Knowing What You Don’t Know

As professionals, we all have specialized knowledge that others don’t have. You’ve probably said to yourself at some point that you don’t expect clients to know about . . . [TCP/IP; mini-drivers; patch management; memory leaks; web development; etc.].
I don’t know which needle the nurse should use. I don’t know insurance policy is best. I don’t know the difference between two legal phrases that sound identical to me. Those are specialized knowledge of the people in those fields. When I hire someone to take care of my “stuff” I need to know the line between what I know and what I don’t know.
Well, some clients know what they know and some clients don’t know what they don’t know.
In the world of small business, there are a lot of people who don’t know what they don’t know. They hobble together Frankenstein Networks that “work” but they have no idea how inefficient or dangerous they are. Let me explain.
Premise: We’re working with a technology from “Major Software” vendor. We’ll just use the initials MS. The product in question is a version of their Super Big Software package. We’ll call it SBS. One of the features of this Super Big Software package is that it wants to be the only Super Big Software package on the network. Otherwise, trouble ensues.
Client One: Knows What They Know
Client One brings us in and we see that they have eleven workstations plus a 12th machine just to show videos and PPTs in the conference room. Cool. There is an SBS device on the network, but it is only used for storage. Literally, it is used as a NAS device.
Workstations are all in a workgroup, which makes them a pain in the butt to manage.
We are going to drop in a new SBS Device, scoop over the data, and then begin attaching the workstations to the new network. They will move from a workgroup to an Active Directory structure. Everyone will lose their profiles.
Client knows this. Client knows the old machine has to go away. Client knows the difference between workgroup and domain. Client knows that profiles will be replaced by plain vanilla. That’s the deal.
Client has a line of business application that might not make it into the 64-bit twenty-first century. He has moved this to a workstation and we need to make sure the data are backed up to the server.
Client knows all this. Client knows what they know. When we start discussing cooler new backup strategies, client fully admits that this is new to him. He knows what he doesn’t know.
This client will save a LOT of money, hassles, and downtime because he has an honest assessment of his own knowledge about his network.
All good.
Client Two: Doesn’t Know What He Doesn’t Know
Client two tells MS that he has three computers, no server. No special needs. Plain and boring. Easy install. No real requirements.
Uhhh . . . So we do our network audit. Client Two owns two companies. They are separated by a wooden door. Company Three has three PCs, one laptop, and a an SBS device connected into a 10/100 switch, which he happily calls a Hub. They also have some network printers.
One line from the switch goes into the back of the firewall owned by Client Two. Client Two has plugged a series of 8″ home made network cables from the back of the firewall into his patch panel. These connect three PCs, one laptop, and two specialty workstations that are only used for watching streamed Netflix. They also have some network printers.
The two offices must share network printers.
Client Two has no idea that the firewall is working overtime to manage traffic for four machines, two printers, the entire office next door AND two machines streaming video. All local and internet traffic goes through the switch on the back of the firewall. I don’t know if it’s just 10 MB or 10/100. I don’t care.
When I sit down at Client Two’s PC and run IPConfig/all I see that DNS, DHCP, and Gateway are all the same address. Cool. I also see a WINS server at a different address. I open a web page and VOILA! I see the SBS device.
At this point we explain that the two networks are joined, there is no security, and the old SBS machine is going to shut down 30 days after we set up the new office. Dude thinks we’re trying to rip him off for the cost of a router to separate the two networks. (Cuz, you know, I’m going to totally retire on the profit from one cheap router.)
He explains to us that the two offices are completely separated in every way.
He does not know what he does not know.


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Are you a Professional? Really?

Many in the IT field love to be called professionals. They take pride in the fact that being called a professional puts them “above the rest”. But really – can you claim to be a professional just because of some badge or achievement or exam you’ve passed?
I talk to many professionals in the SMB space, and one of the things I constantly hear is that they never have time to test out software before deploying it to a clients site. When they have problems, they then blame the software vendor for the issue and not accept the fact that they might have eliminated many of the issues had they taken the time to do some testing first. I don’t for a minute think that doing testing in your own environment will eliminate ALL the things you are likely to see onsite, because things are often different, but taking the time to play with things first means you can more easily become a real professional.
I also hear that people don’t have time to do this because they need to be earning money. Isn’t this part of the rate you charge the customer? Isn’t this part of being a professional that the customer expects that you do know what you are doing?
I also know that you can’t possibly test out every piece of software before you deploy it to the clients – in that circumstance, I advocate being upfront with the client and let them know that you can’t test this before deployment and I’d expect some consideration given in terms of billing for the client whilst you learn on the fly. It seems only right doesn’t it?
Doctors never perform an operation on a live patient – therefore why should we “professionals” go out and do things to our customers network environment if we’ve not even tried it out on our own environment first?
Are you a professional… really?

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Tech Consultant vs. Tech Businessman

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Managed Services in a Month

“Ten years ago “remote support” consisted of telephone support for everyone except the largest corporations. It was very rare in the mid-market and virtually unheard of in the SMB space. Now Cousin Larry the Trunk Slammer does remote support with ease.”

“Managed services is not about flat fee pricing.
Managed services is not about all you can eat.
Managed services is not a fad that will disappear in the next year or so, allowing you to go back to being break/fix and disorganized.
Managed Services means that you use modern tools to provide a higher level of support that un-professional, un-trained, un-connected, techno-goobers cannot provide.”

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10 tech mistakes small businesses make (and how IT consultants can help clients avoid them)

February 17, 2009, 11:10 AM PST

Takeaway: Small businesses must concentrate their time and energy on knowing their own industry — and that often means that effective technology practices get overlooked. Erik Eckel explains the most common tech missteps he’s encountered, along with preventive measures to protect businesses and prevent serious problems.

Small businesses must concentrate their time and energy on knowing their own industry — and that often means that effective technology practices get overlooked. Erik Eckel explains the most common tech missteps he’s encountered, along with preventive measures to protect businesses and prevent serious problems.

In today’s microwave society — in which just-in-time manufacturing models, heightened customer expectations, and 24×7 accessibility demands burden both manufacturers and service providers — little time remains for much else. Small businesses often don’t have the resources or inclination to track the latest computer news, security threats, or even common break/fix tips. And not all small business owners are adept at maintaining best technology practices.

As a result, small businesses frequently make certain technology mistakes. Here’s a look at these mistakes, along with specific steps IT consultants can take to assist small businesses in correcting these common failures.

Note: This article is also available as a download, which includes an annotated PowerPoint presentation based on this information.

#1: Insufficient technical support

Many organizations go without technical support, relying instead upon an employee whose love of Warcraft may make him or her the local office “computer guru.” Other organizations may depend upon a staffer’s friend or relative (who’s “interested in computers”) to provide technology advice or assistance when critical systems fail or slow unacceptably.

Some turn to their hardware manufacturer’s telephone support line for help, only to be disappointed when the solution to many problems proves to be performing a reinstallation (thereby resulting in the loss of all the business owner’s data). Some rely upon a big box electronic store’s service arm, never receiving the same (novice, often undereducated, and inexperienced) technician twice. And still others locate a student or individual who provides computer support “on the side.”

These support methods are not cost-efficient. Nor are they effective information technology investment, troubleshooting, or administration options.

Small businesses need knowledgeable, trusted technology partners who are proficient with current technologies and willing to help learn their industry’s operations requirements. Once a qualified technology expert is familiar with a client’s needs, appropriate services and solutions can be recommended and deployed. The result is almost always more cost-effective, more efficient, more profitable operations for the client.

#2: Hardware/software issues

Smart organizations set PC service lives at three or four years. There’s a reason. 

“When you look at costs — particularly around a four- to six-year lifecycle — it may seem like you are saving money,” says Info-Tech Research Group analyst Darin Stahl. “But really it’s costing you.” That’s because support expenses increase. Retaining PCs longer than three or four years often results in repair and support costs that meet or exceed the price of new systems.

This is the second common tech mistake businesses make: They fail to standardize hardware components and software applications, where possible. The result is a mishmash of components that complicate troubleshooting, repair, and deployment and require companies to support a variety of programs with different license terms and renewal dates. Incompatibilities often result.

Worse, older and obsolete hardware is less efficient, increases downtime likelihood, feeds staff and customer frustration, endangers sales, and threatens other lost opportunities.

Small businesses can overcome common hardware and software issues by:

  • Retiring equipment at proper lifecycles, typically three to four years.
  • Standardizing hardware components.
  • Standardizing software applications.
  • Working with an IT consultant to leverage vendor relationships and reduce costs/negotiate more attractive pricing.

#3: Insufficient power protection

A single power outage, surge, or spike can damage expensive electronic components and result in critical data loss. Consistent surges and brownouts, meanwhile, shorten the lifespan of computers, printers, network components, and other equipment.Many businesses deploy simple power strips. Others continue depending upon surge suppressors deployed five and even 10 years earlier. When thunderstorms, electrical outages, and other disasters strike, the damaged systems and corrupted or lost data — not to mention downtime — resulting from insufficient power protection prove costly.

Organizations should deploy quality battery backup devices (with built-in surge suppression) for all critical desktop PCs. Further, technology professionals should connect all servers to uninterruptible power supplies and test them regularly to confirm adequate failover protection is in place.

When deploying battery backups, businesses should properly install and configure corresponding cables and communications software. Network protections should be leveraged whenever possible, as well, in attempts to remediate cable modem, DSL, and other surge sources that can destroy telecommunications and computing equipment.

Since surge suppressor quality varies, organizations should purchase such equipment from trusted vendors. And since surge suppressors (and batteries) wear over time, businesses should replace them regularly.

Simple power strips should be avoided whenever any computer, server, network device, or other important component is present.

#4: Illegal software

Possessing illegal software may be the easiest trap into which many organizations fall. The issue is widespread (the Business Software Alliance estimates 22 percent of all North American software is unlicensed), making it our fourth common tech mistake plaguing small businesses. 

Certainly, licensing issues quickly prove perplexing. The differences between OEM, retail, and open license software escapes the understanding of many business owners. Yet manufacturers are becoming more aggressive in locking down licenses (via product activation technologies) and prosecuting offenders (often via the BSA, which has collected more than $81 million in settlements).

Many organizations don’t recognize they do not “own” software, since programs and applications are commonly licensed. Worse, some firms use “borrowed” applications or pirated programs. Problems arise either in the form of audits and penalties or challenging delays (due to product activation conflicts and other licensing issues) when returning failed systems to operation.

Businesses must understand there are no shortcuts to running legitimate operations. All software, applications, and programs must be properly licensed.

With more manufacturers implementing product activation features, in which software programs report their installation and usage back to the manufacturer, overuse or outright piracy is becoming more difficult or impossible, anyway. But violations still occur.

Businesses can protect against licensing errors and penalties, and help ensure the fastest recovery times when failures occur, by carefully documenting and tracking all software license purchases and deployments.

Further, software licenses (including for operating systems, business line, and office productivity applications, accounting programs, security tools, and other utilities) should be purchased only from reputable technology partners. License sales on eBay that look too good to be true are.

Finally, when installing new programs, organizations should pay close attention to the license agreements they accept.

#5: Insufficient training

Mention software training in most any conference room, and you’re likely to hear groans. Boredom, bad classroom experiences, lack of interest, or complexity all contribute to employees’ resistance to learning new applications. But that doesn’t change the fact that insufficient training ranks as the fifth common tech mistake impacting small businesses. 

How bad is it?

It’s estimated that office staff understand less than 20% of the available features in the software applications they use. That means 80% of the features, time-saving capabilities, and cost-reducing functions remain unused.

Gross inefficiencies result. As a consequence, many processes — including repetitive data entry, complicated calculations, and automated data selection and reporting — are completed manually, which introduces a greater likelihood of errors entering the process.

Tasks that could be completed in moments often consume exponentially more time. Considering that many of those tasks are repeated each business day by multiple workers, it’s easy to see how the costs quickly become significant.

Most small businesses don’t employ full-time trainers. Therefore it’s imperative that small businesses identify technology partners, training centers, or other programs that assist staff in maximizing software applications.

Even when training resources are present, there’s no guarantee staff skills will improve. For that to happen, businesses must make computer and software training a priority. Tap technology partners or other consultants to conduct regular lunch-and-learn sessions. The business can spring for lunch and, for a few hours of consultant’s fees, expose entire departments to important new features and capabilities.

An organization’s technology training commitment can be reinforced using performance reviews. Businesses can add specific course, off-site training, and even certification requirements to staff education programs and performance review objectives. When partnering with a local training center, businesses can create customized instructional programs or select prepackaged modules.

Organizations with limited budgets, meanwhile, can leverage self-paced instruction manuals and computer-based training aids to assist employees in improving their skills after hours or in their own homes.

#6: Security failures

Small businesses frequently fail to accommodate security issues. Organizations either don’t recognize the risks or don’t take them seriously. 

The costs are staggering. Large U.S. organizations lose some 2.2% of their annual income due to security attacks, according to an Infonetics Research “Costs of Network Security Attacks” report. That’s expensive. The FBI estimates such computer crime costs U.S. industry in excess of $400 billion.

Organizations don’t need to have a high profile to become a target, either. Hackers have created innumerable automated programs that scour the Internet 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, seeking poorly secured systems, servers, PCs, and networks to infect and exploit.

Unfortunately, businesses everywhere are falling victim to compromised systems, robotic attacks, identity and data theft, and more. Organizations that fail to properly secure client and customer data often find themselves in the middle of security crises that result in bad press, lost sales, and forfeited customer trust.

Fortunately, completing simple steps assists small businesses in preventing security failures. Here are several best practices all organizations should adopt:

  • Implement and enforce strong password security policies for all PCs, servers, network equipmen, and software applications.
  • Regularly update operating systems, network equipment firmware, and applications with the latest security patches.
  • Deploy business-class firewalls in all locations; connect no systems directly to the Internet.
  • Secure all wireless networks.
  • Disable guest accounts.
  • Implement Internet and e-mail usage policies that preclude personal use of those technologies.
  • Prohibit file-sharing programs.
  • Deploy proven antivirus, anti-spyware, and anti-rootkit applications and update them regularly.
  • Regularly perform security audits and correct all deficiencies.

#7: Poor backup strategies

Despite numerous choices, methods, and options, many organizations fail to adequately back up data — a mistake that can be unrecoverable.Statistics reveal there is a 50% chance an organization will cease operations immediately when critical data is lost. Worse, an organization’s odds of failure rocket to 90% within two years when critical data is lost. Data losses cost an average of 19 days’ productivity. Recovering data from damaged disks, meanwhile, is incredibly expensive.

Even organizations that believe their data is properly protected may find themselves at risk. Occasionally, incorrect data (as in the wrong data) is backed up. In other cases, tape backups prove unreliable. (Gartner Group estimates only half of all tape backups restore successfully.) Fortunately, small businesses can follow simple steps to securely protect their data.

Since data backups are so critical to an organization’s livelihood, small businesses should work with proficient IT consultants or technology partners to ensure the right data is being backed up and that it’s being backed up as frequently as required. In addition, technology professionals should regularly test backup sets to confirm the data can be recovered in its entirety.

Consultants can work with small businesses to determine what data, files, and information should be backed up, how often to create the data sets, where to locate the backups, and how often to test the sets’ integrity. Consultants also prove invaluable in updating backup routines when software upgrades, migrations, and other updates change critical file locations. Further, technology professionals can ensure business data remains secure, which is a critical concern for physicians, financial institutions, and even retail outlets.

#8: Virus exposure

Viruses not only remain a major threat, but their dangers are increasing. The BBC reports that unprotected PCs become infected within eight seconds of being connected to the Internet. 

Infections are proving expensive, too. In the book The Dark Side of the Internet, author Paul Bocij estimates the average virus incident costs organizations $2,500 in remediation and data recovery expenses. A report by ICSA Labs places businesses’ costs even higher (at $99,000 per incident).

And the numbers, varieties, and types of threats only increase. Malware programs are evolving at such a clip that many security software vendors have eliminated daily updates in favor of distributing patches every four hours.

Often, businesses and users simply fail to implement protection. A survey conducted by the National Cyber Security Alliance revealed that 67% of the respondents did not have up-to-date antivirus software. Worse, some 15 percent had no antivirus application installed.

#9: Spyware exposure

Before we address virus solutions, let’s visit spyware, which is an equal threat — and potentially even more daunting. 

Spyware differs from viruses in its nature (spyware typically aims to track user behavior, collect user information or sensitive data, and display unwanted advertisements, whereas viruses often destroy data, corrupt systems, or enable hackers to remotely control a system). But spyware’s business impact has reached epidemic levels.

The respected trade group CompTIA estimates spyware infections require two-and-a-half days to resolve and cost small and medium-size businesses $8,000 a year, which doesn’t factor lost revenue. As evidence businesses aren’t doing enough to protect themselves from the threat, CompTIA pointed to the information its research recently uncovered. More than a quarter of business users reported their productivity suffered as the result of a recent spyware infection, and more than a third reported being infected multiple times within the last six months, with some reporting being infected as many as 10 times!

No virus or spyware strategy is foolproof, but most technology consultants recommend the following steps:

  • Install reputable antivirus and anti-spyware applications.
  • In high-risk environments, a second standalone anti-spyware application is warranted.
  • Regularly update antivirus and anti-spyware programs.
  • Do not let antivirus and anti-spyware program licenses expire.
  • Perform regular automated antivirus and anti-spyware scans.
  • Regularly review security program log files to confirm proper operation.

Further, businesses should avoid deploying “free” security products in businesses. These products are often deployed in violation of the license agreements (which require licensing the software in businesses, academic facilities, and nonprofit organizations) and don’t support frequent updates, real-time protection, or automated scans.

#10: Unsolicited E-mail

Most every business and user is familiar with the problem of unsolicited e-mail, also known as spam. Spam messages have become a serious issue, particularly for small businesses that often misunderstand the problem and fail to take effective countermeasures.

The Radicatti Research Group estimates spam costs businesses more than $20 billion a year. Further, almost half of all e-mail is estimated to be spam.

Thus, small businesses are investing valuable time, money, and system resources processing, delivering, and even storing these unsolicited e-mail messages. In addition to lowering productivity (staff must regularly sift through hundreds or more junk mail messages, deleting the spam, in search of legitimate e-mail), spam takes a toll on an organization’s servers and workstations, which often must dedicate processor cycles, disk space, and backup media to untold gigabytes of unwanted mail.

Technology consultants wield several weapons in the war on spam. In addition to network filtering software, consultants can deploy server-based spam protection. Some organizations choose to outsource e-mail processing to a vendor that can monitor e-mail streams and filter out unwanted messages.

But such filters can generate false positives. And they’re not cheap. Therefore, it’s often a good idea to begin by adopting effective methods for managing unsolicited e-mail messages. Here are several first steps all e-mail users and small business owners may take to minimize spam:

  • Do not publish e-mail addresses in plain text on Web sites; instead use form-based tools that prevent robotic harvesting.
  • Avoid forwarding chain e-mail messages.
  • Ignore credit repair, get-rich-quick, and other common e-mail solicitations.
  • Use reputable e-mail filters (such as those included in Microsoft Outlook, Google Gmail, and other programs).
  • Read all terms before ever submittin
  • g your e-mail address to another party.
  • Review privacy policies before ever providing an e-mail address.
  • Consider creating a free e-mail account (Yahoo, Hotmail, Gmail, etc.) for submitting to third parties.


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Survey: More Than 60% of U.S. Small Businesses in Danger of Losing Critical Emails

New research commissioned by GFI Software finds majority of small businesses at risk for catastrophic data loss and potential liability for non-compliant data protection strategies.

GFI Software, a leading IT solutions provider for small and medium-sized enterprises, today announced the results of an independent survey conducted by Opinion Matters, in which more than 200 U.S.-based IT decision makers participated. The study commissioned by GFI revealed a dramatic lack of adoption of email archiving. 62.4% of SMEs do not currently use a mail archiving solution – opening the door to a host of issues including: limited email backup and restore, which could lead to data loss; an inability to search for pertinent messages in the event of an audit or eDiscovery request – which could result in costly compliance violations or legal suits; strain on Exchange servers; and storage problems. 

The survey also revealed that greater than 38% of the 202 businesses polled do not have an archiving or backup solution of any kind in place, further exacerbating the chances that a network failure could result in a complete loss of critical data stored in email.

Additional results from the survey:

·  Two-thirds (66.8%) of respondents were unfamiliar with U.S. regulatory compliance standards regarding email archiving. This number ballooned to over 90% in businesses that rely on only one IT professional.

·  37% said they are required to search for old or deleted emails on a monthly basis, if not more frequently, because of requests from end users, the need to meet compliance requirements, the need to provide copies of correspondence for a lawsuit or audit, or any other requirements.

·  31% of respondents said they would consider a hosted approach to email archiving.

Implementation of a mail archiving solution can enable several email-related necessities, including maintaining an archive of all corporate email correspondence, meeting the growing numberof regulations for compliance, eDiscovery and other legislation,significantly reducing the demands on the Exchange server, and managing and reducing the company’s dependency on PST files.


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15 stupid small biz tech mistakes and how to avoid them

If you’re not particularly tech-savvy, then purchasing, maintaining, and securing technology for your business can be a confusing situation to navigate. You may already know plenty about what you should do, but what about what you should not do?

Everything including not backing up your data, using social networking tools incorrectly (or not at all), and using pirated software can affect your bottom line in a bad way. Here are 15 tech mistakes that small businesses make over an over again, and what you need to do to prevent them.

1. Relying too heavily on the cloud

Cloud storage is an excellent resource for small businesses. It’s often affordable, and it allows you to access data when you’re away from the office. However, relying too heavily on the cloud can be dangerous, as it means placing all of your important data in the hands of another company or person.

Even Yahoo’s Flickr recently accidentally deleted one user’s account–which had over 4000 photos stored on it–due to simple human error. Luckily, Flickr was able to restore the account fully later, but you may not be so lucky.

Related story – How to buy network-attached storage for your small business

While the cloud is a great place to visit, you shouldn’t make a permanent home there. Network-attached storage (NAS) drives and cloud storage services including are among the products that can be part of a solid storage strategy. Always save your important data in several places, including on physical drives–such as those that are virtually indestructible, such as ioSafe’s disaster-proof external hard drives.

2. Failing to back up appropriately

Speaking of backing up data, backup strategies are useless if you don’t use them. Unfortunately, this is often the case with individuals and businesses alike. Just having a physical hard drive or a cloud-based storage account won’t help you if you fail to keep your data backed up and your technology relevant.

Related story – Avoid disaster for your year-end backup data

Luckily, backup programs will do this for you. Back up your data on a frequent and regular basis, so you don’t have to do it manually. It’s especially critical to establish a good backup strategy if you’re a small business with no dedicated IT staff to do it for you; data recovery is a painful, expensive process.

3. Not protecting employee’s phones

As smartphones get smarter, it’s time to take a look at securing these miniature computers in our pockets. Because smartphones carry so much sensitive data, it’s important to take steps to secure both your own and your employees’ phones. Huge business secrets have leaked out because thoughtless employees have gotten a little tipsy.

Related story – Top 10 smartphone security risks and how to handle them

Ensure that your company’s smartphones are password-protected (Passwords like “1234” or “9999” don’t count), have remote wipe capabilities enabled, and have a secure operating system (BlackBerry allows users to encrypt SD cards, for instance), just in case someone does leave a handset in a bar somewhere. For more granular controls, also investigate smartphone management software, such as NotifyMDM.

4. Taking too many trips
Business trips can be expensive, even if you happen to be an airfare ninja. Instead of hopping on a plane to meet your business partners, consider using technology to create a virtual meeting environment. Various Web conferencingand video conferencing tools enable you to hold a virtual conference and save on time and transportation.

Plus, studies show that telecommuting is good for both employers and employees. Employers will get better quality work in less time and for less money, while employees will enjoy a less-restrictive schedule.

5. Disposing of old technology incorrectly

You can’t just toss computers, smartphones, and other gadgets in the trash, because they contain hazardous materials that can damage the environment. In a worst-case scenario, disposing improperly of old tech can cost you in fines. But this doesn’t mean you have to spend a lot of money for someone else to dispose of it properly.

Instead, consider cleaning up and reselling your old tech. Obviously this means your technology has to be in working condition, although some companies will still take phones with cracked screens. If your tech passes the standards of companies such as Gazelle orNextWorth, then remember to wipe your data first and then send along the gear, and you may get a decent check to use toward your office upgrade.

8. Taking the Groupon way out

Groupon and other social-shopping Websites can seem like a godsend for struggling businesses. Just offer your product or service up at a deeply discounted price, and get hundreds or thousands of brand new customers.

But if you’re a small business, don’t be so easily wooed by the potential advertising and new customers. Many small businesses are finding that offering Groupon-like deals can be a nightmare. A number of things can go wrong, especially if you don’t have the staff, time, or budget to accept hundreds of new customers purchasing your services for a fraction of the usual price. Offering a Groupon deal that you can’t deliver on will not only cost you money, it will cost you your reputation.

9. Slacking on security, security, security!

Your business may be small and unassuming, but that doesn’t mean people aren’t ready to steal your secrets. Along with securing your employees’ smartphones, it’s important to make general IT security a priority.

Make sure that you know the ins and outs of your operating system’s security features, and that you have updated firewalls and antivirus programs in place.

It’s also important to practice safe computing. E-mail and social networking accounts are particularly vulnerable to viruses and spam, so keep different passwords for different accounts and don’t click on any sketchy links. This might seem like common sense, but more than half of small businesses have no IT security guidelines in place, according to protection firm AVG.

10. Paying for photos

There are plenty of reasons small businesses use stock photos, such as updating Websites and creating original blog posts, advertisements, and so forth. But before you purchase those two or 20 stock photos to pretty up your company’s blog, check out free sources, such as photos labeled with a Creative Commons license.

Many Flickr users upload their photos under a Creative Commons license, which means you’ll likely be able to use their photos in exchange for attribution. To find Flickr photos with Creative Commons licenses, go to Flickr’s “Advanced Search” page and check the box at the bottom of the page that says “Only search within Creative Commons-licensed content.” If you plan on using the photos for commercial purposes, or if you want to modify them in any way, check the corresponding boxes. You can also search beyond Flickr by looking up Creative Commons pictures on Google’s Image Search.

13. Choosing the wrong tech support

Tech support is a tricky subject. After all, if you’re a small enough business and you “know a guy,” why bother hiring a professional, right? Maybe. Gartner research has found that small businesses generally try to use as little IT help as possible, but this is not necessarily a good thing.

Related story – >How small shops can find the best tech support

While you can use your cousin’s girlfriend’s dog-trainer’s little sister–or even hire a remote professional on a per-problem basis–if you plan on expanding your business at all, it may be a good idea to hire a part-time or full-time professional. Not only will you be able to build a better relationship with an in-house IT pro, but you’ll also be able to expand technologically and upgrade your company seamlessly.

14. Skipping the training session

It may seem like I’m stating the obvious, but technology is useless unless you know how to use it. Purchasing an expensive new printer or desktop will only be a waste of money if you and your business don’t know how to use it to its full potential.

Related story – Skimping on staff training is “risky” for Canadian firms

Employee training is especially important if you don’t employ full-time IT support, because your workers will be on their own if something goes wrong. This doesn’t necessarily mean you need to bring in an external trainer–though the investment might be worth it. Just make tech training a priority and ensure that everyone learns the fine points within the instruction manual.

15. Using pirated software

Purchasing software and the associated licenses for your small business can be daunting. It’s often expensive, and it’s easy to obtain applications instead through less-than-savoury venues. That said, using pirated software can score you a hefty fine from the Business Software Alliance watchdog group.

However, this doesn’t mean you have to overpay for software. Instead, check out alternative options, such as using free software, buying unused licenses, or paying monthly for services. Also consider purchasing used software, but make sure you know the intricacies of software licensing agreements.

Related story – Seven simple steps to keep your PC – and productivity – in top shape

If you happen to be guilty of one–or several–of these tech errors, don’t worry, because you’re definitely not the only one. However, now you know what mistakes to look out for and how to fix them when you see them. Ultimately, fixing these errors now will help you save money, create a more efficient workplace, and keep you from serious crises down the road. After all, technology is supposed to help–not hurt–your business.


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