4 ways you show empathy this week

How to be a good partner...especially now

👋 In our previous newsletters, we talked about supporting yourself and your business. Today, we want to talk about supporting your vendors.

If you want to help a third-party vendor do great work, there are a few foundational ways to do it:

  • Set clear goals
  • Present a compelling vision
  • Define roles and responsibilities
  • Over-communicate main points
  • Share ideas early and often
  • Give frequent feedback
  • Respect the vendor’s expertise
  • Inspire, don’t micro-manage

In today’s climate, these basics still apply. They don’t have expiration dates.

So, what has changed? A greater need for empathy and togetherness.

But as you know, that’s easier said than done. Especially when stress encourages many of us to shut down and shut off (oh hey, coping mechanisms 😬).

In addition to the evergreen basics above 🌲, here are four timely ways you can support third-party partners and continue encouraging great work.

Note: If you’re not in a position to support new or existing vendors right now, that’s okay. Keep putting one step in front of the other—today’s email isn’t for you.

Focus on collaboration over outsourcing 🙌 #

A well-worn piece of business advice is “outsource your weaknesses.” The heart of this advice is good because it encourages you to work from your strengths. However, it’s a poor way to frame a partnership.

“Outsourcing” imagines you hand over a certain amount of cash in exchange for x, y, and z deliverables. 💰This is what happens in business relationships, but it’s a very narrow sliver of a richer reality.

A better way to frame working with a third-party is collaboration. Here’s how Animalz, a content marketing agency, explains the problem of an outsourcing mindset:

The problem is that for a third-party—a group of experts on marketing, accounting, design, or development—to excel, they will need a lot of context. Remember, these people haven’t sat in your weekly meetings for three years or soaked up the conversations happening in your Slack channel. They’re experts in their field, but not experts on your business. Never give an agency money, then sit around waiting for them to impress you. If you hire them, it is your job to help them succeed.

Creating an excellent product takes more than outsourcing; it takes collaboration. If you haven’t already adopted this mindset, consider asking your vendors what else you can provide so they’re equipped to do great work. Questions like, “Is there anything else I can do to help you this month?” are especially powerful. 🚀

Build trust by sharing your current concerns #

The pandemic has lifted some industries and flattened others. Many remote platforms, home fitness solutions, and streaming services are doing well; most event industries are hospitality groups are struggling. Both ends of the spectrum are grappling with how to serve customers now and what a bounce-back or turn-down could mean later.

Whatever business you’re running, we’re willing to bet you have concerns about the future, too.

Instead of tucking those concerns away for 3 am can’t-sleep-and-staring-at-the-ceiling moments, communicate them to your vendor. 💬

  • Are you concerned about your runway and how to extend it? Let your partner know you’re thinking about this. They can help brainstorm.
  • Are you anxious about a potential recession and want to conserve efforts? Talk through that with them as well.
  • Are you worried your positioning no longer makes sense? Bring it up.

We know from experience this is a smart move. As Andrew mentioned last week, he was initially cautious about sharing concerns with our team and clients, but he found, “The more I shared, the better the conversations went.” 🙂

If sharing these concerns is intimidating or foreign to you (being vulnerable is hard), here’s a bit of encouragement from Liz Fosslien: “There's never been another time when it’s been this safe to get vulnerable at work. You’re stressed, anxious, isolated and terrified — but everyone else is too.”

Besides improving your mental health, here are other good reasons to do this:

  • Your vendor can’t be sensitive to your concerns if they don’t know what those concerns are.
  • Sharing your concerns invites them to support you in creative measures you may not have considered.
  • Your transparency makes it safe for your vendor to be transparent in return.

If your vendor hasn’t already reached out, schedule a time to talk with them. 📞Let them know you want to share your concerns with them, and frame it as an opportunity to identify a clear path forward.

Remember your vendor has concerns, too 😓 #

Your vendor is managing their own concerns—and those concerns may be different from your own.

Val Geisler surfaced a great illustration for this in a recent newsletter:

While it might feel like we're all in the same boat during this pandemic, we really aren't. We're actually all in the same water.

Some are on yachts, some are on small paddle boats, some are hanging onto parts of their boat or only have a life vest or were thrown overboard and are now swimming trying to get to a point they can hold onto.

The water is the same, the boats are different.

Acknowledge what boat you’re in, and admit your vendor’s boat may look different. ⛵️After you share your concerns, ask your vendor how they’re doing and what their boat looks like. Here’s a great example question via Claire Lew: “Given all the craziness and sadness in the world, how are you holding up?”

This two-way exchange builds empathy, trust, and psychological safety. 🙌

Plus, conversations like these alleviate some stress and fear for your vendor. Since stressed and fearful people do poor work, alleviating those emotions is a win for everyone.

Hit the pause button if you need...but don’t disappear into thin air 🖐 #

If your Twitter feed and inbox is anything like mine, there’s as much pressure as there’s always been to produce, produce, produce. E.g., “Don’t have a commute? Why, now’s the perfect time to learn carpentry, Italian, French cooking, and write that novel!” 😅

On the business level, founders feel a similar pressure to clarify their vision, positioning, finances, hiring...and, you get it. But if you aren’t sure what your next step is, or why, or what your options even are...it’s okay to pause. It’s okay to gather your thoughts, find your breath, and think through your next step.

Just don’t fall off the map or anything. Tell your vendor you’re collecting your thoughts and communicate when they can expect to hear from you again.

And remember, a pause is temporary. It’s a power nap, not a coma. The goal is to step out of an unhealthy reactive state, recharge, and move into a healthy proactive state. 👏

Questions, comments, or thoughts? We’re here. Just hit the reply button and let us know what’s on your mind!