Big IT to small biz: Listen up, little dudes!

Large corporations have a lot to teach small businesses -- like these six lessons (some painfully learned) from the big boys on the tech block

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Choose your vendors wisely

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"Enterprise IT organizations have learned that suppliers of IT hardware, software and services are key to their success," says Hoover. "These relationships must be managed well, and partnerships of trust with clear expectations must be established."

Part of managing your vendor relationships is knowing when your current vendors no longer serve your needs. "As you grow from really small to small to medium, you need to know when to graduate to a new vendor," advises Brewer. "People tend to feel comfortable working with companies their own size, but they'll outgrow their vendor without realizing it."

When that happens, he says, a business runs the risk of losing out on scale-pricing advantages, and not getting the appropriate level of expertise and help." Brewer's rule of thumb: "You should always be slightly mismatched with your vendors."

Hoover agrees: "There are a lot of choices out there. Get one that's just a little bigger than your organization so you can learn from them."

Before you can learn, you need to be clear about your expectations. Don't assume that a vendor understands your needs. "Buyers often keep their needs close to the vest," says Karcher, "but that may not be in your best interests. Be open and clear with your vendor about your present state, your attitudes and your priorities. You may end up spending more money, but you'll get a superior solution that delivers greater value and lower risk. The best relationships are always mutually beneficial."

Keep learning

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And finally, follow big companies' example by continuing your company's IT education as the firm grows. Get in the know about what other companies in your field are doing, says Hoover.

Large corporations have learned the benefit of meeting with noncompetitive IT teams from other companies to gain insights and hear about experiences with technology. IT groups and industry organizations can also be a source of valuable information -- Hoover points to the Data Management Association, the Society for Information Management and user groups for any business systems you might be using.

And when that doesn't work, there's always the Web. "Unlike the old days," says Hoover, "there's enough information online that your research can be on a par with that of large companies. The Net is a big equalizer -- you can know as much as the big boys."

If all this sounds like a lot to absorb, especially when you're in the middle of trying to grow your company, remember that you don't have to do everything at once. Pay attention to the basic rules -- think strategically, and stay at least a little bit ahead of where your company is technologically right now.

And on those days when you're feeling really small, keep in mind that you have some advantages over the big guys. As Hoover says, "Large enterprise IT organizations do not have all the answers; they make mistakes every day that SMBs would more easily avoid."

Small and midsize companies have fewer layers of management, which enables top brass to have more intimate knowledge of what goes on in IT. They can see the whole business environment at once and make decisions accordingly. And they are nimbler than corporations and often able to adopt new technology quicker and more easily.

By combining the advantages of being a small business with the lessons of enterprise IT, you can make sure your growing business is dressed for success, no matter what its size.

Jake Widman is freelance writer in San Francisco.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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