Small Business IT Checklist
Here’s the overview:
- Where you keep your data, how it’s backed up, how easy is it to access it for your staff, and how easy is it to lose or leak
- The various ways that you communicate with your clients
- Customer Relationship Management (CRM) database
- Invoicing and Payments
- Client Feedback
- How you manage any technology that you provide directly to clients, e.g. wifi access, an accessible computer, etc
- How you communicate with and manage your staff, track your inventory and manage your projects
- Who can help you set up and manage your IT systems
Where Does Your Data Live?
If the answer is ‘on my laptop’ or even ‘on a portable hard drive’ then you need to consider other ways to keep that data safe and accessible to the people who need to work with you on it (and only those people). By data, I mean documents, financial records, invoices, whatever files your business depends on. You should never have just one copy of your data, especially not if that place is a single portable computer or disk.
Keep your data safe - Backups and Cloud Storage
Your data needs to live in at least 2 places, and ideally in 3. I would advise you to have at least a local backup (like Apple’s Time Machine or other equivalent, on a hard drive you keep plugged in to a computer) and a cloud backup (to cover you if someone or something steals or destroys the computer and backup drive together). Dedicated cloud backup solutions like Backblaze, or cloud file sharing systems like Office 365, G Suite and Dropbox allow you to keep (multiple) local copies and the cloud copy, and have other benefits besides. It’s not worth chancing it with one of the most important assets you have.
Share your data with colleagues and clients - Cloud Data Sharing
Using something like this will let you share your files with whoever you need to, and will also mean that you can access them and work on them from multiple devices yourself. It’s worth it just for that, to be honest. Bonus points: cloud storage counts as an additional location for keeping your stuff backed up.
Don't leak sensitive information - Data Protection
How are you communicating with customers?
Most of your IT systems relate directly to your customers in some way. Email, website, Facebook, a CRM system, invoicing…. Each part of the process can either enhance or worsen the customer experience. At the same time they each have an impact on your own speed and effectiveness, and even your own sanity. With all this at stake, it’s worth getting the pieces right.
Think about how you work - Business Processes
No electronic system will magically solve your needs if you don’t understand what you’re trying to do from end to end. But when you know the flow of information within your business, you can plan out the various forms your data needs to take and what systems you could use to store and manage each stage.
Appear Businesslike - Use Professional Email Addresses
If you’re using a ‘home’ email system like Gmail but you’ve created a ‘business’ email address, it will be something like email@example.com . Worse, if this is literally your personal account too, it might be firstname.lastname@example.org. The thing is, if you’ve got a professional website at bespokeplumbingservices.com, you’re aiming to show people that you’re a slick, real business that can be trusted. Your crazy email address can let you down here. The absolute minimum is to set up a forwarder from an email address on your website’s domain – email@example.com – that goes to your other email. That will at least let you put something professional on your business cards and ads, although when you reply, you’ll still be sending from your normal address, so that’s why the other minimum requirement is to have an email address that at least mentions your business. Otherwise, clients will receive replies from firstname.lastname@example.org and think… who is this guy? What happened to bespokeplumbingservices.com?
The best solution, of course, is to have a proper email mailbox tied to the same domain as your website, so you can send and receive from a professional account. This also keeps your business email all in one place. Check with your hosting company whether there is a simple email package available, and then compare this with suites like Office 365 and G Suite to see if you would be getting better value there. As it happens I can help you get this stuff set up if you need it – either the whole process or just helping you out if you get stuck.
Split Home and Work - Use Separate Email Mailboxes
You’re shooting yourself in the foot if you have everything coming into the same account – home and business. When you sit down to do a day’s work, your attention will be pulled away from important things to… whatever else you get in your inbox. Newsletters, offers, Facebook notifications, friends, and so on. You’ll spend as much time trying to get back into work mode every few minutes as you do actually answering work email – and just as bad, the flip side is that you’ll end up answering work email in bed when you check your personal mail.
At the very minimum (and I’d always recommend going further than this), you should have a separate Outlook.com or Gmail email with your business name in it, and avoid checking personal mail while you work. This helps solve the work/life balance issue, but not the professionalism one.
As before, the best solution (which fixes both)is to have a proper email mailbox tied to the same domain as your website, so you can send and receive from a professional account and keep your business email all in one place. Again, check with your hosting company whether there is a simple email package available, and then compare this with suites like Office 365 and G Suite to see if you would be getting better value there.
Make Web Updates Easy to Do - Website
Give Your Customers Instant Contact - Web Chat
Keep Customers Informed - Bulk Mailings and Newsletters
Understand and Develop Your Client Relationships - CRM Systems
Automate Your Finances - Invoicing Systems
When it’s tax time or you want to see what invoices remain unpaid, there’s a ton of reports that will help you see what your financials are doing. A spreadsheet would take a little longer to set up and doesn’t have a team of people working on new features while you sleep!
Manage Your Photography Business - Invoicing and CRM
Get Customer Reviews and Opinions - Client Feedback and/or Helpdesk
There are also services out there that can pull in user feedback or queries from your Facebook or Twitter channels and help you to manage them with your other requests.
Get Money From Customers - Card and Other Payment Processing Systems
If you don’t have a credit card machine, and think you might want one, luckily that market is becoming a lot easier and cheaper. Devices like iZettle and SumUp pair with your mobile to allow card payments on the go. Not taking cards can be the difference between an immediate sale and a ‘well, I’ll think about it’ in many lines of work. If you’re selling goods at a market and you only take cash, a potential buyer who would be able to hand over a card on impulse might pass you up if they’re short on cash. They might love what you do, and then never get around to coming back or searching you out to buy later.
All these services take a small percentage fee for each transaction of course, but it is worth weighing up what extra sales you may make by having this available.
Secure Your Wireless Environment - Providing Guest Wifi
You may need a bespoke service to help you charge for or automatically assign WiFi use, if that’s not just going to be a guest WiFi password on a sign. And if you are just a B&B it would be worth finding out if your WiFi router has a guest WiFi mode. Orange in France, for example, now supplies routers with this feature, which will keep guests from being on the same network as your own computers which hold your business data. Many home wifi routers now include this function. As always, if you need a hand finding it, I can help.
Also, change the network name and password to something professional-looking. The default network name and password will be almost gibberish, and you want clients to know which network is yours and easily be able to type in the password without help.
Never open your wifi up completely (no password). Doing this means that the signals going over the air are completely unencrypted and can be seen by anyone sat outside your house – they can record information you send and know what sites you’re browsing, what information is sent back and forth, and so on. (HTTPS on websites makes this a little better, but I still think using an open wifi network for anything serious is like shouting your bank card PIN out loud whenever you use it).
What Do You Need To Do Behind The Scenes?
How you manage the stuff at the back end – the stuff the customer doesn’t see – can be just as important as the customer-facing parts of your business. You can provide great customer service and have no idea whether you have items in stock, or take a long time finding them, leading to late shipments. You can be a great designer but have no organisation when it comes to keeping track of where you’re up to with the various projects you have going on. You can have all the right people working for you but have no joined-up way of making sure that everyone knows what’s going on as your company grows and deals with new challenges. How are you managing your team, your projects, your inventory?
Keep Track Of The Stuff You Sell - Inventory Management
Manage Your Work - Project and Task Management
You could consider a project management platform like Asana, Trello, Monday, or Basecamp. You might need a simpler shared task management service like Wunderlist. Or, if you’re going in the direction of a full collaboration platform anyway, the Planner feature of Office 365 can work for this too.
Revolutionise Your Team Communication - Team Chat Workspaces
Best of all, whether you use one of the productivity suites (Office 365 or G Suite) or not, there’s always a free option to try. Both Slack and Teams have stand-alone free options. The best ones have great integration with all the other services you’re using, and on top let you voice and video chat with your teams as well as using text chat. Mobile apps let you do all this internal communication from wherever you need, linking to files and other notes that you need to carry on the discussion. Email, compared to that, is just a messy place full of too many messages.
Even just between 2 people, chat-based workspaces can change how you work for the better. It’s hard to see how in a short few paragraphs like this but in my experience, email as an internal communication method is a disaster, both for all-company news and for team collaboration. As it takes a little bit of getting used to, you might get more out of it with some professional help, or at least plan to spend some time working with it before you start to see the benefits. But once you are really working with it, you won’t miss your overloaded email box. Keep that for communicating with customers and suppliers, and watch the mail volume drop. Sound good? Get in touch and I’ll help you work out how to get started. I prefer Teams, but Slack has a very large following as well. You could just try one out yourself.
Who’s Running Your IT?
Finally, and potentially the most important – who can you call on to help you with your IT when you’re in trouble, or when you want to set up something new that will move your business forward? As the business owner, do you spend a lot of your time struggling to setting all this stuff up and trying not to throw your computer out of the window? Why not get someone else to do that for you?
Have you ever wasted an entire day doing something that you know someone more experienced could have done for you in an hour? We’ve all done that. Often it’s not until afterwards that you realise that it would have been cheaper and easier – and by then the time is already wasted.
The problem is that we don’t think of our own time as an hourly rate. You should really work out what your own hourly or day rate is, and then you will be able to see whether paying for a service will be worth it.
The CEO or business leader has a unique role in a business. There are a lot of things only you can do. If you spend too much time doing things anyone can do, you’ll have no time for the critical decisions and strategy you need to move your business forward.
Delegate as much as you can. Keep less in your head and more written down in systems or procedures someone else can follow for you. And hire contractors you trust to have your business in mind, not just their own.
I personally work as if I was your own personal IT department – just smaller. You can’t probably hire a full-time IT person yet, but you can contract one in on a regular support agreement, working on whatever you’d task an IT staff member to do, from user support to configuring your cloud services. I’ve had clients from a couple of hours a month all the way to 3 days a week, and I also work on a project basis to get new systems set up and make sure you know how you want to use them.
I hope this has helped you get an idea of some of the IT questions small businesses need to answer. You can do a lot of this stuff yourself, but unless you love this part of the job, why put yourself through it?
If anything here has made you realise that you want some hands-on help, click this button, send me a message, and I’ll see if I can get you going.