These small companies are the companies I serve and work with, and so few of them get qualified, professional IT help. As an IT professional, you may think, “why would I want to work with a small business, when I could work with a larger firm, and have more benefits and career growth?” And you may be right, but only to a point.
87.5% of all Canadian businesses have 1-20 employees, and 54.9% of Canadian businesses only have 1-4 employees. These companies are the ones that need talented and qualified help the most. Unfortunately, they’re often the group receiving it the least. Small businesses cannot afford an expensive IT firm to come in and help them, so they end up bringing in someone who may not have the appropriate skill set, and that can lead to insecure, inefficient, and incorrectly configured equipment and networks; not to mention unhappy and frustrated users.
From proper networking and security, to backup strategies and remote access; there are so many technologies we can introduce to small businesses to make their companies more efficient. The technical concepts are no different than with big businesses, it’s just the scope.
Here are just a few rewarding reasons of being a part of this growing group of small business IT professionals:
Uniqueness – Every day, there’s something different. Within a single day, I can work on an accounting solution for a caterer, a remote access solution for a not-for-profit, and a backup strategy for a specialized piece of equipment for a manufacturer. You will always be learning, and coming up with new solutions to meet the unique needs of this group. Working with small businesses is, in my opinion, more exciting than with large ones (and yes, I have worked for very large companies). The budgets and needs are much smaller, so your solutions must be tailored to meet the current business structure, but always keeping the potential growth of the small business in your plan.
Sense of Community – Small businesses talk, work, and network together. With a small IT business of your own, you are also in the 54.9%. It’s amazing how we all help each other. It’s a great feeling knowing that you are supporting and growing your community.
Appreciation – These businesses are so grateful to have an honest and qualified person to assist them. From my experience, many small businesses aren’t able to hire qualified assistance at a reasonable rate. If you can come in, offer them the same solutions as the large IT firm, and do it at a fair and reasonable price; you will have a client and friend for life. Providing the correct solution allows them to focus on their business instead of the technology. The greatest compliment I have had from a small business is, “we never have to worry about the computers anymore, it just works”.
So before jumping into an IT department for a large company, consider working with small businesses. It may end up being the most satisfying career you’ll ever have.
Statistic source: http://www.ic.gc.ca/eic/site/061.nsf/eng/02715.html
My first attempt at the “four hour workweek” didn’t go quite as expected. My family and I had a great vacation, but I learned some valuable lessons about working from the beach. The main issue was that there was no Internet availability. The hotel advertised Internet, but what they consider Internet access and what I consider Internet access are two different things. ,Maybe it was just this resort or maybe it is an issue in Cuba, but either way, I had no access to my clients, or even email. I did have my phone, and in the end, I did have to use it (for a personal issue), and now I am dreading the bill because I didn’t add a roaming plan for the week we were away. If I had known about the lack of Interne,t I would have added a roaming package for the week.
Before I travel again with the intention of working in my bathing suit, I will:
- Confirm high-speed Internet access is available.
- Add a roaming plan to my phone, even if I have access to Internet.
- Ensure a have backup IT support to assist.
On the upside, because I wasn’t able to check email or assist clients, I was able to spend that time working “on” (instead of “in”) the business; but more importantly, I was able to hang out with my kids. I hated the feeling that I had no idea what was happening at home, but my clients knew I was going to be away and promised they would only email if there was an emergency. This relieved some of my “unplugged anxiety”. There was only one minor issue and my backup was quickly able to resolve it. I believe this alone proves that when your IT support does their job correctly, there really is no reason for your IT support to be on-site, excluding hardware issues. If your IT support is always on-site, or you have constant problems, then it may be time to consider having a second opinion.
Our next trip, aiming for the end of January, will probably be in the Florida Keys, where Internet access should not be an issue. I will also add a roaming plan so I can truly work from the beach, if I wish.
I can now take my experiences and help my clients work after they, too, get to play in the waves.
After many months of burning the candle at both ends, I am finally taking a vacation. That doesn’t mean I’ll be out of touch but I will not as accessible as usual. If all goes according to plan (basically if the Internet connectivity is decent) I’ll be checking email 2x a day, once in the morning and once in the afternoon.
For emergency hardware issues a contact name and number will be on my vacation auto-reply.
I’ll be back in my office on May 6th.
XP retires on April 8, 2014. Yes, that is less than a year from today! Don’t be caught in January panicking because you need to migrate all your office systems. Here are 3 customizable checklists (hardware, software, and server hardware) to help keep you organized for the move from XP to a more current operating system:
Do your current systems meet the Windows 7/8 minimum hardware requirements?
Download and run the Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor to easily determine if your current system can support Windows 7/8; or if additional hardware is needed, or a replacement system is required.
|Computer Name||Meets Minimum Requirements||Hardware Upgrade to meet requirements||Replace Unit if hardware requirements cannot be met||CostsLicensingHardware etc.|
Please note: an upgrade from XP to Windows 7/8 will require a full backup of all data prior to upgrading.
Does your current software work on Windows 7/8? Check with your software vendors to confirm that your current software is compatible with Windows 7/8.
|Software Name/Vendor||Supported on Win7/8||Replacement Software if not supported||CostsLicensing, configuration, replacement|
Does your current server support Windows 7/8 client systems?
If you are still using Windows Server 2003, it is recommended that you upgrade to at least Windows Server 2008 R2 for Windows 7/8 clients.
|Server Name||Server Roles||Current OS||Can be upgraded to new Server Operating system||Replacement||CostsHardware, OS, backup etc.|
Please note that these checklists do not include all options; please consult with your qualified IT professional about the best way to move your small business office to Windows 7/8.
This week, I did a favour for a friend, which I love to do, but I had a gut feeling that it wasn’t going to be as easy as anticipated. My friend desperately needed some technical support; her computer had been running slow for some time and it needed some TLC. Normally, I don’t deal with this type of call and would have handed it over to someone who enjoys and deals with operating system/program-type issues, but there were some underlying issues that she didn’t want to involve a 3rd party professional with.
When a computer is running “slow,” it could be for a number of reasons, including: viruses, malware, configuration, etc. The possibilities are endless, and trying to determine what the issue is can be the same as trying to find a needle in a haystack.
Before asking your IT professional to fix this type of situation, ask yourself, “is it really worth it to spend the time and money to “fix” it? Or would a reload/reimage be the better option?”
Here are my top two things to consider before having somebody “fix” your slow-running system.
- Does your IT professional charge you a flat rate, or is it hourly? Trying to fix system issues can take several hours, and if it came to it, would you be willing to pay the price?
- As mentioned above, working through “issues” takes time. Removing programs, running antivirus scans, updating drivers, and all the reboots, quickly turns into several hours of downtime.
It may be faster and less expensive to restore the system to factory image, or re-install the operating system clean. Of course, this means you will need all your programs and license keys. But if you only have a few programs to load, and your data is backed up, you could be saving yourself hours of downtime and service fees, some of which may end up costing you more than buying a new system.
Before committing, talk to your qualified IT professional about the realistic cost of fixing a “slow system”.
If you are familiar with me or my blog, you know that I am a huge fan of my jammies (my blue flannel ones are my favorite). I am also a firm believer in working remotely, and I don’t believe going to an office is always necessary. I regularly help my clients develop solutions that enables them to take extended vacations, but still be productive and a part of the office. I show them that we have a variety of options to all them to work remotely and securely so they do not have to sacrifice their jammies or bathing suits in order to work when necessary.
When I setup my small business clients, I always try to incorporate a secure method of remote access for me to access their systems. For my clients with Small Business Server, I use Remote Web Access (included in the server); for others, Logmein (if I have to); and I am now trying Microsoft Intune with a handful of clients. I believe that if I do my job right, my clients should very rarely see me. I can usually resolve most issues from the comfort of my home office, or any other location, using my laptop and phone. The only time I really need to be on-site is for hardware issues, which rarely happens.
Last year, I became so comfortable with not being “physically available,” that I went with my daughter on a school trip for 3 days. The facility had Wi-Fi and I was able to work when necessary. This spring, I am going to take another step toward a work-life balance, and I’ll be taking my children to Cuba for a vacation. I think most of us have read (or at least heard of) Tim Ferris’ book, “The Four Hour Workweek” and dream of being able to work from wherever, whenever. In my last full-time position, I had the privilege to travel for business on a regular basis and kept in touch with the office very easily. This will be the first time I will have worked for my own clients while enjoying a vacation.
This week-long trip will be my first step at becoming able to really balance work and family. In preparation for the trip, I ensured Wi-Fi would be available, as this is key to being productive without incurring additional costs; connecting via my phone provider will cost me a fortune. I’ll take a netbook (leaving my laptop at home), and access all required documents, and etc. via cloud storage. This means that if my netbook is lost, stolen, or damaged; all my personal and client files will not be compromised. My phone will be packed just in case I really need to get Internet or make a call to a client, but more importantly, I really hope to get 3 stars on each level of Star Wars Angry Birds while getting a nice healthy dose of Vitamin D.
It will be nice to be able to use my experience to assist my clients in achieving a work-life balance of their own.
Earlier this week, I was privileged to be speaking on a panel for International Women’s Day hosted at Innovation Guelph. Each of the panel guests were asked to give a short talk about how they can help the rest of the group. My talk was focused on how technology can make our lives easier.
I presented three tips: using multiple online calendars, using Skype to enable us to work from home, and effectively using a smart phone. The calendar tips generated several comments later in the evening, and I was asked how to use multiple online calendars to keep family and business organized. Here are my tips and tricks for keeping my husband, kids, family, personal, and business schedules on track. My family uses Google’s Gmail, but this same method can be used with Microsoft’s SkyDrive. Both are free, cloud-based, and can sync to multiple devices.
Having too many appointments/events/tasks on one calendar can be too overwhelming, so I recommend a different calendar for each person and/or task. Using individual calendars allows me to focus on one person/task at a time. If I need a big -picture overview, I’ll turn on multiple calendars.
Here is the list of my family’s calendars:
(This list may seem overwhelming at first, but it’s not very complicated.)
Husband – 2 calendars
- Personal (karate training schedule, dentist appointments, etc.)
- Work (on-call schedule, travel, etc.)
He shares these two calendars with me, but I cannot modify either of them. He is responsible for keeping his schedules up-to-date.
Children – 1 personal each. My daughter has an additional school one. They do as they wish and I don’t have access to them.
Myself – 6 calendars
- Personal - my personal appointments
- Work - my work schedule including physical addresses of clients. I do this because my phone can read the location and tell me when I should leave to be at an appointment on time, based on my current location; but also for safety. My work calendar is shared with my husband, so if something were to happen, he’d be aware of my location.
- Family – my husband and I both have edit access to this calendar, and both children only have read access to it. We use this calendar to track family events, such as birthdays, trips, family functions, etc. We all know where we are supposed to be and when. No more “I didn’t know we were going to Grandma’s today”.
- Banking – all bill due dates, amounts, and other financial reminders are in this calendar.
- Babysitter/Childcare – although this calendar is no longer used for babysitting purposes, it was used to keep track of babysitting schedules. It was shared with the babysitter, so she always knew when she had to be here. This calendar is now used for Summer camp schedules, ans we can track which child is at which camp and co-ordinate drop-off and pick-up schedules.
- My public business calendar - tracks all public presentations, seminars, classes, etc. This calendar is automatically updated on my website.
It sounds like a lot to setup, but using separate calendars allows me to focus on a specific task or person. As the kids grow older, and the family becomes busier, this method lets us find each other and schedule time together.