Through working with our clients, I have realized just how difficult it must be for small businesses to make informed decisions about the services they purchase from vendors. In one case, the organization we were working with had been oversold services for their size of business. In the second case, the board member was trying to decide on a quotation without understanding what services they would be receiving for the price quoted. In this case, the client quotation did not provide a breakdown of the services they would receive for the price. In many cases in a small business, it is the business owner themselves that are left to make a final decision on services they purchase for their company, such as IT services, web development, marketing, or training, to name a few. It can be overwhelming to have to make a buying decision without understanding everything being sold and having to trust only the vendor. It is hard to know and understand if what the vendor will deliver meet your needs or is appropriate for your business. This is why it is so important to have a plan before you talk to them or prepare a tender.
If you are going to build a new building, you would or could not do this without plans, but as small business owners, we do not always think about creating a plan for purchases such as a website, advertising or even IT services. We know we need them, but in many cases, we trust in the vendor we are dealing with to provide us with the right solution. There are good builders and ones that are not so reputable. When there is a plan in place, it is difficult for the builder not to provide the specifications, as there is now recourse for a dispute. In many cases, it has nothing to do with the integrity of the vendor. It is usually with a misunderstanding of what your actual business requirements are.
Website Services Example
For the sake of this article, I will use the requirement for a website as an example, but this would be true of any service you use. It is essential to understand that every website is not the same, and neither is every business. The functionality will differ depending on your industry, the types of customers you sell to, whether you want to be able to modify the site yourself, whether you need to collect data, have e-commerce on your site, or many other variables. If you are asking a vendor to quote on the website without them having an understanding of your business and you articulating your requirements, then you are most likely not going to get what you want. Only you know your business, so you need to document or get help from someone to help document your requirements. You also should record your goals and expectations for the site, information about your business and your target market for the site. The development of a retail website is very different than one for an industrial manufacturer.
There are questions you need to ask yourself.
Have you paid for a service and not received what you expected?
Have you wasted money for something that ends up costing additional funds to obtain what you originally wanted?
Requirements Definition Plan
Putting a requirements definition plan together may be a mundane task, but it is almost like an insurance policy. If you document your requirements and have the vendor sign off on them when they provide you with the quotation, you then have recourse if you do not get what you expected. I ended up in such a situation. I submitted a detailed requirements document to a web developer for a website I needed to have developed when we first started our business. After weeks of finding the site did not function to my specifications and working through technical bugs, I cut off all further payments to the vendor because the site had not met even half of the requirements that his quotation guaranteed. If I had not provided the document to the vendor up front, I would have ended up paying a few thousand dollars for an unusable website.
The next time you are going to purchase services directly or go out to tender, be sure to do the following, and you will find it will end up saving you money. It will also ensure you have the best chance of receiving the services that are right for your particular business.
Write an overview paragraph about your business, including the size, who your customers are, your target market, demographics, and why the service you are looking for is essential to your business.
What is the goal that you are trying to achieve by the services you are purchasing?
Prepare detailed requirements that are pertinent to your specific business.
If you have a steadfast budget that you have to work within, then provide this as well, because you do not want to waste the provider's time if you cannot afford their services providing a quotation you will automatically reject.
Provide any time requirements for delivery or completion.