Most people who decide to launch their own small business often run into the exact same IT related issues. This article provides a few practical tips to address the biggest concerns and avoid typical mistakes in this regard. From my own experience, there are several common characteristics inherent to small businesses. These include limited IT infrastructure budgets and a low threshold of the required IT services accessibility (a small business hardly ever sets five-start reliability requirements).
Let’s move on to the specific things that will help young small enterprises get a maximum out of the modern information technologies with a minimum of investment.
- Workplace automation
If you are up to workplace automation, the optimal choice is to use laptops rather than desktop computers. Whereas these types of machines with approximately the same hardware configuration hardly differ in terms of their price, using laptops provides a number of benefits.
First of all, the fact that a laptop is equipped with a battery ensures its operation in case of a power outage. If you use a desktop machine, though, you will need to purchase a UPS (uninterruptible power supply) for it, which essentially doesn’t do more than allow for safe shutdown in a power failure scenario.
Secondly, laptops are important prerequisites of the mobile workforce. In a small enterprise, one staff member can take on several roles at a time, and the availability of a laptop computer at hand lets such personnel stay mobile and productive.
- Creating network infrastructure in the office
Combining the company’s automated workplace ecosystem into a single network is an extremely important issue that also tends to be expensive. A startup with a limited budget usually cannot afford a fully-fledged, high-quality structured cabling system. Fortunately, there is a way to cut the expenses while setting up a reliable network that will link all workstations under the same umbrella.
The use of Wi-Fi 802.11n technology ensures consistently high connection speeds in an office wireless network. Furthermore, wireless data communication products for enterprise, such as the equipment by Ubiquiti Networks, make it possible to build a seamless roaming WiFi network for up to 20 users at a relatively low cost compared to high-end corporate solutions. This way, your employees can work both within the local network and on the Internet without their connection being interrupted.
Speaking of routers and network switches, devices by MikroTik are worth separate mention. They can be used to set up a network with stable routing, free VPN services and a decent QoS (Quality of Service) for several hundred dollars. QoS is particularly important in this context as it manages bandwidth so that staff members can use Internet services to the fullest without hindering each other.
- Providing email services
It’s very problematic and expensive for most small businesses to set up and maintain an enterprise email server because it’s a matter of hiring dedicated IT personnel and purchasing the right hardware and software.
Fortunately, Google offers cheap enterprise email services. By forwarding email services within your domain’s DNS area to Google’s servers, you get a cloud-based corporate email server featuring protection against spam and cyber-attacks. In this case, all of your employees will use email boxes with your domain name. The service will be available both via a web interface and via email clients installed on work computers or smartphones.
- Setting up a website
There are numerous free CMS (Content Management System) tools on the Internet that enable anyone to create a quality website of their own. Even if you resort to the services of a web design company, they will most likely create your corporate site using one of these CMS platforms. With enough motivation and time on your hands to study the ins and outs of CMS, you can build your firm’s website and do further maintenance on your own. Meanwhile, you don’t need any considerable coding and web development background.
Out of all the Content Management Systems available online, WordPress is a great option for beginning webmasters. It boasts a huge number of free themes and plugins that suffice to create a decent-looking enterprise site with commendable functionality. You shouldn’t find it hard to familiarize yourself with the admin dashboard and manage the site. What’s more, the CMS proper won’t be resource-heavy for the hosting server.
- Hosting services
A stable hosting environment for your web services is amongst the critical component of any company’s IT posture. Nowadays, the larger the business the more internal IT services need to work in an uninterrupted fashion and be online-accessible at all times.
In my humble opinion, the optimal solution for young companies is to buy a virtual server at a data center providing such services. For an average $10 per month, you can get 2 CPU cores and 2-3GB RAM at the server, with unlimited Internet access in the bundle. A server like that will definitely suffice for a small firm’s website to function flawlessly. Your site is very unlikely to experience a huge influx of visitors during its first year, so it shouldn’t fall short of processing resources.
It’s very expensive and probably unreasonable for a small company to purchase a dedicated server and additional hardware at a data center. The only situation where this tactic makes sense is if you provide IT services to your customers.
- Server virtualization
Server virtualization is a long-running technology in the IT world. Whereas containerization of front-end applications is today’s innovative new trend, many firms lack the expertise to even use virtual servers.
What are the benefits of using virtualization for a small business? Firstly, having bought one physical server you can run dozens or even hundreds of virtual servers on it. As a rule, RAM is the main bottleneck in this process – thankfully, it is affordable these days. Perhaps one large server with sizeable RAM will be enough to meet all of your IT needs. If so, you can save a pretty penny as you won’t have to purchase costly hardware.
In case you think server virtualization software is expensive, you are generally right. However, for instance, VMware provides a free hypervisor called ESXi, which – with some limitations that aren’t critical for a small business – allows you to create a fully functional virtualization environment. Meanwhile, you also get a free licensed piece of software with quite a few virtualization features under the hood.
- Enterprise telephony system
It’s debatable whether or not a modern small company badly needs a telephony system. With a variety of free messengers and other alternative communication methods at hand, building an enterprise telephony network doesn’t appear to be a critical objective. If you have decided to set up internal telephony communication anyway, though, the following tips will help do it on the cheap and very efficiently.
First of all, use freeware like FreePBX or Asterisk as the softphone. These solutions will allow you to create a VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) telephony network. This technique alone can save small business thousands or even hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Secondly, save yourself the trouble of buying telephones for your employees. They can simply use a smartphone app for SIP (Session Initiation Protocol) calls instead.
Thirdly, get your enterprise telephony system connected to the urban networks over SIP protocol. This way, you can cut your spending considerably as you won’t have to purchase the appropriate equipment and pay for deploying separate telephone circuits, as is the case with connecting physical phone lines.
- Promoting your products and services online
Any business requires marketing efforts, especially at its dawn. There aren’t many startups that can afford TV ads or outdoor billboard advertising from the get-go. However, expertise in online marketing can help you get started on promotion activity with no to little investment.
By using your personal blog or your company’s page on social networks, such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram and the like, you can spread the word about your products and reach potential customers without any expenditures. Of course, it takes skills and a great deal of effort to create the appropriate content covering your products or services.
If you don’t mind making some small investments in advertising, then targeted ads on Facebook and AdWords can generate excellent results in terms of attracting customers. In this case, you won’t have to pay a fortune to promote your products.
To recap, the modern information technologies allow small businesses to address numerous challenges efficiently without much spending. All of this is doable as long as you figure out how these techniques work and have enough time to implement them.