Getting the right vendors critical to home-based business

Big companies give us little guys excuses all the time: "The computer's down our tech guy won't be here until tomorrow ... someone in shipping botched your order. We'll get it out to you as soon as we can ... Sorry, our delivery truck is stuck in Des Moines ..."

The big guys can get away with so-so customer service to some degree simply because of their size, but for small and self-employed business owners, there's very little margin for error. This means that if you use outside vendors to help you in the delivery of your product or service, you'd be smart to choose wisely.

Starting with the basics, consider the fundamentals of what it takes to run your home-based business office on a daily basis:

* Computer service. We all know the frustration of computer malfunction. I suggest having a backup computer, like a laptop or even an inexpensive desktop that you can access in the event of an emergency. It's also vital that you have a trusted, reliable computer tech you can go to in times of crisis. A good choice is someone who is available after-hours and on weekends, who provides a "loaner" computer and who can guarantee you a fast turn-around.

* General services. It's a smart move to have at least two or three reliable, proven sources for the products and supplies you need on a regular basis. For example, you may have a great printer that's right around the corner from your office that you've established a good working relationship with. However, if they are backed up or suddenly go out of business, you could be left in a lurch. Always have a backup source for all of your regularly-used business necessities.

* Packing, shipping & delivery. Products that arrive late or broken is a leading consumer compliant. Make sure you cover all of your bases in this category and consider shipping insurance and delivery conformation. This will save you a lot of headache in the long run.

So how do you find the the right vendor partners:

* Don't be afraid to interview prospects and ask for references. Ask key questions about business hours, turn-around time, on-time delivery statistics and the procedure for dealing with late or missing orders.

* Talk with the owner or manager if possible to get a feel for the company's customer service approach. You want to make sure you won't get lost in the shuffle just because you're a small business.

* Don't rule out other home-based business owners as reliable vendors. You may get greater flexibility and lower pricing. However, make sure the other party has the same work ethic as you do. Don't feel compelled to hire a fellow home-based business owner just because you feel a shared kinship.

* Ask colleagues and people you meet at networking and business events about companies and individuals to check out and to avoid.

Advanced planning is really key. You don't want to be thumbing through the Yellow Pages after your computer crashes or a supply house goes belly-up overnight. Make sure you have a database of go-to people or companies you are confident with before a problem arises. You might also try several different vendors on a limited basis for small projects and orders. This will give you a side-by-side comparison of price, quality and reliability.

One of the greatest challenges of being self-employed is that your name is inextricably linked to the face of your company. While you will personally reap the rewards of the business' success, you will also be responsible for its failures even perceived failures. This is why it's vital that you select trustworthy, reliable vendors to be your home-based business "partners."

Dave Archer is chief executive officer of Nevada's Center for Entrepreneurship and Technology. Contact him through


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