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5:16pm Thursday 20th October 2011 in IT
Eric McDonogh, director of Witney-based Clever Business Websites, suggests how businesses can make IT more cost-efficient
You do not have to work in IT to find yourself constantly shelling out for networks, a website or even an e-mail facility. These are all costs that are likely to crop up for any small or start-up business.
The problem is that many small business owners simply are not aware of what IT should cost and what they really need, which can lead to both messy and inefficient systems and costs that soon spiral out of control.
The following guidelines offer some advice on how to set up more streamlined and effective IT for your business as well as lowering costs.
Don’t be led by price When businesses source IT systems, they often search with a price in mind that is based on what they can afford, rather than what they want the system to do.
Because we think we need/are able to pay a certain amount, we can be led by pricing, rather than functionality/benefits.
As a result, many business owners either buy a system that is completely unnecessary but falls within their ‘budget,’ or they assume decent software must be too expensive and use an alternative system that is completely unfit for purpose, like spreadsheets.
Spreadsheets can seem like a common sense, low-cost solution but they can quickly escalate into an administrative nightmare.
If you have lots of spreadsheets, not only will you spend unnecessary time updating them, but you will soon find your data becomes inconsistent and unreliable.
So as your business grows it becomes harder to hold your data in a way that is both accurate and meaningful as well as ensuring you fulfil all your legal obligations, for example with the Data Protection Act.
The simple alternative is to forget pricing and big brands altogether and think about what you actually need a system to do.
Once you start looking, you will be surprised at how many packages offer all the basics, either for free, or at very little cost.
One example is the accounting package Free Agent Central. This system includes some really savvy time-saving features, like automated invoices and recurring reminders. And it offers a monthly rental option, to ease the pressure on cash flow.
People are generally quite sceptical about free apps, but if you take the features versus price approach there is a lot that a system can do without putting a big squeeze on your budget.
Of course researching the right packages does require a bit of web surfing, so it can also be helpful to join networking groups and speak to other people who run small businesses.
This should give you a broader idea of what works and what does not. And you will probably pick up a bit of business in the process.
Don’t buy something because you think you should Many of us fall into the habit of buying something because everyone else has it, or because we used it in a former working life.
This is often the case with anti-virus software, with businesses shelling out far more than necessary to protect their business.
There are several free anti-virus packages such as Microsoft Security Essentials, which is specifically geared towards small businesses and can be used for up to ten PCs.
Also consider a low-power desktop computer, known as a Net Top PC, as they are typically far less expensive than normal PCs. A Net Top is attached to the back of a monitor, so it is more ergonomic than a normal desktop PC and makes office space easier to manage.
Do think about Google Docs For small businesses, Google Docs can be a more cost-effective and efficient solution than internally managed networks.
Google Docs is a cloud-based document centre — your documents are held on Google’s servers and accessed via the Internet.
A big advantage of Google Docs is that it allows you to access files remotely, from anywhere in the world. This can be incredibly useful when you and your staff are away at conferences or meetings and need to access your documents. And it includes automatic back-ups, so your information is protected against loss of Internet connection and accidentally deleted files.
Remote access takes a lot of the pressure off internal resources and could allow you to dispense with centrally managed networks.
If you use your e-mail through Google as well, this is another way to bring everything together in one place and save staff time on switching between apps.
Don’t rely on landline connections A lot of businesses get trapped into paying for a phoneline simply to give them an Internet connection.
This usually arises because many providers need a phone line in order to set up a connection.
Internet phones such as Sipgate offer a great, viable alternative to landlines. Otherwise known as Voice over IP (VoIP), they enable calls using a broadband connection. Typically, both international calls and landline calls are free via VoIP, with some costs incurred for mobiles. So they can be a lot more cost-effective than landline calls.
Internet-based calls are also possible via Skype and OoVoo, which enable free local and international calls to other users, as well as free 1-2-1 video calls. The new Google + also includes ‘hangouts’ that allow video conferencing between up to ten people.
Don’t assume the price is right When sourcing a more expensive system don’t ever assume the price is right. Always get several quotes before making a decision, especially if a system is stretching your budget.
Quote gathering tells you about a company’s responsiveness. The service experienced early on can reveal a lot about what will happen down the line. Sometimes peace of mind is worth more to your business than saving a couple of pennies.
* Contact: Clever Business Websites, 01865 98989 Web: www.cleverbusinesswebsites.co.uk