Being a bootstrapped business owner in the 21st century I’ve learnt first hand a way of doing business that results in “win-win” situations, where both parties entering into a business relationship get the best possible outcome from it.
I first heard the term “win-win” before I started my own business. I remember being confused as to why people would want it any other way. After all there’s nothing much to be proud about in a win-lose dynamic, where one side gets more out of the relationship than the other. Or, even worse, a lose-lose dynamic where nobody ends up better off. In fact, I ended up having a debate about it with someone I highly respect, who was (and no doubt still is) a huge proponent of the philosophy.
Having run my own company for five years, I now understand more than ever the importance of every business relationship being mutually beneficial. And, whilst it doesn’t happen without effort, the basic principle behind it is incredibly simple: base every single relationship on trust, integrity, and honesty. And, most importantly of all, always treat the other party how you wish to be treated yourself.
Win-win in financial arrangements
We all love to save money; getting 20% off a sofa or a pair of shoes feels good. In some way we feel we’ve “won”. That’s fine when the interaction is between a faceless corporation and a consumer. It’s also ok for a one-off transaction. Neither of these things really constitute a meaningful relationship (sorry social marketers for raining on your parade). But when you are dealing with people in business, whether it’s freelancers, small business owners, or people in larger organisations, a win isn’t just about saving money, it’s about creating a mutually beneficial situation.
Here’s a simple example: a professional quotes you £1000 for a job. You might feel the need to negotiate so you say you’ll pay £800. They might come back with £900. You feel like you’ve saved yourself £100, but the other party feels they’re worth less than they deserve. They may take on the job, but the risk you’re taking is that they’ll hold some resentment. They may only give it 70% of their effort because others who pay them their market rate will be given priority over you, or they won’t give it the passion you think it deserves.
So, in the end, you’ve spent £900, but got £700 worth of value. Anything you spend as a business owner needs to be an investment, but you’ve actually lost out here because your £100 saving ultimately cost you £200 in quality. That’s a lose-lose.
Admittedly, that’s a very simple example. But the principle remains true: whatever the nature or scale of the relationship; pay people what they’re worth, and you’ll get value. Treat every financial outlay you make for your business as an investment, rather than a cost. Treat others as you would like to be treated yourself. If a situation is anything other than “win-win” it should be quickly resolved by both parties to ensure it is. Because the only other situation is lose-lose and the longer you take to resolve it, the more it will cost you in the end.
Win-win through good communication
There’s another aspect to “win-win” relationships that is not about financial arrangements but about communication. Always make sure you’re clear about what you need, and be prepared, and happy, to accept price increases, delays or both. Adding unrealistic pressure to people in order to meet deadlines or leaving them out of pocket because of unforeseen complications they couldn’t have anticipated is never good. Again, you’re not going to get value for money.
Also, make sure the people you work with know what your priorities are. You don’t want someone working late on a Monday for something you don’t need until Friday. In modern business culture there’s a tendency to want everything delivered yesterday. But realistic timelines lead to better results and a better experience for everybody along the way.
Today, my starting point for all business relationships is to invest in value rather than driving down costs, communicate clearly and honestly at all times, and respectfully honour payment terms. If I was able to meet my younger self, that’s how I’d explain “win-win”.