By Mia Hays

We exercise, eat right and visit the doctor to keep ourselves healthy, and we spend time with our family and friends to keep ourselves happy. But what about our business relationships?

Without proper maintenance, our work alliances can grow feeble like any other relationship. Without care, they can become unhappy – and unsuccessful. But there are simple steps you can take to keep your professional bonds healthy and thriving.

1. Communicate. As it is in other life relationships, communication is vital in a business partnership. And like in any strong relationship, the best communication is honest and transparent. Be truthful always. It might be scary to let a client or other work partner know exactly how you feel (for example, if a certain deadline might not work for you), but it is far better than faking it and then potentially letting a person down. Be honest from the start. When you prepare a work outline, make sure your plans are clear and concise.

In PR specifically, running all publications by your client before any media distribution is an absolute must. Your work together is a collaborative effort. If your client doesn’t approve, you don’t publish.

2. Meet deadlines. Always create manageable deadlines, and strictly adhere to them. Big or small, influential or fledgling, every client and co-worker deserves that respect. Every one is your No. 1 priority. Treat them like it. Present your best work in the agreed-upon time frame.

3. Don’t over-promise. It’s common for people to zealously oversell themselves in business situations and make promises they cannot keep. We’re all eager to land proposals, and sometimes our default is to offer more than we can reasonably do or give. But the foundation for a happy business partnership is setting attainable goals and creating realistic expectations.

4. Never stop learning. You don’t need to be an expert in every field, but you should be familiar with your clients and associates and with their milieus and markets.

In PR, for example, if you’re helping a widget-maker sell his new Widget 2.0, you’ll want to bone up on the widget industry and then figure out what makes this new version stand out. Also, of course, know your audience. What’s your client’s target demographic? What’s the geographical market? The more you can put things in human terms, the greater your chance of success.

5. Ask for feedback. Are your clients happy with your services? Could you improve in one area or another? Some clients might hesitate to mention something until the question is brought to them. The answers might not always be fun, but they can strengthen your relationship as well as your business. Not only does this help you know your areas of growth, it demonstrates to your clients that you value their opinions.