Monday, January 21, 2008

Last Minute Implementations

I had another prospect I've been working with for a while call me up the other day and ask to have us set up their new office. As I've seen before, they need it done in 2 weeks. I just don't understand how someone who is running a real business (and this one is) would be so involved in the planning and building of a new office that they wouldn't think about making sure their system will be set up. To do this right, we need to first assess their needs, quote the equipment, then (after it arrives) set it all up. I mean, I want to help them don't get me wrong, but I can't ask our guys to drop everything to do this because:
  1. We have many other clients to serve that have current contracts
  2. We could have been contacted earlier for this.
  3. They chose a competitor for a hosted solution and have now since realized their folly.

As a salesperson who wants to make the customer happy, it is always difficult to break it to a client that their expectations for cost or timeline are short. On the flip side, you have to be open about it in the first place and explain that you have to consult with others before giving final numbers. That way...if there is a significant difference, you can explain more readily.

Friday, January 11, 2008

I.T. Tip of the Month - Laptop Travel Safety

Carrying a computer to all corners of the globe can be hard on the nerves. They cost thousands of dollars, you've got your system configured just the way you like it, and you have vital information stored on your hard drive. The theft of your laptop or the data on it would cause you more than minor inconvenience.

Laptop computers are particularly worrisome because they are a high-value item packed into a very small box that can disappear ever so quickly. Here are some tips for your upcoming journey that should help you secure that valuable piece of your company:

  1. Encrypt data on your hard drive or keep it offline. If you have extremely sensitive information it makes sense to use encryption for those folders or files. Another option is to store them on your server so the only way to access them is while connected to the server.
  2. Always use a computer locking system. Products such as a security cable allow you to attach your laptop to an immovable object in your hotel or elsewhere.
  3. Use common sense while your laptop is in your possession. Always keep an eye on it, don’t leave it unattended and always keep it within arm’s reach of you.
  4. Don’t use a branded laptop carrying case. If you travel often this could be your best defense. Find a carrying case that doesn’t scream out "computer" to every would-be thief.
  5. Don’t leave passwords for Windows or VPN attached to or within your laptop case. While this is common sense, it is seen all too often.
  6. Always make sure your data is backed up before traveling. While in transit even a laptop hard drive can experience shocks that can cause damage. Don’t put your laptop in check-in luggage. We all know what a beating our luggage can sometimes endure.
  7. Enable your BIOS system password. This is an additional password, beyond your Windows password, that when enabled, prevents your computer from booting.
  8. Avoid attaching to free WiFi internet connections even from reputable vendors. More and more frequently hackers are setting up “Free WiFi” hot spots that are designed to compromise your computer. If you must connect to unfamiliar networks, turn on Windows Firewall to provide a layer of protection.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Not So Happy Tech New Year?

Here I was excited about the new year and all the optimism that the first week of the new year brings when I saw the BusinessWeek article by Gene Marks - Tech solutions your business can't use, which was loaded with so much gloom and doom about why you shouldn't use silly things like...I don't know....Spam or Virus Blockers...that I felt dumber by just reading it. Fortunately there were other smart, technology savvy bloggers out there today to balance it all out. I particularly liked the post from Small Biz Labs , or even just the witty smackdown of DuctTape Marketing's John Jantsch.

I've worked with other CPA's and dozens of small business owners who would feel the opposite for most of what was said in the article, and I'm a little shocked that BusinessWeek would publish it since I respect the quality of their content. Take Gene's remark that people should just delete spam as it comes in. Lets look at this from a numbers perspective. I have spoken with business owners myself that thought that spending about 30 minutes a day deleting spam was "normal"....."acceptable". Well, its not, and small business owners deserve better. You can get a great spam filter hosted for you offsite with Barracuda or Postini, or others, for around $1.95 per mailbox per month.....filtering viruses too since viruses enter via email. On the other hand....30 minutes a day...perhaps 10 employees...that could equal $5 per DAY or more (for $10/hour). I would think a CPA would be able to work those numbers.

Other sections like how adwords or SEO (search engine optimization) don't work are off base as well. No, you don't have to be a multinational conglomerate to afford them. Many companies can manage the SEO and PPC (pay per click) stuff for you. If your business thrives on online marketing, this might make a sound investment. just have to be smart. There is plenty of free advice out there on how to do this stuff...its not as mysterious as Gene makes of it. The key is to create content that people want to find online.

So, I'll forge onward with my New Year. Am I saying not to have a healthy skepticism of new technologies? Of course not. Small businesses should be as skeptical of them as they are of articles like this one.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Small Biz Tech and Marketing

For most small businesses, gaining new business is done by word of mouth, personal networking/referrals, and some direct selling. Having a marketing budget that wraps everything up into a coordinated process for generating a consistent flow of new business is not someting I see too often. There are technologies, typically sold as a service from vendors, that give the smallest of companies consistent, effective marketing power using the power of email. Examples of this are Constant Contact, eProspector, and Sales Genius. These could be used to manage a newsletter the company wants to put out, an email prospecting campaign for either cold or warm lists, or for getting insight from prospects on what they prefer. Its always good to add some outbound marketing to your mix as long as your leads are targeted and your message is concise.

It should also go without saying that a small business that has not invested the time and money in a secure email system, preferably with MS Exchange either hosted or onsite, may have a harder time leveraging these types of technologies. I've worked with many a client that has been blacklisted by their ISP because some virus infected their server or some hacker broke in and started sending out mass amounts of spam using their servers. That type of problem could take days or longer to resolve, and you can bet that being able to send out even just one-off emails to that hot prospect you met yesterday would be impacted in a not-so-nice way.

That just points to the idea that having a clean, up to date, IT infrastructure that is well maintained gives you time to focus on growing the business.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

How “techie” CEO’s grow their small businesses faster
by James Farquharson

With all the business owners I talk to in my line of work, I know the like to hear what makes other businesses like their's successful. I found a recent survey from CDW/ O’Keefe & Company (of course CDW has a vested interest in this) was sent to CEO’s that successfully grew their businesses past the 100 employee mark. The aim of the survey was to learn how I.T. played a role in their success, if at all. Of the 862 responses that were received:

· 79% believe that having the best equipment and support in place gave them a strategic advantage over their competition
· 82% defined themselves as “Power Users” or “Total Geeks”
· 61% of these self described “techies” achieved double-digit growth within a 5 year period.
· 65% believe in extending their staff’s capabilities by partnering with I.T. vendors or consultants.
· 54% stated that their biggest mistake was not integrating their I.T. planning into their business strategy sooner.

Put simply, CEO’s that consider their I.T. a vital part of their business are more successful than those who think of I.T. as a necessary evil that should only be serviced when broken.
According to an NFIB study, only 39% of small businesses become profitable. Regardless of whether a business owner is a “techie”, all small businesses can benefit from the I.T. strategies these leaders employ. Based on my experience, the following are core I.T. strategies that facilitate small business growth:

1. Assess – Take an objective look at your company’s network, or have an outside company perform an assessment. Are your computers all 3 years old? Is your server out of warranty? Are software updates applied regularly?

2. Plan – Make I.T. a part of your business planning. Are you projected to grow 10% next year? Planning a move? What is your 1, 2, or 5 year plan for maintaining an efficient system? I.T. equipment and support should be a significant line-item in your budget, not “whatever is left”.

3. Backup – Business continuity is key. The cost to your business of one hour of downtime, one Gigabyte of lost data, or one lost customer far outweighs an investment in proper Data/email backup and power supply backups. Test your data backups.

4. Secure – Small businesses are the easiest targets for hackers and virus attacks, and many never recover from severe attacks. Ensure that your business is protected from viruses and unauthorized activity with good firewall, internal anti spam/virus software, AND external anti spam/virus protection.

5. Delegate – Even a “techie” CEO shouldn’t do all his own I.T. work. Hire a well-qualified full-time person or partner with a full-service I.T. company that can setup and maintain equipment efficiently and scale with your business. You can also “delegate” your computing capacity by hosting email, websites, or “heavy” applications with a hosting company.

Someone may look at all this and say "well, duh", but I see first-hand that the “band-aid” approach is very common, either because of the fear of spending money on new hardware or I.T. services, or because the business’s growth has quickly outstripped its original I.T. infrastructure. This approach is much more costly and disruptive than taking a page from the “techie” CEO handbook and planning for I.T. as a key investment in establishing a successful, growing business.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Allow me to introduce...myself...

So this is my first posting for Small Biz Tech Advantage (pat on my own back), which I'm sure will catapult me into near-stardom within months! No, I'm not expecting that. I do want to share my thoughts on small business technology issues, though. With over 50% of our GDP coming from the small business sector, it is amazing how much these companies vary in the choices they make for their I.T. infrastructure, support providors, long term planning, and budgeting. I help these companies solve problems of that nature in my "day job", where I work with Northridge Systems ( as Business Development Director for the IT management part of the company. I enjoy working with decision makers and giving them what advice I can to help them make the right decisions. This dosn't mean they always choose me to help them, and sometimes I recommend someone else. Sometimes I run away in terror!

Anyway, the goal of the blog is to discuss topics that concern small businesses IT. This includes everything from website development and search engine optimization to establishing a reliable backup process. I'll try to stay on the strategic level. I do get tactical in some ways and can be pretty techinical if I need to be, but I'm a business guy, not an engineer. An important idea that will always be my foundation is that good IT systems help small businesses achieve competetive advantage. Those I speak to daily about these types of issues need that type of advice, not just tech specs of what they should buy.

Look for my postings to address IT issues that typical small business CEO's or VP Operations struggle with on a daily basis. I look forward to sharing my ideas, but most importantly learning from others so that my postings can bring more value.

James Farquharson