When I started Organic P&O Solutions, I had a clear vision of what I wanted to do. It’s the same now as it was then: to use my HR skills to help organisations optimise individual and team performance, face their key challenges, support them in times of transition and provide the resilience and momentum they need to achieve their goals.
Ambitious, yes, but I stuck to my guns, and seven years later I have a great team around me and we’re working with some amazing clients.
But of course, I didn’t do it all on my own. Besides the other HR consultants who work with me, Organic P&O Solutions depends on a range of vital suppliers who get on with the essential peripheral business functions like finance, marketing, design and IT – leaving us free to do what we do best.
In one of my recent posts, I wrote about seven important lessons I’ve learnt over seven years running a small business. In retrospect, I should have added an eighth lesson: To be successful, it’s essential to build a network of great suppliers who you trust and love working with.
I’m going to put that right now, by introducing you to the suppliers who have helped me grow Organic P&O Solutions into what it is today, and by sharing some thoughts about my own experience of developing a supplier network.
Meet the Suppliers We Couldn’t Do Without!
Mike Wallace: Rosemary Bookkeeping
One of the first things you realise when you start a business is how much paperwork you create. Managing it is a job in its own right. In the early days I had a virtual assistant to help me with my admin. When it became clear that Nat was too good for this role however, she quickly became my first trainee consultant, leaving me without anyone to do my bookkeeping.
The crunch came one Sunday morning when I found myself with three competing demands. I had to write a proposal for a big client pitch; I needed to prepare and send out my invoices which were overdue – and I wanted to spend some time with my son who had just started school. Something had to give, so I outsourced my bookkeeping to Mike, who I knew through networking.
Since then, Mike has taken care of my invoicing, making payments and looking after credit control. He takes the information from all the financial transactions we make and prepares it for our accountant without me even needing to see it.
Ellen Lefevre: Lefevres Chartered Accountants
Of all the supplier relationships a business owner needs to develop, I’d argue that the one they have with their accountant is probably the most important. A good accountant can be integral to helping a business grow, and while it’s not impossible to change an accountant mid-relationship, it’s much better to get it right first time.
Ellen was recommended by a friend who also ran her own business. She did my very first set of accounts and we’ve worked together ever since. Highly proactive, Ellen gets financial information to me early, making sure I do what I need to on time, and keeping me updated on changes to things that impact the business like corporation tax an VAT. She adds real value, sitting down with me each year, taking me through my accounts and giving me invaluable advice.
Crucially, Ellen gets on really well and works seamlessly with Mike my bookkeeper. Together, they have put robust processes in place that mean I don’t need to get involved in the daily admin at all. This has given me space to develop my own analytical reporting information, so when I have my FD hat on, I can focus on the performance of the business – rather than worrying about paperwork and complying with statutory obligations.
Lisa Vassallo: One To Three Marketing
Although I look after the implementation of marketing activity for my business, I’m outside of my comfort zone when it comes to marketing strategy. Thankfully though, I met Lisa through networking. I liked her approach right away, and after attending several of her social media workshops, decided she was perfect for helping me with marketing for Organic P&O Solutions.
Lisa has been advising me on my digital marketing activity for about three years now. We meet regularly to discuss my goals, and she helps me plan my social media in line with these, recommending appropriate content and style. Alongside this, she helps me interpret my analytics and refine my marketing, so I get the best results with my budget.
Lisa helps me to be braver and more creative. I have lots of ideas, but I trust her to challenge me if she doesn’t think something will work – and to help me develop the best ideas into something that will!
Karen Reynolds & Angela Pugh: Creative Associates
My relationship with Creative Associates is another one that goes back a long way. I worked with Karen and Angela when I was with Waterstones – where they were responsible for designing much of the branding and communication material. I always liked their work, so when I set up Organic P&O Solutions, and needed an online presence, I asked them to create my very first website.
The site’s been through several iterations over the years (in fact, I’m about to reveal another one in the very near future, so watch this space!), and Creative Associates are now firmly established as my brand guardians – my go to supplier for all my digital design requirements.
Print & Design
Tara Morris: Abstract Print & Design
We might live in a digital age, but print still has the power to stand out, impress and be remembered. I certainly use print – in marketing campaigns for postcards and bookmarks, as well as for client training materials – and when I do, I go straight to Tara!
Rob Nossiter. Fibrefly
Like most businesses, at Organic P&O Solutions we depend on the functionality of our IT equipment, a secure network and reliable, 24/7 connectivity. Our remote working model makes us especially reliant on the ability to communicate with each other, and with our clients from anywhere – something that’s become even more critical in light of the COVID-19 crisis.
Rob makes it all happen (we have no idea how), looking after all our tech, making sure our software and apps are all up to date and ensuring we stay safe from any viruses and other online threats. Given that IT is so fundamental (and mysterious), it’s reassuring to know that Rob has our back and that if we do have any kind of issue, he’s only a phone call away.
4 Things I Learnt Building My Supplier Network
Nobody works in isolation. Behind every brand and every entrepreneur are a host of suppliers helping them to realise their full potential. Having gone through the process of building my own supplier network, here are my four top pieces of advice:
Take time to find the perfect match
When you’re a small business, your suppliers are your team, so it’s essential you find people who share your values, you trust implicitly, and who you genuinely enjoy working with. While there will be plenty of people out there with the technical skills you need, finding those that are right for you and your business is likely to take time.
Make the right connections
I relied on a combination of networking, word-of-mouth recommendations and contacts from my previous life in the corporate world. Referrals are great because they come pre-validated, while connections made through a networking group you consistently attend allow time for relationships to develop before you make any commitments.
A word of caution about using contacts you may have made from working in the corporate sector. While some of my strongest supplier relationships date back to my corporate days, I found out early on that not all suppliers are suited to supporting smaller businesses with their very different dynamics.
Think about how suppliers will work together
As you grow your supplier network, it will be important to keep in mind that some suppliers may need to work closely together – your bookkeeper and accountant for example, or suppliers of different aspects of marketing. This is where a recommendation or getting to know someone over a period of time through networking can be useful, but in the end, you’ll have to trust your own judgement
Learn to let go – outsourcing works!
If you’re not great at ‘letting go’ of things, engaging others to do work for you might take some getting used to. However, when you do start to outsource those tasks that you can’t do, you aren’t good at, you don’t like doing, or that aren’t financially worth you taking on yourself, you’ll quickly see how it adds value to your organisation.
Why Not Give Your Suppliers a Shout Out?
It’s easy to take your suppliers for granted but remember that most of us are running businesses that are both clients and suppliers. If you’ve found someone who’s great at what they do, why not do them a favour and share their details with your clients?
And if you know any organisation that is looking for help with their HR, please do pass on our details and tell them to get in touch for a chat!