Tiffanie Stanard knows a thing or two about supply chain issues. She spent 15 years as an executive helping large companies build better relationships with vendors. Now she's the founder and CEO of Stimulus, a Philadelphia-based relationship intelligence software platform that uses data to help companies make better sourcing, procurement, and purchasing decisions.

"I've spent my entire career speaking to amazing Black and Brown women about supply chain issues, asking them how they're growing their company, and making sure that we're highlighting voices not talked about when it comes to business," Stanard said in an appearance at Black Tech Week in Cincinnati on July 20. During the session, she shared insights from founders she works with on how to diversify your supply chain while maintaining company growth. Here are three of her best tips.

1. Improve Communication

A lot has changed since the beginning of the pandemic and as much of the world still struggles with the virus, it's vital to evaluate how you interact with suppliers, Stanard notes. That's especially the case if you're a consumer products company with vendors overseas.

"People are not great at communicating the different problems that they're having, especially over the last year, so rethinking the basic communication you use with suppliers is crucial," she says. Whether over Slack, email, or the telephone, you need to expand your network, and look at the processes that are important to your vendors. Ask them what their preferred form of communication is, even if you've asked them before, because it may have changed as more people have gone remote. 

2. Collect data and check it often. 

Stanard often has conversations with founders who unfortunately don't have important data about their businesses. Collecting the right information, she says, can help any business owner make better decisions about how much material to produce at any given time. And it doesn't have to be complicated: Most companies already have some sales data available, such as how much revenue is coming from big box stores, or how much is from websites. Taking the time to adjust supply chains based on where inventory is needed the most can help keep products in stock and keep retail partners happy.

"Walking folks through their data is something that I've been focused on for the last couple of years," Stanard says. "Knowing where you're selling the most can help you focus in on where your business is growing, and where you may need to cut back." The last thing you want, she notes, is to find out you're low on inventory at one store and have too much somewhere else.

3. Always negotiate on pricing. 

Stanard often spends time advising business owners on how to negotiate prices, which she says small business owners don't do enough. She says it's common to see businesses paying for things that they shouldn't, such as shipping or manufacturing costs, without ever questioning it.

This is especially true now as contracts with vendors are getting shorter, due to supply chain constraints. Manufacturers are less sure of their ability to sustain inventory over long periods of time, so they may inflate prices to cover themselves for the future. So when negotiating, look at shorter timelines. Instead of telling suppliers what the business needs over the next couple years, break it down by month. "This will help them properly prepare and know what to expect," Stanard says.