Working with vendors can be daunting. As someone who worked in-house in communications for many years, I know how it feels. However, four years ago, I switched roles. I built my own agency and became a full-time communications, public relations, and branding consultant. I now experience the other side of the relationship as I work with several schools, districts, universities and education-tech companies simultaneously. Looking back, I can definitely say there are some things I wish I knew when I in-house that would have benefited my experience working with vendors.
What is a vendor?
For those who aren’t quite sure what this term is referring to, let’s start by defining what exactly a vendor is. A vendor is someone (or a few people) who may be a part of your communications team, but aren’t a full-time member. They help complete projects or tasks such as media outreach, communications planning, blogging, copywriting, SEO, etc. on an ongoing basis or during a one-time period. Aside from working with you, they will often work with multiple clients at the same time.
It can be a bit tricky navigating this kind of business relationship if you haven’t done so before (and even if you have). With that said, I’m here to offer my insight and help you achieve a successful partnership.
Establish boundaries from the get-go.
Boundaries aren’t just for personal relationships. They are actually vital to a healthy business one as well. Boundaries set expectations about when and when not to call or email so that you respect one another’s time and work.
Let the vendor know if you prefer emails over phone calls or if you’d rather get updates through weekly emails versus meetings. Also, be sure to respect their off-duty time, as well. Remember: creativity and innovation is difficult to come by when you’re exhausted or always working – and the same goes for your vendor.
Don’t wait until Friday at 5pm to deliver bad news.
This in itself is a boundary. Vendors are people too and would like to relax and recharge on the weekend. If you have negative feedback or are telling a potential vendor they didn’t get a gig, I can pretty much guarantee that they will lose sleep over it or it will impact their time off.
Think about it: if your boss emailed you at 4:55pm and told you that you were fired or didn’t get the promotion you worked so hard to get, how would you feel the rest of the weekend (or longer)?
Don’t leave them hanging.
Vendors, whether they’ve submitted a proposal or have gone through an extensive RFP and interview process, typically have put a lot of work into their presentations. Just like job interviewees who’ve made it to the final round, it’s only common courtesy to let your vendor know they weren’t selected and thank them for their time. Don’t leave them guessing or having to follow up with you only to be ghosted.
Remember that they know the industry.
When you are working with vendors, remember that they’re the subject matter experts and you hired them for a reason. They are typically (or at least should be) looking out for your best interests, and if they’re worked with schools or districts in the past, they’ll have an idea as to the roadblocks and challenges they might face getting the project over the finish line. So they should be carefully crafting timelines and deadlines.
Adhere to those timelines!
Though you have a lot on your plate, it’s important that you stick to the timeline and the deadlines that your vendor set. Typically, they are set for a reason, so that you don’t miss out on a key opportunity.
Keep in mind that they are likely working with more than one client and prefer to give you 100% of their attention when working on your project. If you ignore their emails or calls, skip meetings or don’t provide feedback, you can’t expect them to get everything done a.s.a.p. when you need them to.
So, with that being said, make sure you are ready to work on whatever project or campaign you’re hiring the vendor for. If you don’t make the time, you will waste money – and no one wants that to happen!
Disagreement is different from an argument.
There will likely be a point where you may not like the work, solution or advice that your vendor brings to the table. Don’t be afraid to offer a conflicting perspective or question something. It is in the interest of your work that you speak up and do so.
However, this is not the same as an argument. Remember that the vendor is experienced and is there to help. If you feel strongly about something, be honest about your hesitation and then listen to what the vendor thinks. Offer up comments, opinions and feelings as early in the process as possible. If a designer has done through six rounds of changes on a new logo or publication and you’ve said you liked it because you were afraid of hurting their feelings, you will get nowhere fast, wasting more time and money, and you will likely feel very frustrated.
What are your tips for working with vendors or consultants? Or, are you a vendor who can chime in with your own tips? Let’s keep it positive, but share advice for other readers below.