A computer network can elevate your small company to a higher level, endowing it with the sophisticated information management capabilities of the big guys while sidestepping the bureaucracy that comes with size. With a sales staff of 25, Sheila Skolnick, owner of Elite Cos., an $18 million hotel supply business in Setauket, N.Y., prides herself on the service Elite delivers to its 4,200 customers.

Skolnick, who started the business in 1984 in a spare bedroom of her home, says, "The network makes us look like a billion-dollar company." She credits her 12-node local area network with allowing her to triple the size of her business without adding to her payroll.

The network was Skolnick's response to a paradox that had troubled her since the early 1990s. "I was afraid that if we grew too big, the company would choke and die," she says. Skolnick had built the business by giving individual attention to her customers, going "back of the house" to talk with general managers, and riding shotgun with housekeepers as they scrubbed bathrooms and made beds. But as her customer and supplier lists swelled, the company began to show unmistakable signs of organizational breakdown. While she was out rounding up new accounts, her crew back at the office could barely service those she already had. Instead of cross-selling, salespeople were struggling to find files, invoices, and manufacturers' product books.

"We needed to function as one big brain," says Skolnick. The network let her company grow while maintaining personalized service.