fbpx

Resources: Productivity

Can VoIP Help Your Business

We’ve been hearing a lot of buzz lately about VoIP, or Voice Over Internet Protocol, which is just fancy jargon for an internet phone system. People are hearing from friends or business acquaintances who are using VoIP that, not only are they saving money, but this “new” technology has added a lot of flexibility to their daily operations. While it is true that VoIP systems will save you money over landlines or cellphones, there are even more benefits to utilizing the right VoIP set-up for your business. Let’s take a look at how this technology works, and visit some of the strengths and weaknesses of Voice Over Internet Protocol systems.

VoIP phone systems allow you to make and receive calls through the internet rather than hardwired or cellular lines. VoIP systems offer much more flexibility over standard phone lines and even cellphones. By integrating cloud technology with business phone functions, VoIP systems can handle everything you need to run your business and more. Usually an easy set-up, the typical user can switch over to a VoIP system in less than a day. If done correctly, there should be little or no downtime.

VoIP has been around since the mid-90s, and, in its early stages, it didn’t work very well at all. Most of the early troublesome issues were due to slow network speed and the inability to package and read bundled data efficiently. With today’s high-speed networks, switches and routers, those issues have been addressed. In fact, VoIP is regularly used through WIFI with little or no quality issues. It is recommended that your internal network is tested before installation to ensure your network speed is capable of handling the new equipment. Generally, there will not be a heavy drain on your network speed, but you should know beforehand if you are equipped to handle the new phone system or not. We can help with that.

Internet Protocol, commonly known as IP, is a set of rules that define how data is delivered over the Internet. IP works in conjunction with the transmission control protocol (TCP), which divides network traffic into smaller packets for a means of more efficient transport through the Internet. Together they are referred to as TCP/IP.

The way VoIP works is, voice information is sent digitally over the internet through your existing network. These phone systems really took off when Cloud storage was introduced because the endless amount of storage is just what VoIP needed to transfer the growing amount of data. Basically, a series of packets of digital information carries your voice data from your IP address to the IP address of your destination. The system at your end converts your voice to data packets, those packets are routed through a cloud-based Private Branch Exchange, then, at the other end, they get converted back to your voice for the listener.

VoIP gives you the ability to work from anywhere and still have the ability to answer calls from the same phone number. You’re no longer tethered to your home or office. And you don’t have to give everyone a series of different phone numbers where they can reach you while you’re traveling. As far as your clients know, you’re always in your office right next to your phone. And that reliability means a lot to your reputation.

One complaint that used to be fairly common from VoIP users was poor audio quality. Issues such as jitter, echo, or static are still sometimes reported by VoIP users, although these issues are being addressed with upgrades regularly. The root cause of the majority of audio issues is usually related to your existing network not being up to current standards, or it may be too old to handle the speed required of the new technology. Contact us and we’ll check your wiring, network switches, Firewall, IP Addresses, Internet Circuits, and everything else that might impede the speed of your network. Then, if needed, we’ll let you know what it will take to get everything up to spec.

Some people ask what happens to the VoIP phones if the internet goes down. Since the phones rely on the internet, if the service goes down the phones go with it. But there are solutions in place. One safety net that is a Virtual Auto Attendant that, in an emergency situation, can forward calls to voicemail or designated cellphones. Calls can also be routed to another location, like a home or a second office. Another option, if you’re a larger company with a lot of daily business on the line, would be to invest in duel internet providers; one as a primary and one as a back-up. Generally, this is overkill, but if you’re afraid of power or internet outages affecting your business you may want to look into this option.

Old, analog phone lines are stable and reliable, but everyone knows they are way overpriced. And they lack the flexibility most businesses require. Plus, how many of us are still relying on hard-wired analog phones to run our business? Most of us rely on our cell phones for daily communication because of the remote capabilities. But, as we all know, cellular plans are also overpriced. It’s clear that VoIP is the wave of future communication. It’s inexpensive, flexible, adaptable, and will grow with the ever-changing technology.

If you are interested in finding out if a VoIP system can help you, please contact us anytime.

Something Good: A Note to Small Businesses

At a business lunch a few months ago. Someone told us about a technique he likes to use during his daily employee meetings. At the beginning of their meetings, he has all attendees take turns telling everyone something good that happened. It can be something personal, professional, a joke, anything that shines a positive light on something worth sharing. They started this tradition long before the woes of 2020. It has become even more important recently as it starts off every meeting on a positive tone. We don’t need to tell you that this year hasn’t been the best one yet. We also don’t want to focus on that. While brainstorming this week’s blog topic, we thought, why not expand the tradition and share a positive note for small businesses. So, here’s our “Something Good.”

Backbone of America

Statistically, more people work for small businesses than corporations in America. We are truly the lifeblood of the economy. While it may feel like we’ve been taking a beating between being closed/restricted for COVID-19 purposes, and now, in many places, to protect against riots and looting, small businesses will be needed to bring the nation’s economy back. The first half of 2020 likely didn’t live up to your optimistic strategic plan, but that doesn’t mean all hope is lost for the year. Now is the time to begin digging-in and preparing to make something of the second half of the year, no matter what comes down the pike next.

Treat this as an Opportunity

Recently, we blogged about the 9 things you should do while your business is down. Those are all still relevant, but we want to dive in a bit more on one of these: determine your next offering. There has never been a better time to reinvent yourself.

  • Expand Your Target Market: No industry is truly recession-proof, so narrowing your business focus to one or two markets can be devastating if one of those targets tanks. Research who else you can serve. While we don’t recommend creating a wildly different product line in an area that you don’t have experience (this is a recipe for an expensive disaster), see where your current or a related offering may be beneficial to a new group of people. This will open up a whole new audience for your services.
  • Introduce a New Product Line: Alternatively, you could bring a new product to your existing customers. Sometimes this is easier than getting to know a whole new group of people. Interview your customers, determine what their major pain points are, and design something that alleviates that pain. Learn about competitors, test the solution, and go to market. Your customers already trust you, so this is likely an easier sell. That being said, make sure you have effective customer service and account management lined up. While a customer may give you a little grace with a new product hiccup, that grace isn’t unlimited for anyone.
  • Redefine Your Industry: The COVID-19 crisis forced many changes to businesses that thought they were doing the best they could. Fast Food restaurants typically had a drive-thru as a convenience, but now that is the life-blood to keeping the restaurants open. Another change that hit us, with many employees working from home, weak spots surfaced with the technology needed to communicate with them. Look for solutions to our new problems.
  • Drive Yourself and Competitors Forward: Is there is a tool you’ve created that everyone in your industry could utilize? For example, IT expanded over the years by offering products to their competitors that helped make their business better; i.e. dashboarding, training, streamlining processes. Rather than look at your competitors as enemies, how can you make them your customers/partners?

We’re Here to Help

Many of our clients rely on us to help with their business growth goals through technology and strategic planning. As you’re determining your next move in driving forward or re-inventing yourself to fit the new world order, we are ready to assist, whether you’re looking for hardware, software, business advice, or a listening ear. Together, let’s make this the best comeback year anyone dreamed possible.

Five Tips for Working in the In-Between

We’ve reached an in-between status of this quarantine. Businesses are starting to open back up (with restrictions), but a lot of employees are finding themselves in an awkward spot between working in the office and remaining at home. Doctors are utilizing video and tele-conference appointments but are holding office hours to see patients and perform “elective” surgeries. Companies are requesting that their employees work from home, if possible, but they’re relaxing requirements for coming back into the office. Other organizations are welcoming people back from tele-worker status to full in-office expectations.

With “in-between” operations, we’ve helped our clients through a few technology hiccups and wanted to help you avoid them too. Here are the top five things you need to know when working from wherever you’re expected to be.

The Power of the Web App

The majority of business applications have some type of web version. You don’t have to have the software installed on your system to be effective. While you may not be able to use every aspect of the software (higher processing functions may be limited to the desktop version), test out online versions. This is particularly effective if you’re trying to use a laptop or device with a much smaller hard drive in a remote working environment. For example, you can get to your current emails without storing your past five years of email history on your system’s limited disc space. When using a web app, install two-factor authentication wherever possible to maximize security.

A Note on External Hard Drives

First came the punch card, then tape and the floppy disc; now if you want portable physical data storage, it’s all about external hard drives (USB). They are a fantastic way to easily transport data from one place to another, but there are two precautions:

  • Hackers love to stash USB drives places just hoping that people will pick them up, get excited, plug them in, and then infect their computer and network. Moral of the story only trusts USB drives that you are familiar with.
  • If you are transitioning between a Mac and a Windows system or vice versa, there is a very high likelihood that your external hard drive will not work on both. Hard drives are configured to be read on one type of device, and you usually have to delete the drive to re-configure it to work on another type of system.

Maximize the Cloud

We firmly believe in the cloud for document storage, backup purposes, and accessing line of business applications. When it comes to document storage specifically:

  • Selective Sync Will Save You. If you already have large files stored in your Dropbox/Anchor/Google Drive/SharePoint, you don’t want your system trying to sync all of it to your hard drive for space, time, and speed considerations. Select only the folders that you’ll be using on a regular basis. The rest of the data will be accessible in the cloud. The online-only feature is also particularly helpful.
  • Follow basic sharing rules. Pay attention to read-only or editable sharing links. If you want someone to collaborate, make sure you give them the right to edit. When sharing, you can share a file or a folder. If you share a folder, bear in mind the recipient will have access to everything currently in the folder, as well as everything you add to it later. Never delete files that you did not create. It’s entirely possible that you delete the file for everyone while attempting to simply delete it from your system.

Security

Your safety is our biggest concern whether you’re working in the office, at home or a mixture. In order to remain secure, invest in:

  • Enterprise-level security: Install an enterprise-grade firewall, anti-virus, and monitoring system on every computer.
  • Two-Factor Authentication: Like we mentioned above, enable two-factor authentication wherever possible.
  • Complex Passwords: When you’re utilizing multiple systems, you may feel tempted to simplify your passwords because you’ll be logging in numerous times. Instead, store your credentials in a password vault to protect all of your passwords, and rotate your passwords regularly.

Backup, Backup, and More Backup

We have seen a surge in interrupted power and Internet connections, particularly with people working from home. Nothing is more frustrating than losing all of your work right in the middle of a project.

  • Install a battery backup on any mission-critical system (AKA anything you’re using for work). This will kick over and maintain power in case of a surge, and keep you running for hours in the event of a longer outage.
  • Ensure that your laptops remain fully charged. The myth that you can overcharge and shortcut long-term battery life is completely false. Most laptops today have lithium-ion batteries and have an internal circuit to stop the charging process when full-charged. Charge away!

Deploy an effective network-wide backup solution so that you can restore data whether you lose a single file due to an employee mistake or lose a significant amount of data in the case of a disaster or breach.

The Hidden Costs of Hiring an IT Tech

If your business is at the point where you’re thinking about hiring a fulltime IT tech, congratulations! Having enough consistent needs to fill this role means you’ve worked hard and made good decisions that drove business growth. Our best advice? Don’t stop now!

Moving forward with hiring requires a lot of analysis to avoid major consequences down the line, though. One of the biggest decisions whether you’ll hire someone directly or use a third-party MSP (Managed Service Provider). In this article, we’ll get into the specifics of both scenarios.

Why Do You Need an IT Tech at All?

In the past, business people and tech people were two different breeds. Over the years, the gap has gradually shrunk to the point that many people are tech-savvy enough to get by for the little things. As your business has grown, though, you likely have needed to delegate many of your previous duties, like IT — even if you feel perfectly capable of handling them yourself. After all, when do you think was the last time Jeff Bezos packaged a shipment? Your IT needs have also likely grown much more complex.

If you don’t choose to delegate now, you fall into a major pitfall of leaving IT duties unassigned. In our current landscape, leaving an IT post open could be a death wish. Cyber attacks of all types are on the rise, and the amount of damage each one could impose is ballooning. For example, in 2016, the average ransomware attacker demanded $522. In 2020, that average sits around $84,000! Sadly, many of these attacks take place as a result of not having someone the wheel.

In addition, there’s the issue of efficiency and cost-effectiveness. Being lax over time can make your systems out of date, making it harder for everyone to get their work done at a reasonable rate. In addition, only replacing equipment when it’s broken and not when it functionally obsolete can create situations where portions of or your entire workforce will be unable to do any work at all for a time.

An In-House Solution

So, let’s say you’re on board with having one or more people make up your IT team, and you make the decision to hire them directly. One certain benefit is that you can look through a collection of qualified candidates and pick just the right person(s) that you want! But then the other shoe drops.

Just like any other employee, before you hire someone for your IT needs, you have to consider the costs. For instance, the average price of an IT professional is $60,000 per year. Alright, so you budget out $60,000 — then you’re all set, right? Far from it!

Where is this person going to work? Maybe you already have space for them, but these professionals require more expensive hardware and monitor setups. Additionally, you need to factor in the network diagnostic software plus any industry-specific software. Since they’ll generally be on call, they’ll need a phone with a good plan so you can always reach them and possibly a company car (or at least some form of vehicle reimbursement) if you have multiple locations. Don’t forget that expense account!

Besides the specific expenses mentioned above, remember that this person is still an employee, so you have all the other general costs your other employees have associated with them. This can include health/life insurance, vacation time, sick time, 401K plus any bonuses or overtime pay they may rack up.

And what do you do if they leave? The implicit and explicit costs can be truly staggering when you take the time to add it all up.

A Safer Option

In the past, the above option was the only choice most employers had available to them. Based on the high costs (both known and unknown) associated with hiring an IT professional, it’s no surprise that companies have flocked to an alternative option: MSPs.

With an MSP, you have all the benefits of a fulltime employee without the downsides.

They will be consistently available, knowledgable in your network, and focused entirely on IT rather than other day job expectations. Need assistance when it’s time for regular upgrades or maintenance? Want someone to redesign your entire IT setup? Looking for someone to completely take over your IT operations, including telephone, so you can focus 100% on your core business? These are the sorts of services you can get out of an MSP.

Even better, the price you sign in the contract is the price you know you have to pay month after month, unlike the many unknown costs of an employee. There are no HR issues to worry about and the work is on the shoulders of a company, not an individual.

If your company is at the point where you know you need dedicated IT personnel but are unsure about which direction you’d like to go, contact us ASAP. We would be more than happy to go over your needs and discuss the best options.

No Business as Usual

Currently, there is no such thing as Business as Usual. Every day, small and medium businesses are re-inventing how they function. The most unfortunate side-effect of this COVID-19 crisis is that many small businesses have closed, and many of those will not re-open. The economic repercussions from this event will ripple throughout the landscape for decades. Only the strong will survive.

For those who will survive this paradigm shift, now is the time to re-structure your business model and build a new foundation for the future. With many employees working off-site, businesses are noticing that they may be spending too much on their overhead, and they are also looking closely at the size of their staff. In the past few weeks, we have discussed laying-off and even furloughing employees, but in this blog, we will look toward the future and offer a few things to consider while moving forward.

Many businesses will be looking to restructure their operations once we come out of this mess. One huge change will be the need, or the lack of a need, for office space. With the average reduction in staff hovering around 50%, we’re seeing lots of empty office space these days. The first instinct is to hold onto that space and await your employees’ return, but there is a very good chance most of that unused space will remain unused.

Some financial experts tell us that there will be another Real Estate crash soon, but this time commercial properties and office space will be part of the cause. Besides the businesses that close, many businesses will either give up their current space or downsize to smaller spaces. What was once nothing more than bragging rights, large conference rooms are no longer needed. Now that we’re getting used to holding meetings through Zoom, Skype, and Teams, even our best clients might get annoyed if we asked them to drive to our office for a meeting. The fact is that we now have more options, and along with those, we have to opportunity to run a leaner company.

With fewer employees actually working from the office there’s no need for all that extra space. Even if a few employees do split working at home and coming into the office, you can stagger their days and multiple employees can share the same workspace. But, the fact is, many businesses are discovering that they can keep things running without everyone working from a centralized location. What was once unthinkable is now becoming the new norm.

Another thing to consider is evaluating your employees during these times. Now is the time to find out who your ‘A’ players are. Let’s face it, not everyone is cut out to work remotely. You’ll soon discover who your top performers are and who misses deadlines or causes delays. The bad news is, you may have to let some people go. But the good news is that there has never been such a great workforce available to hire. Tough times require us to make tough decisions, and, as business owners, we need to make decisions that are best for our company.

Jason Rivas, the head of human resources for a growing California business, says he is getting a lot of questions about assessing employees during these crazy times. Jason says, “Business owners ask me, is it fair to judge my staff now that some of them are working from home? My answer is always the same: Yes, it is. It’s not only fair, but it’s also a good thing for your business.”

Jason goes on to explain, “Now, I know when you hear the phrase, spotting your A-players, you immediately start thinking, “Well, that means there are favorites in the workplace.” It’s not that. When I call the best employees our A-players, I’m doing so because they’re not necessarily the favorites, they’re just the best-playing team members. Yes, it’s possible to not like someone but, at the same time, respect them for the great work they do.”

“We need to think about this as a baseball team. There’s always the first-string that goes out on the field to start the game. Then we have second-string, third-string, and so on. Even bench warmers. We have people in the dugout, people in the bullpen warming up. But your A-players are the ones starting the game. You lead with your best, then fill any voids with other employees as needed. It’s survival of the fittest.”

As employers, we have the responsibility of making judgments and keeping our A-players on the field as much as we can. While we may have situations where furloughs, layoffs, or even temporary reduction in workforces have occurred, we always need to be mindful of spotting our A-players, and, even more important, spotting those employees who are putting in less effort.

It’s our role as business owners to make the decisions that keep our business going. We didn’t ask for this event to happen, and we sure weren’t prepared for it. But, as business leaders, we need to take actions that will shape the future. Life as we knew it has changed forever, and business will never be the same – but that doesn’t mean it can’t be better than it was. Act now. Decide if you’re paying for too much office space. Figure out if you can run an efficient business with remote employees. And surround yourself with the best employees you can find.

Do these things and you’ll be ahead of the competition when we come out the other side of these strange times.