Friday, March 14, 2008

The other side of the equation-Vendors

As a solo practitioner, I'm a small business person, too.

I just finished my first year of practice and although my senior lawyer mentors tell me I have all the "right problems," it has been a hair raising first year. Following the advice of mentors and experts, I've tried to select clients carefully, not carry much in accounts receivable and tried to provide great customer service. What I haven't done so well is manage my vendors effectively. And, its clear that some of the expenditures on purchases from vendors aren't producing the expected results.

Now that I know the direction my business will grow in and what expenditures of cash, time and energy are yielding the best return, its time to make some difficult choices. And, some not so difficult choices. I've had three vendors really perform on an outstanding basis on my behalf. One oversold me, but has always kept the big picture of the remainder of my career in mind in helping me to manage that situation.

I know that I can count on that company to do every thing that staff can humanly and humanely do to help my practice grow. It helps that they really understand the business of lawyering. And, their staff from my account representative, to the people answering the phones, to the accounts receivable people really know how to build long term relationships.

I did trim one of my subscriptions with that company back, but picked up a less expensive addition that I use over and over in my practice. While I wish I'd known then what I know today, I can honestly say that the value of the service and information products that I get from my two remaining subscriptions exceeds my expectations and compensates a bit for being in an excess subscription that first year.

A large bank has been seeking my business and working diligently to build a relationship. That has been refreshing. They started with some baggage, there had been some issues that were not so positive in the past. However, they kept doggedly trying to correct course and build a positive relationship. They've also made the effort to do a site visit to my office.

Finally, I have a family owned small business that I trade with that has friendly counter staff that have been there for a couple of years. They manage to turn around special orders of relatively esoteric items in less than three days, and make a good effort to carry comprehensive stock. Additionally, they've sent a small amount of business my way. Not much, but nevertheless appreciated.

Some of the negatives I've experienced with vendors over the past year are: 1) mechanical mistakes and failures, 2) intermittent service outages, 3) unresponsiveness to genuine concerns, 4) overly aggressive collection efforts on past due amounts (yes, I have the same problems the rest of you do), 5) bookkeeping errors, 6) failure to timely make changes requested, 7) delays in performance, 8) failure to return phone calls and e-mails, 9) malfunctioning product upgrades, 10) inability to get to my project at all and the list goes on.

My resolution for my second year of business is to more carefully manage my vendor relationships and expenditures to maximize value and identify those vendors who will be my long term "partners" in building this practice. It's a good goal for any business.