Just because you have a small business, it doesn’t mean it’s small fry. In fact, it’s probably one of the most important things in the world to you. Combine that with the fact that most businesses, even the smallest ones rely heavily on IT now, and you start to see the importance of getting all things computers and online, spot on. So with this mind, read on for some epic advice on getting your small business IT to be the best it can be.
Do invest in quality hardware, and keep it well maintained
Hardware is the physical stuff of IT. The personal computers (PCs), Macs, hard drives, barcode scanners, and the like. Think of it as the items that you will use to gain access to the virtual world.
That means they have to be of a decent quality and working well. Otherwise, you won’t be able to interface with any of your online systems, making all of you IT redundant. In fact, outdated hardware that needs replacing and mending may be one of the leading causes of poor efficiency and low motivation in a business setting. After all, it’s not easy to do things quickly and accurately if the very tools you are working with hinder your every move.
That is why it’s very much worth doing some serious research before you choose your hardware, come the next time you update it. Within this, in mind, you will definitely want to investigate whether to choose between personal computers (PCs) that primarily run on Windows operating systems, and Macs that run their own.
However, it is possible to get Microsoft Office for Mac, or even partition your hard drive to run both Windows and Mac operating systems on the same machine, if need dictates. Although unless you’re an IT whizz kid, you may want to let a specialist handle this task for you.
Macs, designed and built by technology giant Apple seem to be the industry standard in any creative profession. Including design and photography. With PCs, being built by many different companies like Hewlett Packard, and Acer running Microsoft software making up the majority of another field such as accountancy, sales and the like. However, having said this, it is still always worth looking into the available options before you make your financial choice. In fact, it may even be wise to take some professional, independent advice on the best machines to choose from your company’s specific needs. Especially if you are making a larger purchase.
In the meantime, keep things ticking over by having a reliable computer repair service on your books. One that you can send the hardware to and expect a quick turnaround. As this will limit the delay in productivity that your business will suffer when you do run into any problems.
Do know your software
Software in IT refers to the programs, apps, and operating systems that your hardware runs to allow you to access and interact with the virtual world. Whether this is a local network or the world wide web.
There are some common, standard pieces of software that most business will need such as the basic Mac suite of programs, or Windows office that consist of word processors, spreadsheets, and presentation templates. Then there will be mot specialized software that is directly related to your business. This can include a variety of different things, but some good examples are SAGE accounting programs, Oracle, and Adobe Photoshop.
Great advice for small businesses when they are using specific software is to do the following three things. The first is know the advantages and disadvantages of the particular program before you buy. Commercial licenses are not cheap and usually bind you in for at least a year. Meaning you won’t want to shell out for a program, and then find that it doesn’t do exactly what you need it to.
The second thing is to look at alternatives before you go for the big name brands. For example, Photoshop is the industry standard. However, if you are only going to be using it within the company and not for sharing files with clients, it may be must more cost effective to download GIMP for free instead.
Thirdly, and perhaps most important never assume that a program is self-explanatory for its users. This means that it’s vital that you provide the resources and time for your staff to train to become proficient in the particular program you are using. As this is something that can affect speed, productivity, morale and the quality of customer service you are providing. All things that have a direct effect on your small business’s profits.
Do make sure that your networks are effective and secure
Networks are the things that link your hardware together. They are pretty important if you want your employees to be able to talk to each other. As well as be able to communicate with your customers.
The problem is that if they aren’t reliable and secure, they can cause more problems than they solve. Something that is obvious to most small business owners with all the high-profile media coverage of hacking.
Hacking is most definitely an issue that small business needs to be aware of, and protect against. Primarily with security software, antivirus programs and training on phishing and how to avoid it. However, it’s not the only potential threat that relates to networks that they will need to deal with.
One such threat is misuse, either intentional or unintentional of the network and hardware by employees. Something that could take the form of using social media in work hours, sending emails from personal or unsecured accounts, or even loss of hardware that can create a security risk. In fact, employee factors are often more significant than hacking threats, and so need to be dealt with at the source. This usually involves some regular and in-depth training about how to operate within the company’s IT policies. As well as the reasoning behind this, to help encourage a greater responsibility for data security in your workforce.
Do spend money on your website
Something that every small business owner is aware that they need in the realm of IT, whether they are a Luddite or not, is a website. However, too many small businesses see their homepage as nothing more than an online shop front, or even worse just a catalog that allows customers to see the products they are offering.
These types of websites are not effective because they do not provide the level of interaction customers are coming to expect. It is this interaction that helps engage people and allows them to connect with your brand. This connection can then be developed further, if your website, if properly designed and built, to funnel them to the product or service they are most likely to need. Meaning that your website is a sales tool in itself if done right, rather than just a simple shop.
Do use a reliable internet service provider
You wouldn’t pick an electric or gas provider whose service dropped out all the time, leaving your workers twiddling their thumbs with nothing to do, and your products half assembled on the line. So why use an internet service provider that is unreliable
This may seem like pretty basic advice, but that doesn’t mean it’s not valuable because internet provision is something nearly all small businesses rely on heavily for everything from updating their website, to doing the smallest of tasks like sending emails. Some companies even run their phone lines through their internet connection now. Meaning if it does go down you are completely cut off from everyone. Including your suppliers, delivery services, and customers!
Obviously, this is a situation you never want to be in, let alone something that you have to deal with on a regular basis. So, ensure that the company you entrust to provide your internet connection is not just the cheapest, but also offers the fastest download speeds, biggest bandwidth, and most reliable connection.
Don’t disregard analytics
Lastly, analytics being mostly statistical in nature have many small business owners running for the hills! As there just aren’t that many folks that love to look over data tables and devise strategy. However, ignoring the information that you can get from analytics is a major IT mistake that you don’t want to make.
This is because it is precisely this information that you can use to improve your business both in the office and online. It’s just a matter of having someone that knows how to set up your system to collect it, and then collate it, so it makes sense to the rest of us mere mortals.
Luckily, if you haven’t got a data savant to hand, there are plenty of programs like SAS Predictive Analytics and RapidMiner Studio that can do this for you. They even visualize the data too, making it way easier to decipher. Allowing you to see where your business IT strengths and weakness are, and then put that information to good use to get better.
So, for efficient IT that is fit for a small but epic business, don’t forget to follow the tips above.