Business owners expect a lot when it comes to technology. Everything from computers and smartphones to broadband connections and software solutions are taken for granted when they work, and vilified when they don’t.
As someone who’s provided business IT support for many years, I’ve witnessed this firsthand on countless occasions. I’m not seeking sympathy, but it’s pretty thankless work! IT systems often have many layers of interconnection and complexity that the average user has no interest in learning about.
With that in mind, this article explains ten things many new businesses do that make things far more difficult than they need to be—both for themselves and for the people tasked with supporting their tech.
When it comes to computers, it’s often the case that businesses can get away with certain shortcuts—for a while. As I often say to clients, “It won’t go wrong until it does.” But there are various things you can do to minimize the chance of disruptive system failures and data breaches.
1. Choosing equipment purely based on cost
In my first few years in business, I spent a lot of time researching “cheap” laptops for startups. I have far less patience for this false economy nowadays.
Obviously, many new businesses are bootstrapped and operating on a shoestring. But going out looking for mission-critical equipment with “cheapest” as a priority is shortsighted and unwise, and one of the most common technology mistakes new businesses make.
The cheapest equipment out there isn’t designed for business use. It doesn’t come with suitable warranties or support provisions, and it’s rarely made with ergonomics or build quality at the top of the list. The old adage of “Buy cheap, buy twice” is very relevant here.
Small business personnel spend thousands of hours in front of computers. For many, a computer is the tool of the trade; it is the one thing to not skimp on. There are leases and credit deals available on IT equipment if your budget is tight.
Companies will do everyone a favor—especially themselves—if they buy computers that are properly suited to regular heavy business use.
2. Assuming data loss won’t happen to them
Trying to make people realize the importance of backups is a frustrating endeavor. However, there’s one demographic that always prioritizes backups: the people who’ve actually experienced a significant data loss incident and had to deal with the fallout.
Ensuring against data loss isn’t something you can place entirely in the hands of the IT team. Data needs to be in the right place so that it’s backed up. Furthermore, there may be a manual task to complete, from kicking off a regular backup to plugging in or swapping a drive over in the office.
A constant theme in IT support is having to explain that effective technology is a partnership between the systems themselves and the workflow patterns of every team member. If you keep snoozing that backup reminder, the “IT person” can’t magically restore your data when your hard drive fails.
3. Using friends and family for technical tasks
Here are a couple of phrases that send shivers down an IT consultant’s spine:
“My brother’s putting a website together for us.”
“The server’s over there—my best friend set it up.”
I must make clear that I’m sure there are plenty of best friends and brothers out there doing a great job with business websites and servers; however, these arrangements often unravel further down the line.
They unravel when the IT consultant has to change something on the server and there’s no professional documentation on how it was set up. They unravel when the company’s website disappears, and it transpires that the renewal notifications were going to a family member’s long-dormant Gmail account.
These aren’t just real-life situations I’ve witnessed; they’re variations on themes I see time and time again. Databases and websites created cheaply by students who are unreachable when something goes wrong or something needs changing are common, too.
There’s a well-worn saying in the IT world: “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.” Take heed!
3. Allowing unrestricted BYOD (bring your own device)
Another of the most common technology mistakes that companies make is allowing staff to use their own laptops and devices on the office network with no controls in place. This is particularly common in “young” startups, where everybody is reasonably tech savvy.
To be clear, plenty of big companies allow BYOD, but they do so with rules and restrictions.
It’s obvious why unrestricted BYOD is popular. For one thing, it saves companies a lot of money if staff are using their own equipment. However, a lot can go wrong.
Unrestricted use of personal devices means data strewn all over the place, often without suitable encryption. This doesn’t just risk data breaches, it also potentially puts companies in a sticky situation with regard to legal compliance.
Then there are the times when viruses find their way onto company systems via an individual laptop without suitable controls, or because a new staff member is using a cracked copy of Photoshop, thinking they’re being helpful.
Once again, a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. So is trying to cut costs by convincing yourself your business is too small to do tech properly.
5. Falling for sales pitches
For many business owners, technology is a necessary evil. They may have to use a computer every day, but they have no interest whatsoever in learning its intricacies.
Unfortunately, people who feel that way are easy pickings for software salespeople.
On many occasions, I’ve seen companies who have economized on tech suddenly announce that they’ve signed up for a really expensive bespoke database, custom CRM system, or similar.
The issue is that people who use computers but don’t really “like” them are inevitably tempted by products that promise to solve all of their problems. Unfortunately, the implementation of many of these systems marks the expensive start of a whole new load of problems.
The reality is that businesses are generally better served by investing time in research and learning than by investing money in what they hope will be easy solutions. As a company grows, leaders should set aside time to properly work and concentrate on the technical side. IT support staff aren’t psychic, and as we’ve discussed, effective solutions are as much about workflow as the technology itself.
6. Skimping on Cyber Security
Even if you don’t think you have enough data to worry about yet, a data breach can be devastating for a startup. A recent report from Accenture found that 43% of all cyberattacks target small businesses, costing companies an average of $200,000.
Beyond having a firewall and antivirus software—which your internet provider may offer as part of its business plans—make sure to have other cybersecurity technologies in place, such as a password manager and virtual private network (VPN) that can shield your data while working off public WiFi networks.
7. Relying solely on a mobile phone
Your smartphone is probably an essential tool as you launch your new business. It keeps you constantly connected with the office and your customers while you’re running around trying to do everything yourself. At the same time, though, it severely limits your communication options because mobile phones don’t have the same functionality and reception quality as a business phone line. It can be harder to hear someone on a mobile phone than on a regular wired phone line.
“I was as guilty as anyone starting out, giving out my personal cell phone and home phone number,” says Trave Harmon, founder and CEO of Triton Technologies, an IT managed services provider in Worcester, Massachusetts. “But I learned very early on to get a standard business-class phone system.” The system lets Harmon add employees as needed and customize functions, such as call forwarding and voicemail, to ensure consistent customer service.
8. Not evaluating bandwidth needs carefully enough
Trying to build a business relying on a low-bandwidth internet connection—such as DSL, which typically provides speeds of only 50 Mbps or less—can be an expensive mistake. When choosing an internet service provider, don’t just think about what speed you need today, but also what you might need in the future. You want to make sure your provider offers plans that can scale with you.
For example, as you connect more devices and add more employees, you’ll likely need more bandwidth. And if you expect to use cloud-based services, work with large data and graphical files or stream video and use video conferencing, your bandwidth needs could be intense right off the bat.
Keep in mind: If your internet plan lacks the bandwidth you need, you could risk having slow service that drains your productivity and diminishes your customer experience.
9. Not getting a custom domain name
Having a website domain name and email address customized with your business name or something similar can give a startup the appearance of a more established business. And as your company grows, that domain will likely be central to your branding initiatives. Getting a custom domain name is inexpensive, and even free with some business internet plans. A custom domain “makes your company look incredibly good” and gives you credibility.
10. Not considering future technology needs and growth
As your company grows and acquires new customers or employees—and confronts new challenges—the technology solutions that will be the best fit may be different. So it’s important to think ahead about those potential future needs, or at least find solution providers that offer flexible options and the ability to scale up along with your business.
Your IT person thanks you for not making these technology mistakes
There’s some real irony in this article. The technology mistakes described here do cause stress to us techies, but the outcomes cause way more stress to the businesses themselves. Plenty of IT consultants actually make money mopping up the aftermath of these errors. However, I suspect most would prefer the reduced stress of avoiding them.
So while writing this was rather cathartic for me, I hope business owners will take the advice in the manner intended. Many of the most common IT stress points can be avoided if business owners steer clear of these common technology mistakes.