Any business, large or small, is going to work with a 3rd party to provide some sort of business function at some point in time. It just makes sense to, as a business should focus on doing what it does exceptionally well. Let other experts fill in the gaps, because it’s easy to let the things that you’re not good at frustrate you and eat your time, preventing you from being able to expend energy on what differentiates your business from your competitors.
And, as you may already know, working with 3rd parties can be glorious or miserable. That’s why we’ve put together a guide for selecting the right 3rd party to work with and how best to handle that relationship so they really do make your life easier.
Find Quality Prospects
If you’re lucky, you’ll have plenty of solid referrals from people you trust who can vouch for a company, but these still need to be handled carefully. Any relationship requires an investment of time, and in this case, money as well. A quick decision can turn costly, so you’ll still want to vet any referrals you have.
To widen your pool of prospects, you’re going to need to search online. In addition to simply typing the service you need into Google, you’ll likely have better luck searching for independent, industry blogs and finding who is considered reputable by those who cover the industry.
Another solution is to identify similar work you like and find out who created it. This isn’t always easy to do, especially with service-oriented vendors. But if you’re looking for a developer to create a website or a designer, this might be the best way to go about finding people who can deliver what you’re looking for.
Narrow the Field
If you’ve done a good job casting a wide net, you’ll have a lot of work to do narrowing things down. It takes time to thoroughly examine a potential partner, so you need to develop a quick screening process to eliminate possibilities that aren’t likely to produce a successful relationship.
The first thing you need to do is determine if there is even potential for them doing work for you. Do they fall within your budget? Are they capable of producing the quality and quantity of work you need done? Sometimes estimating cost is an involved process, and this is the time to get into negotiations, but if you know you can’t afford a vendor, cross them off your list so you don’t waste your time or become tempted to overspend. In terms of a vendors capabilities, you often won’t know that they can until you’ve done further research, but again, sometimes you can come to a quick “no” if the organization isn’t big enough to produce on the scale you need. Remember, you aren’t trying to determine who can deliver for you at this point, you’re just trying to cut those who you know can’t do the job.
The next step is to evaluate the level of professionalism the company portrays. Today, many businesses are embracing a casual work atmosphere, but that doesn’t mean work can’t and shouldn’t be handled professionally. A company’s dress code doesn’t mean a thing. What’s important is their attention to detail and how they communicate.
A professional organization is going to make your life easier because you won’t have to be holding their hand all the way through the process to make sure all the little details are getting done properly. There is no rubric for professionalism. A lot of it is based on feel from the way they present themselves online and in person.
Are their emails and website spattered with grammar mistakes and misspellings? Does their website have lots of broken links? Are they on time to meetings? Does someone answer the phone when you call? The answers to these questions will tell you a lot about how they approach their work. Don’t expect them to perform outside of what they are already showing you. People are pretty consistent, and if an organization is careless in anything, they are likely careless in a lot of things.
Round Peg, Round Hole
By now you should’ve narrowed the list to people that you know can do exceptional work or at least the quality of work you need. Now you need to find, not who the best is, but who is best for you. Finding this right fit is crucial to success and a low-stress relationship.
Some of the determining factors that you’ll use for this are some of the factors you used earlier to eliminate possibilities, but now you’re going a little deeper. You should be in communication with these potential partners, and how this communication happens is a good indicator of what to expect after a contract has been signed. This isn’t always the case, as you may be on the phone with a salesperson before signing and then emailing with a project manager after. If this is the case, just ask to have some communication with whoever will be your point-of-contact. Ask them some questions to see how they answer them.
You’ll also want to evaluate the capability and stability of the organization you’re considering. Are they capable of adjusting if your needs change? Do they offer other services you might want to add as your business grows? One of the benefits of working with a third-party is the ability to scale quicker and more affordably than you can. Your partner should make your company more flexible.
And we can’t forget value. The cost is always a factor, but don’t let it overwhelm all the other analysis you’ve done. You’re looking for value, so you need to consider price along with the short-term and long-term ROI.
And while you can negotiate price, don’t go too far, beating them up over everything. If you over negotiate you put them in the position of rushing your tasks in order to stay profitable and increase the likelihood that they will end the relationship prematurely because you aren’t worth the trouble.
Set them up for success
Even the best partners need help to succeed. To get the most out of this, put in the work on the front-end. Spend a lot of time in communication with your new partner to make sure both sides are clear on the expectations and deadlines.
When you’re setting these expectations and deadlines, set several early deliverables and frequent reporting to make sure everyone is on the same page before too much work is spent in the wrong direction. Once you’ve established that they are progressing in the proper direction, reduce required calls and reports so they can spend more time working and less time reporting.
Give frequent, well thought-out feedback, so they know what you like and don’t like. Also ask them for input on how you can make things simpler or better. Establishing a strong, beneficial relationship can take a lot of work in the beginning, but it ultimately leads to a less stressful, more profitable business for you, if you’ve done your due diligence.
Please share your experiences working with 3rd parties and what you’ve learned from it in the comments.