Effective IT isn’t about spending big, it’s about spending well, and there are a million and one things small business with limited resources can do to free up time and money, streamline operations and future-proof the enterprise.
Here are 10 great tips to help any small business optimise their IT opportunities
1 - Make yourself easy to find with a great website
Sites can be created, maintained and supported more easily and cost-effectively than ever, so there’s no need for expensive designers and in-house webmasters if you don’t need them.
A good site is one that:
- Uses SEO well, so search engines find you and position you well on results pages
- Cuts to the chase and presents the most valuable information first
- Reflects your business or brand well and exudes professionalism
- Is quick and easy to navigate
- Provides contacts and next steps
2 - Manage your social presence
There’s no substitute for social media if you’re a fast-paced brand that’s keen to connect with customers on real-time issues. Used well, it’s an excellent channel to build relationships with existing customers and demonstrate how you behave, as a brand, to prospects.
However, I’d say that if you don’t have time to manage social media accounts, don’t go there. Having a Facebook page won’t do your business any favours if it just sits bone idle.
When it comes to Twitter, tweet if you’ve something interesting to say or offer and if you don’t… don’t fill the virtual silence with things that aren’t business appropriate or take you into conversations that can get you into hot water.
Keep your accounts tight and if it means having just one and managing it well, that’s the way to go.
3 - Encourage remote working
It won’t work for everyone, but if you can afford to trial remote working for some of your employees or new hires, you might find it cheaper, more efficient and a sweetener that brings fresh talent to the honey pot.
Employees want more flexibility and they’re willing to hold out for employers that present opportunities that suit their lifestyles.
It’s a good bargaining tool for employers too, allowing you to offer remote working in lieu of other benefits you might not be able to afford, such as additional holidays, healthcare or subsidised gym memberships.
Contrary to what you might think, research shows remote workers are less distracted, take fewer breaks, work longer hours, are more productive and score higher in terms of job satisfaction, compared to their office-based colleagues, so it’s worth finding out how you can handle the increase in mobile device use.
4 - Gather and use data
If knowledge is power, data is a business’s super power. The right technology can make light work of collating, storing, sorting and reporting on customer analytics and this wealth of knowledge can be used to connect with relevance, planning marketing campaigns confident of where, when and how you can make the most impact.
5 - Use software to make life easier
Software designers have been pumping out products to help with everything from project management to invoicing and accounting, but you need to know which programmes, tools or apps are right for you by asking some IT questions up-front.
There’s no doubt the better programmes out there can save small businesses time, streamlining clunky processes and taking the stress out of everyday things such as meeting management and minutes - notorious for eating up valuable time.
This kind of software is affordable, easy to use and most providers offer free trials, so they cost nothing to try out.
6 - Make security a priority
Your business is only as strong as its network and if that goes down, your business goes down with it, so protection is key. Anti-virus, and malware and ransomware protection are a must, and regular updates and patches should be prioritised.
Getting employees on board is wise too, educating everyone on the risks and threats they’ll encounter day-to-day in their inbox and explaining the role they will play in keeping the business safe.
There’s no such thing as harmless chain mail and a quick lunch-break surf on a corrupt site could bring a world of pain for a small business.
7 - Have a back-up plan
The biggest decision around servers and back-up will be whether you go with a cloud-based or in-house solution. There are pros and cons to both and some business run with hybrid models. The most important thing is that you find what’s right for you.
If you’re not sure, you should talk to an IT service provider. This stuff is bread and butter for them and they’ll be able to make recommendations based on things such as whether you want to:
- Reduce reliance on the internet
- Allow employees to connect from anywhere
- Ensure high levels of uptime
- Increase data security
- Bolster business continuity or
- Ensure adequate disaster recovery
8 - Consider customer-facing tech and apps
Taking things online or giving customers an easier way to buy and use your services might make good business sense. A simple scheduling app or online tutorials could make all the difference in your industry, so take time out every now and then or ask an expert if there are opportunities or IT trends out there that you should be tapping into.
Technology might not be your forte, but that’s no reason to miss out on what could make your life easier and more profitable, when there is so much help available.
9 - Look at tech alternatives to reduce office overheads
Cost savings can be found in everything from office space to your telephone provider and decision makers need to look at how much they can save by making smarter tech-led choices.
For example, how much less space they would you need if your server was in the cloud and more employees worked remotely?
Could a VoIP phone system, allowing you to run calls, email, fax and video over one internet supported network, significantly reduce the cost of an underused land line service?
Legacy services and overheads have a habit of hanging around a lot longer than they should because of inertia or a lack of knowledge. It’s music to the providers ears, but an unnecessary drain on resources.
10 - Outsource and ask for help when you need it
If everyone was an IT expert, there would be no need for blogs like this, but we all come with different skill sets and smart business leaders and great IT managers understand their strengths and ask for help when they need it.
Outsourcing roles and tasks that simply can’t be supported within the business makes sense. With IT for example, it can be much cheaper to farm the work out to a virtual CIO or to an IT service desk than adding another skilled employee to the payroll and absorbing the costs of benefits, holidays, training, incentives and arming them with all the tools they need to do their job.
By putting something as important as IT in the hands of the experts, you can rest assured, you’ll always have access to the expertise you need, when you need it, and you don’t need to be a big business to afford it.