How To Choose A Supplier

How To Choose A Supplier

Post originally published on “The Positively Music Blog“, courtesy of Leena Sowambur.

So, let me tell you a story.

Back in my Sony days, part of my remit was to commission websites for the acts on my roster as well as leading the digital campaign and coordinating other parts of the marketing and PR process. This meant that I had to source web designers to build any campaign websites. Two websites that needed building were the UK pages for P!nk and Shakira.

So, there I was, fairly new in this job but not new to the commissioning process with this fantastic opportunity in my hands to produce great work for these two global superstars. I wanted to build something innovative, creative… something that would stand out in my portfolio and also that of the supplier doing the work. I knew how to write a brief, and I knew what I wanted and what I didn’t want in terms of the work. I was familiar with the pitching process and could quite happily pick up the phone and call agencies I liked the look of to get quotes. I was also familiar with a selection criteria process.

As always, when you reach a good place in your life and career, certain people come out of the woodwork and start to make requests (AKA demands in hindsight) and one friend called me up asking for work saying he needed help paying his rent. I wanted to be a good friend and I wanted to share my opportunity, I also wanted to work with a friend and someone I could trust to do the job, and I believed that this friend had the skills to do the job. Needless to say, the opportunity here was squandered, the work produced was not up to standard, took overly long to produce and was not to spec, I specifically asked for a content management system on both sites as during active campaign times the websites needed to be updated daily. My friend insisted that he could do these updates for me, but let me down daily. I still remember the frustration of calling several times from the morning until lunchtime to chase up on website news updates and getting nothing but voice mail and then having to leave that part of the project to take care of other aspects and tasks. Of course, when we did speak, I got excuses. Despite criticisms from the offline marketing team as to the aesthetics of both websites and the late updates, I defended my friend and supplier.

laptopYou’d think I would have learnt my lesson, but unfortunately, I didn’t. Later on in my career, I set up a small digital marketing outfit and my karate club owner generously gave me my first commission. Of course, the same friend came to me for help, asking for work, saying that he needed help to pay his rent. I wanted to be a good friend, but it was the same story, no content management system, the work was not to brief, the client didn’t like the colours, the work was late and what was provided wasn’t completed. The money that the client gave me to pay my web designer friend never came to fruition and in the end, the job just wasn’t done. A 6-week job took 6 months and was never finished and during the whole process, there were a number of excuses. Essentially, this “friend,” made off with the money, leaving me to explain everything to 30 odd karate club members, plus the owner. In the end, I paid for another website which I built myself which was on a subscription site, I ended up paying back the website budget plus 18 months more within subscription fees which ended up being 3 times the amount of the budget. This was not the fault of the karate club owner by the way. It was just the way it turned out.

always, always, ALWAYS work with a selection criteria process.Click To Tweet

The moral of these stories is to always, always, ALWAYS work with a selection criteria process. This kind of process is your safeguard; it ensures that your work will be delivered on time, to budget, to your standards, values and brand identity. It also means you can meet the demands of your peers, your boss, your clients, investors, business partners and of course, your fans/customers.

So here is my current selection criteria and process.

1. Always Do A Background Check

Always check the background of the suppliers approaching you or the ones you approach. Check over their credentials, qualifications and certifications. Check over case studies and work portfolios and read over testimonials. A solid supplier should have a body of work, for example, a digital marketing and PR freelancer should have a portfolio of campaigns to demonstrate the kinds of results you can expect from commissioning them. I appreciate there are people out there starting out in their field, however, this is your time and money and your business on the line and what would you prefer? Someone with a proven track record or someone who has neglected to acquire the appropriate amount of professional experience through employment in the field that they claim to be dedicated to and learnt everything through unverified blogs and podcasts.

2. Get Your “Legals,” Correct

An email is not enough. One time during my mini digital marketing and PR outfit days, a client of mine wanted to use some fan artwork for merchandise. I mentioned that we should provide payment and outline terms, another team that the client had signed up, stepped in and said a simple email should be enough and that payment wouldn’t be necessary. The fan wrote back asking for payment and terms. Enough said. So ensure you have your contracts and your communication records are safe. You might even want to go as far as keeping a digital phone call journal where the time and date cannot be tampered with or simply verify any agreements, payment terms and other details made over the phone or in person with an email.

3. Define How You Will Source Your Supplier

“Supplier shopping,” is my favourite part of the process! Now you need to look for someone to do the work. You can do this by calling up suppliers you like the look of and asking them for a quote to your brief, you can ask your contacts for suggestions or submit your requirements to your trade press. All this is still applicable even when using freelancing websites such as “People Per Hour,” or “Fiverr,” and even your friends. You might want to put a call out for pitches by contacting suppliers direct or using websites such as “The Smalls.” Ensure you provide them with a detailed brief outlining what you want and what you don’t want. Stating what you don’t want is important, it is all too easy to get caught up in proposals and reject them based on discovering things you didn’t want whilst going through the process. Don’t waste time other people’s time.

partnership team

4. Evaluate Your Proposals

Once your pitches are in you need to assess them based on your brief. Be sure to ask questions and clarify things you are unsure of. Also, it is worth prioritising the criteria in the brief and deciding an order of importance and perhaps even attributing a score to each element of the pitch that relates to the criteria to assist with your decision-making process. You also want to investigate what the deal with the supplier would consist of, for example, what are their legal requirements and payment terms.

5. Keep Tabs on Your Supplier

So in this part of the process you want to work with your supplier. Ensure you get regular progress updates and have regular meetings to review the work. This will help you direct the work and measure performance. It is also much easier to course correct when you are in motion and should there be changes to the brief or errors by either party they will be better dealt with if the project has momentum. Of course, keep a record of these reviews for the final review should a contract renewal become available or another pitch.

Author Bio:

Leena Sowambur holds a BA (Hons) Commercial Music and MA Design and Media Arts from the University of Westminster, London, UK.  Her professional career started in 2000 running music marketing campaigns for acts from Beyoncé to Take That and coaching in music business entrepreneurship. Leena now manages “Positively Music,” which provides music industry online courses and live training focussed on music business model design and strategy for SMEs.

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