Most small business owners and entrepreneurs don't have the budget for a dedicated IT staff. Unfortunately, many also lack the necessary skills and knowledge to manage their own systems, which can lead to serious problems down the road.
Here, we'll explore six all-too-common tech blunders that small business startups make, so you can avoid them and save yourself a lot of time, money and trouble.
Mistake No1: Failing to Plan Ahead
When you're just starting out, maybe you'll be fine with an "IT infrastructure" that consists of one server, a couple of desktops and your home Internet service. But your business is going to grow, right? That means eventually, you’ll need more resources, because if your IT can't keep pace with your growth, it's easy to slip into a crash-and-burn spiral.
This doesn't mean you have to bring in a geek squad on day one, but do map out your expected growth, and the IT resources you'll need to accommodate it in detail for the first year, and loosely for at least five years into the future. Include hardware, software, manpower and technical support. This will save you from being sidelined by upgrades you weren't expecting to need.
Mistake No.2: Running a Business With Home Equipment
There's a reason tech companies put out home and professional versions of their software and hardware: cheaper, scaled-down home versions just aren't equipped to handle business-level activity. Your wireless router with a 100-foot range is great for your personal network, but try to stretch it over too many employees, and it will result in poor performance and expensive downtime.
Investing in business-class IT is essential to the success of any business, large or small. Of course, sometimes professional equipment isn't financially possible for a brand-new business, but make investing in some a top priority, and don't assume that your home equipment will do.
Mistake No.3: Neglecting Hardware in Favor of Software
Software vendors have it down to a science. They'll convince you that once you have the latest upgrade, the newest programs, the coolest cutting-edge applications, your new business will practically run itself! There are two problems here. The first is that flashier isn't always better, and stunning software is useless if you don't have the hardware to run it.
The best practice? Make sure you've got a solid, up-to-date hardware system (commercial grade) in place, and stick primarily with tried-and-true software. Don't succumb to the siren call of bigger, better, faster. A few custom applications are great, but you'll want to make sure your IT systems are compatible with the people you'll be doing business with.
Mistake No.4: Skipping the Training Phase
So you're an entrepreneur or small business. You have between one and 10 employees. To save money, you decide not to invest in IT training for yourself or your staff. After all, you know how to work a computer. You'll just wing it, and learn as you go.
This is a common choice - and a very bad idea. Without proper training, everything you invest in IT could turn out to be a huge waste of time and money. Everyone on your staff, whether it's a couple friends or you flying solo, needs to know the ins and outs of your IT infrastructure.
Mistake No.5: Cheaping Out
There's no question about it: IT will cost you. In fact, depending on the industry you're in, tech could be your biggest investment. Startups tend to balk at the amount of money that has to be sunk into IT, which can lead to serious corner-cutting. Unfortunately, cheap, outdated and otherwise unsuitable tech arrangements can cripple a fledgling business - and cost business owners way more in time, trouble and overall inefficiency. Instead of looking for the least expensive solution, determine what you're honestly going to need, and then look for the best deals on quality hardware and software.
Mistake No.6: Slovenly Security
Think hackers won't bother targeting your small business? Think again. Cyber-criminals know that smaller companies make easier targets because many startups can't afford - or don't even try to implement - solid security. (Learn more in Small Business Faces Big Cyber Risk.)
At a minimum, you need anti-virus software, malware protection and a strong firewall. You can't afford to leave yourself exposed, either to hackers or potentially devastating malware. Make security a high priority for your IT infrastructure from day one.
Is your small business truly ready for launch?
This checklist of common mistakes might seem overwhelming, especially if you're guilty of more than a few. But if you want your business to prosper, you need to pay attention to your tech.
Don't have a huge startup budget? Cloud computing is making IT more affordable than ever for small businesses. These pay-as-you-go platforms offer monthly flat fees on everything from business software to digital storage and server power, so you can start out strong and invest in more permanent IT solutions as your business grows.
Here's to you, entrepreneur!