Andy Hinxman presents a guide to the considerations owners of small businesses need to make in regard to start-up technology.
When I started Keybridge IT three years ago I wasted money on offices in locations where I didn’t need to be, used sales people because I thought I couldn’t do that myself and was so busy in the business that I didn’t pay full attention to my initial and ongoing costs. This steep learning curve is not untypical of small business owners. For most start-up companies the IT system is a common ‘learning’ area, often when things have gone disastrously wrong. We’ve been brought in to resolve some quite horrendous issues that were in danger of killing the business. How can you avoid them and how can you be sure you get it right first time?
Naming your company
Before you decide on a name for your company, you should check whether the relevant domain is available. If you don’t, you many end up with a domain and email so far removed from your company name that your customers struggle to find you.
Friends vs professionals
Well-meaning friends will often try to help you when you’re starting up – but think carefully before taking them up on their offer. Trying to do everything as cheaply as possible can have knock on effects in the long run…as well as damaging friendships if things go wrong. It is often only some way down the road that small businesses realise they should have done things very differently and then blame the friend for giving them poor advice. I’ve seen companies with Yahoo or Hotmail accounts as their e-mail addresses because a friend set it up.
Even more damaging is when things go wrong. What recourse do you have to a friend if all your data is lost in six months’ time, or if the friend doesn’t have time to help you resolve your email issues? It is far better to have professional support with a service level agreement that you can rely on from the very beginning.
Cloud vs server
Cloud-based systems have revolutionised the way small businesses are able to make the best use of their IT systems. Having a cloud system means staff can share data and documents whether they are at home or in the office. With some systems you can also move the shared files so they can be viewed on anything from a mobile to a Mac. The options range from Microsoft Office 365 to Google Docs or a cloud hosting system.
Cloud systems grow with the business. There are no upfront costs, whereas you could expect to pay around £2,000 for a server to be installed, and then of course with a server you have the ongoing maintenance and back up costs. What would happen if your office burned down or flooded? Not a cheerful thought but as we saw last winter, it happens. At least on the cloud your staff could be working from home or in a nearby coffee shop.
Data back up and security
Losing data can ruin a business. It might be customer information used for sales. It might be customer information that falls under the Data Protection Act. Protecting that data is crucial. Some small businesses keep their company data on just one laptop and that includes everything from proposals to accounts. What happens if that is lost or stolen? The simplest way around this is to use the cloud, as it’s a very effective way to ensure you have a good online back up.
The other thing to consider is security. People often share whole folders instead of the one relevant document. There may well be information in that folder that you don’t want everyone to read. Think about these things when storing data on a server or in the cloud, as when done properly, you can allow only named individuals to have access to certain folders. For example do you want everyone in your company to be able to view and amend your accounts and payroll information?
If, like many companies, you give your employees access to company data via mobile devices make sure you have the power to ask the individual to remove that account when they leave. If not they walk away with the contacts and a number of emails.
You should include data security in employee contracts and a clause to say that the company has the right to wipe devices before the employee leaves.
Level of support
How important is IT to you? What would happen if you had no access to email or your documents for an hour, a day, a week? You should ensure you have the necessary support depending on your answer to that question and include that in the terms of service with your IT support. Many companies, including Keybridge, offer remote support via services like LogMeIn. However, those services are of little use if you have serious software issues or if you have no internet, so don’t underestimate the usefulness of engaging a company who are local to you, who can come in and resolve any problems in person.
Planning for the future
New businesses can fall into the category of spending too much money, or not enough on their IT system. Don’t think you need to take everything offered to you in terms of IT. Do ask advice as there are a lot of options. Think carefully about what you actually need and make sure you can add to this as the business grows and changes.
A good IT system should give you support when you need it, reliable back up of all your data and grow with your business.