Technology has empowered and enabled small businesses helping them save money, streamline business processes, promote their products and services in new ways, work more productively and compete with larger organizations.
Here’s a check list for setting up your small business office to work more effectively and efficiently.
Selecting the right computer will depend on the type of work you do and how permanent or mobile your office is. You may need a PC, a powerhouse laptop or light weight options such as a Chromebook or tablet. Perhaps you’ll want to invest in both a PC and light weight laptop. When making your selection, keep in mind that your computer will need to run all the software and applications you need to operate your business.
Questions to ask to ensure you select an option that meets your specific needs:
- How much do you want to spend?
- Do you need flexibility to work away from your main office?
- Does the option have the right features to support your type of work?
- Do you know how to use the operating system?
- How will you ensure the device is secure?
Single Monitor, Dual Monitors or None
If you have a desktop computer (PC) you will obviously need a monitor. In fact, you may want dual monitors. If you’ve decided on a laptop you can purchase a monitor to plug your laptop into. General purpose budget-friendly monitors range from about $100 to $200.
Secure, Reliable Internet Connection
Residential or low speed internet business solutions are not adequate to run your business. And free public access points (Wi-Fi hotspots) are not reliable nor are they secure enough to conduct business. Using one can put your data, your customers data and your transactions at risk.
Reasons to invest in a business-grade internet connection:
- Connectivity and speed supports employee productivity with faster uploads and response times
- You don’t want to hinder the ability to serve your customers in a timely manner
- You can capitalize on the full potential of moving your business process to the cloud
- Bandwidth to support scalability when setting up communication systems that will grow seamlessly with your business
When working outside your primary office you have mobile hotspot options such as a compact wireless router that acts as a mobile Wi-Fi – often referred to as a Mi-Fi (which is a registered brand name, but not the name of the actual technology). Today’s dedicated hotspots are small and inexpensive. You can purchase the device and data plan from your mobile phone service provider, or from a company that offers pre-paid or pay-as-you-go wireless access.
While a dedicated portable hotspot solution allows convenient internet access anywhere at any time your connection speed is limited to the speed of the cellular network. Most personal hotspots allow for multiple connections, but performance can decline when connecting multiple devices at the same time. You also need to be aware of your bandwidth consumption – which can quickly drive up costs by exceeding contracted service levels.
For those who are not frequent hotspot users, you can simply tether your computer to your cell phone to use its internet connection. Again, be cognizant of your data plan limits as you may rack up minutes which can get expensive. Also, be aware of draining your phones battery life and the inconvenience of not being able to take calls.
As a general rule when using portable hotspots, make sure you protect your data by using an encrypted password.
Speed, reliability, consistency and security far outweigh the cost of low speed or free options when doing business.
Cloud-based Platforms and Applications
The cloud has changed how we all do business, but has literally leveled the playing field for small business. Cloud computing has made technology more affordable and accessible making it the most widely used technology solution by SMBs.
Cloud technologies give small businesses greater flexibility by making data and applications accessible from anywhere, at any time and on any type of device. Cloud-based services allow files to be truly “portable” and accessible wherever you have an Internet connection. With cloud-based platforms businesses can easily store, protect, back-up and recover their data.
Cloud-based tools improve performance, productivity and a small businesses’ ability to scale at a fraction of the cost.
These tools support the following functions:
- File sharing
- Customer Relationship Management
- Project Management
- Host Email
- Other Applications
This list will continue to grow as technology evolves to address all functional areas of business.
These online, subscription-based services are ideal for small businesses of all sizes – from the freelancer and solopreneur, to the office with 100 plus employees. However, even with the advancement of the cloud, some businesses still need additional software that is specific to their needs or industry. The best bet is to make a list of the applications you will need to run your office.
Small Business Office Network
A computer network connecting multiple types of devices (PCs, printers, phone systems, surveillance systems, and more) is an essential element of doing business. Focus on simplicity and functionality for your small office network, but make sure to consider how your network will need to scale with the growth of your company. You don’t want to outgrow your hardware (routers and switches) and increase your costs by not planning appropriately.
Tips for building your small office network:
- What type of switch will you require?
- What type of router will you need?
- How many ports will the router require to scale with your business?
- Does the router have a built-in firewall to help screen and filter incoming cyber threats?
- Will you need a Virtual Private Network (VPN) for users to access your office network from outside your central office location?
- Will you need wireless access points to accommodate Wi-Fi dead spots and extend your wireless network?
Every small business office is unique. Consulting an IT expert will help you assess your needs stay within your budget.
Landlines, Mobile Phone, or VoIP
Technology has had a large impact on the phone services now available for small business owners. VoIP technology, Internet-based phone services or virtual phone systems, and even mobile phones have allowed SMBs to move away from having a traditional landline service. Virtual phone systems provide small businesses with flexibility and organization as well as help them look like a national company or establish a more local presence. They have robust features that are affordable for small businesses.
When selecting the right phone system consider features and functionality versus your needs:
- Do you need unlimited calling or conferencing?
- Do you need a toll-free number?
- Do you need customizable caller ID?
- Do you need texting?
- How will you set up call-routing?
- Are security, encryption and authentication safeguards built in?
- What support will you need?
Backup and Data Recovery Tools
As a small business owner, you’ll need to have a plan and a policy in place for backing up and protecting your essential files as well as your customers information. You want to make sure that you’re prepared so when the worst happens, like a failed hard drive or ransomware infection that holds your files hostage, you’re not scrambling to figure out what to do.
Backup options are fairly straight forward and include manually copying files to a separate external hard drive, cloud-based backup services to copy your files automatically, or a personal server. You could also use a cloud storage service such as Dropbox, Google Drive or Microsoft OneDrive. These are not technically backup methods, but serve a similar purpose in that they sync to your online account so you’ll have copies of your files stored online. All are relatively affordable and can save your business in the case of computer failure. You need to determine what option fits your needs.
A good backup tool includes the following options:
- Let’s you select the data to be stored
- Where the data should be stored
- Whether the data should be encrypted for additional security
- Makes it easy to recover data, if, and when needed after a disaster
- Allows for scheduling and automation
You cannot operate your office or business without dependable Wi-Fi. It’s probably more important than anything else for essential business functions and keeping employees working. If you have a retail based store then public Wi-Fi is expected from your customers. And it’s a great way to keep them engaged with your products and services while shopping.
While setting up a home network may be simple, installing and maintaining a larger business Wi-Fi solution isn’t always easy.
- Will you segment network traffic for guests and employees?
- Will you need to accommodate fluctuating traffic?
- How will you ensure sufficient wireless speed for segmented traffic for optimal use of bandwidth?
- How will you prioritize essential business tools on your admin network (PCs, printers, etc.)?
- How will you address and troubleshoot network problems?
Digital Security and Updates
Small businesses handle so much valuable and sensitive information that investing in strong security is crucial. A misstep will not only impact your trustworthiness and brand, it may bring your business to a screeching halt.
Cyber security starts with ensuring you have reliable anti-virus software in place and that it’s updated. Keeping your systems updated also helps with productivity so you’re not waiting on software or operating system updates that need to download and install before you can start working.Having the right cyber security measures in place will help detect threats and respond to breaches while protecting your data and overall infrastructure.
Here’s a quick check list for managing your digital security:
- Keep all software up-to-date
- Secure all web browsers
- Always use data and email encryption
- Back up your data daily to an off-site server (cloud-based or otherwise)
- Ensure all mobile devices are encrypted
Other office considerations to save time and increase productivity:
Multipurpose Machine that can print, scan, fax and even make copies.
Electronic Whiteboards that have the capability to store and print everything that is written on them.
Paper Shredder for destroying sensitive and confidential information in your business.
Teleconferencing and/or Video Conferencing Applications to digitally meet and share screens.
Surge Protector should be a staple in any office that uses computer equipment.
Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS) to provide backup power for a limited time in case your electricity goes out in which case a UPS can provide you buffer time to save your work and safely shut down your equipment.
Don’t forget these additional peripherals such as extra mobile phone batteries, mobile computer power cords, your favorite mouse or keyboard, and perhaps a great pair of headphones for when you need to concentrate and focus on your work.