Working with vendors is a challenging (and sometimes, scary!) task for many entrepreneurs. Just listen to these client quotes:
“Honestly, I was most apprehensive when hiring you. My past experiences with vendors have never been up to scratch and it was just getting very frustrating.”
“ I don’t think I can work with a vendor. I don’t think I’ll have enough control and am not even sure they’d be able to deliver the results I’m looking for.”
“We’ve been burnt twice by using a vendor for our SEO work. I’m starting to lose faith in people.”
If you’ve ever hired a copywriter, a website designer, an SEO specialist, a business blogger, or a social media manager, chances are you have your own vendor-related experiences to share.
What is a vendor you ask?
A vendor is someone who — while being part of your team — isn’t a full time member. This person works with several other clients simultaneously. You ask this person to deliver a specific set of tasks either as a one-time job or on an ongoing basis.
As someone who’s worked with hundreds of entrepreneurs worldwide over the last five years at Content Bistro, I know what a successful vendor relationship looks like. And I’m here to share how you as an entrepreneur can ensure that you lay the foundations right so you get the best results from the vendors you hire.
If you want to bring on someone to write your website copy, craft blog posts for you, manage your social media, optimize your SEO, or design your website, you need to know how to make this vendor-business owner relationship work beautifully.
Let’s start by first outlining how you can go about finding a vendor who can deliver the results you’re looking for.
Outline the vendor’s responsibilities
The first step is to identify what you need a vendor for.
Answering the following questions will help you create an outline of what your vendor’s role and responsibilities will be as well as how you’d assess their success.
- What will the freelancer or vendor be creating for me?
- What skills and qualifications should he/she have?
- How much experience should he/she have?
- What will be their role in the organization?
- Who will they be reporting to?
- What are the success milestones that I’d like to see from our working together?
Kickstart the search for the right vendor
There are five different ways to go about vendor hunting. Here they are:
1. Post an ad on a job board
There are several ad job boards online dedicated to finding a vendor. Some popular choices include
Posting a job on most of these boards would require paying a small fee and then, sifting through all the applications you receive to shortlist a few candidates who you can then meet with and finalize.
2. Do a Google search
Another often-used way is to do a Google search for that particular freelancing niche or vendor type and go with the first 5-10 options that the Google gods throw up.
You’d need to visit each freelancer’s website and also contact them via email or their contact forms to find out if they’re taking on more clients and if they’d be willing to chat with you about your project.
3. Use social media
If you’re an avid Twitter user or Facebook-er, you can always put out a call that you’re hiring and have people recommend or apply directly.
Using the hashtags #jobs, #freelancers #hiring #nowhiring #jobsearch #jobhunt and #careers on Twitter or Instagram will be helpful in getting that update seen by prospective applicants.
4. Check out vendor sites
You can also find vendors and freelancers using websites like, Upwork and Freelancer. You’ll have to list your project and have people bid for it.
One of the key things to keep in mind with sites like these is to look for vendors who have a solid rating and great testimonials.
5. Ask for referrals
This is my personal favorite and one that I use very often and very successfully myself and also, how 99% of my clients find me.
Tap your mastermind community, your colleagues, fellow entrepreneurs and ask them to share their recommendations for vendors and freelancers. It really cuts down on the time you spend sifting through applications, shortlisting people, contacting them and so on.
Be sure to ask for what I call, “proven referrals.” These are referrals for only those vendors that one has worked with and seen results from.
With all the methods listed above, be sure to do your due diligence. Ask for references, samples of work and most importantly, if they’d be willing to sign a contract that outlines everything they will be delivering and the timelines.
How to successfully work with a vendor
So, now that you have found the right person to work with, how do you ensure that work flows seamlessly and that you get the results you want? You set up systems and processes.
Yes, most capable, veteran vendors will have most of these systems set up already and all you’ll have to do is follow them. But in case they don’t, here’s what you need to know.
1. Set up a schedule of meetings
Time is money for a busy entrepreneur so make sure you have an outline of meetings ready. When would you be meeting during the project? What times? How many meetings?
Knowing all of this will help you to cut down on the back-and-forth of emails and plan your time accordingly while giving your vendor a clear indication of what they should expect.
A caveat to this is that not every.single.project requires meetings. That’s right. I work with graphic designers who I simply assign projects to but have never met online or in person. Yet the working relationship is successful.
Projects, like copywriting, web designing, branding as well as ongoing social media management may require a few meetings to monitor progress.
2. Use a project management tool for communication
Don’t you hate it when you send an email and the other person never gets it? Or vice-versa? Yes, email can be wonky. Pamela and I have had a bunch of emails go missing, so I can vouch for the fact that emails do disappear!
How do you fix this?
By using a project management tool to communicate with your vendor or vendors.
My personal fave is Trello, but I’ve also used Asana, Basecamp and Slack when working with different clients.
Using a project management tool ensures that things don’t fall through the cracks, it cuts down on email back-and-forth and it gives everyone a virtual office to check in with regularly.
3. State your expectations clearly and professionally
While you would have established roles and responsibilities, now is a good time to state what you’d expect from the vendor in a clear and professional way.
Sometimes we take things for granted and when work starts, we realize that we should have talked about these things.
For instance, how often do you need them to update you on the projects? What reports will they be providing to you and at what timelines? What is the notice period you need should they be unable to complete the project? What are their refund policies?
Knowing all of this will ensure that there are no surprises along the way and that work can flow smoothly.
4. Establish your boundaries right from the start
Finally and most importantly, establish boundaries. Both your vendor and you will be grateful for this once work starts.
Setting boundaries means being respectful of each other’s time and your own. It is an exercise in placing value on the work both they and you are doing.
You can set boundaries around taking phone calls, replying to emails, or updating the project management tool over weekends.
Vendors = more time, more money, more growth
When you work successfully with vendors and freelancers in your business, you can free up time, save money, and enjoy greater growth.
It is a simple yet powerful strategy that many entrepreneurs have employed in order to scale and get more done without getting sucked into the vortex of busywork.
Share with me what questions or fears you have about working with vendors and freelancers in your business. I’d love to answer them in the comments!
5 thoughts on “The Ultimate Guide to Working with Vendors for Your Branding and Marketing”
Trello is my fav too!
SO cool to hear that Arun!! Do you use it for things other than project management? I use it for blog planning and strategy mapping too:)
Pamela, thank you for the insights on hiring marketing vendors. As a small, start-up strategy and in-bound marketing “firm”, we are relying on outside vendors most of our copywriting, web design, SEO assessment and work and social media management and your tips are very helpful. Something we haven’t started using yet, but now believe we will, is the use of online project management tools to improve communications. Thanks!
You’re most welcome Jennifer! I’m glad these tips could help and yes, project management tools are awesome at ensuring nothing falls through the cracks and everyone knows what they’re supposed to be doing 🙂
Working with the right vendors is essential.
As a marketing service provider I know that every client and every vendor aren’t a great fit. Setting clear expectations up front and being honest about preferences and sticking points is important. Having worked in-house and for agency vendors I’ve learned how important it is to follow your advice. Great tips.
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