Expanding into new markets is a big undertaking for a startup and a growing business need as much help as it can get to successfully maneuver.
Vendors, consultants and service providers can help manage these challenges and assist in taking businesses to the next level. But for new companies, partnering up with vendors can be a daunting and stressful task. After all, how can a new business owner find just the right providers?
Working with others is all about building relationships, and the process of selecting new vendors should focus on finding those who will connect with executives and the company team as a whole and stick around for the long haul.
Here are some guidelines for choosing the vendors that will bring the most value to expanding businesses:
1. Ask around.
Networking is how entrepreneurs seek new clients, talent and resources and is just as valuable for identifying appropriate vendors.
Referrals and recommendations from trusted connections could put the owner of an expanding business in touch with the best vendors. Before doing any serious research, see what others are saying about any potential providers.
What works for one company might not suit the specific needs of another, however. Referrals are a starting point. But a thorough investigation of any vendor should be done before making any commitments.
2. Avoid self-serving vendors.
So that a partnership is successful, any vendor should understand and work toward fulfilling the client's unique needs. Vendors focused solely on the sales pitch and their bottom line are bad news.
To weed out inappropriate vendors, be straightforward about what the company needs and wants. Describe the industry, the niche and the goals of the company. Representatives of vendors who breeze through talks with little concern or who try to fit businesses into their standard operating practice don't provide the best option.
Consultants at the best vendors listen to concerns, attempt to understand the company and offer free advice before signing a contract.
3. Evaluate the communication.
Communication is an essential part of any relationship and businesses shouldn’t have to pull teeth to have steady and open communication with their partners.
Vendors that are hard to get ahold of during the “getting to know you phase” will most likely be just as absent when it’s time to get serious work done. Waiting days for an email response or returned phone call is a bad sign.
Likewise, service providers who dance around tough questions, avoid concerns or are vague in their responses will be just as difficult to get a straight answer from later in the game.
Find reliable consultants who leave no question unanswered.
4. Comparison shop.
Do comparison shopping but this does not mean bargain shopping. When comparing vendors, focus on the quality of the product or service, rather than the price. The price can be negotiated, but lackluster quality can’t be improved. State the budget and clear expectations from the start.
Compare similar providers and the services they offer. Be sure to compare apples to apples and be honest with the potential providers that other firms are being interviewed. Once the selection is narrowed down to two or three choices, ask representatives of each vendor to explain what sets the firm apart from the competition. Why is this company the best option? These answers could help make the final decision.
5. Trust gut feelings.
When choosing a vendor, business owners and executives should trust in the same judgment they've used to power the success of their company thus far. After all, executives have a sense of their company, know what will work and can judge which relationships will be the most beneficial.
Don’t hire vendors who seem standoffish, negative or unpleasant to work with in any way. If building a close relationship with a vendor feels strained or seems impossible, stop trying and move on to working with a firm that feels right.