Remote It is the preference of any entrepreneur or small business owner who works in the e-commerce world to develop in-person relationships with their factory contacts. Usually, this is possible. In the unprecedented circumstances in which we find ourselves with the onset of COVID-19, however, it is worth considering how to solidify relationships remotely, as well.
The impetus will be on all of us going forward to think of relationship-building as a virtual activity rather than an in-person activity if the long-lasting effects of COVID-19 are as powerful as it appears they will be.
There are four key concepts to keep in mind here:
- Build consistent communication patterns that work in-person but also virtually.
- Leverage tools that remove barriers to productive collaboration.
- Ask how you can make your factory partner’s lives easier — and do so.
- Give away more value than you expect in return, within reason.
1. Build Consistent Communication Patterns
Building consistent communication patterns is the key to any healthy relationship, personal or business.
In-person communication has its advantages. It is much easier to interpret tone, feelings, attitudes, and context when speaking to someone in person than over email, via Slack, Zoom, or other common tools used to navigate daily work.
Email can be a ripe ground for miscommunication. If you can stay away from leaning on it as your primary communication platform, it is advisable. There are some situations in which email cannot be avoided, and that is fine. However, there are better methods to lean on with the technology that is available today.
2. Leverage Technology Tools for Productive Collaboration
There will be plenty of work to be done in between your weekly meetings. Ad hoc solutions would be fine if there were no solutions to make collaboration more manageable, but there are so many options.
Project management platforms like Trello, Asana, Wrike, and Smartsheet, and unified communication platforms like Zoom and Slack, make virtual collaboration a breeze at a reasonable price point for small businesses. The enterprise versions of these tools can get a little pricey, but they often have overwhelming feature sets that can border on overkill for what most people need.
3. Ask How to Make Your Factory Partners’ Lives Easier
Even in the best of times, factories face a myriad of governmental regulations, compliance and safety requirements, and adherence to protocols that would make most peoples’ heads spin. With the onset of COVID-19, things have become even more complicated.
For example, cut-and-sew factories accustomed to making clothing have shifted focus to manufacturing masks and other personal protective equipment they had never previously produced. As companies figure out how to efficiently shift their daily operations, margin protection and workflows are being challenged.
One of the best ways to build a remote-based relationship with your partners is to offer up a bit of expertise or a workaround that can make their day to day a little less complicated.
4. Give Away More Value Than You Expect in Return, Within Reason
Consistently giving away more value than you expect in return from your factory partners is a great way to solidify the trust in your business relationship. This exchange is particularly true when you are unable to frequently meet in person.
This value offer is within reason. You do not want to give away information that could be damaging to your business or cause an imbalance of knowledge in the relationship.
Knowledge of best practices built on experience in the trenches of product creation is valuable for your factory partner. They undoubtedly have similar specialized knowledge to provide in due time.
Building relationships with your factory partners from a distance creates some unique challenges. Being creative to find solutions and communication patterns that make collaboration easier is the key.