Running a business is tough, no matter how long you’ve been doing it, and finding the right suppliers that not only fit your budget but are dependable and trustworthy can feel like a battle of its own.
Despite any horror stories you may have heard before, many lovely suppliers are ready to help your business flourish. Whether you’re in retail, hospitality, or construction, the right people are out there for you.
What is a supplier?
A supplier is essentially a person or business that provides other businesses or organisations with high-quality goods and/or services.
In this process, there are usually ‘manufacturers’, ‘suppliers’, and ‘buyers’. Your supplier might be the manufacturer too, or they might be a distributor and act as an intermediary between you (the buyer) and the manufacturer.
Some people refer to suppliers as ‘vendors’, and depending on the type of supplier you have, some may even dropship goods directly to your customers.
Is there anything I need to consider before looking for a supplier?
While it may seem easy enough to go on the hunt for a decent supplier, if you haven’t thought about what you’re actually looking for you may end up in a pickle. Here are some questions to ask yourself as a starting point before going on the search.
What supplies do you need?
Before you begin, have you thought about everything you need from them? You may need specific items or materials to make your goods, or a particularly niche service that few people offer. It can also make life easier if you find a supplier that does everything you need – or at least most of it.
What’s your budget?
It’s important to know this before you shop around for suppliers. You don’t want to waste your time meeting with suppliers who can’t give you the products you need within your budget, unless you’re extremely confident about haggling.
Have you thought about the questions you’re going to ask your prospective supplier/s?
Sometimes we go into meetings with people completely unprepared, and hours after it’s over, dozens of questions come to mind. Have a good think about what your business really needs and ask your suppliers what they can contribute towards this.
For example, how quickly can they ship items, whether there is a minimum order, how sustainable they are, and what shipping costs apply. Not all of these will apply to your business, so ask yourself, what could go wrong for my business with one of these suppliers? Then, put those worries to good use. Ask, ask, ask!
What is your end goal?
We’re all in it for something, so what exactly do you want to achieve by working with a new supplier? If you know what your goals are, you’ll be able to find a supplier that aligns with you much more easily.
You might also need to think about how your suppliers fit into your pricing strategy. For example, if you need to pay a hosting fee for your ecommerce website, this is a business cost that might influence how much you charge.
Where can I find the best suppliers for my business?
The good news is it’s easier than ever to find suppliers, whether on a local basis through networking events, or literally anywhere in the world with a quick online search (which is also a great opportunity to check out their reviews). Looking for suppliers on social media platforms could also provide you with a multitude of options.
If you’re just getting started, you could:
- Go to networking events
- Connect with suppliers on social media platforms such as LinkedIn
- Do a Google search
- Ask people in your network to give you recommendations
Sometimes word of mouth or a quick Google search can send you on your way. Explore as many options as you can to find the best fit for you.
What do I need to look for with a good supplier?
If you’ve met with a few suppliers, and you don’t know which way to turn, consider the following:
- Do they have the capacity to provide the supplies or services you need, and more if you expand?
- Are they financially stable and unlikely to run the risk of going out of business?
- Do you feel you can trust them to provide goods or services to a high enough standard?
- Are all their certifications up to date?
- Are their other clients happy with them?
Red flags to look for with suppliers
You might not see much evidence of these until after you’ve hired them, but potential red flags to watch out for could include:
- Poor communication
- Items or services are not up to standard or not as promised
- They give you vague answers and/or they’re reluctant to commit to timescales
- They add on lots of hidden fees that aren’t advertised
- Products and services aren’t provided on time, putting your business under strain (or in an awkward situation with your own customers)
Can you use multiple suppliers?
Yes, but whether it works for you will depend on your business structure.
Some businesses adopt a single-sourcing strategy which means they have one supplier, while other businesses find a multiple-sourcing strategy works perfectly for them. Multiple sourcing is where you use several suppliers at once and can often be beneficial for businesses that have peak demand periods and want to feel less reliant on one sole supplier.
There are some disadvantages to this though (such as higher costs) and sharing information between each supplier can become complex. You might also need a bit more help to keep track of the suppliers that you use.
What do I do if my supplier lets me down?
If a supplier lets you down and says it’s a one-off, it’s fair to give them the benefit of the doubt. We all have bad days, and things do go wrong. But if you find yourself constantly let down by a supplier, to the point where the trust has gone, that’s an issue. After all, like any relationship in life, if the trust is gone there’s no going back.
There are a few things to do, but firstly, don’t burn any bridges with your supplier. You never know, you may need them again in the future.
Try discussing the issues with your supplier
Speak to them about what it is that’s going wrong and see if you can both come to an agreement on where to go from there. If you could get the agreement in writing, you may be able to claim any compensation if your supplier continues to let you down and your business loses out on profits.
Maintain a strong network of suppliers
Even if things get back on track, having that network of talented suppliers could be the key to your success in the long run, especially if you’re looking to expand and potentially explore multiple sourcing.
Trial new suppliers
If you finally decide to try a new supplier, the last thing you want is to hire someone else who ends up even more inconsistent than your original. Make a few small orders to check out their quality and consistency.
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