Business etiquette applies to a whole range of activities engaged in by small businesses, both internally (i.e. within the organisation), and externally (i.e. in interfacing with customers, suppliers and other external stakeholders). Observing business etiquette is conducive to good relationship management and creating and maintaining professionalism in the workplace.
Small business owners need to have a clear understanding of what they consider appropriate internal and external business etiquette as behaviours can easily become entrenched but can be difficult to reverse. Internally, good manners include treating all co-workers respectfully regardless of rank (in both written and spoken communication), dressing appropriately at all times, and selecting non-invasive alert tones and volume levels for mobile phones.
In an open plan office setting, employees and small business should also be conscious of time spent on private phone calls (and make efforts to take such calls in secluded physical spaces), as well as time spent on gossip and other non-business related chatter.
Externally, business etiquette involves good telephone manners (e.g. answering the phone by the third ring, properly greeting a caller and identifying the business and yourself), promptly replying e-mails, checking all correspondence for spelling and grammatical errors, and remembering people’s names.
In meetings, eye contact and firm handshakes are generally recommended, as is avoiding distractions and focusing fully on the matters at hand (i.e. no fiddling on laptops, mobile phones or other devices). Small business owners can exercise their discretion about the extent to which they are willing to formalise business etiquette through policies and rules. In doing so, small business owners need to display emotional intelligence in recognising and accommodating cultural and social norms applicable to the South African context which may not be valid elsewhere.
Regardless, some level of training is likely to be required to ensure that all employees have a common understanding of the behaviours expected of them internally and externally.
It is dangerous for small business owners to assume it is common sense and not worth reinforcing. As a small business owner, you are the custodian of the business’ vision and values. Your brand and your reputation depend on you providing strategic direction and leadership in all areas, even ones as seemingly mundane as business etiquette.