Blessed with great business instinct, but limited IT skills, many micro-business owners find themselves with IT that is at best “non standard”. And this is a problem for two main reasons.
Firstly, good IT need not be difficult. There are many companies and consultants out there who can help businesses sort through the IT minefield.
Secondly, reliable, fit-for-purpose and dependable IT is no longer something that’s a ‘nice-to-have’. Instead it’s a necessity for running a business. In fact, it’s the only way a business can remain competitive with larger firms without increasing their costs by employing large numbers of staff.
What to focus on
In my opinion there are four key areas where a business should focus their attention in order to get the best value from their IT investment:
- A functional email system that links to their laptop, desktop and mobile phone.
- Preferably cloud services like Hosted Exchange or Google Apps Email (like G-Mail but using your domain name).
- Some form of regular backup procedure that allows company documents and files to be stored and recovered.
- Preferably cloud services for file storage such as DropBox or Google Docs.
- Protection from an increasing number of internet threats that include spam, malware and viruses.
- Achieved with PC/laptop anti virus software and an effective firewall on a router.
- Business grade IT hardware that’s built for business users, not home users.
- Not the latest deal in PC World, but a business brand such as HP or Dell.
How you’ll benefit
Whether you ensure these areas receive the time and thought to be set up correctly or if you elect to outsource the management of these services to an external suppler, you can be certain your business will receive the following benefits:
- A rapid response to email inquiries along with timely replies to emails plus retaining an audit trail over multiple devices.
- Confidence that lost or deleted information can be recovered with no noticeable impact to you or your clients.
- Certainty that your business is protected against avoidable threats that could impact your ability to function or put clients at risk.
- Reliable IT hardware that is going to last and provide good long-term value and in turn increased efficiency for staff.
Get your head in the cloud!
By getting your email and files (data) into a cloud location, the information can be accessed from anywhere and not just from a single PC or laptop. This is very useful if, as many micro businesses do, you collaborate with others but don’t share a fixed office. If you do have an office then it allows you to work more flexibly such as from home.
Let’s now put some outline costs to these services. A Google Apps account is free from Google and a Hosted Exchange account will cost around £6 per month.
The Google Apps Email service is great for those micro businesses starting up from scratch. For those who are coming from a corporate environment and who prefer the familiar feel of Outlook, then the Hosted Exchange solution won’t break the bank.
Something like Google Docs for data storage is again free, but you also get online versions of a word processor, spreadsheet, etc.
DropBox is free for up to 2Gb of storage and just £8 per month for up to 50Gb, but it’s more focused on storage and sharing with other users as you don’t get the ‘apps’ like you do with Google Docs. These are low costs, especially given the huge flexibility your business will gain. In addition it takes away a worry about continuity in the event something fails, is lost or stolen.
In respect to anti-virus services then one of the best around is currently FREE and is called Microsoft Security Essentials. It’s a Microsoft product and protects you against viruses and malware and can be installed (for free) in a business of up to 10 users.
Hardware purchase requires a little more discussion than is available here, but make sure you get the right hardware from a business-focused manufacturer. It will offer better long-term value; it will last longer than the equipment designed for home use and it will result in your business being more reliable and thus profitable in the longer term.
Getting reliable IT services may not be as difficult as you might have first thought, but the benefits of such services, especially cloud services, are huge.
Smaller businesses, in my opinion, have the most to gain from cloud services. One-five users can have full email and file-sharing features, allowing them to compete and challenge larger competitors who have bigger IT budgets.
I’ve worked with lots of business and have seen that by tackling just email and data storage it can transform your business. So imagine what could be possible if three or even all four of them were covered?
Don’t neglect your IT services. Instead spend a bit of time ensuring what you have is fit for purpose. And if you’re not sure where to start or are wondering what you should focus on, have a chat with an IT consultant.
Craig Sharp is the MD of Abussi IT, who provide Small Business IT Support in Birmingham