As a small business owner, having a reliable network of suppliers is essential for your business to run smoothly.
There are many different types of suppliers, ranging from those who play an operational support function (e.g. internet service providers, stationery suppliers, cleaners), to those who provide the components, equipment and services required for you to produce and deliver your core products and services.
To create a long list of potential suppliers, small business owners can check trade publications, the Yellow Pages, the internet, local community newspapers, or ask other business owners in their networks. Having both big and small suppliers on the list creates flexibility – big suppliers may have the resources and reach to secure a wider range of goods and services, and may possess the expertise and experience to give your small business the right advice and support; on the other hand, small suppliers may provide more customised service and be more open to negotiating terms and conditions.
At this preliminary stage, you can consider factors such as price, whether they stock the products you need, whether they are located close to you, and whether they make it easy for you to do business with them e.g. are they willing to offer credit even if your small business is a start-up. Once the long list has been compiled, the next step is to screen your suppliers. How rigorous you are depends on what you are buying, the quantity and monetary value, and the importance of the item to the business.
Screening suppliers is more than just about establishing whether there is the right with your business – it is also about verifying the suppliers’ credibility and reliability to prevent bad service and fraud.
Some of the things you can do to vet potential suppliers include:
• Checking customer references, and talking to other businesses that may have used the supplier – ask about the supplier’s on-time delivery record, whether they adhere to quality management systems, how responsive they are to problems or crises
• Trying out the product or service for a limited period
• Inspecting the suppliers’ factor or premises
• Getting to know the supplier – what is the ownership and management structure, when was the business established, what is its financial standing?
• If the goods are being imported, it is important to do a thorough due diligence and inspect the goods before they are dispatched – service providers in the exporting country can be engaged to do this.
Based on all of the above, you can then make an informed decision about which suppliers (s) to go with, and sign a contract.