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Betting On The Wrong Horse In Business

In business relationships there is a lot of faith that we place in one another, a combination of implied and actual endorsement.

From letters of recommendation and referrals to joint venture relationships, who we support says something to the world that is always watching.

How those people behave, respond and react either adds to our credibility, or takes away from it. Judgments are made about our credibility, our business knowledge and even our personal integrity.

And sometimes we bet on the wrong horse.

While we can’t control how other people behave, I do believe it is our responsibility to our own reputation to let people we are lined up with know when something they have done, said or are doing is potentially hurting their credibility and ours as well.

I learned this lesson many years ago when I graduated from college and had a summer internship here in Seattle. I was 22 and thought I ruled the world! The owner of the boutique firm where I interned was a savvy woman who I feared and respected. Throughout the course of the summer she gave me more and more responsibility and finally had me take some meetings on her behalf.

Skipping ahead, I found myself in a situation where I was in over my head and began dropping balls. The clients were getting frustrated, I was getting frustrated and by the time the owner keyed in on what was happening the client was really torked and nearly left.

The owner of the company sat me down and had a very direct conversation with me, I was mortified for a thousand reasons, and something she said has stayed with me through the years, “Debbie when I trust you enough to work direct with the clients I am counting on you to bring your BEST self to those relationships. The client expects the same high standards I have, from every person in our organization. When you drop the ball, it becomes a question not just of your ability, but of mine.”

I run that conversation through my head many times throughout a week as I am approached to collaborate on projects and ask myself these 2 questions before I join forces:

Is this someone who has a solid reputation? I do a little social stalking, see what kind of messages they share online and I Google them. (I did this once for a possible guest for the radio show I hosted and the first thing that came up was the person’s name, followed by Scam – ultimately they were never booked as a guest). I might even ask some people I know we have in common their experiences of working with this person.

Are their personal or business brand values lined up with mine?

These questions are NOT earth shattering, however they are enough for me to pause before I say yes.

Have I made errors in judgement for in business relationships? Absolutely.

I’ve had referral partners who never followed up with introductions. I’ve had joint venture opportunities that became a nightmare. I’ve given personal endorsements only to be gob smacked by the actions of the one I endorsed.

How did I recover? I had a direct conversation with the folks I was ‘in bed with’ so to speak, let them know that their actions didn’t match up with my expectations, and as my boss did over 20 years ago, I too say, “When you drop the ball, it becomes a question not just of your ability, but of mine.” Now they know better, and have the opportunity to do better.

Then I go about the business of repair.

Have you ever bet on the wrong horse? Lined yourself up with someone in business, who later you wished you hadn't? Have you ever been the one who got the “talking to” and how did it change you for the better?


Debbie Page Whitlock is a business coach and leading authority on cash flow for women entrepreneurs, and writes on all things related to creating sustainable, scalable and potentially salable businesses and other useful bits of business wisdom she’s acquired on her 20 year entrepreneurial odyssey.

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