There was a time when investing in business technology meant spending a small fortune on hardware and ‘out of the box’ software, only for it to become obsolete after a couple of years. Thankfully for small businesses, accessing the latest tech no longer has to involve a huge initial expense. Similar to internet and online streaming subscriptions, Software as a Service’ (SaaS) models, make it possible and much more affordable to equip your business with up-to-date tools that can help you work more efficiently and effectively.
Here, we look more closely at some of these essential tools. We highlight the type of problems they can solve, and how you can put them to work in your business.
Most businesses find themselves having to draw up invoices, write letters, create spreadsheets, and perhaps even create presentations for pitches to clients or investors. A typical office suite contains everything you need in order to do this. This is in the form of word processing, spreadsheet software, and presentation creation programmes. As well as the essentials, you also tend to get a bundle of tools designed to help organisation, and to manage communications with your team and with customers. This includes email management, address book, and calendar.
Microsoft Office is the best-known example. It includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Outlook. These are applications that have been around for many years. By adopting software that most people are already familiar with, it can make it easier for new starters to hit the ground running.
How to buy it:
It is possible to buy the Office suite as a one-time purchase for a single machine. But, if multiple users will be using the software or you want to access business files from several different devices, Office 365 subscription may interest you. With this, you pay to use Microsoft’s bundle of office software on a per-month, per-user basis. This means that if your team grows, you can easily scale up your package.
Especially if you only occasionally need to create documents, you might be interested in free ‘open source’ office tools. These generally have everything you need to create basic letter and invoice templates. Check out OpenOffice and Google Docs to see if they meet your needs.
Storage: ‘in-house’ or cloud?
Many business owners assume that the typical 1 Terabyte of inbuilt storage will be more than adequate for their data needs. But, even for a small business, customer data, accounts information, and larger files such as product images for your website can soon build up.
As well as capacity, you should also think about security. If you electronically store customer details, you need to consider data storage in the context of The Data Storage Act. If you are unsure whether this applies to your business, find this out by completing the ICO Self-assessment tool.
Types of data storage
The law says you must store data in a way that is ‘appropriate’ to the nature of the data, and the possible consequences of the risks of a security breach. More widely, think about what type of data storage setup will work best for your small business. If you have a relatively small amount of business data, but you still need to back it up, an external hard drive may be the answer.
For larger amounts of data. where you have a small team all working from the same place, network-attached storage (NAS) might be more appropriate. This consists of a single or multiple hard drives that are shared over a secure, internal network. NAS drives suitable for smaller businesses generally cost between £400 and £1,000.
Online Cloud Storage
Many small businesses opt for online cloud storage, through Office 365 for instance, or through a cloud-based customer relationship management platform for customer data. Here, your important files are backed up to a secure remote server. You can then access these via a web browser. This makes it an attractive option if you or your team work remotely. Because the server provider takes care of maintenance, this can be a useful way of storing data if you have little or no in-house IT expertise.
Collaborating and communicating remotely
Cloud storage is the perfect option for those who have teams in multiple locations. It allows you to store and access files remotely. It means that two or more of you can log in and access the same document at the same time. You can also edit and creatively collaborate without inconsistencies. Dropbox is a good example of another file-sharing tool with a free basic version available.
For video communications, you may already be familiar with Skype. You might also want to check out Skype for Business, which lets you add up to 250 people for online meetings and that can be integrated and used with Office apps. With tools such as Adobe Connect, you can record video presentations, making it possible to create ‘troubleshooting’ videos for customers, helping to potentially resolve their problems remotely.
Technology can not only help you work more effectively, it can also break down geographical barriers. This makes it possible to build up your customer and employee base further afield.
To find out more about how tech can go even further in helping you manage your business and deliver great customer service, check out our help centre.