Having to manage your own IT issues when you work from home can be hard.

Here are some tips for tackling the technological issues that running a small business can pose when you don’t have access to an IT departmentJonathan Jordan: 

Many successful businesses have been started on kitchen tables, and in today’s connected society a decent smartphone is probably the only piece of technology you need to get your business off the ground. It gets a little complicated as the business expands though.

Once the company’s headcount starts to grow, you’ll find productivity can quickly come to a standstill when, for instance, email stops working. Unfortunately, the headache only gets worse when you realise that you’re not just the boss, but the IT department as well.

Stress levels are likely to rise exponentially as minutes on the helpline turn to hours. You’ll alternate between repeating yourself, again, and being placed on hold while your call is transferred to someone else. And herein lies the fundamental challenge – you can’t afford the business disruption a technology glitch creates. My recommendation to any growing business is to grasp the nettle and make sure you have the right plans in place from the very beginning.

The good news is the ubiquitous cloud – which is IT speak for getting applications as services over the internet – does have a silver lining, and there are some excellent, innovative services available which are as easy to manage as a Facebook profile, providing transparent pricing, that will scale as your business grows.

Start with the basics: it’s all about networking

Most technology services are ultimately dependent on being able to access the internet – so having the best connection you can afford should be at the top of the list.

I’ve decided it’s best to try and get connected via a technology called EFM, or better still, via fibre optic. This, in my opinion, will provide a much more stable connection, which means you can easily operate a telephone network and video services over the link and be confident it will work for that all important conference call.

Manage the work/life balance

Most of us like to be able to access our work email at home, on our mobiles or even on someone else’s computer or tablet. Such things as calendars syncing seamlessly across devices and between staff makes life far less stressful. I would recommend establishing your own email domain, which matches your website name, as otherwise you might find yourself tied to an internet service provider.

Setting up a hosted exchange server is really straightforward – for example with the service we use you can create an email account and have it working on a PC, Mac or any smartphone within a few minutes. This has the added benefit that employees can use their own computer or mobile to access corporate email, but as the “admin” you can still lock any account or change the password in seconds, which is useful if a device is ever lost or stolen.

Learning to share helps strengthen your culture

In the early days of many businesses, key documents and proposals are invariable stored on the computer’s desktop, and shared via memory sticks. I would recommend that a secure file-sharing service is established, which allows everything to be automatically backed up to the cloud, while ensuring you can share important files with employees and clients. Trust me, you can’t email big files, and couriers are very expensive and inconvenient in comparison. Dropbox, for example provides an excellent “freemium” service which costs nothing at first, but provides extra capacity, enhanced services and security and excellent customer service for an additional fee.

Standardise your approach and be accountable

Lots of software is often bundled with new computers – typically with a free trial period. While this is convenient, I would recommend you standardise what software you want for such things as antivirus, email management, word processing and the like. The dominance of Microsoft Office in the business environment is now being challenged by services such as Google Docs and Apache OpenOffice, which are free. Whatever decision you make, I would suggest everyone uses the same software to minimise interoperability issues.

I would also check that service providers have good billing processes and have good back office processes. For example, our mobile phone provider recently stopped sending my company bills, which resulted in my being chased by the accountant to get one for the VAT return. Time is money and the more hassle, the less productivity.

When all else fails, be social

“The bigger they are, the harder to call,” is my take on a well-known expression concerning customer service. In my three years of being a small business owner, the biggest challenges I’ve faced have been with the big companies. On one instance I was transferred 10 times between call centres in such places as the Philippines, Reading, Romania, and finally ended up being connected to the US to get a simple glitch fixed.

My advice is to try the helpline once, and then take to Twitter and ask the companies directly for help. For the most part this works. However, a worrying trend I’ve seen is that some tech companies are offshoring their social media teams, who can offer little more than platitudes. It is also worth checking out various community sites, where other users post their solutions to issues they’ve faced.

In today’s digital world having the right technological infrastructure is critical for any business and it can also make the psychological difference between a good and bad day for you, and your employees.

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