Sunday, December 2, 2012

Small Business

Small Business & Technology Solutions

Small businesses are normally privately owned corporations, partnerships, or sole proprietorships. What constitutes "small" in terms of government support and tax policy? A business with fewer than 500 employees will qualify for many U.S. Small Business Administration programs. Small businesses can also be classified according to other methods such as sales, assets, or net profits.

Typical examples include: convenience stores, other small shops, bakeries, delis, hairdressers, tradesmen, lawyers, accountants, restaurants, photographers, small-scale manufacturing, and online business, such as web design and programming, etc.

Technology Issues that Small Businesses Face

Small businesses often don’t have the resources and not all owners are adept at maintaining best technology solutions. Small businesses  occasionally make technology mistakes. IT consultants can assist small businesses in correcting these common failures.
  • Inadequate Technical Support - Many small businesses rely on friends or relatives who are interested in computers as their "reliable source" for computer support. Others turn to manufacturer's for telephone or online support. Most of these service employees are reading from a script and do not have sufficient real time experience with the equipment or technology services. Then there are the few businesses that rely on a department store's computer experts, who are usually students or individuals who are a inexperienced and just there to receive a paycheck. Many businesses don't realize how important it is to have experienced technicians handling their IT problems.

    The best route to take when trying to take care of technology needs is with a consultant or company who will spend time accessing your business' specific needs and will come up with a solution or technology plan that will be beneficial to the type of business you are operating. One that will take your budget into consideration and offer appropriate and cost-effective solutions.
  • Hardware & Software Issues - Usually the timeline of use for a business computer is about three to four years. Retaining PCs longer than three or four years often results in repair and support costs that meet or exceed the price of new systems. When you use managed technology solutions you will keep up to date on the latest technology and equipment, updates and require less maintenance, service, licensing or renewal fees.  If you have equipment failure and your business is technology based, this failure will result in loss of sales, plus the expense of servicing the computer. 

If a business chooses to manage their technology in-house, practices that they can use to overcome common hardware and software issues include:

  1. Retiring equipment at proper life-cycles
  2. Standardizing hardware components
  3. Standardizing software applications
  4. Working with an IT consultant to leverage vendor relationships and reduce costs/negotiate more attractive pricing.
  • Insufficient Power Protection - A single power outage, surge, or spike can damage expensive electronic components and result in critical data loss. Consistent surges and brownouts, meanwhile, shorten the lifespan of computers, printers, network components, and other equipment.

    Many businesses deploy simple power strips or surge protectors. When thunderstorms, electrical outages, and other disasters strike, the damaged systems and corrupted or lost data.

    Instead, businesses should rely on quality battery backup devices with built-in surge suppression - like an APC, which offers battery backup for a limited amount of time. This allows you the opportunity to properly shut down computers and devices.
  • Pirated or Illegal Software - The differences between OEM, retail, and open license software escapes the understanding of many business owners. Whenever possible we will use an open-source solution to offset costs but commercial software and licensing is something that most companies will have to take into consideration. All software, applications, and programs must be properly licensed. Organizations should pay close attention to the license agreements they accept.
  • Insufficient Training - Office staff understand less than 20% of the available features in the software applications they use. That means 80% of the features, time-saving capabilities, and cost-reducing functions remain unused.

    With adequate training of technology and software, employees become more efficient at their daily tasks and increase productivity. IT Consultants can help with the training process by creating tutorials or hosting in-house training events when new software or equipment is implemented. 
  • Security Failures - Small businesses frequently fail to accommodate security issues. Organizations either don’t recognize the risks or don’t take them seriously. 

Simple steps assists small businesses in preventing security failures:

  1. Implement and enforce strong password security policies for all PCs, servers, network equipmen, and software applications.
  2. Regularly update operating systems, network equipment firmware, and applications with the latest security patches.
  3. Deploy business-class firewalls in all locations; connect no systems directly to the Internet.
  4. Secure all wireless networks.
  5. Disable guest accounts.
  6. Implement Internet and e-mail usage policies that preclude personal use of those technologies.
  7. Prohibit file-sharing programs.
  8. Deploy proven antivirus, anti-spyware, and anti-rootkit applications and update them regularly.
  9. Regularly perform security audits and correct all deficiencies.
  • Poor Backup Strategies - Despite numerous choices, methods, and options, many organizations fail to adequately back up data — a mistake that can be unrecoverable.

    Data backups are so critical to an organization’s livelihood, small businesses should work with proficient IT consultants or technology partners to ensure the right data is being frequently backed up and should regularly test.

    Consultants can work with small businesses to determine what data, files, and information should be backed up, how often, where to locate the backups, and how often to test. Another service consultants can assist with is updating backup routines when software upgrades, migrations, and other updates change critical file locations. 
  • Virus Exposure - Viruses not only remain a major threat, but their dangers are increasing. Malware programs are evolving at such a rate that many security software vendors have eliminated daily updates in favor of distributing patches every four hours. Often, businesses and users simply fail to implement protection.
  • Spyware Exposure - Spyware typically aims to track user behavior, collect user information or sensitive data, and display unwanted advertisements, whereas viruses often destroy data, corrupt systems, or enable hackers to remotely control a system. 

Recommended Steps to help with reduction of spyware:

  1. Install reputable antivirus and anti-spyware applications.
  2. In high-risk environments, a second standalone anti-spyware application is warranted.
  3. Regularly update antivirus and anti-spyware programs.
  4. Do not let antivirus and anti-spyware program licenses expire.
  5. Perform regular automated antivirus and anti-spyware scans.
  6. Regularly review security program log files to confirm proper operation.
  7. Further, businesses should avoid deploying “free” security products in businesses. These products are often deployed in violation of the license agreements (which require licensing the software in businesses, academic facilities, and nonprofit organizations) and don’t support frequent updates, real-time protection, or automated scans.
  • Spam - Most every business and user is familiar with the problem of unsolicited e-mail, also known as spam. Spam messages have become a serious issue, particularly for small businesses that often misunderstand the problem and fail to take effective countermeasures.

    Spam takes a toll on an organization’s servers and workstations, which often must dedicate processor cycles, disk space, and backup media to untold gigabytes of unwanted mail.  Network filtering software and server-based spam protection are just two of the many ways you can decrease spam. Some organizations choose to outsource e-mail processing to a vendor that can monitor e-mail streams and filter out unwanted messages.

Steps e-mail users and small business owners may take to minimize spam:

  1. Do not publish e-mail addresses in plain text on Web sites; instead use form-based tools that prevent robotic harvesting.
  2. Avoid forwarding chain e-mail messages.
  3. Ignore credit repair, get-rich-quick, and other common e-mail solicitations.
  4. Use reputable e-mail filters (such as those included in Microsoft Outlook, Google Gmail, and other programs).
  5. Read all terms before ever submitting your e-mail address to another party.
  6. Review privacy policies before ever providing an e-mail address.
  7. Consider creating a free e-mail account (Yahoo, Hotmail, Gmail, etc.) for submitting to third parties.

How can businesses use internet marketing to grow their business?

Many small business owners find internet marketing is an affordable way to advertise their business. Creating a business Web site has become increasingly affordable and can provide significant marketing exposure for small businesses. 

Social media has proven to be very useful in gaining additional exposure for many small businesses. Many small business owners use Facebook and Twitter as a way to reach out to their loyal customers to give them news about specials of the day or special coupons and generate repeat business. 

Blogs are a way for small businesses to address issues that are important to their customers. This can be done with a proprietary blog and/or by using a backlink strategy wherein the marketer comments on other blogs and leaves a link to the small business' own Web site.

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