So you’ve got a business and you’re good at what you do. Before you know it, you’re hiring staff and expanding your operations. All of this sudden, you’ve got a ton of technology needs that have to be met.
Not only do you need to be good at marketing and selling your business, you’re also suddenly the go-to person for tech issues and hardware/software procurement.
If you’ve ever felt lost on where to get your hardware or what email system would be best for your business, look no further. Here is our Business Technology 101 guide that can help you make sound decisions and save your business money in the process. Let’s begin!
We’re going to cover 3 basics today:
- Hardware Procurement
- Computers and Laptops
- Networking Hardware
- Email Platforms
- Cloud-based Applications
Let’s focus on the two biggest business hardware categories: computers/laptops and network hardware. I’m going to assume that you buy things like keyboards and mice or cables from Amazon like everyone else, so we’ll leave that topic alone for now.
Computers and Laptops
Buying new computers and laptops from Dell, HP, or Lenovo can get pricey in a hurry. Worse yet, you need to pay extra for warranties longer than 1 year, and trust me, you want warranties. Even if you have an IT provider, sometimes trying to fix a PC or laptop that’s on the fritz is just not time efficient. In many cases, having a good warranty in place, coupled with a decent backup solution, will get the hardware back into production and serve your team much more quickly than tinkering. You might be tempted to fidget with a machine and fix it, but we have to ask, what other aspect of your business are you ignoring to do so?
With that in mind, you can save over 50% on computers and laptops by buying refurbished machines from a reputable reseller. For example, tigerdirect.com has a great reputation and offers extended warranty on refurbished machines. Imagine being able to buy a $900 laptop for around $450-$500 and paying $40 for a 2 year warranty. If anything goes wrong, you can just send it back for a replacement.
You’re already saving a ton of money on a refurbished machine. Spring for the warranty and enjoy a little peace of mind.
For the most part, a small business or start-up is going to be able to get by on whatever their internet service provider (ISP) provides them. In the case of Comcast or AT&T for example, they’re going to give you an all-in-one modem, router, and wifi access point. Seems like a great deal right? At a glance they work fine, but these devices are very shallow in their cybersecurity and other configuration capabilities.
What if you have a large office or shop and need a wifi access point that is more centrally located to make sure you get full wifi coverage? Or you may want to dial in your network firewall further than your ISP’s standard equipment will allow. If you’re dealing with PHI (personal health information) and need to be HIPAA compliant, the built in firewall you’ve been provided is simply not capable enough and will not pass an audit.
Bottom line is you’re going to need more robust network hardware as you expand.
There are a lot of vendors that supply hardware, but regarding business network hardware that is easy to set up, configure, and manage remotely, two stand out: Meraki and Ubiquiti’s Unifi line of products. Both are considered SD-WAN solutions. This basically means that you can manage the hardware from anywhere.
We love Meraki, it’s super easy to use and they provide great support. However, it’s expensive, and there’s a subscription fee per device. If you don’t pay the subscription fee, you end up with extremely expensive paperweights. As much as we love working with Meraki, for most small and mid-sized businesses they’re price point puts them out of reach. Having said that, their hardware and web-based management platform is amazing and if you can afford it, they’re well worth the cost.
The reasonably priced alternative we’ve found is Ubiquiti Unifi. We love this stuff because it doesn’t have a recurring subscription fee and the hardware itself is reasonably priced. With a little bit of effort setting up a cloud server, you can get a similar and robust web-based management platform at a fraction of the cost. The caveat is their support is bad. Like, 3 months to respond bad. However, if you’re working with an IT provider they can provide the support you need for it. In our experience, once the hardware is dialed in and working, it just works, so support isn’t a big deal.
You can buy either line of hardware directly from the vendors themselves, and you can find ubiquiti hardware on Amazon and Tiger Direct. Both will give you the extra control you need over your network to protect yourself and your business, as well as pass compliance audits if you are subject to them.
For the love of all things holy people, please stop using @gmail.com addresses for your professional email accounts! Nothing screams “I’m cheap and refuse to provide my team with basic communication tools” like an @gmail.com email address.
Seriously, how good can your services be if you’re unwilling to buy a domain and get a professional email address? I cringe every time I see these types of addresses on work vehicles, marketing material, and business cards. I literally won’t do business with companies that do not have a professional email system in place.
This is basic stuff, you should be able to execute on this or find someone who can and pay them a few bucks to do so. Now that I’ve stepped down from my soap box, let’s compare two basic options for business email systems: Google Workspace and Microsoft 365.
This comes down to choice/preference. There are pros and cons to each system, and both offer a lot of value with their basic plans for around $6 per user. Having said that, for a few bucks extra, Microsoft 365 (M365) will give you desktop versions of their software that we all know and love, like Word, Excel, and Outlook. However, M365 WAS NOT born in the cloud and is beholden to their legacy users and systems requirements. This means they don’t integrate with other systems as readily as Google Workspace. At IT Ninjas, we’re Microsoft partners and know their products inside and out, but they just don’t offer the same flexibility as Google Workspace.
Google Workspace, on the other hand, IS a born in the cloud solution and can be integrated with just about any platform that decides they want to interface with Google. This is great because it cuts down project costs when you need to add integrations down the road to streamline your businesses IT tasks. You can also use them to authenticate with literally thousands of platforms you most likely use day to day. If you “Sign In with Google” when possible and use a strong password for your Google Workspace account, this can actually improve your cybersecurity posture significantly.
Having said that, there are no desktop versions of their apps, although you can get offline, browser-based versions of them all with Chrome.
For businesses with pre-existing Microsoft infrastructure, it makes sense to go with M365. We prefer Google Workspace for new businesses because of the ease of integration, cloud identity features, and how easy to use the tools are, like docs and sheets.
I should note that both platforms do email very well, so again, this generally comes down to a matter of preference, and the businesses history of software use.
There are an ever-growing number of cloud-based applications available to anyone with a few dollars to spend. Rather than run through a list of what to use, we’d like to give you some information on how to evaluate these platforms.
First and foremost, an application has to fit your budget. Even if you’re in love with an application from a vendor that you would prefer, if you can’t afford it you’re not going to buy it. So don’t torture yourself and evaluate a platform you can’t afford. Instead, be realistic, keep it on your roadmap, and once you’re generating enough revenue to justify the costs, reach out to their sales team and get a demo going. In the interim, use alternatives that are more cost effective.
Second, make sure you know EXACTLY what your business needs are, and how this application will meet them. Trust me, there are a ton of great cloud-based applications out there with some really amazing features… that literally have no relevance to your business. Seriously, I’ve done my fair share of ooo-ing and awe-ing at a system or set of features that I thought were super cool, but ultimately I knew I wouldn’t use.
Having a clear picture of your own use case, as well as how you will expect your team to use the platform, goes a really long way during evaluations. It also helps expedite the selection process and saves you precious time.
Lastly, and arguably most importantly, ask the application vendor about their cybersecurity practices. We all assume our data is safe in these applications, but people rarely ask for proof. I’m saying it’s time to start asking for proof. If they don’t have a solid answer, find someone who does. The last thing you want is your customer’s sensitive information in someone else’s hands that is mismanaging their cybersecurity. You owe it to yourself as well as your customers to protect your information. Do the right thing and challenge them on it. Ask them about their last security audit, or if they perform routine audits.
Alright y’all, we hope this article provided some knowledge and guidance. Best of luck out there and be safe!