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Healthy Technology Is More Important than Healthy Employees for Today’s Small Businesses

March 26th, 2013 ::

By Maria Valdez Haubrich

How important is technology to today’s small business? So important, according to the recently released Brother Small Business Survey from Brother International Corp., that 75 percent of small business owners say a crashed computer disrupts their business more than a sick employee.

Although small business owners rely on technology to keep their businesses productive, they also find it difficult to manage their technology. Some 86 percent say that in the past year, they had a situation where malfunctioning office equipment hindered their business’s productivity. And two-thirds (66 percent) of small business owners admit they’re “frequently” overwhelmed by the amount of technology options available to help them run their businesses.

Technology is so crucial to smooth functioning of a business that nearly one-third (31 percent) of small business owners say they’d gladly give up a week’s worth of vacation if it could ensure they’d never suffer a tech malfunction in their business again.

While small business owners are still cautious about spending, they recognize the value of technology. Slightly more than half (52 percent) say it’s important to invest in their business to gain an edge over competitors. When they do invest, the most common area to spend on is technology-related capital investments such as software, mobile apps and cloud computing services. The next most popular investments, machinery and facilities, were far behind at 21 and 20 percent respectively.

Speaking of cloud computing, small business owners are still not widely embracing this technology, perhaps due to confusion about how it can help their businesses. Only 28 percent of small business owners say they fully understand what cloud computing is, while 42 percent do not use it at all. (That means a lot of entrepreneurs are using it without fully understanding it).

What are entrepreneurs using cloud computing for? About one-third (35 percent) use it only for data storage; 21 percent use it for document management, and 17 percent use it for business applications such as customer relations management, accounting and human resources.

Image by Flickr user Ell Brown (Creative Commons)

Web.com Small Business Toolkit: Carbonite Currents (File Syncing App)

January 18th, 2013 ::

Carbonite Currents

Don’t fret, your free file synching app is now available from cloud storage and backup company Carbonite. Unlike some other syncing apps, Carbonite Currents automatically and immediately syncs files you’ve recently created or edited to all of your devices. You no longer need to email yourself a file to work on, figure out which is the latest version of a file, or save a file to a group folder and search throughout a bunch of documents. And since you can sync the files on your mobile device, your files are available and easy to find anywhere you are. Great for small businesses with a mobile work force on the go.

How Will Small Businesses Use Technology in 2013?

January 1st, 2013 ::

By Maria Valdez Haubrich

Small businesses are cautious about the outlook for 2013, reports the latest Cbeyond Business Leader Snapshot Survey. The study of business sentiment and technology outlook among decision-makers at small and midsized businesses found that taxes, government regulations, the cost of labor and the federal deficit (are all weighing heavily on small business these days. In addition, 38 percent were concerned about how the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ObamaCare) would impact their bottom lines in 2013.

In the face of these concerns, one area that small business owners are feeling positive about is the power of technology to help their companies grow. The study asked how companies would use technology in the coming year. Here are the tech tools that small businesspeople say will be “very” or “somewhat” important to them in the coming year:

  • 94 percent: network access (high-speed, always-on Internet access
  • 94 percent: desktop/laptop management (desktop support,

software/antivirus maintenance)

  • 91 percent: applications (security, productivity and collaboration software),
  • 90 percent: mobile services
  • 82 percent: cloud services

Small and midsized businesses are increasingly embracing the cloud. In fact, more than one in five respondents (21 percent) said it would be a “major challenge” to run their businesses without cloud services (the use of hardware and software delivered online as a service).

That’s not surprising, given that cloud users are overwhelmingly quite happy with the results they’ve obtaining from the cloud. Some 83 percent say the cloud makes their businesses more flexible, 78 percent say it makes them more productive, and 71 percent say the cloud saves their companies money.

In the coming year, small and midsized business leaders say they plan to expand their use of cloud-based solutions to a wide range of business functions, including:

  • banking (i.e., online banking or cash management) – 33 percent company email – 33 percent
  • file sharing – 30 percent
  • data archival – 30 percent
  • for accounting – 29 percent

Further evidence of the value of technology to small businesses is that 64 percent of companies in the survey expect to increase their technology budgets in 2013. Just 5 percent expect their tech budgets to shrink; 31 percent say the budget will stay flat.

How will you be leveraging technology in 2013? Will you be turning to the cloud (or are you already doing so)?

Image by Flickr user Horia Varlan (Creative Commons)



What Technologies Can Help Your Business Most?

November 22nd, 2012 ::

By Maria Valdez Haubrich

Are you feeling confused by all the technology options that are available to help grow your small business? You’re not alone. In a recent survey by Techaisle, more than half (54 percent) of small and midsized businesses admitted that their technology “pain points” have increased in the last three years. In fact, some 39 percent of small and midsized business owners say their technology pain points are now worse than their business pain points.

With so many different technology options now available, small businesses are spending more time than ever trying to determine what technology can do for them and whether certain technologies will really work for their businesses. Even when they determine technology can be useful, they’re still overwhelmed by deciding what vendor to buy it from. Some 44 percent of small and midsized businesses said the growing number of vendors is making it difficult to make IT decisions.

What do small and midsized business owners want from technology? Simple: They want solutions that are easy to understand and to implement. To figure out what that might be, they’re doing their own research online, but they’re also getting advice from IT consultants, resellers, channel partners and IT vendors.

More than ever, small business owners polled say they are strongly committed to using IT to cut their operating costs and help their companies grow. But despite this desire, some 61 percent of small and midsized businesses admit that the deluge of information overload has led them to ignore certain technologies, even if those technologies might actually be useful for their businesses.

What’s most likely to be ignored? Cloud computing, virtualization, business intelligence, remote managed services and marketing automation are the five technologies that small businesses say they’re having the most trouble getting their heads around. What are their biggest challenges? Budget constraints, cloud computing and mobile device management top the list.

If you’re nodding your head in agreement, you need to make some decisions. Perhaps it’s time to enlist an outside IT consultant, even if you never have before, to determine what solutions your business really needs. A good consultant with expertise in small business (and your industry) can show you what technologies are worth your investment, what to buy and how to integrate it with your existing technology.

Today more than ever, small business stands to gain from fast-developing technologies. You can’t afford to remain in the dark—so take action to get in on the game before it’s too late.

Image by Flickr user Guudmorning! (Creative Commons)

Small Biz Resource Tip: Your Office Anywhere

November 8th, 2011 ::

Your Office Anywhere

Missing the big-office resources that used to be at your disposal as an employee? Small Businesses can take advantage of the services Your Office Anywhere offers which can help your business meet online, organize client and team communication, chat, exchange files and organize calendars. The comprehensive cloud computing solution is accessible from any computer and there’s nothing to download. You can try it free for 14 days; after that, monthly subscription costs are only $10 per user, or sign up for a year for $100 per user. Users get unlimited online workspace, online meetings for up to 200 people, a free mobile app and 100 GB of file storage and sharing.

Slowdown or No, Businesses Aren’t Cutting IT Budgets

October 20th, 2011 ::

By Maria Valdez Haubrich

Despite qualms about a possible double-dip recession and lots of uncertain economic indicators, companies by and large aren’t planning to cut their IT budgets, InformationWeek reports.

InformationWeek took a look at several different IT-related surveys, including the Society for Information Management’s poll of CIOs and other IT leaders. In that survey, more than half (56 percent) of respondents said their companies’ 2011 IT budgets will be higher than last year’s. In contrast, only 17 percent expect to cut IT budgets cut. This is a dramatic change from 2010, when only 34 percent expected IT budgets to rise and 35 percent expected them to fall.

What about next year? The picture is just as bright for 2012, with 51 percent projecting that their IT budget will rise and only 15% predicting them to decline. InformationWeek notes that its own survey, done a few months prior to the SIM survey, was even more optimistic, with 69 percent of companies surveyed predicting 2011 IT budgets to increase.

So despite the gloomy economic news, why are IT departments still planning to spend? One expert cited in the article notes that in prior recessions, the value of IT wasn’t as evident and so it was one of the first areas to be cut. That view is outdated today.

A senior technology equity analyst with Wells Fargo, who also agrees that IT budgets are likely to stay on course, told InformationWeek there are several reasons IT budgets won’t get cut: First, they’re already lean from the prior recession. Second, since companies’ growth projections have been cautious to begin with, an economic slowdown won’t make a huge difference. Third, IT is now seen as essential to remaining competitive.

That said, what areas are businesses focusing their IT budgets on? Business intelligence is still number-one on the list, but cloud computing moved from number 5 on the list last year to number 2. Mobile apps and customer relationship management (CRM) also entered the top five.

What’s your IT priority this year, and why?

Image by Flickr user Blake Patterson (Creative Commons)

Small Biz Resource Tip: Sugar Sync

August 18th, 2011 ::


If you’re not already working in the cloud, you’re missing out on a great organizational tool that could help you better organize, manage, share and access all your files from anywhere. You’ll always be connected to your data and be secure in the knowledge that important files are always backed up. You can also share and collaborate with employees, vendors and clients without having to send attachments back and forth. Plans start at only $4.99 per month for personal use and $29.99 per month for the business features along with 100 GB of storage and three users.


New Apple Offerings Will Streamline Small Business Life

June 28th, 2011 ::

By Karen Axelton

Do you use Macs in your business? If you do, your work life is about to get a lot simpler. If you don’t, you might be ready to switch after learning about the upgrades Apple is planning to its desktop, laptop and mobile operating systems. Combined with Apple’s iCloud service, the changes will streamline the way business users are able to work and may even help the company change its image to being more business-friendly.

One of the features I’m most excited about with Mac OS X (Lion), the desktop/laptop operating system upgrade, is how much it will simplify saving, storing and retrieving data. Whether it’s documents, photos, videos or PowerPoints, saving will be done automatically. The new system saves “Versions” of each document so you can always go back and look at prior versions. The “Resume” feature enables you to shut down your computer, then instantly return to the applications you were working in last wherever you left off. You’ll even be able to update software without restarting and reopening your applications.

Another exciting aspect of Lion is AirDrop–WiFi networking capability that enables you to drag-and-drop share documents with co-workers without having to set up a wireless network. The Mac’s Mail application will be streamlined too so you can view conversations all at once (rather than toggling among emails). And the new OS will enable users to use gestures on the trackpad or Magic Mouse to open apps, drag files and zoom in or out—making the desktop/laptop experience more similar to the iPhone/iPad experience.

With more than 250 new features, there’s much more than I’ve discussed here. OS Lion will be available in July for $29.99 and sold only from the Mac App Store.

Combining Lion with Apple’s iCloud storage option, to be released in the fall, will make it even more useful for business users.  While iCloud is largely being promoted to the general public as a way to store music files (competing with Amazon’s recently launched storage offering), for business users, the good news is it offers a way to store all your data—documents, contacts, calendars and mail.

iCloud stores your content and wirelessly pushes it to all your devices — automatically–so it’s always accessible from your iPad, iPhone, iPod touch, Mac or PC, offering instant access to your music, apps, latest photos and more. One of the most exciting features is that it keeps your email, contacts and calendars up to date across all your devices, which means no management or syncing.

Apple already offers a cloud storage service, MobileMe—but it has failed to become widely popular. I use MobileMe for business, and the system’s big downfall (aside from general clunkiness) is it requires you to actively save data to the cloud instead of doing it for you. iCloud will save a huge amount of time in this regard.

iCloud will be free with iOS5, the new operating system for Apple’s mobile devices including iPad, iPhone or iPod Touch. iOS5 offers more than 200 new features for mobile devices, including improved Twitter integration and the ability to update your device wirelessly without the use of a desktop or laptop.

Image by Flickr user Kazuho Okui (Creative Commons)

How Are Small and Midsized Businesses Managing IT?

May 6th, 2011 ::

By Rieva Lesonsky

How does the way your small business handles its IT needs compare to what others are doing? A new study by Zoomerang Online Surveys and Polls, Cloud Computing and the Role of IT Professionals in Small- to Mid-Sized Businesses, sheds some light on the subject.

Of the businesses requiring IT support, 22 percent outsource their IT needs to vendors. Asked why they outsource IT functions, those respondents that do so cited cost-effectiveness (52 percent) and access to better resources (26 percent) as the top reasons for outsourcing.

As you might expect from small businesses trying to do more with less, IT workers within most companies in the survey also play other roles. Sixty-seven percent are involved in daily operations; 6 percent in sales and business development; and 6 percent are involved in customer support roles.  Just 21 percent focus solely on IT.

“More often than not, the IT role within a small or midsized business may be fulfilled by the most technology savvy employee, requiring them to juggle multiple responsibilities on top of keeping the company’s technology up and running,” said Alex Terry, General Manager of Zoomerang. “With limited resources, businesses are looking to every employee to contribute and as a result, the IT role is gradually shifting from one of support to one of support and revenue generation.”

Thirty percent of SMBs indicated that the role of their in-house IT staff has evolved in the past year to include day-to-day functions; 15 percent said in-house IT staff has become more involved in business development; and 11 percent said the in-house IT staff has become more involved in customer support.

Whether they use in-house IT expertise or outsource this function, the survey found good news about how small and midsized companies view their technology overall. The majority (58 percent) describe their technology systems as “good” (“not the latest, but everything runs smoothly and with minimal maintenance”). Thirty-two percent describe their technology as “intermediate” (“it has its good and bad moments”). Just 7 percent said their technology is “advanced” or ahead of the curve. And only 4 percent said it is “poor” enough so as to hinder operations.

Technology plays a more crucial role in business success than ever before. This survey shows that small businesses, by and large, are keeping pace with technology developments and using technology to run better businesses. Where does your business fit in?

Image Courtesy: Karen Axelton

Lesson Learned: Backing-Up Files is Not a Waste of Time

May 5th, 2010 ::

Computer bitsLast week, my computer died.  It didn’t crash, it wasn’t infected by a virus, it wasn’t dropped or doused in water, it just reached the end of its life.  I totally freaked out until I learned that’s all it was.  The good folks at Geek Squad removed the hard drive, which was undamaged and in perfect condition, and downloaded everything to our external hard drive. 

Next time, I know I won’t be so lucky.

 Consider these unnerving stats, courtesy of online backup service firm Verio:

  1. More than one-third of all PC users have lost all of their files due to events beyond their control. 
  2. Half of internet users have lost computer files at some point, and 2/3 of them never recover their data. 
  3. Even worse, 60% of companies that lose their data shut down within six months.

I’ve decided to look into ways to back-up data, including email.  I just shudder at the thought of losing client files and contact information for the hundreds of people in Outlook.  Here are the options I found: 

  1. External hard drive.  This is what we have now, and what my husband told me he uses (I’ve never seen him use the thing, so I’ll just take him at his word).  External hard drives are easy to use (they plug right into your computer with a USB cable) and are not terribly expensive: 1-2TB hard drives average between $90 to $150. 
  2. Automated online backup.  If you like to go the lazy route (like me), you might want to look into Mozy, Carbonite or Idrive.  They allow you to set up automated online backup of files at regular intervals. Mozy even has a free version that provides 2GB of online storage; most services offer 1GB of free space with the option to pay for more storage.
  3. Non-automated online storage.  Lots of big names offer password protected online file storage: Microsoft Skydrive (25GB for free), Amazon Simple Storage Service (S3) (pay very reasonable monthly fees for the space you use), and the upcoming Google My Stuff.
  4. Email back up.  There are several free programs out there that allow you to easily back-up email: Back-Up Email, KLS Mail Back-Up, Amic Email Back-Up, and Outlook Express Back-Up, among others.

One thing to keep in mind: make sure the company you choose to work with has a solid reputation and is unlikely to go out of business.  You wouldn’t necessarily lose your data, but you might not have much time to migrate it to another service, which could prove to be time-consuming, expensive, and stressful.

Photo courtesy of Flickr/Nick J Adams