield

Date: 1 March 2011

Many times I’ve heard people say, “I only do business with people I like” – but is this a sensible approach?

Most small businesses operate in markets of limited size. They have a finite amount of potential customers, with a range of competitors doing more or less the same thing.

So, for example, if a rude and unpleasant customer walks into your business, do you do business with them, even if you don’t like them? Would you rather say no and not be too miffed if they head off in the direction of one of your competitors?

You might not mind too much. You might say: “I wanted to set up my own business partly so I could choose who I work with”. The truth is, only doing business with people you like will limit your ability to grow.

Don’t get me wrong, if you can have a good, personal relationship with a customer, that’s the icing on the proverbial cake. To strive for that with every customer will limit the scalability of your business and your revenue opportunities.

Having good business relationships with customers, based on mutual trust, respect and understanding is certainly a goal to strive for. But that doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll become best buddies and regularly chat on the phone every day.

In the summer I started working on a project with a guy I got on very well with. Nights out together, drinking beer, good laugh, but the perfect person to do business with? No. When working with him I found him to be unreliable. He talked a good game, but failed on three important deadlines, which ended up costing me time and money.

Would I ever go for a beer with him again? Sure. Would I ever do business with him again? No chance.

Liking me as a person is not the same as liking the way I do business. Only doing business with people you like is restrictive. The best way to know how you’ll do business together is by doing business together. To build a business of scale, it’s impossible anyway to know all your clients personally. Getting on with each and every one of your customers doesn’t guarantee success.

Darren Leighfield, Director at EtcEtc Ltd