THE BLOG

3 Things Service Providers Can Do to Help Entrepreneurs

01/30/2013 09:30 am ET | Updated Apr 01, 2013

One of the challenges we face as entrepreneurs is balancing our high-level vision for the company with the practical, day-to-day grunt work. Often it is the long-term vision -- the dream -- that keeps us going. But then we see the dozens of bullets on our to-do list and get back to reality.

As young entrepreneurs, there are a few things we know really well, but even more that we need to learn. In our case, we have a physical product that we have spent several years designing. It's an all-terrain wheelchair designed for the unique needs of wheelchair users in developing countries, who often have to travel long distances on rough terrain under their own power. We know our product inside and out. We can talk your ear off about our design process and the decisions we made. But our product means nothing if we can't get it to our customers. And we need help doing this.

We need to physically move our product from our manufacturer to customers who are spread all over the world. We need banking instruments that allow us to work with international suppliers. We need all of the usual services required by small business, all at the same time, since one year ago all we had was a dream.

Service providers play an important role in the life of a startup. They allow us to focus on our core activities without getting lost in the details of specific business tasks. We can leverage their resources to make a greater impact, faster, than we could doing everything on our own. We've engaged with a variety of service providers over the past few months and know that we'll be working with even more as we grow our business. Some experiences have been great; others have simply taught great lessons.

As young entrepreneurs we have very little money and even less time. Many of us are bootstrapping our endeavors and are woefully understaffed. In our case, our engineering, marketing, and web departments all share the same seat! Given the constraints on early stage startups, here are our recommendations for how service providers can best support us:

1. Show us all the options but help us pick one quickly

While we may not be ready for the package with all the bells and whistles just yet, we're hopeful about our growth, so it's helpful to get an understanding of the spectrum of services you provide. Make the options clear to us, but don't stop there. Help us make decisions. We're learning as fast as we can, but you're the expert.

Recently we've been dealing with shipping and delivery issues, trying to figure out how we physically move various quantities of wheelchairs around the world. We connected with a large shipping company, who has taken the time to clearly lay out the options, from air freight to sea freight, and guided us toward decisions on a case-by-case basis. Their international operations provide us a great springboard for our efforts and their scale makes them a valuable partner as we grow our business. We have been clear about our needs since the beginning and we don't hesitate to ask for help when we need it, which makes it easier for this company to work with us.

2. Refer us to others

For many services there are dozens of providers that we can pick from. If we're working with you, we're building a relationship with you. We trust you. If you can recommend a complementary service provider, it saves us the time and stress of locating that service on our own.

When we mentioned to our lawyer that we were looking for an accountant, she referred us to two that she had worked extensively with. The accountant we chose then referred us to a payroll service provider. Getting a reference from somebody we trusted made the whole process of selecting a service provider easier and more comfortable.

3. Share our enthusiasm

We can often feel like small fish in a big pond. We're really excited about our work and it's encouraging when others get excited with us. In the course of providing your service, take the time to get to know us. Learn what we're all about. Get excited with us. This is your chance to share in our dream.

We travel, a lot. Recently we've developed a relationship with a large airline. They set our company up in their business program, and now in addition to our own frequent flier miles, we earn miles for our business. Our contacts at this airline have consistently shared their excitement about our work and suggested other ways we could leverage their company in our work. As we keep them updated on our progress, they help us think strategically about the service they provide and how we can best utilize it as our company evolves.