Published on in Fujitsu and SMEs

Technology is one of the fastest growing industries in Britain today where large and small companies play an equally important part.

Pat Nice has been working in technology for 30 years, and heads up SME Reconnix. The company boasts a deep-rooted technical knowledge in service-based computing and Open Source software implementation and deployment.

Pat NiceWhat would you say the biggest lesson you’ve learned from working with big business is? What advice would you give other small or mid-sized firms as a result?

I’ve found that getting to speak to the right person initially can be tough. To make that path to the right person easier, you need to ensure that the service and or solution you are offering is of real benefit and value to the organisation you are talking to.  Otherwise you run the risk of being regarded as unprofessional, and will no doubt find it harder to get work with that organisation in the future. On the flip side, ensuring that you are helping overcome a tangible problem or giving valuable advice (sometimes for free), will help build strong, long-term relationships which are beneficial to both parties.

My advice, for other smaller companies, would also be to be prepared for working with larger organisations. Their decision making processes are often longer than yours. Be patient, whatever you do, don’t bombard your contact with phone calls or emails asking for updates. And above all, remember the other person has priorities, responsibilities and timelines of their own, which might not be the same as yours.

How well do you think we do as a nation when it comes to getting big and small business working together? Why?

If I’m entirely honest, I don’t think that as a nation there is any real enthusiasm for big companies to seek out small companies to work with.

This may be due to the fear that smaller companies will fail to deliver, which could ultimately damage the larger organisation’s hard-won professional reputation. Larger organisations also voice concerns over the difference in working practices – and speaking from experience there is a huge chasm between large and small business process and procedure.

The truth of the matter is that each collaborative relationship should be judged on its own merits. Large and small businesses who have collaborated successfully, should take it upon themselves to share their successes, which in turn may encourage more collaboration.

What do you think the main advantages are for a small or medium-sized business from working with their larger counterparts?

One of the biggest advantages of is that it shows clients that the smaller company in the partnership is reliable, professional and can be trusted to deliver on promises. While some larger companies are reluctant to let the smaller company publicise the fact they are working together, I feel there’s a huge advantage in them doing so. It shows that they’re an agile and flexible business.

What would you say the biggest frustrations are for SMEs working with big firms?
Contract negotiations are often a bugbear, as well as speed of response. The majority of small companies do not have the legal and financial resources to negotiate their position.

Payment terms can also be an issue. The majority of larger companies insist on 60 or 90 day payment terms, which puts tremendous strain on cashflow.
If you could change one thing about the relationship between SMEs and large companies what would it be?

It would be great if big businesses could, at the beginning of a new relationship, share frustrations they have experienced in the past working with smaller organisations – and vice versa. This would  help set expectations and encourage a harmonious relationship for the future.

Do you think it’s easier for small businesses to win contracts with big business or government on their own, or in partnership with other big companies?

I think big business and government are very different. With big business I feel that if you have the right solution to a very real problem and can speak with the right stakeholder – there is a real chance you will, through perseverance, secure the deal.

When dealing with government departments this picture changes dramatically. Although there have been promises around making it easier for smaller companies to win contracts, the reality is that no real change has been made.

The tendering process itself is incredibly time consuming and feedback for failed tenders is rare – which means it is virtually impossible to refine the process for future attempts. The weighting for different parts of the tender application can put smaller businesses at a disadvantage as can financial data provided. There are often simple barriers in place such as turnover thresholds and balance sheet ratios which rule out smaller companies despite these being well run, experienced and professional companies with a real value add service to provide.

This means that in order to work on government contracts, smaller businesses often have to work with larger ones as a route in.

Thanks to Pat for taking part in this interview. If you’d like to ask Pat a question or get in touch over any of the points raised, please leave a comment below or tweet us at @fujitsu_uk!

 

 

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Jim Millen

Digital Content Editor at Fujitsu
I'm the editor for the Fujitsu UK & Ireland blog, and love to write about the exciting work Fujitsu do in digital & technology innovation.

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