SelfInformed

August 2013


Technology Every Business Should Have

Monday, August 12, 2013



By Sallie S. Hyman

Technology can help transform business. It can help a business run more efficiently, save resources, and generate more profits. Technology can help improve the everyday running of your business, sales, cash flow, and customer communication. Your business will also look more professional.

Thousands of applications (apps), gadgets, and types of software are available today. Sifting through the myriad choices can be difficult. Sometimes it’s not as important what brand of technology you employ in your business, but just that you have certain types of technologies at your disposal. Each business can tailor specific products to meet its unique needs.

A beneficial tip given by the Palm Springs Business Bureau is for every business to do an annual search for improved technology for its business processes. To do this, list all of the processes you do in your business. Then do a search on the Internet for everything on your list to see your options. This will help you to keep abreast of the latest technologies to meet your needs.

Every business should have some basic technologies. A good starting point begins with the following:

1.  A business website. Today’s connected customers expect every business to have a website. Most people search the web when trying to find a business, be it a dry cleaner or a dentist, and they want to see more than a business listing. They want to see a professionally built website. They will search for directions or try to find your business phone number here. If you don’t have one, you are definitely losing customers. Websites are incredibly easy and incredibly affordable to build these days. If you are just starting out and don’t have a lot of cash on hand, there are even free websites available. You don’t have to hire an expensive web designer. The NASE offers easy, reliable website packages to help any business get online. The NASE has something for everyone. Choose from Do-It-Yourself options with a simple, drag-and-drop website creator that anyone can use and lets you fully customize your site. If you change your company colors in a few months, NASE allows you to easily swap out your old template for an updated version. There is a Do-It-For-Me option for those who want professional help. This option gives you the opportunity to work one-on-one with a web designer. Your website can be a place where you showcase to the customer what services and products you provide, but can also be a marketplace whereby you reach a greater customer base through online sales. Make sure that your site is built to handle sales securely if purchases are made through your website. NASE wants its members to feel secure in their choice of webhost, so they provide global assistance 24 hours/day, 365 days per year.

2.  A smartphone. Smartphones are now an essential business tool. Smartphones keep you in communication with the office, even when you can’t be there. They allow you to monitor your business and what is happening in your industry no matter where you are. They also allow you and your employees to make sales outside of the office using credit card readers that attach to your smartphone. New to NASE members is a FREE M+Terminal mobile card reader with your approved merchant application and mobile payment acceptance. NASE also offers First American Payment Systems with credit card processing rates as low as .08% and $0.10 per transaction cost.

3.  Antivirus software. Protecting your computers and data is critical. You do not want sensitive customer data to get into the hands of hackers or have your website shutdown due to malware or other viral infections. You will lose hours of productivity trying to undo the damage, not to mention the number of customers and sales lost due to down time. Costs associated with stolen data can run into the tens of thousands of dollars and often leads to businesses failing. Make sure that you update your antivirus software frequently to stay ahead of the hackers.

4.  Data backup. Your customer data and sales files, not to mention vendor contacts, contract files, and tax information, are the lifeline of your business. Losing it can mean having to start all over again. Every business needs a good data and file backup system. There a number of affordable options today. Web-based backups are standard, such as Mozy through Xtech. Xtech is NASE’s preferred provider with software and hardware solutions. It is also advisable to have a secondary backup source such as USB drives or an external hard drive. Data and file backups should be done daily.

5.  Virtual attendant phone service. These services allow you to manage your telephone presence. A virtual switchboard software application can easily help you arrange a custom-recorded greeting for your main phone line; routing to departments and employees; advanced voice mail options; follow-me call forwarding with call screening;
and toll-free numbers. The system is managed through a web-based administration panel, eliminating the need for expensive equipment.

6.  File sharing. If you need to send and share a lot of large files and you don’t want to clog up your inbox or risk exceeding email storage and sending size limits, then a file sharing service may be the answer. Dropbox creates a virtual link between all of your Internet connected devices. Utilizing the cloud saving capability, users can save all of their images, documents, and video clips onto their Dropbox account, which can then be accessed from anywhere. With Dropbox, you can easily share files to other users and keep all of your files organized. Bonus: The software is free as long as you don’t exceed storage size limits (usually 2GB). Another option is wetransfer, a file transferring platform. The service is free for files up to 2GB.

7.  Accounting software. It is critical to have accurate financial records in order to properly run your business and know how your company is doing. Today’s software programs make it simple to keep all of your finances neatly in order and can even provide you with reports and dashboards to help you to make financial decisions. Most of them also make it possible for you to easily share your financial information with your accountant or tax preparer. Try Intuit’s QuickBooks, listed on the NASE website under business benefits.

8.  Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP). Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) refers to voice transmission over the Internet. It can also be used to send faxes. With most VoIP providers, you can call locally, or globally for free. Skype is one of the most popular VoIP providers.

9.  Web conferencing/webcam. These technologies piggyback with VoIP. There are a number of web conferencing solutions for holding live meetings when it is not feasible, either financially or logistically, to have everyone together in one place. A webcam will allow you to have a physical “presence” at the meeting. Go to Meeting and Fuzebox offer low cost solutions for virtual meetings.

10.  Receipt scanner. Such a little piece of technology that can save hours of sifting through files or storage boxes when tax time rolls around. If you itemize deductions, the Neat Receipts scanner and the accompanying software, Neat Works will save you time. Feed your receipts through this scanner and the software will automatically extract the key information and organize the receipt’s image data. The software allows you to assign tax categories to each receipt. The software will run tax reports and can export the information to TurboTax or PDF files.

A myriad of other technologies exist to help businesses find per-project contractors (Odesk), organize your schedule (Evernote), network (LinkedIn), find public relations contacts (Haro), and even get you around town (Uber, an on-call chauffer service).

It is important for every business to come up with a technology strategy and to find those providers that match its needs. Annual or semi-annual audits of your company’s technology needs will help you to keep all of your technology up to date and to keep your business operating on the cutting edge.

Sallie Hyman writes on small business issues and owns and operates her own small business in Purcellville, Va.

NASE offers Web Services at the NASE Store. You can create your own website or have one of the NASE web designers put together an outstanding site for you.



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