Working with Vendors: Best Practices
Best small business practices for establishing vendor relationships and tips on working well with those vendors.
Your business doesn’t exist in a vacuum – you need your customers on one side and your vendors on the other. Both of those relationships are crucial for the success of your business.
When you’re running a small business, great vendors are worth their weight in gold. They can help make your business run more smoothly and work with you on timing, payment terms, and other aspects of your work together. A bad vendor relationship (or a bad vendor), on the other hand, can be a nightmare. These are a few easy tips for working with vendors and building awesome relationships with them.
1) Pick the Right Vendors to Work With
One of the most important things you can do to work well with your vendors is to pick the right vendors from the outset. Prospective vendors may look good on paper, but when push comes to shove, they may not deliver in real life.
Make the effort to check references and talk to others in your field to get the real scoop on what to expect from various vendors. Don’t be afraid to shop around – hit the pavement and go meet your vendors and see their premises in person. First, your prospective vendors will appreciate your dedication to making an informed decision. Second, you’ll learn a lot about your vendor by sitting down with them face to face and seeing how their operation runs in person.
In addition, you always need to verify licenses and insurance policies of each vendor for your own protection. It’s ok to ask them to verify that they have appropriate insurance and licenses. You can also check their references online to make sure they’re being honest. The Better Business Bureau is another resource to explore whether your vendor has had complaints or licensing issues. Any liens, lawsuits or credit issues may be a matter of public record.
2) Establish Relationships Based on Respect
From the outset, before you’ve even settled on a vendor, you should treat everyone involved with the utmost respect and professionalism. Set the tone for a strong working relationship from the outset. Once you’ve settled on a vendor, don’t let that slip. Make an effort to meet regularly in person; that’s a great way to show real commitment to your working relationship. Plus, it’s a much better way to build rapport than email or phone conversations.
More than anything, remember that your vendor is running a business like yours. They and all of their employees are people – they may make mistakes and they may sometimes need flexibility and understanding (just like you). It’s the old golden rule – treat them like you’d want to be treated!
3) Communicate Your Needs to Your Vendors Early On
One of the best ways to get what you need from your vendors is the most simple: Tell them. Be upfront about communicating your needs, goals, wants, and pain points so that your vendors can meet your expectations. If your deadlines are absolutely inflexible, for example, they need to know! And they may be able to work with you to expedite certain processes and make those deadlines easier to hit.
If it appears that there’s going to be a problem with one of your vendors, then don’t wait until the problem is insurmountable to address the issue. Even the best vendors can’t fix a problem they don’t know about, so be honest about pointing out the snafu and about ways you can work together to rectify it.
Talk to your vendors about systems that can make your work together easier. A shared calendar, for example, is a great way to make sure everyone is updated about the progress of various projects.
4) Honor Your Financial Commitments to Your Vendors
This is so obvious it should go without saying, but one of the quickest way to burn bridges with excellent vendors is by failing to pay for their services. Make it a goal to always pay on time and in full.
The nature of small business is that there are times when finances are lean. If a financial situation prevents you from paying in a timely manner, don’t stick your head in the sand and avoid the money issue. Communicate the financial problem you’re having early, honestly, and with integrity. Sometimes vendors can work out a payment plan to help you get on your feet.
Again, this is an area where a great relationship with your vendor can smooth the way to a solution and give you a little wiggle room.
Working With Vendors Is Crucial For Success
A productive small business owner and vendor relationship requires honesty, flexibility, and mutual respect. Knowing how to work well with your vendors will allow them to meet the needs of your business, while allowing you to build long-term relationships to help your business grow.