Build a business suppliers can rely on

One of the misconceptions we see quite often by aspiring entrepreneurs is that having a good idea equals a viable business.

Beneficiaries are surprised when we reflect that unless you have a market with a paying customer, you don’t have a business.

The key is to establish a market before you launch your business.

One of the ways we offer support to beneficiaries is by linking them to existing markets.

There are no guarantees or certainties, but we have had a measure of success.

A relatively new field is to introduce beneficiaries of our incubation programme to companies where the beneficiary’s product or service fits within the companies supply chain. When this fit works, then the benefits accrue both to the beneficiary and the company.

This is a different sphere than that of selling to an immediate customer, and while it may be highly beneficial, entrepreneurs seeking to become suppliers need to be mindful of some key points.

In anticipation of this article, I spoke to the co-owner of a mid-sized company with whom we are currently conducting some enterprise and supplier development. I salute their willingness to make the process easier and take her words of encouragement seriously.

I trust that readers who have the privilege of being linked to such companies will appropriate these five points into healthy habits as they woo the supplier.

Get an appointment with a mid-sized company.

There is a possibility that you may become a supplier to them. This could mean a regular and consistent cash flow. If you are successful, they may refer you to further leads and contacts.

What does a mid- sized company ideally require of you? What can you do in preparing for your first engagement?

Building a trust relationship with possible suppliers takes focus, insight and application. There are some non-negotiable things that simply must be present if they are to receive value in this relationship.

Honour your word

When entrepreneurs engage with suppliers, they may be prone to so please the supplier that they overestimate their capacity to deliver.

It is the classic overpromise and under deliver. Suppliers know that you are on a journey, and aren’t expecting you to operate at a top tier supplier level (yet).

However, what doesn’t sit well is when you don’t deliver on what you say. You should invert that earlier saying and, “Underpromise and overdeliver”.

Commit yourself to delivering on time; with the right level of quality and don’t entertain excuses.

Remember that this relationship could be ongoing and open other ones, if you demonstrate an integrity between your word and your work. Do include a bias towards quality, as your supplier has built up a reputation over time that needs to be respected.

“Every job is a self-portrait of the person who did it. Autograph your work with excellence,” says author Tom Key.

Be a champion of communication

This means understanding that you must keep your client briefed at all stages through the process.

One of the worst things to do when you are challenged with the unexpected is to go quiet and hope they won’t notice.

Your silence speaks louder than you can imagine. Yes, there may be challenges to delivery, yet you will find the supplier more willing to adjust and be accommodating if you keep them briefed.

While on the subject of communication, remember the powerful concept raised by author Stephen Covey of “listening until you understand.”

By so doing, you will inevitably hear the peculiar pain or problem the company is seeking to resolve.

Take notes when they are speaking and ask for clarification when uncertain. This can contribute to a trust relationship over time. Customers don’t expect you to be perfect. They do expect you to fix things when they go wrong, says former British Airways vice president Donald Porter.

Come prepared

Consider what the total value of a consistent contract over one year could be to you if you were to be successful in the wooing. Then there is the possibility of receiving referrals.

With this in mind, it pays to do some research about the company. Who are the owners? What are their values? Who are the current suppliers?

Secondly, prepare your business profile and a brief, elevator pitch which you can offer if requested. Finally, don’t forget to prepare yourself. That means to dress suitably; arrive punctually, engage politely and honour time slots.

Give them a base to believe in

Companies build relationships with suppliers who over time demonstrate the ability to deliver at a competitive price; on time and with solid quality.

One of the factors that has been a rudder of stability in these suppliers is that they have built strong organisations with great systems and robust structure.

Any newcomers would be starting from ground zero and would have to build this over some time.

In the absence of an extensive track record, consider ways in which you could build credibility within the framework of your own resources. You don’t have to own resources or have extensive employees in order to leverage partnerships in this way.

One of the privileges the Centre for Entrepreneurship (CFE) at False Bay College has is a pool of 20 Rotarians who are mentoring our beneficiaries. Their wisdom and experience can be included in some part to build credibility.

Be a ninja of responsiveness

While most SMMEs have a long list of things they don’t have, the one thing that they should have is a quick ability to respond.

You can become known for being contactable; responding quickly and demonstrating a “can do” attitude, fuelled by hunger.

Build a reputation for being the go to person that responds with agility. “The goal as a company is to have customer service that is not just the best but legendary,” says Walmart founder Sam Walton.

If you are the owner of a company seeking to optimise on the enterprise and/or supplier development elements of your BBBEE score card, the CFE may be able to offer you an effective, bespoke mechanism to achieve these points.

Steve Reid is the manager of the CFE. His column appears once a month. Email comments or questions to or visit for more about the CFE.