Businesses should always be on the lookout for new, innovative technologies that save them time – and cloud servers can certainly do just that. However, the amount of companies currently using cloud technology is still relatively low, compared to those using traditional servers and software. If your business hasn't got on board the cloud yet, here are a few of the benefits that you could be missing out on...
Switching to cloud computing can be extremely cost-effective. Most cloud server companies operate on a pay-as-you-use basis, so you only have to pay for the storage, backup and applications you require, rather than paying outright for various computer packages and software upgrades.
Cloud servers are generally more responsive to developments in the ever-changing IT industry and it is quicker and easier to get hold of updates, because you don’t have to go out and buy hardware, it’s done online. It also means that if you have employees working remotely from other locations using multiple devices, you can ensure they are working on the most up-to-date documents.
If your business currently operates using hardware that is ageing and getting close to capacity, it's likely that a cloud server will be more reliable and quicker to operate. And if you do have any issues, with most cloud computing companies, help and advice is available round the clock.
Ensuring your work is backed up is one of the most important things a business can do. Financial details and customer information are some of your most valuable assets, and losing them could cost you a lot of time and money. With a cloud-based service, you can set it to automatically save your data frequently to a safe online location.
If your business is just starting and you don't have years’ worth of data to store, you should be able to just pay for the capacity you need. And, as your business expands, you can easily increase the capacity and functionality of your cloud server as you need.
Perhaps the most important thing a cloud server can provide you with is more time. You and your employees will no longer have the hassle of buying, installing and maintaining your software, your Ccoud provider handles all this. That means you and your employees can get on with on things that more directly contribute towards your profitability.
Written by Emma Williams of Creare Communications.
Teams are the building blocks of many new businesses and keeping your team working effectively will reap many benefits. So how can you help your team to get the most out of working together?
A good working atmosphere makes a huge difference to a team’s productivity. The key to the difference between high-performing and low-performing teams is the ratio of positive to negative comments. Interestingly, this doesn’t need to be balanced; it needs to be weighted in favour of positive comments, at least by a ratio of 3:1.
Forget weaknesses – play to strengths. This will reap greater benefit in terms of performance improvement. This is because when we are using our strengths work feels effortless, we are energised and confident, we are engaged and probably experience moments of flow. Feeling like this we are more able to be generous and patient with others, so the benefits flow onward.
Teams are often made up of people with different skills and areas of expertise that tend to see the world and the priorities for action within it differently. This can lead to a great awareness of difference, which can come to be seen as insurmountable. A productive way to overcome this is through sharing of personal stories about their moments of pride at work. In this way, they are expressing their values and sense of purpose in an engaging, passionate and easy-to-hear form. The listener will undoubtedly find that the story resonates with them, creating an emotional connection at the same time as they begin to see the person in a different light.
Groups can get stuck in repeating dynamic patterns. When this happens, listening declines, because everyone believes they’ve heard it all before, and so does the possibility of anything new happening. To break the patterns we need to ask questions that require people to think before they speak. This brings information into the common domain that hasn’t been heard before.
When teams suffer a crisis of motivation or morale it is often associated with a lack of hope. In ‘hopeless’ situations we need to engender hopefulness. Appreciative, positive questioning can help people imagine future scenarios based on what is possible. As people project themselves into optimistic futures clearly connected to the present, they begin to experience some hopefulness. By using the techniques described above it's possible to get a team moving again or move a working team from good to great.
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For many small businesses, being ‘local’ is their USP, but some have also come to realise the value of promoting themselves further afield.
By staying local, you can build your business in a community setting, helping you to have strong links with your immediate catchment area of customers. When you throw growing amounts of competition and the economy into the mix, the idea of staying local becomes harder to maintain. Competition from larger companies makes being a small fish in a big pond seem like a bad thing, so somehow SMEs have to find a way to compete without losing their local USP.
One key way to ensure you keep up with the competition is to create the impression that you are bigger than you are. You may be operating out of your home or possibly small premises, with only a handful of employees, based within a small area, but by creating the right impression you can quickly promote a much bigger presence. What’s more, consumer trends show that customer trust runs hand in hand with the size of the company (ie the bigger you seem, the more trust you’ll gain).
A way to do this is to use a non-geographic telephone number. Large companies have used non-geographic numbers as their contact numbers for years, attracting customers from all over the country.
Research has shown that consumers are more likely to contact a business if they have an appealing geographic location. For example, it is unlikely that a customer living in London will call a Leeds-based company with a local area code. So, if you are advertised as nationwide, you are immediately more appealing. Just by taking the geographic tie away from a business’ contact number you can attract more customers, making this a great tool for SMEs.
With cost restraints, it’s not always possible to hire new staff or pay for new equipment to deal with increased sales enquiries, but something as simple as a professional voicemail and highly efficient customer service will help. Quick response times and personalised service will not only bring you new custom, it will build long and happy relationships with your customers.
Written by Katherine Evans of 08Direct (supplier of non-geographic 08 and 03 telephone numbers).
So you’ve got your idea. You’ve found the problem you want to solve. The niche you want to fill.
Now you’re thinking about how you’re going to make it happen. Where your HQ is going to be. Who you are going to get onboard. What your branding is going to look like. Everything.
But before you start making rash decisions regarding your expenditure at the outset on things like hardware and premises, take stock a moment.
Is it all going to be really necessary?
More and more, start-ups and small firms are making use of remote working possibilities afforded by WiFi, the Cloud and telecommuting.
Apart from being a way to cut your overheads pretty drastically, releasing some pressure on your cashflow, it also enables your employees to manage the demands on their lives more effectively - meaning that they are better placed to channel their full energies into your business, where they are needed.
By operating flexibly and remotely, you make your working processes more agile and can free up the cash that would be spent on things like heating, business rates and rent. On top of this, your employees save commuting costs and are more equipped to avoid any associated stress.
IT and software providers are wise to this shift within the start-up landscape and have created product suites for agile start-ups to manage the transferral and storage of data and communications more effectively and securely.
As the business-scape shifts and new markets open up, being more flexibly set up will put you in a good position to trade more effectively across borders. It might well be that your key market is not in the territory you originally thought. Were you to work inflexibly at the outset, you may not even ever come to that realisation and that market would go untapped.
Similarly, if you are in full-time employment and, as recent research suggests, are in the good number of employees who are dissatisfied with their current role, you might wish to be more like the sudden bloom of entrepreneurs springing up around the UK and start up your own project while still gainfully employed.
Remote working and Cloud technologies offer up ample possibilities to allow you to do just that and there is a multiplicity of advantages involved, your personal exposure to risk is lowered and you can adopt a trial and error approach until you have a more rounded and attractive proposition to your target market.
So, if you think your current career is not progressing in the way that you wanted or that you think you are ready to make your first entrepreneurial step, there has arguably never been a richer time to take your future into your own hands.
Matthew Pink works in digital publishing and covers topics including entrepreneurship and start-ups.
According to the However Big Your Ambition Report, which was commissioned by Volkswagen and surveyed 1,000 small-business owners, employing a friend or relative who wasn’t up to the job is one of the most common and most regretted mistakes that small-business owners make.
One-in-three respondents admitted to recruiting someone who turned out to be totally unsuitable for the position, the survey’s highest-ranking business blunder, while setting prices that were either too high or too low was the second and not taking advantage of an opportunity was third.
Other errors included offering too many discounts, trusting the wrong person or business partner, investing in the wrong equipment, ignoring good advice, allowing a junior to have more responsibility than they could handle and losing a good member of staff because they were refused a pay rise.
According to the report, on average, bad decisions cost the typical small business £2,340 a year. A third of respondents described themselves as “ambitious risk-takers” and 35% admitted to “letting their heart rule their heads at some point while running their business”, with 61% of those reporting that the decision had proved detrimental.
And the outlook for many remains rather gloomy. Nearly three-quarters (72%) of respondents now feel “less optimistic about 2013 then they did at any point in 2012”; 90% don’t expect to achieve their annual financial targets and just one in five says their business is ‘busy’. Almost two-thirds of respondents say they are reluctant to make long-term investments at this point.
The report was conducted to mark Volkswagen launching its new online SME mentoring service on its Facebook page. Mentors include Allegra McEvedy (co-founder of restaurant chain Leon) and Andrew Denham, founder of The Bicycle Academy.
Tristram Mayhew, “Chief Gorilla” at popular forest-based leisure adventure attraction Go Ape, provides his eight top tips on how to be a successful ‘On-tree-preneur’.
1 Find a business opportunity that you enjoy
If you do something you actually love, you're more likely to be successful at it. It will be fun rather than just work and your natural passion and enthusiasm will rub off on those around you. That can make all the difference.
Starting a business is probably the single most risky financial adventure you are ever likely to make. You can minimise the risk of failure by learning from the wisdom of those who have gone before you. There is a library full of great tips and advice that, for just a few pounds, might save you tens of thousands of pounds. One book that I recommend is Guy Rigby's From Vision to Exit.
Once you have got through the start-up phase, if you want your business to really take off you need to give it some rocket fuel. I put Go Ape through Cranfield School of Management's 'Business Growth and Development Program' (BGDP). It takes four weekends over eight weeks and is only for owner-managers. It is a potent mix of practical theory and case studies, which you then apply to your own business. The 30 or so other owner-managers on the course work on your business with you, and you on theirs, their advice and experience was invaluable. The BGPD was worth every penny. It was the point when Go Ape grew up from being a good idea into a great business. Our growth and profitability took off after that.
If you know where you're going, you're more likely to get there. So come up with a plan for your business. Be bold. Go for some big, hairy goals. It needs to inspire your team and your customers, and ideally put fear into your competitors. It should set out your vision, mission and tactical plan. Once you have worked out where you want to go, ask yourself what you have to do for that to happen. This will become your 'to-do' list.
5 Delegate and empower
If you are to manage rapid growth successfully, you must bring on a great team. You can't do it all. Unless you can make yourself redundant, you won't have a business that can truly grow, nor will you have a business that you can sell. Encourage your team to take entrepreneurial risks. Don't punish them if they make mistakes, but praise them for trying. If you recruit good people, when you drop them into the deep end, most will swim rather than sink.
6 Become a strategist
One of the main lessons from Cranfield is that you have to stop being the 'Hero' (ie someone who makes all the decisions in your business), because this limits your businesses growth potential. You need to become a 'strategist' and work on the business not in it. Your job is not to do the heavy work, but to look ahead and guide your business around obstacles, coaching, encouraging and motivating your team as you go.
Running your own business can be quite lonely. Getting to know other people who are in the same boat can be a great source of encouragement and advice. There are lots of clubs and social events for entrepreneurs, so try out a few and make the most of the advice and support on offer.
8 Enter business awards
If you are aiming high and want to be the best, why not enter some business awards? Entering the National Business Awards is a great test to put your business through. The Application process makes you take a long cool look at your whole business. Whether you win or not you get feedback on how well your business scored in a number of key areas, which helps you target improvement. If you do win it's a terrific morale boost for your team, and also introduces you to a stellar network of useful contacts and leading entrepreneurs. Entrants for the 2013 National business Awards need to be submitted before 31st May.