5 IT tips for the entrepreneur

Small businesses account for around 95% of all private sector activity in the UK economy. That’s a turnover of over £1,500 billion every year, all coming from the small business sector. 

Small and growing businesses have different IT needs to big businesses. The obvious major difference between the small and the larger enterprise is budget and it’s unlikely you’ll have access to a massive IT fund, so you need to make sure that every penny invested in IT delivers value. 

Help4IT have recently released a great guide on no-nonsense IT tips for small businesses. Here’s a sneak peak but make sure you download the guide for full access

Tip 1: Avoid the big grey boxes 

Enterprise-class IT doesn’t have to mean a big grey box... 

Too often, small and growing businesses invest in huge ‘enterprise-class’ on-site equipment that’s just not suited to their size or their day-to-day needs. 

There’s a certain amount of comfort from having a big grey box humming away in the corner of the room but for a small business that’s an unnecessary expense. 

Ask yourself a few simple questions: 

  • Do you really need an on-site server?
  • Does it make sense to invest in PBX hardware and telephones?
  • Does a small company really need all those software licenses? 

The problem with enterprise-class on-site equipment is enterprise-class support contracts, license fees, upgrades and maintenance, not to mention the full-time enterprise-class IT guru you’ll need to employ to keep the whole thing running.

Tip 2: Make use of freebies

Take advantage of the freebies until you find the solution that fits your business…

Free doesn’t have to mean ‘cheap’ and there’s an awful lot of high-quality, well-engineered free stuff out there if you know where to look.

Let’s not forget that some of the most successful IT products of the last 20 years have a hippy heritage - 

  • Linux
  • Asterisk
  • Gimp
  • Wordpress
  • Open Office
  • Ubuntu
  • Drupal

All started out as free software. It’s perfectly possible to build a working IT infrastructure using freebies, and while you’re in start up mode or testing out alternatives it can be a great short term solution to your IT challenges.

Tip 3: Start as you mean to go on

Get into good habits from the start. Make sure your data is backed up, securely and regularly...  

Neglecting your back ups is the cardinal sin of IT. It’s not simply bad practice, it can pose a serious risk to the future of your business. 

Statistics show that there is a 90% chance that a business will fail within two years of a critical data loss. That’s a 90% chance of going out of business, all for the sake of a little bit of discipline and some simple steps. If you do survive those two years, the cost of recovering from a major data loss can be crippling for a small business and can impact on your profitability and growth for years to come. 

Backup is one of those areas where it’s essential not to cut corners so it might be advisable to call in some expert help. We often come across ‘phantom’ backups where clients have assumed that a regular backup is taking place - only to be horrified when they recover the wrong data, obsolete data or in extreme cases, no data at all. 

Tip 4: Find some expert help

Get some support...  

When you’re running a small business, it’s tempting to rely on an amateur to take care of your IT systems. You might have an office ‘nerd’, a friend with a passion for Linux or someone who’s keen to get involved in that side of the business. These sorts of arrangements can work perfectly well for a while and save money in the short term but, as the business matures and the complexity and importance of your IT increases, cracks start to show and this can have serious implications. 

IT systems can need constant, day-to-day maintenance. Patches are released, threats identified and revisions get made on a frequent basis. Missing just a few security updates can render your IT vulnerable to malware so it’s crucial that you have an expert on hand to manage the maintenance of your existing systems. You also need to plan for the future - what happens when the company expands? What will you do when that server goes End of Life? Can you fit any more extensions on the old PBX? You need an expert on hand to make sure that your IT infrastructure is capable of meeting the demands of your business. 

Growing businesses need a dedicated, knowledgeable IT department as much as big businesses do. The difference is that big businesses have big budgets, they can afford to keep dedicated IT personnel on the payroll. For small businesses, an in-house IT department is a luxury. Effective IT is a necessity. 

Tip 5: Future proof your solutions 

Plan for the future and try to keep it simple... 

You won’t always be a small business so it’s important to plan for future growth when you’re developing your IT infrastructure. 

You might just need an email account and a website today but there’s a good chance that, as you grow, the needs of your business will change. You’ll possibly want a telephony system as the business grows and you’ll possibly be thinking about some secure backup and file storage in a few months. Taking the time to think about that growth path today can save a lot of hassle and inconvenience in the months and years ahead. 

Many small businesses make the simple mistake of not thinking ahead. They go to vendor A for their email. That’s all fine for a few months until they need to build a website - so they go to vendor B. Website hosting? That would be vendor C. Telephones? You’ll need to talk to vendor D... and so on. 

Before you know it you’re dealing with six different vendors, you have six bills to pay and six support numbers to call when things go wrong. Nobody is responsible for ‘your IT’ and nobody will just make sure it works. It’s a very common IT tangle but fortunately it’s easily avoided. 

Check out the full guide here! 

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