IT king for a day

Best practices for small business

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Not long ago, someone asked what I would do if I were a government tsar on small business, like the tsar on the auto industry. I'm taking this further and proclaiming myself Small Business Technology King for a Day. While I wish my edicts were the law of the land, sadly, I am without the dungeons necessary to enforce my rulings. So take these "edicts" as free consulting for best practices in how small businesses can get the most value for their technology dollar.

First of all, backup better. Two thirds of small businesses get a failing grade on data safety because of lousy or nonexistent backup processes. Though a boring comparison, data backup is insurance. You have insurance that pays off if your house burns down, right? That never happens to most people, but everyone and every business loses data. Every lost file takes time or money to find or replace.

This has been one of my hot buttons from the beginning. If you want to know more about my future, one concentration will be data safety audits. I'm working with a partner to finalise a worksheet to help small business owners give themselves a grade on how safe their data is on a scale of 1 to 10. Sad to say, most audits so far have been in the 4-to-5 range. Soon I'll have a workbook to help companies address the subjects they failed, and improve to passing.

Protecting your data is the cheapest business insurance you have, but easy to overlook. Thinking about data loss is like thinking about life insurance: a painful subject to contemplate. Unlike insurance, data protection costs are going steadily downward. You can now save more money than ever as you save your data.

Although marketing didn't used to be a technology issue, it is now. One of the tidbits I have on file for a future column (oops) is a source saying only 37% of small businesses have a website. Really? One in three small businesses are on the web, the greatest and least expensive marketing medium ever? Fail.

It astounds me when I talk to small business people who pay for phone book advertisements, but think the web is too expensive. Non-white pages salespeople are aggressive, but they inflate how many consumers and businesses reach for a phone book rather than a web browser. For the price of one month's small ad in the non-white pages, you can get a website for years. Even if the website says little more than what you do, your business hours, and contact information, get one started today.

When I suggest small businesses need blogs, owners say nobody wants to know what they had for breakfast. That is true, but that's not the modern blog. I suggest letting your tech people, whatever your business, write the blog. List ways for your customers to do more with the products you sold them. Tell them how to fix products themselves when possible to avoid a service charge. Highlight customers doing something interesting with your products, to give other customers ideas on ways to do more themselves.

Email reaches people for pennies per month, so use it. When I get a reminder from my air conditioning service company to change my filters, do I get mad? No. Do I always change the filter? No, but I'm glad they remind me. Work to get an email address for every customer, and ask them to follow you on Twitter. Yes, Twitter.

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