50 IT ideas to improve your business today, is a collection of Terinea’s best IT advice for small to medium sized business.
1) IT Support Company - Of course we are going to suggest this tip, but we do feel businesses of all sizes will benefit from having a relationship with an IT company. An IT company can point you in the right direction regarding product and services that will enhance your company
2) Wiki - In its simplest form a Wiki is a set of web pages that anyone can edit without any specialised knowledge. They can provide an effective and simple way of organising information between groups of people. If used correctly Wiki’s can become a powerful knowledge base system for your business. You can make your Wiki even easier to use by adding a Word like toolbar.
3) Share Contacts and Calendars - One of Terinea’s favourite finds this year for small businesses is Plaxo. This site allows you to synchronise your computers address book and calendar (Outlook, Thunderbird) with just about everything from your mobile, colleague’s computers and even Apple Mac computers. Alternatively you can share your contacts by exporting them and then importing them into your colleagues.
4) Backup email address - We do this for many of our clients. Register a generic email address as a backup incase the regular company email isn’t available. That way you can continue to email customers until your regular company email is back up and running. If you really want to be smart, we would suggest linking this to Plaxo (see tip 3) so that you also have a copy of your calendar and contacts available. We would suggest looking at creating a Gmail, Hotmail or a Yahoo account.
5) Email on your mobile - You’re never going to write War and Peace on your mobile, but setting up your mobile to receive your latest emails could save you from having to login to your computer to check your emails when you have been away from the office. You don’t need a fancy mobile in order to do this either!
6) Online Backup – An online backup is a great solution for home workers and small businesses. With increased broadband speeds this is also becoming an option for bigger businesses. Generally online backups work as a background program coping documents and files, securing them and then sending them to a backup server. For range of backup solutions see 12 Ways to backup your data.
7) Printer Maintenance - They are hard to fix and surprisingly essential items - it’s always worth taking out a little extra cover. Having a spare printer ready to be used at a moments notice is always a good idea.
8 ) Electronic Faxing – How much paper and ink does your business waste printing out junk faxes? How much does a dedicated telephone line for your fax machine cost you per annum? As an alternative to this then why not consider an online fax to email solution? This way you can view all faxes on your computer screen and decide whether to delete them if they are junk, store them permanently on the PC if you want to keep them and print them out if you need a hard copy. Another benefit is that you can forward them on to other people in the business that might need them.
9) Digital Scanning - Get rid of that old paper work and free up some space around the office - but keep those master CD’s secure.
10) Email Archiving - Can be very useful for tracing communications between your company and your clients. It also helps your staff to find emails relevant to today’s business quicker as otherwise looking through all their old emails could swamp them.
11) PDF File Format - Not everyone has the latest version of Office. PDF format files will allow anyone the ability to read your documents. We would suggest using Foxit PDF reader (A lot faster than Adobe PDF Reader) and Cute PDF writer or PDF Creator to produce PDF documents. Also by turning your Word/Excel documents into a PDF document then you can easily email these documents to your customers in a format that they can view but can’t alter.
12) Password Database - If you have an increasing number of passwords and user names to remember within your business, you should consider a program like KeePass to manage them securely. Use a line from your favourite song or film to create an extremely strong password to protect all your passwords.
13) Company Blog Site - A business blog can increase your web presence, sell indirectly to customers, provide an area for customer feed back, write a press release, profile a new customer, upload photos of a new product, provide advice on your industry area and create and capture an audience. For more advice check out 28 Tips that will improve your business blog.
14) Networked Hard Drive - Documents and files may require to be shared with colleagues and members of staff on your business network. The one issue with this is the need to have the files in a centralised location, i.e on one computer and for that designated computer to be turned on all the time. Alternatively, you can have a dedicated machine (a server) but this can be expensive to buy, time consuming to deal with administration, noise in most cases and increased power consumption. We would therefore recommend a NAS (Network Attached Storage) which is similar to a server but smaller, quieter, easy to setup, cheaper to buy and run.
15) Open Source Software - The term open source is used to describe software that has been developed by the open community, the public. Software developed under an open source licence is free for personal and business use. Over the last five years open source has increased in popularity both in the home and business. You may already be using an open source product on your computer without even realising it.
Some open source products worth checking out are Firefox (A browser like Internet Explorer, but better - Highly Recommended), Open Office (All the programs available within MS Office), 7zip (Winzip), Thunderbird (Outlook), GIMP (Photoshop).
16) Alternative to Microsoft Office - Why spend £300 on Microsoft Office when you can have a similar system for free. Open Office has Word Processor (Word), Spreadsheet (Excel), Presentation (PowerPoint) applications that can even open documents created in Microsoft Office. (Open Source, see above).
17) Instant Messenger (Internet Chat) - The great thing about using instant messenger applications is it fits nicely in between email and voice. If you require an instant response to a question, but don’t have time for general chit chat, then instant messenger is an excellent tool! Skype also comes with this feature along with other services such as MSN and Google Talk etc.
18) Company Email Address - You’d be surprised by the number of companies that still use free email accounts such as Hotmail and Yahoo as their primary company email address. For around £20 per year you could have email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org or something similar (if you have your own domain then you can have multiple email addresses). Companies with their own domain names are regarded as more professional and stable.
19) Online Web Applications - Instead of installing software on your computer, the software application runs from within the web browser. Your files are saved on the web site providing the service (Although you can import/export documents), meaning you can use any computer anywhere in the world to access them. Google Docs and Zoho are good places to start. They allow you to create Spread Sheets, Documents, Presentations and Calendar functions. Gliffy allows you create diagrams and Imagination Cube provides online collaboration tools.
20) Networked Printer - Allows a printer to be shared easily between multiple computers using a network cable or wireless network. This means your printer can be shared easily between multiple computers without relying on one specific computer being turned on all the time, saving power, processing time on the other computer and hassle when that computer goes wrong.
21) Firefox - Is a open source web browser that has a number of benefits over Microsoft Internet Explorer. One of our favourite features of Firefox is the built in
spelt spell checker. Another big advantage of the Firefox web browser is the thousands of additional plug-ins that are available.
22) Two Monitors - Did you know that having dual screens (two flat screens or monitors) can increase you work productivity by 30%? Have Microsoft Outlook open on one screen and an important spreadsheet on the other. You’ll be surprised how quickly you’ll find that you can’t do without two screens, or even three!
23) A Quality Business Website - The majority of people will look for businesses on the Internet before looking through yellow pages. Today’s generation look for businesses and services using Google and not by flicking through the yellow pages. The potential customer will normally judge the company by first impression’s hence a professional looking website is all important. This is easily achievable and does not have to be expensive. For advice on planning your website see Plan Your Website, Save Money and Time.
24) Free Wireless - More and more places are offering free wireless Internet access. If your home or the office loses Internet connectivity, where could you go if you desperately need the Internet?
25) Social and Group Book-marking - Do you and your co-workers often exchange website links via email? Maybe you don’t share any of your work related website’s? Social Book-marking could give your business a valuable resource that all members of staff can contribute to and use. For more information on this subject see our post Why your business may benefit from social bookmarking.
26) Secondary Internet Connection - If your business depends on the Internet to do business with other branches or customers then a second connection to the internet may give you peace of mind. It could be as simple as your old dial-up Internet service to backup your ADSL or an ADSL connection to backup your cable broadband. You could even combine the two to give you greater bandwidth! Save money by buying retail (home) rather than a business version for your second Internet connection.
27) Internet Telephone Calls (Voice over IP) - If you have more than one office or work closely with other businesses on a daily basis, your business maybe benefit from Voice over IP. This can be achieved by using services like Skype that allow you to talk using your broadband connection and Internet phone thus saving your telephone bill. Alternatively you can install dedicated hardware and software to integrate with your existing broadband connection and telephone lines.
28) Quality PC Hardware - This is your business, so you don’t want to be using a PC you picked up at a jumble sale, spend a bit extra to get a system that’s going to run with fewer problems. Downtime will cost you money so don’t begrudge spending a reasonable sum of money or something that is going to be used on a daily basis. You’ll find out how important that PC is when it’s not working. Only buy a laptop if you need the mobility. Get a minimum of 1 GB of RAM (2 GB is highly recommend for Windows Vista) and at least an 80 GB hard drive. Processors and their speeds in newer PC’s are nearly all powerful enough for 99 percent of small business needs.
29) Digital Camera - A decent digital camera for your office can be used for photographing company events and posting them to your blog or company web site. Uploading professional looking pictures of your products or producing your own marketing photographs can benefit your website.
30) Live Web Chat - Would you like to chat with your customer when they visit your web site? One of the many companies offering such technology for free is Interaction Chat. No additional software is required on your or your customers PC’s.
31) Social Networks - LinkedIn (15 Million Users) is a business-oriented social networking site that allows you to manage existing and new business contacts. You can also list your business services, search for new staff and have business questions answered. For more information on this subject see:-
- Is Your Business Late Getting Into The Game?
- 10 Steps to becoming Facebook Guru
- Facebook adds new “Pages” feature
- 25 Facebook Desktop and Web Applications
32) Customer Relationship Manager - Do you need to keep in constant contact with your customers? Are there too many post-it notes stuck to your computer screen or task reminders telling you to ring somebody back? The chances are that you need a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) application like ACT! (Commercial) or Vtiger (Open Source). These systems can keep track of all previous conversations you, or your colleagues, have had with each customer and when the next contact needs to be made.
33) Online Surveys - Provide your clients (or staff!) with an easy way of providing feedback on your services and products by using an online survey website. A good place to start is Survey Monkey.
34) Backup, Backup, Backup - Okay, we’ve mentioned this one already with online backups, but quite often this task gets pushed to the bottom of the to-do list. You may already have a system in place but when was the last time you checked that your backup’s actually work? Our advice is check it out and make sure it’s working as otherwise there will be tears when you really need it.
35) Disaster Recovery Plan - In the event of a disaster such as a fire or flood, you need a plan to get your business back up and running as soon as possible with little disruption or delay. What are you going to do without your existing computer and how do you get your company data back? Where are you going to operate your business from if your premises are unusable?
36) USB Key - USB keys are a fantastic bit of equipment and not expensive to purchase. The USB key is much quicker to transfer some files from one computer to another than it is to use a CD.
37) Windows Laptop Synchronisation -If you use a laptop out of the office, why not store your files on your office PC and then synchronise your laptop with your office PC whenever it connects to your office network. That way your files are safely backed up on the office PC and available for use on your laptop while out on the road. Any changes you make will synchronise back next time your in the office.
38). Regular PC Maintenance - One of the most often asked IT support question is “My computer is running slow, do I need a new one”. Most of the time you don’t. Your computer just needs a little bit of TLC. Your computer requires a spring clean by uninstalling programs you no longer need, running a disk clean up wizard, cleaning up the Windows registry and also de-fragmenting the hard drive.
39) Password Protecting Files - Having a password for accessing your computer doesn’t mean your files are secure. If you have important business information that must be kept secure then your best bet is file encryption. You can use a program called AxCrypt to encrypt any file on your computer. If you’re using Office XP or above you can save documents as encrypted files that require passwords to unlock them.
40) RSI Software - Make sure you and your staff have regular breaks from the computer by using program such as Work Rave.
41) Keyboard Video Mouse Switch (KVM Switch) - If you have more than one computer on your desktop you can save desk space and power with a KVM Switch. This allows you to control two or more computers using only one keyboard, mouse and monitor.
42) Asset Manager - It is important that you keep track of your software licenses used with your business. Some point in the future you maybe audited which can become administrative nightmare.
43) Large Email Attachments - Typical email systems don’t allow large file attachments to be sent. How many times have you had emails bounce back from other people because the attached file was too large. To solve this problem look at services like Sendago that allow you upload the attachment to the internet and then provide you with a unique and secure web address to send the information to the person via email. Another great thing about Sendago is it tells you when someone has downloaded the attachment, great for email marketing.
44) Online Payments - Services like Google Checkout, PayPal and Protx can offer a cheap solution for you to collect credit card payments from your clients and customers.
45) Linux, the free alternative to Microsoft Windows - You could save a considerable amount of money by using the Linux operating system within your business instead of Microsoft Windows. Not sure about switching away from Windows? Then you could try and breathe some life into an old redundant computer by installing Linux which uses a lot less hardware resources than Windows. A great place to start is with Ubuntu Linux.
46) Network Monitoring Systems - Are you running critical applications on your network like email? Do you need to monitor disk usage and your internet connectivity? Do you want to be sure that your anti-virus software is still running? A commercial program that can do all of this could make a large whole in your bank account. But with a program like Nagios, which is Open Source, then you can monitor all of your business critical systems and programs from a single computer at a fraction of the cost.
47) Website Analytics - Is just a fancy name for how many people are visiting your website. Although free services such as Google Analytics provide some really useful information such as, how people found your website, how long they stayed, which country they are from and which pages are the most popular.
48). Desktop Search Engine - Desktop search applications are powerful search tools that index all your documents, emails, pictures, chat history, music and files on your computer. Instead of waiting a couple of minutes for windows to search for a file, the desktop search tool does it in seconds. The latest version of Windows (Vista) has this feature installed by default.
49) Pay per click Website Advertising - Website advertising can be a cost effective way to increase traffic to your website. Your adverts can be activated when keywords relating to your products and services are searched for within the search engine. A good place to start is Google Adwords, Yahoo! Search Marketing and Microsoft adCenter.
50) Computer Safety - To keep your computers safe, there are three areas you need to pay attention to. Only download and install software from recommended sources. Set Windows to download the latest updates from Microsoft. Have an Anti Virus software that encompasses Spyware and Malware protection.