It often seems that business etiquette revolves around how you should conduct yourself when interacting with a client or prospect or even a colleague. Yet, there is one other group that deserves to be treated with the same consideration, respect, and honesty—the people who you engage to do work for you, your suppliers and subcontractors.
For more than twenty years, I ran an advertising agency in Burlington, Vermont. One of our cardinal rules was to treat our suppliers and subs very carefully. By doing so we developed strong working relationships with photographers, videographers, printers, the media, and other suppliers. Those strong relationships allowed us to provide exemplary service to our clients. Inevitably, we would find ourselves having to ask a supplier for an extra measure of effort to meet a particular client’s needs. The goodwill we had built with the supplier often made the difference in being able to meet a tight deadline or accommodate a client’s last minute request.
Over the years I found these five steps define the basis for building strong relationships with subcontractors and suppliers:
1. Treat the supplier courteously at all times. Even when something goes wrong that is the supplier’s responsibility, maintain an even keel, particularly in your tone, as you deal with the issue. Anger simply begets anger and does not resolve the problem.
2. Be reasonable with deadlines. Explain each situation honestly. If you don’t need it on a “rush” basis, say so. In such a situation you might even ask the supplier what is a reasonable delivery time. Save the special requests for “rush” projects for when they are really needed.
3. Be appreciative. Especially if you ask a supplier for an extra effort, be sure to thank him. Ideally you thank him at the time the job is delivered. In addition, a thank you note is a great way to draw attention to your appreciation. For a special effort, a thank-you gift, perhaps a box of awesome chocolates that can be shared by all who contributed to the effort, is a great way to show how much you appreciate the work they did for you.
4. Always pay promptly. “Thanks” are important to be sure, but paying your bills promptly is the best way to ensure future work will be done the way you want it and on time.
5. Turn about is fair play. A supplier may come to you with a request for a favor. Perhaps the printer may need some extra time. Be prepared to honor those requests, as they set the stage for when you need similar treatment.
Your suppliers and subs can make you look good or tarnish your reputation. By treating them positively and respectfully, you will receive the best work from them and, in turn, help enhance your own reputation with your clients.
If you have a business etiquette question, please email it to [email protected] You can hear more Emily Post etiquette advice on the Awesome Etiquette podcast featuring Lizzie Post and Dan Post Senning. Listen and subscribe at infiniteguest.org.
Peter Post’s newest book, The Unwritten Rules of Golf, Morrow, is available at emilypost.com.
Since 2004, Peter Post has tackled etiquette issues in The Boston Sunday Globe’s weekly business etiquette advice column, Etiquette at Work. Post is the co-author of “The Etiquette Advantage in Business” and conducts business etiquette seminars across the country. In October 2003 his book “Essential Manners For Men” was released and quickly became a New York Times best seller. He is also the author of “Essential Manners for Couples,” “Playing Through–A Guide to the Unwritten Rules of Golf,” and co-author of “A Wedding Like No Other.” Post is Emily Post’s great-grandson. His media appearances include “CBS Sunday Morning,” CBS’s “The Early Show,” NBC’s “Today,” ABC’s “Good Morning America,” and “Fox News.” Follow Post: @PeterLPost.