Small Business Technology Integration

Posted by on Feb 21, 2012 in Small Business, Workplace Technology | 0 comments

Small Business Technology Integration

Technology can be a great tool… I’ve said that time and time again. Here comes the “but”…. c’mon – you had to know it was coming! BUT… like any tool, if not used properly, you can really get hurt by it – especially in the business world. Small business technology integration, with a little planning and forethought can greatly help rather than hinder your business.

Now, saying “hurt” may seem a bit extreme, but that depends on what you mean by “hurt”. From a business perspective, to me, “hurt” means frustrated customers, frustrated employees, wasted time and wasted money. Ouch!! Here a “few” of the areas where proper attention can help save your butt instead of helping to bake it.

Too Little or Too Much Technology

Being the tool that it is, technology is there to help make your life easier. Additionally, this “tool” needs to be able to allow you analyze your business and support your decision making process in your day-to-day business dealings.

Look at this in a manner we all can relate to… our automobiles: When it comes time to jack up your car to change a tire, you can certainly get a large flat rock and a 20 foot long board and, recalling your high school math class, make a lever to lift that car up. While it would certainly work… it’s just not practical. On the flip side of the coin, you could go out and buy a full length hydraulic lift system like you see in your local auto mechanics, but that would also be impractical – not to mention costing more than your whole car is worth. You have to find a happy medium.

Given that, at the very least, your businesses IT solution should be sufficiently sized to allow you to conduct your business on a day to day basis without making you wait or requiring you to jump through hoops to get it to work correctly. Honestly, this is where you should invest a little in getting professional advice with respects to the size and type of system that you need. Will single, networked computers work best or will you need a stand-alone small business server. With whatever system you and your TEKnologist, deem would best suit your needs, make sure your data is available whenever and from wherever you may be and be sure you safeguard your data. Backup, backup, backup!

Personal & Professional IT Doesn't Mix!

One of the biggest, and unfortunately the most common, mistakes I see made by businesses – especially the mom and pop type stores – is the propensity for the workplace PC to also be used for personal use.  Time and time again, I’ve had to remove viruses, Trojans, root kits and more from the workplace PC that was used for playing on-line games, watching those funny videos or opening email attachments sent by friends.  While those type of uses generally are not necessarily a bad thing, they are among the most common targeted by those, let’s say.. dufuses whom would love nothing better than to compromise your system or worse yet… your data.

I cannot stress enough.  Keep your use of the workplace PC to work related activities. If you really, really, really (did I say ‘really’?… good) have a need to do personal computer work while you’re at work, then I would suggest investing in an inexpensive computer or laptop to be used strictly for that purpose or at the very least, install a virtual machineA Virtual Machine is where you install a program which takes a chunk of your computer's memory and basically turns it into a stand-alone computer. If properly set up, this allows you to run programs in a completely insulated system, where, no matter what goes wrong, your main computer is kept safe. and do your personal stuff from within the security sandbox that sets up.

Not only can you afford to put your customer’s information at risk but you cannot afford to have your system go down; costing you any your customers the related frustrations not to mention the loss of potential income.  

Pony-up for a 'real' email address

Gmail, Hotmail, Email are just a few of the many, many free email types of programs available “out there”. Of course “free” is really a relative term as many of these free programs either add advertisements to the emails or constantly harass you to upgrade to their paid version to be able to take advantage of their full functionality. For your personal email address, these may suit you just fine, but it’s my personal opinion that for business purposes, they just don’t seem professional enough to me. Why use a generic email address when for as little as $5 a month (or less) you can have your own, private, email address. myname@mystorename.com comes off (to me at least) as more professional than ‘myname@hotmail.com’. Additionally, with the use of a more personal email address you have the additional ‘branding’ effect by keeping your true business name “out there” in front of the public. One final – and really important – consideration is the fact that if you’re using the email address that you get – generally for free – as part of your ISPISP - Your Internet Service Provider. The company you pay for internet access... Comcast, Infinity, Wild Blue, etc. contract, should you decide to change your ISP down the road, you won’t have to change your email address; confusing your customers even more. My email address (tkainz@teknicalservices.com) goes wherever I go.. I own it!

Manage Your Customers - Daily!

CRM Programs were made for a reason – use them. CRM stands for Customer Relationship Management. These are programs that, at the very least, make sure that your most valuable asset – your customers – don’t get overlooked. For many people, all it takes is one message left not returned or one promised return call missed for them to take their business elsewhere. CRM programs are excellent at reminding you not only about appointments and important dates such as birth dates but can also be used to track purchase history, monitor customer service time frames and track customer incentives.

Hire a Professional for Your Web Services

You’ve no doubt seen a lot of advertisements on the tv lately about how, for the low price of only $14.95 a month, you can have your own web site and how, by using their ‘free’ software, you can have your web site up and running in just a few hours. Two things to think about with this:

  •  if it sounds too good to be true, it most likely is.
  • ‘free’, isn’t always free!

Frequently, what you’ll find is that the free software that you get with those “cheap” plans may have the following ‘luggage’

  • They are frequently limited functionality with the full, premium, version costing substantially more.
  • You’re most often limited to the number of pages that you can post with them. If you want more pages then you’ll need to pay more.
  • They may seem simple to use on the TV, but the learning curve can sometimes be substantial
  • …and the list goes on

The fact of the matter is this… even the most comprehensive web site development software, such as the one I’m using here, still comes with limitations. Getting the full functionality that you want… that you need, often involves installing plug-ins, tweaking the actual code that generates the web site – be that JavaScript, HTML, PHP, Unix and more. If it was as easy as they make it out to be, there wouldn’t be degrees offered covering the subject.

Another big consideration has to be your time… how valuable is it. Would your time best be spent saving a few bucks by doing your own web site or by promoting, marketing and building your business?

My opinion is most assuredly biased here, but in today’s environment, your web site is usually the first point of contact for your customers. First impressions count. This is the one area where you really want to consider hiring a pro to get it done quick and get it done right!

Take an Outside Look at Your Business

Many times the small business owner considers their business to be “their” business and they couldn’t be more wrong. The approach you take to running your business and the attitude you have towards it will have a big bearing on how successful you become… or how quickly you go under.

The first thing you have to decide is this… Is it a business, or a hobby?

If it’s a hobby, you can afford to do things the way that you want them done – after all, being a hobby, you’ve already accepted the fact that you may spend more money than you take in.

If it is indeed a business, then you need to really think… not about what you want, but what your customer’s expect.

At first it was a bit funny, but then it turned a bit sad……Our local area has had a big push over the past few years to keep the money local. Support your local businesses! Spend locally! and so on. The trouble is, many of the businesses make it very hard to do that. They often seem to be closed when you need them to be open, often, what you need is either not in stock ro if it is, it’s almost twice what it would cost to order it off the internet. Look for them on the internet? Finding something of value might as well be a roll of the dice… you’d sometimes have better luck at the nearby casinos.

They just don’t seem to get it!

From a technology standpoint, we once again have to look at the web. To the average person, time is money. Before I take the time to drive into town to hunt down a part or to look for something I need or want to get, I always go to the web. Hopefully, your name will come up near the top of the list; highlighting not only your business but offering incentives to get the prospective buyer out of their chair and into your store. And just because you may have a brick and mortar store in town doesn’t mean that you still shouldn’t try to be selling your wares to someone 5 states over. Many times, establishing a good web presence can help boost up the slow times when local business is in a lull.

Look at what your customers want and what THEY need.

If you have a web site… work it from the customer angle. Is it easy to use? Is it easy to navigate through? Does it make sense? Does it have the information they need. Does it have your hours of operation, a map of where you are and a little bit about what your business is all about?

It should!

Secure Your Technology

More to come later!!

Have Dependable IT Support

More coming later!!

 

 

 

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