In the last couple months through providing expertise and advice to a couple non-profit organizations that I have affiliation, I 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 had been oversold services for their size of business. In the second case, the board member was trying to make a decision on a quotation without understanding what features they would be receiving for the price quoted. The quotation did not provide a breakdown of what they would receive for the price. In many cases it is the business owner or executives that are left to make a final decision on services for their company such as IT services, web development, marketing, or training to name a few . It is overwhelming to have to make a buying decision in many cases without understanding everything about what the services are 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 just 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 more difficult even for the latter to not provide the specifications in the plan, as there is now recourse for a dispute. In many cases, it has nothing to do with the integrity of the vendor, but with the understanding of what your actual business requirements are versus any other customer they have today.
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 important to understand that every website is not the same and neither is every business. 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 ecommerce on your site, or many other variables. If you are asking a vendor to quote on the website without them understanding of your business and you articulating your requirements, then you are most likely not going to get what you need and end up paying for a site that will not benefit your business. Only you know your business, so you need to document or get help from someone to help document your requirements. You also should document your goals and expectations for the site, information about your business and your target market for the site. A retail site 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? Putting a 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 the quotation, you then have recourse if you do not get what you expected. I myself ended up in such a situation. I provided a web developer a detailed requirements document for a website I needed to have developed. 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 and will ensure you have the best change of receiving the services that are right for your particular business.
RK Fischer & Associates