This post is part of an ongoing series of Golden Gate Business Association (GGBA) event updates. Check the Colibri Digital Marketing blog for the latest news.
On September 14, 2016, the GGBA sponsored its first Impact Builder workshop in an ongoing series. These events focus on how the LGBT community and other diverse suppliers can nurture the relationships they need to get corporate contracts, build their businesses, and make a positive impact in the larger business community.
The workshop, hosted at the Small Business Association offices on San Francisco’s Market Street, concentrated on the do’s and don’t’s of how to leverage your status as a diverse supplier — including how technology and internet use affects every business that wants to work with large corporations. The overall theme that emerged was how to be memorable — in a good way.
Speakers included Vanessa Sood, Supplier Diversity Project Manager, AT&T; Lisa Castillo, Senior Global Supplier Diversity Manager, AT&T; Lance Dorsey, Senior Manager, Supplier Diversity, McKesson; and James Ketner, AT&T Global Services. Also in attendance was outgoing GGBA board President, Paul Pendergast, 19 GGBA members and, of course, moi.
What is Supplier Diversity and Why Do I Care?
You may be asking yourself, What is supplier diversity and why do I care? Supplier diversity is a set of government and corporate initiatives designed to level the playing field and help minority, women, LGBT, and veteran-owned businesses to flourish.
From personal experience and as a certified LGBT business enterprise, I am amazed — and grateful — to find that there are government sponsored programs designed specifically to help small and disadvantaged businesses thrive. We hear so much bad news, from the mommy tax to tragedies like Orlando; knowing that collectively our society has put measures in place to right the wrongs of discrimination and level the playing field for all business owners is uplifting and inspiring.
Money and Opportunity
If inspiration and upliftment aren’t your things, maybe cold, hard cash is. In 2015, AT&T spent $13.7 billion in contracts on diverse suppliers. Being a diverse supplier in and of itself is far from enough to get a piece of the pie (read on for more about this), but there is definitely money to be had for top performing businesses who dedicate the time and the resources to understand how supplier diversity works and make the most of it.
How to Be Memorable
The speakers covered some important — and sometimes quite funny — do’s and don’t’s regarding how to be successful in the world of supplier diversity. It’s important that you make a positive impression, remaining patient, positive, persistent, and courteous at all times. That’s how you’ll make an impact for yourself, your business, and your community.
Here are some specifics:
- Develop a professional brand. Make sure that your marketing materials, including your website, have a Fortune 500 feel (and are updated to take care of the latest digital marketing best practices, such as a mobile-friendly design).
- Connect in a variety of ways. There are a multitude of ways to find the connections and build the relationships you need to get diverse supplier contracts. For example, connect on LinkedIn, send regular emails, attend conferences, and (this one probably won’t work for me, but it could work for you) play golf. The fact is, you need to go where the diversity supplier professionals are — online and off.
- Develop your best synergies. Consider the size of your business and your capacities, and seek out connections and contracts that make sense for you. If you are a micro-business, a Fortune 10 may not be your best bet right out the gates. Try subcontracting with larger diverse suppliers or seeking out connections among the Fortune 5000?
- Be humble. Don’t go into your first meeting ready to sell, sell, sell. Instead, focus on learning about specific companies, the supplier diversity system, and cementing relationships. People work with credible, professional people whom they know and like. Get known and be likable!
- Learn the lingo and know your data. People from corporations use terms of like KPI, ROI, and SMH (just kidding). Learn their language and, most importantly, value what they value — which is the ability to show your results in numbers.
- Offer solutions. Be proactive in learning about a given company and what their needs are. Identify problems you can solve and present solutions.
- Be patient. Diversity professionals are all about connecting great people with lucrative projects. On the other hand, as gatekeepers, they are inundated with a constant flow of requests. They want you to succeed, but recognize this is a long game. Be prepared to build your business capacity, your skill set, and your relationships over time.
- Be persistent. Because getting contracts through supplier diversity programs is a long game, you’ll need to be persistent. Develop your relationships and send reminder emails or make phone calls. Pro tip: Add value in every communication, be it an interesting link or a congratulations if you run across positive press regarding a specific supplier diversity professional or the company they represent.
A final note: Success for one diverse company (this is especially true in the LGBT arena because we are just now being officially included as diverse suppliers on a large scale), is a success for all of us. Think not only of your success, but how your success paves the way for your colleagues.
- Don’t misrepresent what your company capacities. Be sure that any contract you go for, you can successfully complete. If not, you are letting down the corporate representative who backed you; it’s unlikely you’ll get a second chance and, tough though this may sound, you’ll be letting down the rest of your community.
- Don’t be memorable in a bad way. One supplier diversity professional tells the story of a company representative who followed him into the restroom, knocked on his stall, and told him he had more to say — all the while scooting a capacity statement under the door with his foot. Scary! And kind of gross . . .
- Don’t misuse social media. Large companies will research you. If you have inappropriate posts on Facebook or other social media platforms, that will work against you. So, keep it clean, baby!
- Don’t be clueless. Do not initiate meetings with corporate representatives by saying things like, “How can I help you with your diverse supplier numbers?” That sounds like you haven’t done your homework and won’t impress anybody.
When you get a contract with a large company, you are representing their brand. Established companies need to know that you are credible, ethical, great at what you do, and will not embarrass them — or cost them money — in any way. Which brings us to our next topic . . .
Cyber Security and the Diverse Supplier Procurement Process
Speaking of costing a company money, heard of the Target breach? Most people know that the hackers who breached Target cost the company millions of dollars. What not everyone knows is that the hackers were able to access the company through a subcontractor’s unsecured system.
Because hacking is becoming ever more common, large corporations are developing policies addressing cyber safety standards for procuring their subcontractors which will continue to roll out over the next six months to one year.
Most people do not understand just how vulnerable their systems are, especially if they use wifi. Hacking unprotected wifi (like you find at Starbucks) is a piece of cake for any self-respecting hacker. In fact, unprotected wifi is so ubiquitous, hackers can access all kinds of sensitive information through the cloud, via home security systems, and more.
The reality is that cyber hacking is a $20 billion per year black market industry, and corporations are less and less willing to pass on the expenses to their shareholders.
What does this mean for you?
To prep for this new challenge, you’ll want to start by using resources such as the Small Business Administration to get the latest information on cyber security standards. Once you’ve researched what to do, you’ll need to invest time or money into fixing your vulnerabilities. Consider cyber security a new cost of doing business and incorporate it into your schedule just as you incorporate time for sales calls and accounting.
Let’s face it, you will be remembered if you are the cause of a multimillion dollar security breach — but not in a good way. Here’s what you can do to impress corporations and follow the best practice standards that will protect your business:
- Policy. Create a cyber security policy for your company, including a password policy.
- Protection. Invest in software, such as firewalls, to protect your data — and your clients’ data.
- Staff. If you hire subcontractors, make sure they also have security policies, since they represent you. Also, closely monitor who gets passwords, who has access to accounts, and what people are allowed to say on social media.
You can find more information about cyber security to get you started from the Small Business Association.
The good news?
If you develop industry standard policies and put implementation systems in place, you will have a leg up on competitors who have not taken the time and the initiative you have. By protecting your data, you are showing larger corporations that you are serious about protecting their brands and their bottom lines. Cyber security isn’t easy, but it’s worth it.
This first GGBA Impact Builder workshop communicated tons of valuable insider information and provided a great opportunity to network with supplier diversity professionals and fellow diverse suppliers. The take home? Quality products, great relationships, and persistent effort will be the key ingredients to being memorable — and therefore successful.
Stay tuned for more updates from GGBA and our ongoing Impact Builder series. Our next event, sponsored by Southern California Edison, will be held September 28 from 12 to 4 pm at the Small Business Association, covers subcontracting strategies and opportunities. Not only are we making an impact for ourselves and our communities, but we are learning and growing as individuals and businesses along the way.
Keep up the good work!
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