Getting the Best out of Your Vendors
There was a reliable, independent print vendor that I was introduced to via email through a colleague. I was now the point of contact for all things print that we needed for events, conferences, etc. for a fast-growing startup. Of course, I replied with, “Nice to meet you, [insert printer guy’s name here]”. I also followed up with my first print request, but to my surprise, I received no reply for about a week and a half. Was this guy a total jerk or did he just deem me to be untrustworthy when my emails came through? Needless to say, I had to get some assistance from my co-worker who already knew him to push the job through.
Fast forward a couple of years to the present day, and I get an almost immediate response when I contact the same vendor. So what happened between then and now? Well, aside from frequent communication over time, I learned how to make our interactions efficient, precise and personable (yet professional). I was friendly and authentic, which I believe broke the awkward silence at the beginning of our vendor/client relationship.
Whether you’re outsourcing your printing to a printing company, contracting a freelancer for video production or using some other custom service that you don’t personally handle yourself, it’s important to maintain good relationships with those vendors. The obvious reason is that you probably need these people to carry your projects over the finish line. The other reasons are to increase your network and leverage a contact that could help open doors for you in the future.
Here are some simple, but effective tactics to maintain your vendor relationships:
It’s a pretty simple ask that I’ve seen some people fail to execute. This mostly applies to working directly with a point of contact (doesn't apply to automated systems). Instead of spitting out demands for what you need or being very robotic in your interactions, it’s nice to say things like, “good afternoon”, “how are you?”, “hope all is well” and “you did a great job”. Believe it or not, being a customer who is pleasant to work with, personable and courteous can go a long way. If they do an excellent job over time, you can even show your appreciation by sending them a thank you note or a small gift, or by referring new customers. Vendors may be more willing to go the extra mile for customers who make their job a little easier.
Don’t assume that the print vendor automatically knows you wanted to print that mailer on 100# dull coated paper. Or that the video guy will be sending both .mp4 and WMV formats. Be as specific as you can about your requests and ask questions when you are unsure. Ask for paper samples or examples of work if you need further clarification. In addition, heed to their requirements for what file types, formatting or templates they work best with.
In addition, really simple communication tactics like confirming that they received your files, writing clear and specific email subject lines, or letting them know the in-hand date you’ll need the final product by can be very helpful.
Ask for proofs
Some vendors automatically give you the option of viewing a digital or printed proof. For those that don’t, request one. Even if it’s not a complex project, it’s always good to confirm through at least a PDF proof that you’ve sent the right files and take one more look before it goes into production. If a PDF proof is not an option, confirm the creative direction of the piece, view a rough cut of the video or request a sketch or photo of the project (depending on what type of service you are outsourcing). It really sucks to receive a box of business cards with the name spelled wrong or view a final cut of a video with typos — all because you didn’t double check what was actually going into production.
Pay on time
Some vendors require payment up front for the order to be processed. But for those vendors who bill invoices, do them a favor and pay them within a reasonable timeline and in a way that works for both of you. This should be outlined in a written agreement or expressed verbally at the start of the relationship so that both parties can be clear about payment expectations.
Become a partner or reseller
There are some online print vendors like gotprint.com that offer broker programs to resell their services through white labeling their website. If you really love the quality, speed, and efficiency of your vendor, you may be able to utilize their resources as add-on services to your business. If you’ve established a great relationship, you might also be able to partner up with a local vendor and come up with an agreement that benefits you both.
If your vendor is doing a good job, one of the best gifts you can give them is repeat business. Communicate requests clearly, respectfully and within reasonable timeframes. Foster the partnership and reap the benefits.