How do I choose my suppliers?

As part of working out how best to market my own business I obviously need to work out how my target clients choose their HR provider; where they get their options from and how they choose which one is right for their business.

As part of my musings on this subject, I started by thinking about my own little group of suppliers, and how I’ve chosen them. Although I think many of my target clients use different methods to select their suppliers, I thought it was a good exercise to do as a starting point, to clarify my thinking a bit. So for what it’s worth, here are the 5 things I look for when choosing suppliers for my business:

1. Have they been recommended by someone?

In the past I would have Googled to find providers but I wouldn’t dream of doing that now. Someone who has paid for good SEO is not necessarily the best provider after all.

So, assuming I haven’t already got a relationship with someone I trust who offers the service in question, I ask for recommendations. It’s well known that people buy from people they know or people recommended to them by people they know, and there’s a good reason for that.

I have a good network locally and if anyone I know and trust knows someone who can help me, they go on my list. I also ask on Twitter but I treat recommendations on Twitter with a big pinch of salt unless they come from someone I already know.

2. Are they an expert at what they do?

If I’m going to outsource something in my business, I want someone who seriously knows their stuff. The service is obviously likely to be one at which I am no expert myself, but my business deserves the best.

I check this by first finding out whether they are qualified. If their profession is one where there is a relevant qualification, I check they have it, and if there are different levels, which level. If they don’t, depending on what the service is, it may not be a dealbreaker but I would certainly expect anyone serious about offering themselves as an expert (because why would you outsource to anyone else?), to have ensured they are qualified up to the hilt.

Similarly, I check whether they are experienced. I want someone who has done whatever it is many times before, because it’s important I trust them and their advice. My own clients say to me again and again that one of the most valuable things about me is the reassurance I provide them by having come across and successfully dealt with almost every sticky employment situation they are likely to find themselves in before. I want the same for my own business.

LinkedIn is very valuable for this – most people have a decent amount about their experience in their profile there so you can see exactly how long they’ve been doing the thing they are claiming expertise in and at what level. If their experience section on their LinkedIn profile is cagey, vague, only very recent or missing altogether, I would be hesitant in using them.

3. Have they got a decent website?

In the same way as someone who pays for good SEO isn’t necessarily the best provider, similarly someone who has a good website designer isn’t necessarily the best either. But it’s important, shows attention to detail and a commitment to their business, gives an impression of them and rightly or wrongly, (I’ve been told wrongly!) bad websites put me off. Not a dealbreaker if there is a good personal recommendation, but I do take it into account.

4. Do they quickly understand my concerns and priorities?

Have they done their research about my business? Some of my suppliers didn’t have experience with HR consultants, but all had researched the industry, my competitors and clients, and quickly identified what my priorities would be in the service they provide.

5. Do I like them?

When I meet them is there a good rapport? One of the benefits of being my own boss and selecting external providers is that, unlike when working for a bigger employer, I don’t get landed with whoever they’ve got in their marketing, IT, or accounts department, for example. I can pick! And because I’m not employing them, therefore don’t need an open and fair recruitment process, I can pick whoever I like, and disregard- selection criteria’ in favour of personal rapport if I feel able to do so.

So there we have it. Not all those criteria are relevant for each service obviously, some will be more important than others, and sometimes there are other things to take into account as well, but that’s by and large how I choose who to work with. How do you choose your suppliers?

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