Finding suppliers for small businesses can be difficult. You want to make sure your products and services are delivered at the right time, the right price and to the right people.

When there’s a lot riding on you being able to create value for your clients, you need to ensure that you’ve got the best team backing you.

At the risk of sounding overly dramatic, this crucial step really could make or break your venture.

Why is finding suppliers so difficult?

According to WebRecruit in a 2016 survey, 52% of small businesses found that selecting suppliers was their biggest recruitment challenge for advertising. Many respondents stated that selecting recruitment advertising sources, such as job boards, was a struggle for them.

There’s no doubt small business owners don’t have the time to find the best advertising suppliers. That means discovering data, stats and reliable sources – which can be an overwhelming challenge concerning the immense amount of time needed.  

Another reason finding suppliers is difficult is you’ll probably have to wade through a mountain of different business suppliers, each with their own unique offer. You’ll need to research price, location, and experience when selecting from the pool of suppliers.

Remember back in the day, when you were another clog in the old corporate machine – things were easy. There were trusted suppliers, bound by contracts so long they wouldn’t dare step out of line.

The corporate had a history with their suppliers and everything just ran pretty smoothly. They used similar technology and shared project management skills. You knew who to deal with and that was it.  

Being an entrepreneur, on the other side of the fence, now it’s all up to you. You need to choose your own suppliers, there’s nobody telling you who to work with and how to work with them. It’s up to you to figure out if they’re able to do the job and face the consequences if they can’t.

Luckily, there are a number of ways to make this whole process much easier. We’ve outlined seven questions you need to be asking before picking your supplier.

Learn how you can bypass years of picking the wrong suppliers through a click of a mouse. Watch our free on-demand training.

How to find the right supplier


1. Who’s recommending them?

Here you need to be looking at some kind of social proof. There are several different levels of social proof.

First, you should be looking at peer recommendations. Asking your peers for their recommendations of trusted and proven suppliers. It takes a lot to recommend a supplier and your peers would have established a good relationship in order to back them.

Peer recommendations can carry a lot of weight, so make sure that you use them wisely.

Second, you could be looking at getting feedback from previous customers of the supplier. Have a look at any feedback posted on their website or any other external review sites. If you don’t have any peer recommendations, feedback from existing or previous customers of the supplier is the next best source.  

Then, I’d always suggest trying to get some recommendations from a trusted community, like the Build Live Give Club. Here, you’re getting a referral from a trusted community who have vetted suppliers and can provide you with some insights and ideas into what exactly you should be looking for.

We found our graphic designer Colleen Keith and some podcast interview guests through referrals from one of our Build Live Give community members (Anfernee at Simple Creative Marketing). We were also able to recommend our own Virtual Assistant supplier The Virtual Hub to some of our Build Live Give Club members looking for VAs!

Peer recommendations can carry a lot of weight, so make sure that you use them wisely. Click To Tweet

2. Are their processes a good fit?

You need to evaluate the processes that the supplier uses. This one isn’t an obvious one, but it can have a significant effect on your relationship with your supplier.

How does the supplier like to engage with their customers? Are they expecting you to fit in with their existing processes, or are they willing to tailor their processes to your needs?

Think, for example, of the onboarding process required. Ask questions about the information that you’ll be required to give them. Will they be enough information to meet your business needs?

3. What technology do they use?

Ideally, you’d like the supplier to use similar online tools and means of communication to ensure seamless communication that enables project collaboration. Ask if they’re willing to use certain tools that you find work best for you.

Ultimately you want a supplier that you can work with, but more importantly, that you can work efficiently and effectively with. Using communication and collaboration tools that you’re both comfortable with will help this process.

Ask the potential supplier what their preferred method of communication is, whether it’s email, a phone call, Skype or face to face meetings – does it work for you?

Then ask how they’d like to collaborate to ensure a seamless working relationship. Maybe they prefer Trello, Podio, or good old-fashioned Google Drive to track different projects. Whatever it is, make sure that you’re comfortable with using these tools.

If you’re not comfortable using these tools, whatever they may be, it’s going to make collaborating more difficult than it needs to be.  

4. What does their project discipline look like?

Project discipline refers to how well a supplier goes about their project management, and how effectively they can work with you.

There are three ways small business owners can effectively use project discipline.

The first is to “start with the end in mind,” as an article on suggests. This means you need a specific plan and goal in mind.

Second, you and your suppliers should follow a schedule. The ‘must-do’s’ go first and the other tasks, which you can push off for later, are put on your calendar for another date.

The third is to have everyone in your company use the same platform to work collaboratively, as previously mentioned. When it comes to getting things done, using online collaboration management tools just makes the process much smoother.

5. What is the supplier’s capacity?

So you’ve found a great supplier. They use similar processes and online tools to you and they’re promising that they can supply you with the products you’re looking for.

There’s just one problem. They’re promising the exact same thing to 100 other small businesses. The issue here is whether or not the supplier actually has space to bring on board new clients or not.

Suppliers (and even business owners) may have the tendency to say “yes” to whatever a client has in mind. But, it’s important to be realistic. Suppliers shouldn’t take orders if they don’t have the capabilities to present high-quality work. It’s as simple as that.

This is also something that a business owner should check before they start recommending the supplier to others. Because of this, it’s always worthwhile to have about 2 to 3 recommendations for each type of supplier. Investigate all of these recommendations to see what their capacity looks like.

6. How much will it cost?

Not every supplier is the same. And not every supplier’s costs will be the same either.

It’s important that you understand a potential supplier’s pricing structure. What exactly are you paying for? Are there any discounts that you could get for early payment, or for bulk purchases? Are there any profit sharing incentives for recommending the supplier?

You should be able to answer these questions, at a bare minimum, before entering into a contract with a supplier. While the cost of your supplier should play a role in your decision to work with them, there are a lot of other things to consider.

You shouldn’t be compromising your own ethics to favour a certain supplier. Everything that you do should be aligned with the business values.

You shouldn’t be compromising your own ethics to favour a certain supplier. Click To Tweet

7. What if things go wrong?

Is the supplier able to show that they have a technological set up that can ensure that all data is recoverable? Is  ndata safe and secure with the supplier? And more importantly, how can they prove this?

Think of a web hosting supplier, the business owner needs to make sure that the hosting company is regularly backing up their website data in the event that the site gets hacked or crashes for some reason.

We also need to consider a resource backup. In the case of a virtual assistant (VA) company supplier who is providing VAs for small businesses. What happens if a VA is unavailable for some reason? Do they have the resources for a replacement VA?

It may be a slightly negative way to think of things, with the constant what if things go wrong surrounding this issue. But, it’s also practical. Things can go wrong and it’s better to be prepared than to be caught off guard.


Use this list of seven questions to help pick the right supplier for your business. Once you have a better understanding of how the suppliers will be able to create value for your business, you’ll be able to make an informed decision.

Remember that getting a good referral, or a referral from a trusted community who has vetted suppliers can save you a lot of time and guide you towards a successful business relationship.

Learn how you can bypass years of picking the wrong suppliers through a click of a mouse. Watch our free on-demand training.