Make it easy for people to work with you

When trying to find a vendor or partner for a project, I always pay special attention to the way a company communicates and engages with me during the initial rounds of communication. These first interactions give you an excellent view into what it would be like working with another party, and tell you a lot about a company.

If someone gives you a completely one sided Non Disclosure Agreement where you have to sign away any idea you ever come up with just to talk to them about a project, they're telling you that they don't care about being reasonable and fair. If you have to wait 5 days for the legal department to approve a change to one line of a contract, don't expect to be able to move very quickly once you're working on a project with them. If a proposal doesn't clearly communicate services and the cost of those services, the entire engagement will be a mess. If someone requires you to use a fax machine for anything, don't expect them to be open to new technologies.

Contract negotiations, responses to proposal requests, and initial interactions tell you what it will be like working with someone in the best of circumstances. If you're easy to work with from the start, people will be much more likely to choose to continue working with you. Why this simple concept seems to escape so many is beyond me.

Take for example what I do now with my Non-Disclosures. Any time I need someone to sign an NDA, they get a link to my website where the NDA resides which they can electronically sign if they're comfortable with it. In addition, they get a link to the same exact NDA that's available on a writeboard, a wonderfully elegant and simple product from the folks at 37Signals that provides an easy and quick way to collaborate with others.

They get this other link before they even ask for any changes to be made. Why? Because I recognize that there may be something in my NDA that inadvertently makes another party feel uncomfortable, or that they think is unfair. I don't want them to feel bad about asking for a change to it, and I want them to know from the start that I'm open to collaboration and easy to work with. Just making this usually annoying process a bit simpler helps to show others what it will be like to work with my organization on their projects.

Compare this with someone who asks you to print a PDF, mark up the changes with a pen, fax them the changes, wait a few days for legal to review at which point they re-send a new PDF, ask you to print it, sign it, and then fax it back. Who would you rather work with? Who's going to be easier to collaborate with?

Initial communications say a lot about your company. In everything you do, make it easy for people to work with you.