Raj Malik is CEO & Co-Founder of KikScore, an exciting startup that helps small online businesses use their own track record of reliability and trustworthiness to increase sales and close more leads. Raj is a contributor to his company’s blog at blog.kikscore.com, a past speaker at SXSW and is passionate about helping small business and entrepreneurs succeed.
In life, we select vendors and partners all the time. There are vendors for your banking, there are partners that will help you with your 401k and of course your life partner that is your husband or wife. There are also an entire host of vendors and partners that we as businesses owners and operators must work with, seek out and in some ways even court so that they will work with our companies. Small businesses are often inundated with these vendors and partners that range from marketing/integration partners, telecommunication vendors or freelancers to support our business, using consultants to advise on company strategy and using website designers or software developers for our businesses.
These vendors and partners can really make or a break a business. That is especially the case with partners that your business must rely on to distribute and/or market your product. Many times we fall into the trap of being dazzled by a sales pitch from these vendors and partners and we just sign on the dotted line without doing the diligence because after all who has time to do that diligence? Well here are 6 tips to take into account while selecting and then working with a vendor or a partner.
1. Prior Performance is Indicative of How They Will Treat You: Small businesses need to be meticulous in seeking out information about a company’s previous track record because that may be one of the most reliable predictors of whether a vendor/partner will live up to expectations. Today, it is relatively easy to get references or find other companies that have worked with a prospective partner/vendor that you may be considering by looking at LinkedIn or even asking directly for a client list. A simple call to a few clients or contacts that have used a prospective partner/vendor before can give you a tremendous amount of intelligence on how that company conducts itself. Small businesses cannot afford to ignore information about a partner, vendor, consultant etc. where others have experienced some past issues in an area such as meeting timelines, deliverables or performing sub-standard work. Those are red flags that can be uncovered from these types of discussions.
2. Do Research & Diligence Upfront: Building on #1 above, in this day, with internet resources that are available to small business each of us must take the time to conduct background research on potential vendors, consultants, partners or even employees that may be hired. This is all easily accessible information that can be gathered and reviewed by often time conducting some Google searches on the name of the business and through searches of the key employees and the company (and their customers) on blogs. You would be surprised the amount of information that is available on blogs and in the comments sections of these blogs. Small businesses just need to make it a priority to conduct the research prior to selecting a vendor/partner. Doing the upfront research can really help avoid making poor decisions, wasting critical time and resources, and minimizing the risk of potential damage to your own small businesses’ brand by avoiding certain businesses all together.
3. Keep Monitoring Even After Relationship/Engagement/Partnership Starts: Often times after a small business selects a partner/vendor, we just put all of our trust into these companies. That is a path to getting burned. Instead small businesses should now track these partners/vendors in an automated fashion during the relationships. Small businesses should use tools like Google Alerts to monitor and track what other people are saying about companies that they do businesses with during an engagement. What does this do? If a blog post from an angry customer is posted saying that there are problems with a company you have selected, you can be on notice and attempt to proactively verify that information and act on it. Google Alerts are a great tool also for finding out news reports about companies. Using tools like Google Alerts is a way you can be ahead of the game and avoid finding out this information when it is too late.
4. Post-Engagement Cut Your Losses If Needed: If you uncover damaging or worrisome information or about a vendor, partner or contractor that you are currently in business with, do not sit on it. You must be proactive to protect your business. In the event you feel your business or brand is at risk, quickly make efforts to avoid further damage. That could very well mean terminating a relationship. That way you can avoid being stuck in a bad relationship and we all know where that ends up! Check out Toilet Paper Entrepreneur’s 81 Strategies to Fix a Bad, Falling Apart Business Partnership as a way to gauge whether you should stay in a business relationship.
5. Your Brand Must Be Protected At All Costs: In the unfortunate event that your business is victimized by a partner or a vendor, make every effort to avoid getting pulled into someone else’s negative and potentially inappropriate behavior. Instead take steps to protect your brand and take the necessary actions to preserve your brand. Make it your own priority to act in a way that reflects your brand. Try to avoid the ugliness that may arise from your partner/vendor’s conduct or statements. If you are in a PR crisis, try to take the high road, make sure your customers are protected and if necessary, rally your own supporters to protect your company. If necessary, take to your own blog to tell your story, but avoid those bitter back and forths that only lead to tarnishing your business too.
6. Trust Your Gut If You Have Concerns: For company owners, a strong and honed BS meter is important to have and nurture. When you see even the smallest hint of an issue on the front end with potential business partner/vendor you should move on. If that is a potential issue that you see now, chances are that issue is a lot larger and that is how it came up during the courting process when partners/vendors are even more sensitized to be on their best behavior. Always remember there are other options. Your business will be better off going with another company. Something to think about is if you have to convince yourself that “red flags” (even if they are small) should be ignored immediately catch yourself. Stop there and instead protect your business by moving on to another option. The partner/vendor that you say “No” to may be your best decision that you make more so than the partner/vendor that you do pick!