Business Tools to Take Your Business Out of The Office

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Being engaged in business used to mean staying wired in at the office eight to twelve hours a day.  In the modern day, this is completely untrue.  Often the most efficient workplace is spread far and wide and always on the go.

Today you can completely unplug from your desk with just your laptop computer and 4G modem.  The freedom to work out of the office and even on the move is a huge advantage gifted to modern business.  A simple mobile hotspot is enough to work from anywhere in the world.

The Right Tools for the Job

The most important part of working on the go is ensuring you don’t lose touch with your team.  Maintaining total collaboration between team members can be tricky.  Luckily, there are tools that will help you to stay on top.

Microsoft Office 365 provides the traditional tools and support of Microsoft office, but adds remote team collaboration and cloud support too.  Files can be saved into the cloud, worked on, and accessed anywhere for review. At one time, remote working meant taking a copy of a file somewhere else to work.  Changes to the original weren’t reflected in the remote copy and at least one version was destined to be lost forever.

Software packages such as OneDrive allow the entire team to work on a single centralized file saved to the cloud.  Whether you edit on a beach, plane, or train; your team in the office gets the same version you do, at the same time.

Collaborative Working

The key to remote working is the ability to collaborate in a digital space with everyone at once.  Modern software such as Office 365 allows all team members to be working on a single document at the same time.

Whether the project calls for killer spreadsheets, expertly crafted documentation, or a knockout presentation; everyone can pull together and hit it out of the park.

Even when you’re not working out of the office or busy on the road, collaborative software can help to power your team working locally too.

Admin Done Remotely

Modern software has impacted the way in which we do bookkeeping and accounts too.

Similar to being tied to your desk in years gone past; accounting software was once stuck solidly in the desktop too.  Previously,  batch runs of calculations were required to provide reports on a weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly basis.  Today, cloud computing has opened up ways to speed up business in ways we couldn’t have imagined.

Cloud-based accounting packages such as Quickbooks Online allow for your accounts to be done remotely.  Moving the resource and strain out of your firm takes it out of sight and out of mind.

Security and maintenance of your accounts databases, for example, falls to cloud professionals instead of your business.  Rather than waste company time on submitting documents and calculating taxes they are done in the cloud and submitted to you instead.

Make your Accounts Work for You

Maintaining your accounts is made as simple as logging into a single portal.  This tool allows you to take both your admin and your work out of the office and keep it on the go.

By the time your accounts are due, your accountant simply has to log in remotely and pick up where you left off.  By the time taxes are due the work is done and you can get on with the important things.

Getting work done out of the office and on the go is a huge boost to productivity.  Modern technology enables you to keep team members up to speed, continue collaborating, and even stay on top of your accounts from anywhere in the world.

Give me a call today at (828) 290-8237 to talk about how you can unwire from the office.

Is it Time to Retire That Program? Here’s How to Tell for Sure

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Your business has likely been using the same set of applications for some time. Perhaps since the day you started, a long time ago. While you’ve been replacing computers and devices regularly to maintain your competitive advantage, the standard installation has remained largely the same. The programs do the job and everyone knows how to use them, so why upgrade? In some cases, it’s completely fine to keep that legacy program.

However, there are some aspects you should consider:

Support Available
Occasionally, and more frequently with software from smaller developers, the author has moved on from supporting the program. Perhaps they’ve closed the business, sold it, or pivoted directions completely. Either way, they’re no longer interested in helping you get the best from the program. Every time your employees come up against a problem they have nowhere to turn and productivity takes a hit as they try and come up with a workaround. Meanwhile, you run the risk that it could suddenly stop working after a Windows update, begin clashing with other essential software, or even create gaping holes in your security.  As you are aware, even the bigger companies like Microsoft stop supporting software after a while, as they have with earlier versions of Windows. Having support available to both assist and protect is a huge asset to your business.

Hardware Compatibility
Imagine picking up a brand new computer and trying to insert a 5 ¼ floppy disk – that’s the 1980s retro square ones bigger than your hand – it doesn’t matter how effective that program will be, modern technology simply has no idea what to do with it. Thanks to the rapid advancement of computer hardware, you may find a simple component refresh leaves your legacy program completely incompatible. The latest CPU that’s supposed to speed things up suddenly brings your entire business to a standstill, purely because it’s too advanced. Many owners work around this by keeping some older systems running exclusively for that program, but as the classic hardware fails, you may find yourself struggling to find replacement parts or technicians able to install them.

Security Vulnerabilities
Broadly speaking, the longer a program has been around, the longer hackers have had to discover its weaknesses. It could be a flaw in the program itself, or in the operating system that runs it. For example, the application may only run on Windows XP, but Windows XP is one of the earlier versions that Microsoft has stopped supporting. As the older operating systems and programs aren’t being patched, cyber criminals pour more energy into finding flaws they can exploit. It’s open season in their minds, and a free ticket to all your connected systems.  It’s how hospitals across the UK found themselves infected with ransomware last year, simply because they were running programs with known weaknesses.

As it’s not always feasible to replace a program immediately, I can help you run it on a virtual machine. That is, running the older operating system or program from within another program. You’ll have increased security, an element of support and a strong backup system while you work to find a replacement program. These types of solutions are very specialized and resource hungry though, so let me know if you need help. The other option is to migrate to a new program that does what you want, and is supported, hardware compatible and secure. If you’ve been running the old program for some time, this may feel quite daunting at first. Before you rule it out, keep in mind you’ll also be gaining the benefits of faster software, more integrated processes and a highly flexible system.

Need to talk through your options? Give me a call at (828)290-8237.

Top 5 Cloud Advantages for Small Business

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Cloud technology has created a revolution for small business, changing the way you store, share and backup files. While ‘the cloud’ is often hard to understand because it’s neither in the sky or in a single location, there’s no arguing that it’s driving growth across the board. Storage concerns are a thing of the past as small businesses like yours embrace the flexibility, cost savings and protections of cloud solutions. I’ve done the research for you and identified 5 ways small business in particular benefits from making the move.

It’s Cheaper

Budget is always a limiting factor for businesses, many of which are further constrained by pressure from higher up. Some regard investing in cloud solutions as a large expense that can be put off indefinitely. In most cases though, making the switch to cloud storage costs a fraction of the price. Compared to maintaining and powering servers, scaling to keep up, and repairing in emergencies, cloud storage offers extraordinary savings. With one decision, you get access to high-end infrastructure and dedicated support, plus a healthier bottom line. Cloud solutions were specifically created to meet your needs, which means you only pay for what you use. Costs remain capped while the benefits continue to rise, a clear advantage for the budget-conscious business.

It’s Secure

A lot of people like having their data where they can see it. But that’s not always the safest option. Flooding or a fire can happen, break-ins are a worry, and employees are always losing laptops and phones, or have them stolen. More often though, someone simply makes a mistake and deletes important files, or accidentally infects the system with malware. Cloud storage mitigates every single one of these risks, with storage in ultra-secure locations, protected against disasters, and committed to robust backup systems. In recent times particularly, we’ve seen many small businesses survive ransomware attacks purely because their critical data was secure in the cloud with clean backups available.

It’s Compliant

I know medical businesses and services need to follow certain regulations when it comes to patient data. This includes security as well as data integrity, plus backups and auditing. Many cloud providers acknowledged this need early on and made sure to offer compliance guarantees. They therefore keep abreast of changing regulations, often implementing new requirements before you’ve even heard about them. With cloud storage systems, you essentially slash your compliance workload and let your provider do the worrying.

It’s Portable

One of the key benefits of cloud storage is your ability to collaborate remotely. In the past, this would have involved multiple file copies that need to be merged back together, often confusing employees as to which is the ‘right’ file. With cloud storage, your staff can work on the same file, using the same interface and real-time updates. Even having different versions of software is no longer an issue. Employees can work on a file in the office and then securely access the same file from their smartphone, laptop or other location, without needing to buy additional software or worry about version corruption. Sharing and collaborating becomes easier, more desirable and more secure, which helps puts your business firmly on track to reach goals in record time.

It’s Easy to Migrate

One of the biggest concerns I hear is that it will be too disruptive to migrate to cloud solutions all at once. That’s okay. We don’t have to do it all in one day, we can migrate it in parts. For example, you can move your email to the cloud, or just remote file storage. As your various servers and systems age out or need repair, we can help you move each to the cloud, which means your downtime is minimal to non-existent. You can also actively choose a hybrid approach to keep your legacy applications, with no pressure to move them to the cloud. I can help ensure smooth integration across your entire business, making sure all your systems work seamlessly together, whether in-house or in the cloud.

Talk to me about your cloud options by calling me at (828) 290-8237.

 

How to Protect Your Business from the Piracy Police

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It may not get the same attention as the number of illegal Game of Thrones downloads, but software piracy still isn’t something your business can take lightly. In fact, one little slip can cost you thousands or even millions of dollars in fines, and there’s a global agency dedicated to catching you – even if the copyright breach wasn’t your fault!

Maybe it was something an employee used once to solve a certain problem, grabbing a quick download instead of bothering you with a purchase request. Or maybe it’s an application you use every day and long since forgot how the license works. Or perhaps you actually own a legitimate license but are running it on 8 computers when you’re only supposed to run it on 1. Whether you set out to be a brazen ‘pirate’ or not, the Software Alliance (often called the BSA) and their associates would love to make an example of your business. They’re now expanding their reach in sneaky ways too, including advertising for paid whistle-blowers.

Here’s how it all came about: Back in the late 80s, Microsoft founded an external agency whose sole task it was to protect the intellectual property of member companies, by finding and prosecuting as many cases as possible. The protection laws already existed, they simply needed a means to implement them. Until recently, locating software pirates was very resource intensive. Now, they can simply create a Facebook ad, target it to ex/current employees of a business, and offer a reward up to $1million (depends on country) for information. Your business doesn’t even need to be actively using the illegal software, it simply needs to be installed or show traces.  You can imagine how many calls they’re getting!

How to Protect Your Business

The safest option is a zero-tolerance approach to unapproved software. This means locking down employee systems so that they’re unable to install software, even on their own workstation. Set permissions so that only management and above can install new programs, and create a known process for requesting new software. When a software need arises, you then have complete control over the selection, installation and licensing.

Maintaining your software license documentation and running annual audits is also important. On a day-to-day level, it ensures you’ve got records that can keep your business operating during bad luck circumstances, like when an employee leaves and you suddenly discover no-one knows a particular password and the resets go to a dead email address.  Proper license documentation also makes sure you aren’t caught red-handed with illegal software, and if you are ever investigated, you have your innocence at the ready.

I can audit your network for pirate software and lock down employee systems – give me a call today at (828) 290-8237.

6 Simple Tips to Protect Your Customer Data

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As cyber-attacks continue to make headlines, hackers are exposing or selling customer data files in record numbers. But just like with any threat, there are actions you can take to minimize risk and ensure your business retains a positive reputation among customers.

1. Stop using the same password on repeat. Set a mandate for all staff that passwords must be unique for each user and for your workplace. That means it can’t be remotely like the one on their home PC, tablet or online banking. Passwords are hacked more than ever, so when you’re prompted for a password change, dig deep and really think about what goes into a hacker-proof password. If remembering them is a problem, consider one of the latest password management tools.

2. Go on a shredding spree. How much sensitive data is being dumped into the recycling bin? Valuable customer data is often taken from the bins of small businesses and quickly sold or published. Take 5 seconds to run documents through the shredder or book in the services of a secure shredding company.

3. Ditch the accounting spreadsheets. Still using an Excel doc for all your number-crunching? Besides making your accountant’s job harder (and more expensive), you’re opening your business to a massive range of vulnerabilities. Even with password-protection, spreadsheets aren’t designed to safeguard your financials or those of your clients. Upgrade to a proper accounting solution with built-in customer data protections and security guarantees.

4. Train staff explicitly. You can’t rely on common sense because what you think is a given might be news to someone else. It can be extremely beneficial to hold special data-safety training sessions once or twice a year as a reminder, as well as take the time to induct new staff into the way things are done.

5. Limit access to data. Just like the bank manager who guards the keys to the vault, you can limit who accesses your data. Revoke employee access as soon as they leave your business for good, and set rules around who can access what – and when. Do they need access to sensitive information while working from home? Should they be able to change the files, or only view them?

6. Keep your software updated. Possibly the most preventable hack, having outdated software can be an open invitation for cyber-criminals. They look for known weaknesses in business software and waltz right in. While the nagging pop-ups and reminders to update can feel like a selling ploy, they’re actually helping your business to stay in the safe zone. Updated software gives you protection against new viruses and hacking techniques, plus closes off those nasty weaknesses.

If you would like to make sure your business is secure from data breaches, give me a call at (828) 290-8237.

7 Bonuses for Small Business in Office 365

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You’ve seen all the ads for Office 365. They’re popping up on your desktop, your employees are sending you meaningful looks, and clearly, it’s not going away. You’ve probably even jumped online to see what all the fuss is about. But is Office 365 a necessary upgrade for your small business? The answer is yes. It’s more than a refreshed set of tools, it’s an efficiency and productivity powerhouse.

Here are 7 spot-on reasons why small business owners should upgrade now.

1. Data security is built in

Office 365 was created with data security at its core. The built-in compliance and security protocols mean your cloud storage is safe, and you can control access so your valuable data remains exactly where you want it. Storing your data in the 365 cloud keeps it safe in case of emergency, with 1TB of storage per user included at no extra cost.

2. Ditch the licensing drama

Software version differences can be a real nightmare in a small office. Not every system can do the same things, and half the time, they can’t even open the same files. It quickly becomes a hodge-podge of workarounds and lost time. Office 365 includes site-wide licenses with upgrades at the same time.

3. Mail storage for real people

Not everyone lives in the land of inbox zero. In fact, most people tend to leave messages in their inbox forever. Occasionally we’ll do a quick clean up, but only when the alert comes in that the mailbox is full. Meanwhile, new emails from customers may be bouncing away with the old ‘mailbox full’ message. In Office 365, your employees can communicate without worrying about storage space.

4. Better time management

Every person in your business is juggling meetings, emails and contacts – usually across multiple platforms. Office 365 brings all those elements together, integrating seamlessly for more efficient time management. Contacts updated via mobile while offsite are automatically updated across all connected devices. Meetings scheduled in an email are added instantly to the calendar. You can even access files from any device, edit on the run and then back in the office, simply pick up where you left off.

5. Predictable costs

Forget about planning (and delaying) those costly upgrades. Office 365 has small business covered. You can choose a plan based on your unique needs and change at any time. You can even add or decrease the number of users as you scale and streamline. It’s so easy to fit Office 365 into your monthly budget while knowing you’ve got the very best and latest in small business software.

6. Work on the go

The days of fiddling with private network and security settings are over, thanks to Office 365. You don’t even need any special IT skills or extra software. Users can now securely access their files from home, during their commute, or in meetings for on-the-fly impressive presentations. Got an internet connection? That’s all they’ll need to squeeze productivity out of every day.

7. Stay up and running with no downtime

A whopping 25% of small businesses shut down permanently after flood, fire, crash or cyber-attack. With Office 365, all your data is stored in the cloud with built-in backups for redundancy. No matter what happens, your data will be there, letting you stay up and running – and always ahead of the pack.

If you are ready to take your email to the next level, give me a call on (828) 290-8237.