How Important is your Google Plus Page?

Default Google Plus Page

 

How often do you click on a link to a person or business in a Google search, or see the ‘related’ link in Gmail and come across something like this?

More importantly, what does this say about you, or your business?

What this tells your potential customers is that you don’t care. I know that not everyone uses Google Plus as a social network. I know that many potential clients or customers won’t have a their Plus account set up, but it’s expected of businesses, and if you are expecting people to do business with you then this is a really quick fix.

It’s as easy to start as putting up a proper photograph, or logo if it’s a business, and a background image that your customers/clients will relate to. Then it’s simple enough to link it to the existing material on your web site.

Make a point of browsing G+ for anyone connected with your business and follow them. This is the beginning of building your G+ presence. It certainly won’t cause an overnight sensation or drive a spike in traffic to your web site, but it will give potential clients/customers more confidence in you and your business. Here’s one I prepared earlier:

peterhollowayplus

The IT Advice Gap

the MIND

There seems to be a huge amount of confusion about what sort of IT assistance a business needs.

At the top end of the scale is the enterprise – the organisation with the resources and requirements for a huge amount of specialised IT assistance in a variety of IT sectors. These organisations are willing to pay top dollar for the right people to progress their IT projects. Often they pay too much and projects become bloated and hide bound by vested interests and corporate rules.

At the bottom end of the scale there are smaller businesses (and some of them not that small) that see IT assistance in the same way as they see garages for their cars – something that’s there when it breaks down, but not something to be used every day.

At its root this is a perception problem: enterprise class businesses can and will pay for what they need and more, but generally this is expensive because of the scale of their requirements, not simply because this level of advice is overly expensive. The smaller business as a result of this perception: that advice over and above repair is expensive, tends to shy away completely from thinking strategically about their IT resources or use.

With the small business costs are tighter and time is tighter still. As a business owner or manager, thinking about how IT can improve their business is outside of both their capacity to understand and their time to give thought to. As a result many SMEs are missing out on the wealth of understanding and advice that is available to them.

When we think of our IT requirements only in terms of support we are simply waiting for something to go wrong – a bit like not servicing your car and waiting for it to run out of oil before taking it for repair. We all understand that some simple maintenance goes a long way. This is true for the IT industry as much as any other sector, but with IT there is constant change, constant innovation and, at the present time a huge increase in tools available to the smaller business – we need more than mere maintenance.

It’s well worth knowing what those tools are and how they can positively and hugely impact productivity for the small to medium enterprise. We no longer need a corporate bank account to gain access to corporate class email. We no longer need a huge hardware infrastructure to support our file sharing or database. Most of the IT products that we use today can be implemented over the internet, providing constant access both in the office and on the road. This internet access means that multiple devices and platforms will all work: PCs, laptops, tablets, phones, Windows and Apple products.

What’s the main roadblock to implementing these sort of services? It’s the IT advice gap – corporates take advice and implement. SMEs don’t allocate resources to thinking strategically about IT and as a result miss out on knowing what is available to them and how straightforward it is to access.

For years I’ve struggled with using the term IT Consultant as it seems to bring with it the connotation of ‘overpaid high level IT guy in a suit’. On the other hand I think that to class what I provide to businesses as ‘support’ is to reduce my service to merely fixing what’s broken. I’ve tried to use the term Information Technologist because this is novel and therefore not linked to preconceptions – every business needs an Information Technologist who can see their existing setup and advise on how the present tools can help.

There is an advice gap that you could drive a large truck through and I believe that it is failing the SME more than any other sector. Is your business falling through the advice gap? Do you see IT simply in terms of support and repair? Would you consider trying to bridge that IT advice gap by taking some strategic advice?

Finding an IT partner who can help you to think strategically about your IT will inevitably improve your productivity and the satisfaction of your staff.

Creating and Verifying a Local Business Page on Google

GPlusScreenshot

One of the most important things that you can do as a business hoping to get seen online is to make sure that you have created a local business page and then make sure that it is verified. Local Business pages are designed to go with local search and your local customers will want to know that you are a genuine business. That is what the verification does – note the small tick in a shield just below right of the logo in the image above.

There are several pieces of the puzzle that need to be in place.

  1. You need to have an existing Google account. This will already be the case if you have a Gmail or Google Apps for Business account.
  2. You will then need to set up the local business details with Google.
  3. You will then need to verify your local business details.
  4. It’s then a good idea to set up a Google Plus page to go with your business.

For Google’s own instructions head over to this page:

Create and verify a local business on Google

DRP for the SME

DRP-for-the-SME

I was chatting with a client last week discussing the dreaded DRP.  For large corporations the Disaster Recovery Plan is a many paged document listing assets, resources, staff, and time frames and also defining what is an isn’t critical. This document will have cost many hours of time and much tearing of hair in creation and management. There will be required annual reviews and tests and there will be an army of IT staff, managers and auditors to ensure that the DRP is not only fit for purpose but tested and proven.

Despite all of this many large organisations slip up on either periodic reviews of their DRP or testing, or both. There’s no point backing up to a tape if the tape won’t restore properly. There’s no point in designating a secondary site if you’ve never proven that you can work effectively from that secondary site alone. The larger the business the more difficult it is to test.

What about the SME?

If it’s that difficult for large organisations to manage backups and disaster recovery plans, what hope is there for the SME or the one man band? The key is to think differently to the larger organisation. Traditionally the SME will have a Small Business Server of some sort containing critical data. This server will have some sort of local backup process running, but it is more than likely that the backups haven’t been checked or tested in months, if not years. The media may have failed, there may be no off site storage of backups because no-one has taken ownership of the task. This is because the SME just doesn’t have the resource to allocate to this sort of maintenance task. So, what do we do?

Think Laterally

With the move to more networked environments the local server is becoming more and more redundant. Why not consider either a partial or total move to cloud storage? Take your files and store them on Google Drive or Dropbox or Onedrive. You can either move them to the cloud and work on them there, or use one of the available sync applications to sync your existing server your cloud storage. Typically the space used by documents, spreadsheets etc. is minimal and will fit very easily into basic cloud allowances.

More and more of those vertical applications – those business specific applications that are essential to your line of business – are available in hosted versions. If your provider offers this for your accounting software or your CRM applications or  your industry specific applications (legal, motor, estate agency, accountancy or other industries) then investigate the possibility of moving to a hosted platform. Not only will this give you peace of mind because backup is now part of their provision to you, but you will also win out on being able to access your application outside of the office if needed.

Embracing the Cloud

Once we get our SME mindset away from mimicking big business ways of doing things and begin to embrace the new technologies and methodologies available to us we will see that the momentum is now with the smaller business: we can change providers more easily, our data is smaller and much more manageable even within the constraints of the base cloud packages. We can store emails, documents and with some work even host our bespoke database outside of our offices – available from anywhere and from many different devices. The incidental benefit of this is that if our physical place of business is lost to us temporarily or more permanently we will still be able to continue to run our businesses effectively while restoring what was lost. So let’s make the most of that small business ability to respond quicker to new technology. Let’s plan not just for disaster but for a more agile way of working, one that by default is robust, resilient and ready for disaster, and ready for continuity.

Considering a Chromebook

Chromebook

Many years ago it was an axiom that no-one got fired for buying IBM – they were the standard for desktop computing when the segment first emerged. With the ubiquitous presence of Microsoft operating systems on the IBM PC no-one even actively decided on buying MS-DOS and after that Microsoft Windows. The combination of IBM compatible PC and Microsoft Windows became the de-facto installation for every business user – it had the tools: word processing, spreadsheets, databases – all the things that the average business user required. As time has gone on the number of applications available on the Windows platform has expanded exponentially! Whatever you want to do there will be a Windows application to do it. This is still the case today, despite the creeping re-segmentation of the the personal computing market. What has changed?

Moore’s Law

Moore’s Law suggests that processing power will double or the size of processor will half approximately every two years. This means that we can now pack into a phone, or a watch something that is much more powerful than the first IBM compatible PCs. The software that we run is orders of magnitude more complex and more capable than those first applications. But, with this increase in power has come bloat – lazy design and programming, the assumption of ever increasing power has led to behemoth like applications that struggle to run on even the latest hardware.

Back to the lean model

Something has to give, and give it has. The arrival of the smart phone has brought with it the acceptance that small specifically targeted applications (called apps, appropriately enough) work fine for most people most of the time. Even in the business environment most users never progress beyond email, internet and word processing. Why purchase a hugely more capable machine and leave it to do very little?

Google have addressed this gap in the market with their Chromebooks. These devices in some ways go back to basics – the operating system is much smaller than Windows now is. It is also limited in the features available. But, in other ways it is the device for the 21st century. The Chromebook is designed to work over the internet. The Google Apps for Business user simply has to log on to a Chromebook device to have his or her complete environment available instantly. Although the list of apps is smaller it does 100% of what most people do, which, for the business owner is a compelling statistic.

What about those custom business applications that run on Windows?

Of course, the million dollar question is what to do about that custom business database that’s been developed in MS Access or Visual Basic – surely it won’t run on a Chromebook? No, it won’t, but as more and more business applications are being moved to an extranet model this isn’t a show stopper. Web development is becoming more accessible to more businesses. If it’s accessible from the web a Chromebook is perfect. Even many long term Windows only applications such as accounting packages are being re-imagined for the web. Apart from extremely processor or disk intensive applications all the common business needs and more are available in the cloud.

Installation and set up hell

One of the most trying events for most small businesses is the installation of a new PC. First of all you have to try and decide on a suitable specification that doesn’t cost the earth. Then you need to decide whether to purchase Microsoft Office. Then you need to rummage in your cupboards for the installation media for all those other business critical applications that were purchased years ago – and cross you fingers that they will work with the latest incarnation of Windows. Then there’s the download of drivers and the set up of email, and, and.. you get the picture?

Now consider purchasing a machine and giving it to the user. Ask them to log in with their existing details. On log in their entire environment is available instantly as it was before!

The costs and considerations

Of course everything has a down side. This sort of cloud computing depends on an internet connection. If this goes down your machine is limited in usefulness, but then so are most PCs in the same conditions. Take your Chromebook home or to an internet cafe and carry on.

There are also ongoing costs on a per user basis for this sort of set up. But Windows servers also cost per user, and you have to maintain the hardware yourself. Particularly for the SME the benefits of not having to deal with hardware or server maintenance itself outweighs the costs. In real terms cloud computing is much cheaper than getting your own kit. The economies of scale mean that you will receive a much more reliable service at a greatly lower price point than if you tried to do it yourself.

One thing to consider is the long term safety of your data. If it’s in the cloud then it’s not physically with you. But there are ways of getting backups of your data, and this is worth doing if there is data without which your business could not function. But remember that cloud providers have superior resources and working backup and restore processes – how many SMEs have even prepared a disaster recovery plan?

Conclusion

This isn’t a spur of the moment type of decision, but it is worth considering. If you have some cloud services, or have already signed up for Google Apps for Business then it’s incredibly easy to dip a toe in the water. If you’ve been using Windows for the last 20 years it may give you more food for thought, but look at your current IT licensing costs, email provider quality and fees and consider if a move to the cloud is a good match for your business. Whatever the size of your organisation it’s definitely time to consider a Chromebook.