Small Business Key People Skills You Need to Grow Your Business

by Rebecca Lake | November 01, 2018

A stellar product or service can take you far, but it's the relationships you have with your customers that fuel real growth in any business.

"I say this all the time: The only thing your competitor can’t copy is your relationship with your client," says Chris Stock, sales expert and founder of Business Institute for Growth.

Making those relationships meaningful is integral as you grow, especially when that growth happens quickly. In building customer relationships there are two aspects to consider, Stock says: understanding who you are and understanding who they are.

What he's referring to is emotional intelligence or EQ. Emotional intelligence means using your emotions and the emotions of those around you to guide your behavior and thoughts as you navigate personal relationships.

EQ is closely tied to relationship skills. Mastering these skills can help you provide a model for your employees to follow as you scale and grow your business at a steady pace.

1. Self-awareness

In the initial phase of building your business, fine-tuning your EQ starts with adopting and modeling behaviors for the people you're spending the most time with: your employees. And self-awareness is a critical relationship skill to master for your EQ.

Being self-aware allows you to gauge how your attitudes, beliefs and values affect the people around you and how you relate to one another. It can also inspire your employees to be more mindful of how they interact with one another and your customers.

Self-awareness can also make you a more intuitive leader. As the head of your business, your employees look to you for direction. Your leadership skills must be capable of passing the EQ test.

It's not enough to tell employees that they should value relationships with one another or with customers, Stock says. You also have to live it every day as you build your business. If you don't, "it will cause your employees to lose trust in you," he says.

Training employees to be well-versed in company policies regarding how they should treat customers and one another is a starting point, but Stock says you have to dig deeper.

"You must understand the individual members of the team," he says. "Why are they working here? What is truly important to them? Why do they want to do this?"

Recognizing and accepting the differences, strengths and weaknesses of each employee is a necessary skill for creating a team that's as passionate about your business and its customers as you are.

Two women and a man sitting at a wooden table with coffee, looking at a laptop

2. Personalization and communication

Customers want value but more importantly, they want a personalized experience. In a 2018 Epsilon survey, 80 percent of adult consumers said they're more likely to do business with a company that focuses on personalization.

"Everything has to be customer-focused and they have to be the center of everything you do," Stock relates. "The best way to grow is to have your customers be part of the journey."

That's not always easy if you're scaling rapidly and incorporating more tech tools or resources to run your business.

Liz Robinson, co-founder of delivery company ASAPCargo, launched her company in 2017. She's relied heavily on her communication skills to maintain the connections she's made with her initial customer base.

"Those long-standing customers are probably the most important clients you have," she says, because they're the ones who made your early growth possible.

As her business scales, Robinson makes a continuous effort to keep those customers in the loop via phone calls and regular emails to her list of subscribers. Customers can also get updates on business happenings through her company blog.

In communicating regularly with her customers, Robinson wants them to be excited about growth, while reassuring them that expanding won't affect the level of service they've grown accustomed to.

Customers want value but more importantly, they want a personalized experience.
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3. Honesty and transparency

Transparency is important for building trust in any relationship, but even more so in business.

Robinson says that in her experience, transparency (or a lack thereof) directly affects the level of trust her customers have in her business. You have to let your customers know that you value honesty, she says, and that you have their best interests in mind.

This is a policy Brett Podolsky, founder of homemade pet food brand The Farmer's Dog, has ingrained in his business practices. Any time his company makes a change to one of its products, they make sure to explain it clearly to the customers and the reasons behind it. It's a strategy that's been well-received.

"We've had a number of times when we've been extremely transparent and expected to get some negative response," Podolsky says. That included a packaging makeover. "To our surprise, we got so many positive responses because our customers now know that when and if we are to ever make a change, we will always communicate and be open about it."

Two men and a woman are sitting at a table with bright windows and a brick wall in the background

4. Empathy

When a customer comes to us with a problem, our first reaction may be to get defensive but that can be damaging to our efforts to scale. Rethinking how we listen and react in these situations is another skill EQ can help with developing.

Stock says you have to be willing to fully hear customers out when they come to you with a complaint or problem. "Don't justify what happened," he says. "Just listen, understand, empathize and reflect."

Empathy is the cornerstone of emotional intelligence. Empathizing shows your customer (or your employee, vendor, supplier) that you understand where they're coming from.

Empathizing shows your customer that you understand where they're coming from.
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When you put yourself in the other person's shoes, it becomes easier to come up with solutions to the problem. And being proactive and positive in dealing with tough situations can keep customers coming back again and again.

Rebecca Lake

relies on emotional intelligence and relationship skills to drive her success as a freelancer and solo business owner.