Preventing the ‘Seven-Year Itch’ in Your Business Relationships

Before becoming a parent I believed being married was the hardest thing ever.  Of course, after 13 years of proper training, my wife has almost whipped me into shape.  Forget the “seven-year itch,” she was probably ready to kick me to the curb after about two weeks.  Thank goodness she didn’t.

All joking aside, relationships are difficult to manage at times. Business relationships are no different.

Even the most well matched business associates have their challenging moments, and how you handle those moments can seriously affect the future of your business. It takes hard work, but working on an existing relationship can often be the best way forward.

I believe the work begins when you are entering into a new relationship. It doesn’t matter whether you’re hiring technology consultants, marketing gurus or, dare I say it, accountants—you need to ask yourself a very important question: “Is this the best fit for my company just for right now or will it carry me into the future?”

If it’s going to be a long-term relationship, I suggest you ask one more question: “Are we clear about who is working for whom?”

What do I mean by “who is working for whom?”  It’s this—I often see alliances formed between a business and a third-party vendor. Everything is going well, but little by little, the vendor begins to believe they are in charge. They overstep their boundaries and make decisions that are not theirs to make.

For example, you might bring in consultants to help you find a company to acquire.  You might hope they will spend time getting to know your culture and will find a company that is a good fit for you. The next thing you know, however, they are telling you how to run the day-to-day aspects of your business. That isn’t the task you’ve hired them to do, and you should call a timeout and refocus them on the task at hand.

Another issue can appear when an associate creates an inordinate number of tasks for your staff to complete—many of which don’t seem to bring much value.  Obviously growing the business is hard work, but it should be productive work. Preparing 12 different spreadsheets that present the same information in slightly different ways isn’t productive. 

And then there are the meetings.  The goal is to grow the business, not to see how many meetings you can have in a week. If you’re spending more time with your consultant than with your management team, something might be wrong.

The key to relationships—marriage and business associates alike—is communication. You need to screen your potential partners for their ability to hear and respond to your needs. Can you tell them you have reservations about the working relationship? Can you discuss options for making things better? Do you have ongoing conversations about how the project you’ve hired them to do is going?

Performing the proper due diligence when entering into a third-party relationship is critical to your success, but so is maintaining the relationship as time goes by. Just like employee turnover, the costs are high to replace a critical business associate.

Even though I may be critical of certain business relationships, I have seen many more success stories than failures.  Finding a great business partner and maintaining a great relationship, however, takes work. Put in the time and effort, however, and you’ll be able to prevent the “seven-year itch” and stay focused on your success.

At HORNE, relationships and collaboration are key building blocks.  We would love to help you walk through your next critical business decision and the questions you should be asking before making that big commitment.


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Topics: Relationships, Communication

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