No matter what type of business you lead — a small operation like an independent restaurant or a financial startup to an established corporation — chances are you will rely on the expertise of a vendor, partner, consultant or other kind of third party in some capacity to help you steer your ship. Hopefully, what you gain from working with them is guidance and expertise that improves your business.
While you may have an idea of what service or product you need, choosing from the sea of vendors wanting to work with your organization can be overwhelming. Asking yourself what you want in a partner is a great first step, but sorting out the answer to this question can be challenging. Here are four things to think about when trying to make that choice.
You and your potential new partner should be on the same page about what the project is, what you need them for and what you’d like to achieve by working together. In order to be clear about how you’ll work together, it’s important to choose a collaborative partner. For some, that means a partner that visits often to learn about you, what’s important to you and how you run your business.
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Robert Mescolotto, founder and owner of Hospitality Construction Services, creates alignment with the chefs and restaurateurs he works with by getting to know them, as well as their spaces, so that he accurately reflects their visions. Recently, he worked on acclaimed chef Mike Isabella’s restaurant Pepita Cantina and detailed his process for getting to know the brand.
“The key point for the initial meeting is knowing, first off, what the chef or restaurateur intends on producing," Mescolotto said. "That comes from seeing plans and understanding what the client is going for, but also visiting their existing restaurants and getting a sense of their menus and the variety of ingredients they use. To understand the service, you have analyze the flow of the space and be familiar with the restaurant in general.”
He added, “We don’t like to begin the construction process until we know the client and are fully aware of their project goals. There’s the understanding of the blueprints and the plans, but it’s also about getting to know what pieces are most critical to the client. Getting to know the client is just as important as getting to know the blueprints.”
When a vendor cares about learning about your business and wants to know your long-term interests, it’s likely you’ll be aligned on the project and define the success of the partnership in the same way.
2. Length of commitment.
While you always want the people you work with to be on the same page as you, some of the other qualities you may prioritize will shift depending on the length of the commitment and depth of engagement. If you just need someone to come in and install a piece of furniture in your office, the process of selecting that person is different than if you’re asking them to design the entire work space. Talk concretely about whether or not you’re looking for someone for a long-term or short-term commitment. Some vendors are more geared towards providing great work on a one-off, odd-job basis, while others can provide the customer service, time and patience necessary for the long haul.
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Another way to make sure both parties are aligned throughout the partnership is to choose a vendor that’s upfront and honest. Be careful of potential partners that over promise. No one can give you everything under the sun. Make sure you feel like you’re being told exactly what they can — and can’t — provide and that they’re adequately and truthfully representing their skills. Companies that are honest about their capabilities and potential shortcomings are ultimately a better fit than those that promise you the moon but cannot deliver.
Manpreet Singh of TalkLocal, a local search engine through which consumers submit service requests to nearby businesses, has some solid advice for spotting a good, honest partner. “When quality business leaders look at a deal and like what they see, they pull out a microscope and look for blind spots that may negatively impact their business," she said. "Sometimes they mull it over and follow up with questions later, but such due diligence is expected of anyone worthy of partnering with. The only type of deal that doesn’t raise questions or concerns is the kind that won’t happen.”
Ask pointed questions about what potential vendors provide and their resources, and be clear about your budget and needs. Honesty should also be reflected onto what you tell them — make sure you’re not holding anything back either.
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Always remember the reason you’re bringing in a third-party. Typically it’s more than just needing another set of hands, it’s about the fresh set of eyes and the expertise that they will bring to your company. As part of a good working relationship and the vetting process, it’s important to talk about what you want, but also just as important to listen to them and to the subtext of what they’re saying — and what they’re not saying — so that you can have a fruitful conversation.
At the end of the day, you’re seeking out their expertise because they’ve carved their own niche and bring experience and skills to the table. Make sure it’s someone you believe in, want to listen to and can trust. There are two players in a partnership and listening to one another goes both ways.
Choosing a new business partner is a tough process, and it’s critical to think what you value before choosing one. If you do, the vendor can find the best solutions for your needs.