|Supplier diversity is a buzz word that seems to have ebbed and flowed in the past few years. Are you familiar with this term?Supplier diversity is a proactive business program in which businesses contract with minority-owned businesses to supply various goods and services. Also called minority business enterprises (MBEs), these businesses usually consist of small businesses run and owned by women, ethnic minorities, recent immigrants or disabled or veteran proprietors.|
These programs often help smaller businesses gain a sustainable foothold in larger markets, increase profitability and develop lasting partnerships. Meanwhile, they offer larger corporations market access, enhanced reputation, economic development credit and the opportunity to better reflect and contribute to the demographics of the community in which they operate.
An increased number of MBEs have appeared in Canada the past few years, all competing in the same space. If your business is looking to begin working within MBE programs, consider the following tips for setting your team apart:
- Research local corporations that are focused on supplier diversity.
Many big companies like General Motors Canada, Dell Canada and HP Canada have made supplier diversity a bigger priority in recent years. Know which companies tend to work most with businesses similar to yours. Then, research similar companies to these members to expand your network of opportunities. This list of contacts will become your target list. As you compile these targets, be realistic about your scalability and whether or not these companies need your product or service.
- Make a connection.
Companies actively seeking MBEs often have information available online regarding their application process. This should be the first place you look before you make contact. If the company does not offer this information online, reach out to them through mail, e-mail or telephone. Better yet, schedule a face-to-face meeting with the executive responsible for vendor relations. Make a lasting impression by leaving them with a gift imprinted with your business’s logo and contact information, like this coffee gift set or this leatherette desk caddy filled with delicious jelly beans.
- Practice the three Ps: Patience, persistence and perseverance.
MBE owners cannot assume that contracts and opportunities will automatically come to them. Landing business deals is just as time- and energy-consuming for MBEs as it is for mainstream companies. Actively search for new opportunities and apply for as many of them as your business can manage. Be persistent when searching for business opportunities, employ patience when awaiting a response on a contract, and use perseverance to conquer obstacles or overcome proposal rejections. Maintaining this positive attitude and determination will reflect on your business’s reputation, lead to more opportunities and business growth.
- Get recognized.
Many awards, honours and distinctions are bestowed upon MBEs each year, which turns out to be a great way to gain attention from other companies with large supplier diversity programs. The most direct way to earn these accolades is through consistent work and maintaining a positive relationship with clients and others in the supplier diversity community. If your business receives an award or other recognition, don’t be afraid to toot your own horn. Distribute a press release, alert your social networks, e-mail clients and vendors and more. Really celebrate by displaying a banner in the lobby of your office or distribute note nest clips with a “We did it!” note affixed.
- Nurture networks.
It’s all about who you know and who knows you. Get the word out about your capabilities through networking with potential clients and organizations like the Diversity Business Network. Attend conferences, trade shows, seminars and award ceremonies hosted by business organizations in your area to meet new contacts and shore up existing relationships. When attending business conferences and trade shows, set quantitative goals to meet new contacts and assess their quality in terms of new business opportunities. Be sure to leave them with contact information—business card magnets and letter openers are great—and follow-through with all new contacts within three weeks of first meeting. A simple email, phone call or connection through a social media site can do wonders to keep a contact fresh and helpful.
Supplier diversity programs can offer a quid pro quo relationship that helps your small business grow.