IT priorities for start-ups and small businesses
There is no doubt that Great Britain is a nation of entrepreneurs. In 2018/2019 some 672,890 new businesses were registered across the UK, bringing the total number of businesses in 2019 to 5.9 million, 96% of which are classified as “Micro Businesses” having 10 or less employees.
The motivations for going it alone, rather than seeking employment in an existing organisation, are many. Freedom, creativity, flexible working practices and the possibility of real and immediate rewards are just some of the benefits of business ownership.
Nowadays, small businesses have the capacity to operate on similar terms to much larger enterprises, thanks to the proliferation of affordable technology and online services and applications.
For anyone considering starting up a new venture, or if you have recently gone down that path, here are some IT priorities that you should focus on to give your business the best chance of success.
Technology offers myriad opportunities to increase productivity for even the smallest of businesses. In fact, clever application of technology is probably the single biggest deciding factor in whether a new business will succeed.
The cloud is key here. Cloud services mean that entrepreneurs can access the same technology as their largest rivals, but without the traditional set-up headaches or large upfront costs. Whatever type of process or system you need to operate your business, the chances are it already exists out there as an online service. All you need to do is sign up for a monthly or annual subscription, feed in your data and requirements, and you are up and running.
Cloud-based applications also enable you to access your information wherever you are and whenever you need it, whether that’s from an office, your desk at home, on the train, in the café or even on the beach.
What’s more, tools such as Microsoft One-Drive and Apple iCloud will also sync all of that information across all your devices, whether a desktop, laptop, pad or smartphone, meaning you can work seamlessly no matter what device is most convenient for you at the time, without all the tedious copy/paste or emailing documents to yourself.
If we look at Microsoft’s Office 365 suite, we can see examples of all the most used and critical applications that a small business will need…
- Office Suite — Desktop productivity applications such as Word (word processing), Excel (spreadsheets), PowerPoint (presentations) and Outlook (email browser, calendars, and directory of contacts).
- Exchange Online — Hosted email
- One-Drive — Synchronise your data across all your devices and share files easily with others
- SharePoint — Online file & document store with powerful sharing and collaboration features
- Teams — Feature rich communications platform for messaging, file sharing, audio and video-calling and more
Technology is the ideal place to look for better efficiencies in your new business, especially when it comes to communication and collaboration.
The key feature of most start-ups and all micro businesses is low headcount. Some will be one-man bands, others might have a small team. These kinds of businesses do not operate with layers of management and people to spare to attend non-critical meetings.
Fortunately, technology enables entrepreneurs to take up every meeting opportunity, just in a different format to the traditional face-to-face method.
Whether you are using web conferencing systems or collaboration applications (such as the aforementioned Microsoft Teams), these services allow you to have instant communication with your staff, customers, and suppliers, without having to leave your current location.
This cuts down on travel time and the associated costs, so what used to take up three hours out of your day can now be achieved in a 10-minute group chat. It is also good for keeping your carbon footprint down, something that all businesses should strive for.
Taking time to try out some productivity applications can pay dividends. From the most typically used applications we looked at earlier to more specialised tools particularly suited to your way of working or type of business, there are a wealth of web-based programs that can improve your efficiency and meet your organisational needs.
There are many ways to make use of technology to manage and reduce your costs when setting up a new venture. Marketing your business via social networks, including LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter, can help you reach potential new customers and gather feedback, with no or little outlay. There is no doubt that it’s difficult to get right and experience has shown that it’s not enough to do a little every now and then, you need to commit to get the most out of it. But the fact is that you do not have to have tons of money to promote your business anymore, as was the case with traditional media. Social media is practically free, and you are only limited by your own efforts and creativity as far as growing a business is concerned.
Online budgeting, accounting, and expenses tools, such as QuickBooks, are a great way for new business owners to ensure compliance with tax or VAT requirements, without the need to install complex software or hire an accountant.
Entrepreneurs have an advantage over their more established and larger rivals in that they are unlikely to be the target for the sort of sophisticated and targeted cyber-attacks that those companies must mitigate for.
However, that does not mean that small businesses and start-ups can ignore IT security. Cyber-attacks are commonplace and take many forms and if you fail to protect yourself then it is only a matter of time before the worst happens.
One of the first things entrepreneurs should do when starting out, is get a clear overview of exactly what data you are storing — whether it be customer and employee records, intellectual property documents, budgets and financials and so on, you should know where this information is located and who has access to it.
If you are using cloud services, those vendors will be taking steps to protect your data stored in their systems; but if you are sharing log-ins and accounts with other staff, customers or partners, that is a security risk and measures must be taken to ensure that your information is protected.
You should also take steps to backup data that is within your own accounts. A common misconception is that G-Suite and Office 365 information is backed up as standard. It is not. Certainly if an Office 365 site should go down, Microsoft have very strong systems in place to ensure your data is not lost, but if you should delete files or emails yourself, whether on purpose or by accident, they will be lost forever if not restored within a short period.
Do not despair though, most cyber-attacks and disaster recovery situations can be mitigated by taking sensible, lowcost precautions, such as installing a leading antivirus, spam-filtering, using a password manager, a workstation or Office 365 backup service and establishing a relationship with an IT support provider, someone who can help you out in a pinch.
This article contains statistics provided by…
1. Gov.UK — Business population statistics 2019
2. House of Commons Library — Business statistics briefing paper 2019
Want more advice? If you would like advice on IT for your small business or start-up, get in touch today!