Emerging companies often experience growing pains and lots of uncertainty. When is the right time to commit to a bigger space? How many employees should I hire for the next growth spurt? What’s the best time to enter a new market?
As the mother of two daughters and co-founder of Dotcom Distribution, it’s easy for me to draw parallels between the types of decisions we make for our children and those we make for our young businesses. As both grow up, we have to learn to find that tricky balance between nurturing and nudging, telling and trusting, and leading and letting go.
It’s not easy. For entrepreneurs, some of the most anxiety-filled moments can come when choosing new vendors. While these partners play a critical role in any company’s emergence from fledgling startup to established enterprise, bringing a new vendor on board can feel like trusting your baby to a total stranger.
Just like parenting, there are different considerations at each growth stage when choosing new vendors. The decision really comes down to three main evaluation criteria: finding a partner that fosters trust, understands the changing needs of your business and keeps your company out of trouble.
Sound familiar, moms and dads? Here’s how growing a business is like raising kids, and how your parental instincts can help you choose the right partners.
Babies: Leave them in the company of people you trust
The most difficult early decisions that parents make concern child care. The right babysitters and neighbors keep your children safe while understanding and respecting your family’s rules and priorities. Entrepreneurs should think the same way when leaving their brands in the care of vendors.
Your company’s success relies on loyal customers who expect consistent branding, service and product quality. Vendors should document the commitments you make to your customers and be able to describe how their processes contribute to meeting those promises. You should be able to walk away from your business and have confidence that your vendor can meet all those obligations without fail.
Feeling confident about your vendor allows the experts on your team to focus on the business in the same way that a trusted babysitter allows parents to enjoy a worry-free night out.
Growing children: anticipate changing needs
As children grow, parents find themselves in the unaccustomed place of having to balance the desire to protect with the understanding that kids’ needs change as they grow. Parents of young children make choices that preserve the most options later on despite what may be best for them now.
When choosing a vendor, it’s common for businesses to buy the pants that fit right now but entrepreneurs need to learn to think more like parents. Choosing a vendor based on the way the business looks today sets you up for future backfire. In assuming that the direction of the business will change as it grows and in ways you cannot yet anticipate, it is best not to overspecialize. For example, retailers should choose partners that have the ability to scale with their business and keep up with increasing demand, expanded product lines and new markets. If a vendor can only help you with your current needs, and doesn’t have experience helping companies two or three stages beyond where you’re at now, it’s best to look elsewhere.
This understanding allows entrepreneurs to make the right decisions as their businesses change over time, just like parents do what’s best for their children in the long run rather than catering to their every immediate need or want.
Teenagers: extracurricular activities will keep them out of trouble
The devil finds work for idle hands. We’ve all heard this, but it’s particularly true for teenagers. Many parents encourage their teenage children to join extracurricular activities like sports, clubs or after-school jobs to keep them out of trouble. It’s an important part of helping them prioritize activities and focus on being productive with their time.
Similarly, third-party partners can help retail entrepreneurs avoid becoming idle as they go through those difficult teenage years. In the era of social media and the empowered consumer, brands have to continually find ways to excite and delight their customers. Whether it’s opening doors to new opportunities through an established network or making recommendations on how better engage with customers across multiple channels, a good partner should play the role of consultant as much as vendor. As your business grows, your third-party providers should recognize that the status quo sometimes doesn’t cut it anymore.
If you look at these three factors when evaluating vendors for your growing business, you’ll find partners eager to join you on the journey of raising a mature company. There will certainly be growing pains, but your business will thank you later – even if it acts up during those awkward teenage years.