How to Save on IT Costs During a Recession

Here are some tips to Save on IT Costs during a recession:

Individuals become more frugal as the economy dips. Businesses who learn how to reduce their operating expenses are far more likely to survive economic downturns and recessions than those who continue to operate “business as usual”. For many business owners, information technology costs are expensive; here are some tips to save on IT costs during a recession:

Switch to VOIP Phone Lines: Are you still paying high phone bills to make sales calls, handle customer service, or hold teleconferences? This is an expense that almost all businesses can save simply by switching to VOIP lines instead of your landline or cellphone service. From Vonage to Packet8 to Skype, there are numerous options that help you eliminate expensive long distance charges. Most businesses report a savings of around 60% when switching to telephone lines that operate through their internet connection.

Consider Switching to a Less Expensive ISP: Depending on your business needs, you may not require all of the features your current Internet Service Provider is offering. Why pay for something you don’t need? Check other ISP’s to see if you could be saving money.

Consider Dropping Your Merchant Account: Most businesses require a merchant account in order to accept credit cards as payments from their customers. With the increasing merchant account expenses, though, this is often a costly expense. You could still accept credit cards if you switch to an online payment processor, like Paypal, and avoid paying statement fees and monthly fees that are typical of regular merchant accounts. Online payment processors charge a higher fee per transaction than a standard merchant account, but depending on the volume of credit card transactions you may pay less overall than you do with your current merchant account. Run some numbers to see if the savings are significant enough to warrant a switch.

Use a Laptop: If reasonable, use a laptop instead of a full PC. A laptop consumes 90% less energy than the desktop version, and for many businesses, a laptop can do the job as well as a desktop.

Share Stuff: Do you have a computer and printer at every workstation in your office? Sell the individual printers and get a single printer that operates on the network. All computers in the office can print from the same printer and eliminate maintenance requirements on each individual printer, as well as reduce the energy required to power the printers. Think of other computer components that could be networked instead of used individually to further cut costs and set up a more efficient office.

Use Freelancers: When you discover you have a need for someone to complete a project that falls outside the scope of your current employees – instead of hiring another full time or part time employee, consider using a freelancer. Freelancers don’t require office space, do not receive the employee benefits you provide to your current staff, and can be hired on a per-project basis instead of placed on salary.

Downsize Your IT Department or Re-evaluate Your Current Outsourced IT Service: Consider using a flat rate IT support service rather than maintaining a full IT department on payroll, or maintaining a reactive outsourced IT service whose monthly costs are unpredictable. Flat rate IT service providers allow you to budget for and reduce your monthly and overall costs, increase your profits and act as your virtual IT department so you can focus on running your business and not the technology that supports it.

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Contracting With A Managed IT Services Provider

When the time is right for your business to bring on a Managed IT Services provider there are several things to consider before signing a contract. Businesses both large and small have certain needs that are better managed by professionals. Contracting with a managed service provider allows owners and upper level management to focus their attention on growing and managing the business. Teaming up with a managed service provider has several benefits if you choose the right partner. Conversely bringing on a managed service provider that doesn’t understand your needs or one that is unable to provide the level of service required can be an expensive mistake. Here we look at the things you should consider before signing on the dotted line.

Does the Managed IT Services contract support the goals of both parties?

When it comes right down to it, every business is in existence to turn a profit. When you select a Managed IT Services provider you want to find one that will work with you to help your company achieve its goals. A Managed IT Services Provider that is interested in selling services or products that don’t match the needs of your company, just for the sake of making money is one that should be avoided. You are contracting with a provider that will maintain vital company systems, therefore you want someone on your side who is able and willing to create a package and price that reflects your needs and not their bottom line.

Will Managed IT Services be cost effective?

When you enter an agreement with a Managed IT Services Provider, you are agreeing to pay a predetermined amount of money for their support and services. This can be very cost effective versus paying an hourly rate for IT support. In most cases hiring a Managed IT Services Provider is the best way to go if you have sufficient need for the services provided. Traditionally companies who pay hourly rates tend to spend less money on IT support which may improve profit but decrease services or support that are needed. When you have a Managed IT Services Provider in your corner, you can feel confident all vital areas are being covered regardless of the number of hours needed to do so.

Compare several Managed IT Services companies before making your final decision.

It is easy to get lost in the mumble jumble of the IT world when you don’t understand the language being spoken. While this can be discerning, don’t let a language barrier lead to a poor business decision. You are hiring a Managed IT Services Provider to cover technological areas outside of your expertise, however you don’t want to be completely unaware of what is going on within your company. Research several companies and look beyond savvy marketing to find a company that is the right partner to help grow your business. This includes carefully reviewing services included in the contract as well as customer service, availability and the capacity to handle changes within the industry. If you don’t understand something, ask questions or you might find yourself paying for services you don’t really need.

Signing a contract with a Managed IT Services Provider ties you to that provider according to the terms of the contract. Once you have taken this step it is important to remain in the loop regarding services provided. Review progress on a regular basis to ensure the needs of your business are being met. If you have done your homework and signed on with the right Managed IT Services Provider, you will have one less thing to worry about when it comes to managing your business.

Click here to learn how [contentblock id=company] can help you increase business productivity, eliminate pain and reduce costs with our Managed IT Services for your business in [contentblock id=location].

Tips for Motivating and Retaining Good Employees

In today’s tough economic environment, with job cuts and pay decreases, it can be a challenge to keep your employees focused on their job and motivated. While many employers are struggling and can’t offer pay raises, bonuses and other cash benefits to their employees, there are a variety of other creative ways to keep them happy and on the job. In fact, statistics show that people do not necessarily need praise in the form of money to stay motivated. Most actually prefer some other form of recognition. Here are some tips that can help boost your employees’ morale and productivity, resulting in your motivating and retaining good employees.

Tips for Motivating and Retaining Good Employees

First, always address your staff by their name. It is a natural instinct for people to want to feel valued. They want to be recognized. Make it a priority to learn your employee’s names and always address them by name. It can be demoralizing to know that your boss does not care enough to know who you are.

Give praise. People want to be recognized for their efforts. Giving on the spot recognition, praise at employee meetings or recognition in the employee newsletter for those groups and individuals that go the extra mile is a great way to boost morale. While it is great to point out team efforts, people tend to crave individual recognition as well.

Offer opportunities. These can really be quite simple. Help your employees focus on their career path by offering them one on one training or advice. Reward your hard working employees with special job titles. Job titles are very important to workers. A fancy title makes them feel good about themselves and offers respect and praise from friends, family and other co-workers.

Provide leadership opportunities. Recognize your hard working employees by letting them take on a leadership role. Have them present at a company meeting, take on additional responsibilities or let them lead up a company project.

Foster Team Spirit. Make the time to gather employees together and drum up some fun competitions will very often foster increased work production. A great simple reward for the competition is extra time off. Now that does not mean extra vacation days, but simply letting employees come to work a little late one day, take an extended lunch hour or leave early. Taking an employee picture, framing it and hanging it can also foster a sense of belonging.

Provide a Good Working Environment. Making sure the work space is clean, cosmetically appealing and comfortable actually can make a difference. Employees are more motivated to come to work each day if they have an inviting environment to report to.

Have Casual Dress Days. Employees love to dress down and offering them an opportunity to do so can brighten their spirits and keep them happy. Many places of business will do dress down Fridays. Another fun idea is to have dress down theme days. For example the week of the Super bowl you could wear your favorite team jersey, on St. Patrick’s Day everyone could wear green and on Halloween people could come in a costume.

Provide opportunities for social gatherings. A final great way to keep company morale high is to offer employees time away from the office to socialize. Having a summer company picnic, a holiday party, gathering for a softball game or a trip to the golf course are all fun ideas.

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Making The Switch To Managed IT Services

When the time comes to make the switch to Managed IT Services, it is important to know what you are looking for from a provider. As most business owners have or are beginning to realize, there are plenty of benefits that can be realized by bringing on a managed services provider to address IT and other needs. In order to get the most from your managed services contract you must carefully compare all potential providers to ensure they are willing and able to provide the services you need to keep your business moving forward in the future. If your managed services provider cannot supply the following three things (at minimum) keep looking until you find a company that addresses these issues.

  • Security – The managed services provider that you choose should work with vendors that guarantee security. This is imperative when trusting an outside party to handle and maintain private and confidential data that is crucial to the running of your business. Service providers should provide detailed proof of security procedures as well as how they intend to keep abreast of changes in the industry.
  • Recovery – Managed IT Services providers are not only contracted to help keep the day-to-day running of your business going smoothly. They are also an important part of any recovery situation that follows a natural or man made disaster. It is important to discuss with potential providers what procedures they have in place to guarantee your downtown will be minimal and that you will be up and running as soon as possible after an emergency. These precious minutes and hours can make or break the recovery of your business.
  • Customer Service – As with any other business, if there is no customer support backing up the products or services, there isn’t much of a commitment from the provider.

Why are these three things important? To understand you must consider the Managed IT Services model. Managed IT Services providers are hired by a company to provide any or all of the following services:

  • Website hosting
  • Network monitoring
  • Network security
  • Remote data backup
  • Recovery services

Originally these services were provided to large corporations while small to medium size companies struggled to maintain an IT budget that was often more expensive then beneficial. Managed services providers charge a flat, or monthly fee, making it possible for smaller businesses to reap the benefits offered at a much lower price than in-house IT staff or outsourcing on an as needed basis.

The Managed IT Services platform continues to grow as many businesses look for ways to reduce costs in this tough economy. By offering technological services that might otherwise be beyond the reach of a small business budget, managed services make it possible for smaller businesses to remain competitive with others in their industry. Small business owners must take the time to carefully review and research each provider before signing on the bottom line. A good managed services provider can change the way you do business- in a positive direction, whereas the wrong choice could be a costly mistake that does more harm than good to your business.

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Free Windows Operating System Support Tools

Whether you are an automotive mechanic or a top IT professional, you need to have the right tools for the job. Unlike an automotive mechanic however, you don’t have to spend tens of thousands of your hard earned dollars on the tools you need. These basic Windows Operating System Support Tools tools you can use for IT and PC support duties are free to download from CNET.com.

Free Windows Operating System Support Tools

HwiNFO32

One of the first things you need to determine in any type of support operation is what the machine you will be working on is made of. HwiNFO32 is a hardware recognition utility that will provide you with all the specs and information you need, and then some; from what type of CPU it has to hardware performance parameters.

Ccleaner

A very common support tasks is cleaning the system of unused files and invalid registry entries, providing for more available disk space and faster overall performance. Cclneaner will do an excellent job at that as well as totally cleaning out the browser history and even uninstalling applications.

Recuva

Often times you will be in a situation where you need to recover lost or deleted files. Recuva was developed for just that purpose. It has a simple to use wizard type interface and can restore all types of files from simple text documents to videos, and everything else in between. You can restore files from removable disks and thumb drives as well as restore files that were deleted by viruses and crashes.

Defraggler

When a computer system is running slow a disk defragmentation tool should help speed things up quite a bit. When a computer file is created it is broken up into pieces and spread out throughout the systems hard drive. When the file needs to be retrieved it needs to be pieced back together. Defraggler will basically line up all the pieces together making the system perform better. It has an easy to use interface that allows you to pick and chose either various files and folders to defragment or the entire drive. You are also allowed to determine where on the drive you would like to store particular files, as well as scheduling the procedures to take place in the background as it can take quite some time to perform.

7-Zip

Many support tasks will require the use of compressed or “zip” files. Compressing the files allows them to be transferred more rapidly and take up less space. 7-Zip will provide no nonsense no frills compression and decompression capability that should suit the needs of almost everyone.

FileZilla

The necessity to transfer files to or from an FTP site or server will undoubtedly arise at some point. File transfer protocol has become the staple method of delivering patches, drivers and hot fixes. Filezilla enables you to perform these tasks with ease.

Almost everyone will find themselves tasked with some sort of computer problem. For the IT support professionals or just the average do it yourselfers there are some tools you just can’t do without, and some cases they just happen to be free. Make use of these free Windows Operating System Support Tools to ease your day-to-day computer issues and keep your systems running efficiently.

Have a PC or network problem you can’t fix? Click here to learn how [contentblock id=company] can quickly respond to, and help solve your computer problems with our Reactive Response and PC Repair Services for your business in [contentblock id=location].

 

The Importance Of Communication, Messaging and Collaboration In The Workplace

With so much technology and messaging and collaboration solutions at our fingertips, it is difficult to believe that there are any communication problems in any business today. In the course of a busy workday, the importance of good communication can be something that can be easily forgotten. If you are noticing that it is difficult to get your employees to work together cohesively, that morale is very low, or worse, that your business is losing money, you might need to take a second look at your company’s communication.

Use the Telephone

While phoning someone is still a good practice, it isn’t always the best mode of communication for every situation. Using the telephone is good for setting up meetings or discussing items for which there is a quick resolution. It is generally not a good venue to tell an employee that they made a mistake on their last assignment. Save that discussion for a one-on-one meeting.

Write an Email

Email is a fast and convenient way of communicating with colleagues and employees provided you follow a few guidelines. Use email for only disseminating factual information. If you are writing anything that could be misinterpreted, it is best to address that face-to-face. For example, if you are trying to remind an employee that something that they are doing is inappropriate in the workplace, an email might come across like an impersonal and angry lecture. This could end up causing a backlash from the employee rather than alleviating the situation.

Have a Meeting

Meetings can help bring employees and colleagues together and make them feel part of the company. It also helps to keep everyone apprised of what is happening in the company. It is probably the best way to communicate all important company business and ensure that everyone hears it. It is important to encourage open communication in the meetings, so that employees feel that they are heard and that what they say matters.

Try One-on-One Communication

With so many different modes of communication today, one-on-one communication often gets forgotten. It is so much easier to shoot someone an email or leave them a voicemail, but there are times when good old-fashioned face-to-face communication is still the best way to speak with a colleague or an employee. Many people do not feel comfortable bringing up their concerns or problems at a meeting. Things written on an Email and said on the telephone can often be misinterpreted when you are not able to see the person and read their body language. This is why a face-to-face meeting can be a much better option in this situation.

Listen

Listening is probably the most glossed over, yet most important piece of the of communication puzzle. Without the listening portion, any other piece cannot fully succeed. Employees and colleagues need to know that their input is being heard. Feeling unheard can often be the cause of low morale and high employee turnover. While listening does not necessarily mean incorporating each suggestion into your company or changing every policy based on what one employee says, it does mean giving the ideas full consideration.

In today’s highly technological society where everyone can do and access everything from their computer or cellphone through messaging and collaboration solutions, the importance of good communication cannot be stressed strongly enough. Using the appropriate mode of communication for different situations will make everything flow easier, and help make your employees feel that they are important and valued member of your company.

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Why Your Company Needs An Internet Use Policy

email-stampWith computers and Internet access such an integral part of every business, and the Internet filled with everything from gambling to x-rated websites, it is critical that every business has an Internet Use Policy in place. This policy can help prevent your employees from accidentally or intentionally causing harm to your company or your company’s reputation. While you don’t want to give your employees the idea that they are living in George Orwell’s 1984, you want them to have a clear understanding of practices that are and are not appropriate during work hours. It is necessary for companies to create an Internet policy that everyone can live with.

Why Have An Internet Use Policy?

The purpose of a business is to make money. In order to accomplish this, the company has to have productive employees. The Internet can be a time drain and often prevent employees from being as productive as they should be. With such a wide range of information available on the Internet, it is necessary to clarify the company’s expectations of its employees regarding Internet access. With a strong policy in place, the employee, as well as the employer, will find Internet use less confusing and frustrating.

Another important reason to have a strong Internet Use Policy is to save your company from unnecessary lawsuits. Unless you have a clear policy on what is and is not acceptable on the Internet in your company, you can risk having an unfair dismissal lawsuit on your hands when an employee is abusing the company’s Internet.

What Elements Should Your Internet Usage Policy Contain?

When planning your Internet Use Policy, it should contain certain key elements such as:

  • The company Internet is for company business only and to be used only during company business hours
  • All work done on company computers during business hours, including all emails, is company property and can be accessed by the employer at any time.
  • Establish what type of computer use is unacceptable such as accessing personal social media accounts, personal email, pornographic websites, etc.
  • Employees must refrain from accessing websites, creating, or forwarding email that promotes any type of discrimination such as racial or sexual discrimination, or that is defamatory or harmful towards another person or group.
  • Employees are not allowed to gain access to or attempt to access other employee’s computers, employee stored information, or any information unauthorized by the company.

In addition to the guidelines above, inform your employees that whatever is done by the company, for the company, and on the company computers should remain confidential and within the confines of the company. In addition, let employees know that when they access unapproved sites, they risk infecting the company computer system with viruses that could possibly shut down the entire company network.

Having an Internet use policy in place helps to eliminate any confusion and possible abuse that could prevent a company from functioning productively. A solid Internet use policy help to make the work environment more pleasant and more conducive to getting the necessary work done in order to have a successful business. Creating a safe and productive environment is important for any business, and one way to ensure that is to implement an Internet use policy.

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Network Connectivity Troubleshooting – Part One

To most computer support persons, having problems connecting to the Internet via a router and a high-speed connection is not a major issue. However, for those who do not understand some basic technology concepts, solving connectivity problems will be a struggle. The following will give you some tips of where to look for network connectivity problems and how to perform some basic network connectivity troubleshooting tasks.

Most of the initial steps of this process are common-sense and incredibly basic, but you would be surprised at the number of calls to help desks that are solved simply by having someone turn on a power switch or plug in a cable to a device!

1.Check the power. Make sure that the power is turned on to your router and that you can see some visible signs of that power on the front of the unit. Usually green or yellow lights flash or stay on constantly when the unit has power. If you do not have any of those, check the electrical outlet for power. Plug in a radio, clock, lamp or other device to see if the outlet is ‘live.’ If so, continue on to the next step. If not, check your electrical box to make sure that your circuit breakers have not tripped because of an overload or other electrical issue.

2.Check the router. If you still get no lights on the front of your router, then unplug it from the electrical outlet and wait for a while (15 minutes to half an hour) and plug it back into that same outlet. Most of these have what we call ‘wall-wart’ type power supplies that have the square-ish black block on the end which plugs into the wall outlet (or power surge suppressor). Sometimes these can go bad. If you cannot get any of the lights to come on at all on your router, even if you test it in a known “good” wall receptacle, it might mean that the power supply or router itself is defective.

3.Check the cables. Now, if you have confirmed that the electrical outlet is working properly and you are getting lights on the front of your router, then you need to check the network cable between your PC and your router. If you have a wireless router and are having trouble connecting by that method, then you need to troubleshoot first by trying to connect with a hard-wired connection, as it is easier to troubleshoot a hard-wired connection than a wireless one (once you have successfully established connectivity through a wired connection, you can resume troubleshooting wireless connectivity). Normally, your router should include at least one network cable for connecting devices directly to it. Use this cable to connect your PC to your router.. On the front of the router are a series of lights (these differ in color by manufacturer) which indicate the presence of a network connection over the network cable (or Ethernet cable) between your PC and router. Locate the network cable which runs from your router to your PC and unplug it from the back of the router. Does one of the lights go out? If so, that is a good sign. If not, then go to the PC end of the network cable and locate where it connects to your PC. Right around this connection there are usually a set of led lights indicating a network connection. By removing your network cable from the PC, you should see the lights go out. And, with your PC powered on, removing this cable will also usually cause a message to come up on your Windows-based PC indicating that your network connection has been lost. If this happens, then it appears that at least your router and PC are ‘talking’ to each other. This is usually noted by the ‘flashing’ activity of these lights.

4.Reboot both your router and your PC. Sometimes a simple reboot will clear up any anomalies between network connections, and this will always be a step any help desk, ISP or router manufacturer’s support personnel will ask you to try.

In part two of this series we will talk about checking functionality of your router and then determining whether your problem might lie solely with your PC.

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Technology Increases Small Business Profitability

During times of economic struggle, most small businesses end up making cuts and changes to keep their businesses in the green. From laying off staff to decreasing business travel, reducing marketing efforts and ending bonuses and raises temporarily – there are a variety of ways small businesses look to cut their expenses. At the same time, they look for ways improve Small Business  Profitability – especially when operating with reduced staff. Technology becomes even more useful as small businesses strive to increase productivity and efficiency.

There are so many gadgets and technology solutions out there that it can be easy to buy more than you need, or to buy the wrong types of products that just don’t deliver the solutions your business needs. When deciding what types of technologies can help your business reach its goals, here are a few things to look for

Ways Technology Increases Small Business Profitability

Communications – technology is well known for its capability to improve the ability for people to communicate with one another. Whether you’ve got employees on the road or down the hall, virtual phone systems can route calls to cell phones and keep everyone in touch regardless of location. Instant messaging and email provide quick ways to communicate with the written word and keep documentation of these conversations for future reference. Social media and networking sites provide a way to keep in touch with co-workers, customers, and the competition at a glance.

Data Storage, Warehousing and Search – If you find employees are spending a lot of time looking for certain reports, forms or other data that they need to perform their job responsibilities, investing in network hardware and software to keep track of the whereabouts of your data can be useful.

Telecommuting – many small businesses also find that there isn’t a need for all employees to work in the same office building in order to get their work done. Having employees who telecommute requires the technology to make that happen (a secure network for employees to access data they require to do their job; improved communication systems to receive incoming phone calls at their homes or on their cell phones and the ability to keep in touch with co-workers in different locations). Having employees telecommute can save you from needing a larger office space, which keeps your overhead costs lower, too.

Customer Relationship Management – having some sort of CRM software to help you manage your database of clients and prospects is well worth the investment. Many businesses will tell you the “money is in the list”; meaning the amount of money a company earns is directly proportional to the number of people on their mailing list. Some companies use software like ACT, Goldmine or SalesForce to track their clients and leads. Others have custom-built software developed to handle unique needs that can’t be addressed with existing software.

Technology makes it possible for small business to increase productivity and compete with larger businesses on a smaller budget, thereby increasing profitability. Efficiency and organization is improved through the use of appropriate data storage, search and mining, customers are better managed through customer relationship management systems, and it is possible for money to be saved when employees telecommute from home. Before investing in any new technology, identify the unique needs of your business and determine which technology will best meet your needs.

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Should You Hire Or Outsource to an External IT Service Provider?

Most small business owners handle all aspects of their businesses, including acting as the Information Technology department. This will work for as long as you remain a small business without employees. When you grow and start hiring staff, will it make more sense to use your business-building time on handling IT issues or outsource to an external IT Service Provider?

Unless you are an Information Technology Service Provider yourself, chances are your time will be much better spent marketing your products and/or services, establishing relationships with your clients, providing exceptional customer service and just otherwise growing your business – so why not outsource to an external IT Service Provider?

How do you know when it’s time to get IT help? If the information technology demands are affecting your day and negatively impacting your actual business related activities – it’s definitely time to consider finding an IT resource. If you start adding new employees and computers, it’s probably a good time to look into adding IT help, as well.

Should You Hire Internal IT Staff or Outsource to an External IT Service Provider?

When you make the decision to find an IT resource, your first decision will be whether you need to hire one or more staff to fulfill the role, or if you’re going to outsource IT services. Having dedicated IT staff means they are 100% committed to your business. They’re not splitting their time among numerous clients the way a contracted company might. One of the benefits of having an IT department is that the staff develops a strong understanding of your unique business needs and should be in a good position to manage your short and long term IT requirements. With your own IT staff on payroll, you know you’ve always got someone available (unless they’re out sick or on vacation!) should an emergency or urgent situation present itself.

The primary disadvantage of hiring IT staff is that you’ll be paying for their benefits, their training, and a variety of other costs associated with hiring a new employee. Not to mention, you have to pay them the agreed upon salary regardless of how much IT work you end up having, which means you may be overpaying based on workload!

There are a variety of advantages of outsourcing to an external IT service provider over hiring staff. You can choose to outsource your information technology needs to a flat rate IT service provider and reduce your monthly and overall costs. Having a virtual IT department lets you focus more on running your business rather than the technology that supports it. You aren’t stuck paying employee benefits or other employee costs, and you aren’t responsible for making sure the IT team remains up to date with their training and knowledge.

The Bottom Line

Finding the right information technology help for a growing business needs is challenging. When you think strategically about your business’ unique IT requirements, you can make sound decisions that further promote its growth and profitability.

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