Sunday, July 23, 2000

On the job

Co-workers set work environment, productivity

By Rhonda Abrams
Gannett News Service

        Nothing affects your day-to-day work life more than the people you work with.

        Yes, it helps to have challenging tasks and cool technology, or to be making lots of money; but whether you feel like getting out of bed depends most on who you're going to deal with that day. If you're going to run your own business, you might as well try to work with people you like.

        You may not be eager to work with anyone. When I started my first business, I remember saying to myself, “I don't want to work for anyone or with anyone.” It's not that I'm anti-social, I had just had enough! Enough office politics, silly corporate rules, time spent on staff meetings rather than “real” work.

        You may feel like you have no choice: You don't have enough income to hire help or you want to work out of your home. You, too, may feel like you're working alone.

        In reality, however, you work with many people: your customers or clients, vendors and distributors.

        Perhaps you work with them over the phone or through e-mail rather than in person, but they still can make or break your day. You may even find yourself “working” with people you never consider co-workers, like the after-school baby sitter who watches your children while you work in your home office. Yikes! Suddenly you're spending days with a 16-year-old with a pierced tongue, discussing what to wear to the prom. How did this happen?

        When you structure your business, think carefully about who you want to work with and why. Spend time getting to know the people you'll work with most. Examine whether their goals, work style, and values fit yours.

        • Partners: Why are you taking on a partner? Remember, partners own a piece of the business. Even if they are only a minority partner, your future is tied to them. Make certain your expectations are realistic.

        Are they willing to work as hard as you? Do they bring the same level of talent or skill? Do they share your business goals?

        Have clear-cut definitions of responsibilities and authority. It's nice to believe you'll make every decision together, but that's not realistic. Who gets to call the shots? Be careful about partnering with a friend — it's likely the business and the friendship will suffer.

        Be certain to get a written agreement. Believe me, having a messy “divorce” from a business partner is as difficult as any other kind of divorce.

        • Investors: You are married to your investors for the life of your business, so proceed carefully. You may feel lucky to get anyone's money, but if you have a fearful, intrusive or controlling investor, you may soon regret taking their money.

        It's unlikely that you can ask as many questions of a potential investor as you can a potential partner, but you still want to get to know them. Have they invested in other companies before? If so, speak to the entrepreneurs who've worked with them. What are their financial and business motivations? Are those goals a good fit with yours?

        • Customers: You may not feel like you have very much choice about who's your customer, but after a while you'll find you have more control than you imagine. First, you can choose to sell — or not sell — products or services that attract a certain kind of client or customer. One of Rhonda's Rules: “If you hate dealing with rich people, don't sell yachts.”

        You can “fire” a customer. It's difficult to think about turning away work, but it may be more productive to dump customers you hate dealing with. Even more importantly, you can choose to increase your dealings with your favorite customers by giving them the best deals, providing extra services, paying them more attention. Of course, don't discriminate against customers because of race, religion, etc., but if there's a customer who makes your day, why not make certain they stick with you?

        All businesses involve dealing with other people, and you're not going to like everyone you deal with. But whenever possible, choose people you respect, like and, ideally, have fun with. Of course, if you can't get along with anyone, maybe it's you.

        Rhonda Abrams is the author of The Successful Business Plan: Secrets & Strategies. To get free business tips, register at or write Rhonda at 555 Bryant St., number 180, Palo Alto, CA 94301.


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