Regardless of your industry, the size of your company, or how many years you have been in business, there is one challenge that remains constant: how to take your company to the "next" level. 

Figuring out just how to do so can be exciting, daunting--and difficult.  In eight years of doing business, I have learned that one of the best resources for figuring out how to implement change or do something new with my company is to start by talking with my vendor partners.  The feedback I get from them is, at the very least, full of good information and ideas that are different from mine; sometimes I get the idea I need to move the company forward. 

Here are some challenges my company recently needed to address, and the answers I got from my vendors that helped me solve them. 

Challenge 1: How could I get a temporary credit line for some large orders I had received without "factoring," or providing collateral?  My company had a traditional credit line with a bank, but I was unable to increase this enough for the additional orders.  

Answer: I found out while talking to my UPS representative that UPS has a capital service that will finance shipments from the time they are picked up by UPS for 30 days thereafter.  As a long-time customer who does all my business shipping with UPS, I was eligible for this service, and the financing rate was significantly less than factoring would have been.  In addition, because it was an unsecured line, utilizing it was not in conflict with my bank credit line. 

Challenge 2: I needed to find a way to combine the once separate accounting systems representing the two halves of my business into one streamlined system that would give me easier access to financial reporting on a regular basis.  The task seemed practically insurmountable because there was a lot of data that would have to be carefully combined, and my partner (who was the handling the merger) was rightfully concerned that the time it would take to do so might make it a very costly change. 

Answer: I encouraged my partner to reach out to Accountek, the makers of our accounting software, and ask about any suggestions to make the combination of the databases easier.  Not only did we find out that there was a tool like a migration assistant available to aid in the process--we also learned that the way in which we were thinking about structuring the new streamlined data was not ideal. That conversation saved many hours in labor, and it also helped us to better understand how to record data--to get the most out of it, and in a much easier way.

Challenge 3: My company is required to receive orders from a large retail chain customer through a specific web interface.  The interface was not compatible with our internal system so entering data for orders was very time-consuming for our account executive in charge of that chain account.

Answer: The interface company, SPS Commerce, called one day to ask how the customer data transmission via its interface was going.  My partner told the representative honestly that the system was great, but the integration with ours was not optimal.  When my partner described the format in which we needed to be able to import and export the data, the interface rep told us it could be done.  The changes are being programmed now, and in a month or so, I hope to see an implementation that will free up our account executive to build our business, and also eliminate all chance for data-entry errors in the process.

Whether you are considering making a change to your processes or your products, you should first bounce those ideas off of your vendors.  Doing so will open the flow of information and get you valuable feedback that will probably save you both time and money.