Small business owners are resilient. They are entrepreneurs, and they know that mistakes can be overcome. Part of being in business is working through problems to keep your company going in the right direction. Some mistakes are more difficult to overcome than others, which is why business owners hire trusted advisors. Your CPA advises you on tax matters to keep you from getting into trouble with the IRS. Your attorney is there to keep you from getting sued. Your benefits person should have been in touch with you last September to start the process of helping buy you get through one more year before health care reform really does a number on your business.
IT and technology is not any different, but the reality is that over 97% of small business owners treat it differently. If you aren't aware of the risk to your business, you and your business are in jeopardy and you are probably already paying a price in lost profits every day. I picked the top three deadly sins I see almost weekly as I meet with business owners about their business and technology:
Small Business Deadly Sin #1: A "Break/Fix" mentality:
If you ask any small business owner if they prefer to be reactive or proactive, they'll almost always tell you proactive. But small business IT is anything but proactive for the majority of small businesses.
Think about this question for a moment: When do you need an IT person?
The answer that just went through your head was probably: When something doesn't work.
Now take that mentality and apply it to your car. Would you drive it without service until the engine light turns on? Get ready to pay thousands for what could have been a routine oil change. How about waiting for the police officer that pulls you over to advise you that you haven't paid your registration? You can always take the five minutes to pay it after you pick up your car from the impound for several hundred dollars (plus a cab ride if you're in Costa Mesa). Last week I worked with another business that didn't even know what domains names they owned, and it only became a priority when their main domain was cancelled due to non-payment and their email system shut down. They called me after their IT guy said "it's an accounting issue". It was like having the entire business IT system impounded for two days.
Small Business Deadly Sin #2: Abdicating your backup
So you think you are backing up?
I hear the same horror stories every day because I operate a repair business: A business owner discovered that there was something he wasn't told by their consultant or IT person that they should have known, and now they are down for days, sometimes even weeks, or worse if the data is unrecoverable. Most business owners are never told (and don't necessarily know to ask):
- Why you need to backup every computer, not just the server
- Why Apple's time machine isn't a backup
- How to back up an iPhone, including all the data and the organization of apps on the home screen (iTunes doesn't do it)
- Why automated backups fail and what you have to lose
- How long will it take to restore when you really need it?
At a certain point the single most important part of your IT system must be entrusted to and reviewed by a professional who is trained, certified and experienced in backup management. I remember my backup management certification training; I learned that most if not all technicians are doing it wrong, and most business owners who think they are safe are operating without all the information they need.
Small Business Deadly Sin #3: Underestimating the cost of switching
Switching to a new technology is easy, right? Just go buy the new device, purchase the app, or subscribe to the new service. That's easy. But what if it doesn't work? When you're a sole practitioner you can experiment on yourself and know your limits of patience and time. But when you're operating a business of 5 or more people, the consequences of a messy switch are severe.
I met a small law firm recently that switched to Microsoft 365 on a recommendation by a friend at another firm. Easy enough, right? Just buy the cloud subscription and start using it. Six months later they were trying to use Apple Macs in their office, and they discovered that Microsoft 365 isn't quite Mac friendly. Now they're trying to switch to Box and finding that the six months of energy organically expended to set up their structure in Microsoft's platform could take even longer and at more expense to move to a different platform.
The real cost? By my estimates the firm lost about 20% of their billable time during the day. If they made it up, it was at the expense of a lot of hours of time - frustrated time - trying to get things done in a system without a planned structure and without training.
When switching, it's critical to consider:
- The real cost of switching into a new device, application, system or any technology
- How to reduce the complexity of your IT system, not bolting something on and increasing it's complexity
- A plan to stay free from entrapment by a vendor's technology, what I call Switchability™
- The return on investment you expect: How will switching to the new technology bring more time back to you, and put more dollars back into your pocket
The Solution: How to prevent yourself from making a deadly mistake with your small business
Every aspect of technology, from the registrations and subscriptions, to the careful balance of versions of your software that work together, to the age and integrity of your network all need to be reviewed, understood, documented and managed proactively. Business owners typically shop for an IT service based on what they know, not what they don't.
So they hire based on one of two things: Either cost, or slick marketing. Promises of "fixed fees" cater to business owners who are tired of reactive "break/fix" service that also comes with lots of billable hours, only to discover that with fixed fee, you get what you pay for, which usually means absentee service without the hands-on management and advice you need on a part-time basis for your business.
The key is establishing a budget, knowing everything you need to know, and then carefully managing within that budget. That's it. There's no slick marketing, no gimmicky promises that take advantage of your worst fears. I have been serving business owners' needs for nearly two decades, and I understand a business owner's needs. I'm a business owner myself. If you're interested in how I can help you run your business more effectively with part-time IT management and service, contact me here.