Choosing a supplier is like choosing your employee. You should undergo a screening process to check on their output quality, skills, experience, service, attitude and to build and establish trust and a good working relationship. This should later on turn into a loyal and solid partnership. Of course there can never be a clear evidence of their output and service unless you have tried and experienced them. But it is always better to eliminate possible failures especially when working with a supplier for the first time.
I’ve experienced hell with various suppliers. Since I am managing a design and video production agency, we mostly deal with offset printers, large format printers, signage fabricators, color separators, camera and lighting equipment rental companies, domain name and hosting providers, and ink suppliers. These tips are best for small start-up business owners especially those in the creative industry.
Since your supplier will be a major component of the project you are delivering to your clients, you are the one accountable for their output. You have to make sure that they will deliver. You have to make sure that everything will go smooth and in control. You have to have an assurance that your output will deliver its promised value and should follow your project time line. Be cautious when working with suppliers for the first time. To avoid losing your client, account, project, money, reputation and integrity, consider the following tips:
1. Ask for a Referral.
This should be your first option. It is best to ask for supplier referrals from a trusted friend or colleague. People are often concerned about their credibility and reputation so they would usually refer companies and individuals who they recommend, and with whom they’ve had positive working relations with. Remember to ask about their experiences with their referrals and then start to filter your choices from there.
2. Check the supplier’s track record.
Whether the supplier was referred to you or found at an online directory, it’s a requisite to do some background checking. Who are their existing clients? Is there a way to spot-check the service they delivered to their previous clients? Are there online testimonials and recommendations vouching for this company’s products or services? Check the supplier’s website for information on their company profile. How many years are they in business? Who are the owners? Does the company bring a positive image and credibility? Is the contact information complete? Check their office location (if it’s accessible when necessary) and all the means to get in touch with them. Direct line, cellphone, email. Also find out who is the right person to talk to.
3. Know who you are dealing with.
Get to know the company’s representative/agent and designation. Ask for his landline and call his office to check if he’s really connected with the company. If the company has a website, check if the representative’s email address is a valid company email, and not a personal yahoo or gmail address. Since he is your contact person, he should be able to provide you with excellent service, be prompt in deliverables and be readily available when needed. Be careful with overpromising agents especially before signing project contracts. You should be able to tell if an agent is only trying to impress so they can have you sign and close the deal.
4. Don’t just transact and rely on the company’s agent/representative.
Touch base with the company. Instead of contacting the supplier’s agent directly in his mobile, call the office. Also ask if there are any representatives you can talk to if he is not around. I’ve experienced dealing with an agent who turned out to be an individual who is not legally connected to the company. When he failed to deliver his promised printouts, he suddenly disappeared and did not answer my texts and phone calls. The company which he said he was connected with obviously could not be accountable of the damages he has caused us. I had no choice but to seek for another alternative with only a short amount of time left. Because of failing to check his connection to the company, I have compromised the quality of the outputs I had to deliver to my client, as well as the money I released as down payment.
5. Ask for work samples.
Ask for the supplier’s client list. See their past works. Ask for samples (print quality samples, paper samples, etc) You have to hold on into something and be able to see a proof that the supplier can deliver quality outputs on time. Don’t wait to be surprised with the output after you have paid the downpayment.
6. Meet your supplier.
Don’t just transact through phone and start a project if you’ve just emailed or talked through a web messenger. If the supplier was not referred to you and you only found their contact info through a directory service, it is best to meet with the representative in person before approving a project. You can ask them to visit your office for a preliminary briefing or you can also drop by their office to check on how professional they are based on the working environment and equipment they’re using. Meeting with your prospective supplier also builds rapport and encourages transparency. It is also easier to tell whether the person you are dealing with is sincere or not.
7. Start with low-cost projects to test their service and output quality
If you’re dealing with a supplier for the first time, don’t assign the big projects at once. Start with small ones and then gradually increase project value as the trust and relationship builds up.
8. Don’t just approve based on low costs, check the quality of work
Most clients decide with the cost factor as their number one consideration. This should just be secondary to quality. Check that the value of the amount you are paying for is worth the value of the supplier’s deliverables. A lot of suppliers will give you low costs but in return would deliver cheap product quality and a really crappy service.
9. Ask for an official receipt
When paying, always ask for a receipt so you have a proof that the company and it’s representative received your payment. Make sure they are registered businesses and are operating legally. Remember that for suppliers, it is always safer for a company, rather than individuals, to be held accountable for your projects.
10. Have a signed contract for documentation – make sure the transaction for the product or service is documented through a contract or job order. All the information about the product or service you are availing should be very well stated at the contract. This should include the complete specifications of the product or service, the lead time for delivery or production, payment terms and conditions, product warranties, service agreements (including what actions to take in case the product fails to work or the service gets canceled.) Most importantly, the agreed price should also be indicated.
11. Do not start with the transaction without an agreed cost.
Save yourself from additional cost surprises. Review the contract and make sure that the cost indicated covers everything that you need. For printing projects, always doublecheck the quantity. Have a signed contract before asking your supplier to execute the project.
12. Beware of over-promising suppliers. If promises are too good to be true, they are too good to be true.
Be wary of unrealistic deadlines and unbelievable product and service features. There will always be a catch for inconceivable project specifications, perks, promos and freebies. Always have cost and features benchmarks. Compare rates and know the standards.
Remember that there will always be greater risks in first-time transactions. It is better to be prepared to save time and to lessen and avoid possible failure. If you have anything else to share and add to the list feel free to post a comment. Hope this helps!