When something goes wrong with computers, software, printers or high-speed data networks, owners and managers of small or midsize businesses can find their companies dead in the water. Often, they’re not big enough to have their own technology troubleshooters on staff.
One good option is to contract with a qualified managed IT services company to keep business-critical systems on track and help provide a technology infrastructure that grows with the business – and can actually help the business grow.
Short of that, it’s important for SMBs and their employees to know how to properly care for and perform ordinary maintenance on equipment. That will cut down on both expenses and frustrations created by run-of-the-mill IT problems. It may even keep sales from being lost because your equipment is down or malfunctioning.
Here are five of the most common computer issues likely to disrupt a small or midsize business, and a few common-sense tips on how to avoid or minimize them:
Your Computers Run Painfully Slowly
- Use firewalls on all your company’s computers and devices. They typically are incorporated into the latest security software. If you’re not sure, seek the advice of your IT managed services partner or consultant when you acquire new equipment or software. Establish a regular IT system checkup that includes making sure firewalls are working properly.
- Practice good digital hygiene by always using high quality and up-to-date anti-virus, anti-spyware and anti-adware software. If your company doesn’t have its own IT expert on staff, designate a staffer who is generally good with technology as the company’s digital health officer. Have them perform regular and simple checks for infections and to make sure both protection software and operating systems and are up-to-date.
- Keep computers clean and free of dust – at least as much as possible. Dust sticks to computers’ cooling fans, slowing them down. It also adheres to internal parts, creating an insulation blanket. As a result, computers begin to run hotter. Over time that leads to performance degradation. A computer vacuum tool and cans of pressurized air are wise, inexpensive investments, as are keyboard brushes and chemical wipes.
- Use a reputable, top-notch email provider as your host. Most these days will allow you to use your company’s domain name on their hosted email. And they usually include really good free spam filters that’ll block the vast majority of junk email before it ever gets to your inbox. You still will need to occasionally scan your junk mail or spam folders for emails you want or need to see, but which get caught in the trap.
- Create both “White Lists” of senders whose material your inbox always will accept, and “Black Lists” of senders whose email you’ll never accept. You can add or delete names from both lists as needed. Most major email providers now include this capability. But if yours doesn’t, a number of add-on programs are available for download at little or no cost.
Security Problems Due to Wireless Networks
- Learn about network management and the difference between public and private wireless networks, and between encrypted and unencrypted networks. If you keep unencrypted financial, corporate or client data on your computer, consider staying off of unprotected public networks. Also consider creating and using a Virtual Private Network that encrypts data transferred wirelessly. And never forget that the nice-looking, professionally-dressed young lady sitting at the window table in the coffee shop may, in fact, be a low down dirty thief who’s trying to hack into your computer to steal your proprietary data.
- Set up your home wireless network with password protection, and maybe even encryption. That’ll keep the teenager next door from using your network to download 5 gigabytes of music while you’re trying to solve a complex project using a remote access program. And it could keep the creep siting in the car down the street from hacking into your laptop, stealing your password and PIN, and emptying your bank account.
- In a public office, warehouse or sales floor environment restrict which computers can connect to your private wireless network. If you want to make wireless service available to customers or visitors, set up a separate public network for their use.
- If possible, have your IT vendor or a consultant run occasional network and device security tests. They can also provide cybersecurity training to you and your team.
- The most basic data protection step is incredibly simple, but few people do it as much as they should: Hit the “SAVE” button often.
- The second, and best, data protection step is similarly simple: Back up your data frequently. At a minimum, do it daily. If your business does a lot of data entry or order taking, set your system to back up transactions, orders, documents and other key data automatically, or at least on an hourly basis throughout the day. If backing up your data automatically isn’t feasible, develop the habit of backing up your data at least once a day, and insist your employees do so as well.
- By definition, backing data up means storing it in a second location besides the individual computer and/or server or network on which it was created and originally stored. The hardware approach involves backing up data to an external hard drive or dedicated, redundant server that is shielded from any potential issues that might wipe out data in the primary storage device. Don’t skimp on capacity. Data memory is cheap these days. The virtual or “cloud” backup approach involves transmitting data – in real time or in frequent, scheduled batches – to a remote storage system typically operated by a third-party provider.
Printing Documents Is a Hassle
- Wireless network printers allow you to print out documents from anywhere covered by your wireless network’s signal from any computer connected to that wireless network. Nearly all printers being sold today are wireless capable.
- Most smartphones and tablets can be configured to tie into wireless networks. And with either native or downloaded programs users can send documents straight to any wireless printer on their network.
- More and more business and tourist class hotels, and more and more airlines’ VIP airport clubs are being equipped with wireless printers connected to their public networks. That eliminates the inherent hassles and data security dangers associated with logging on to the public computers that many such places provide for guest use.
- Local FedEx and UPS shipping and printing stores, many office supply chain outlets, and some internet cafes are equipped and allow customers to print out documents from their own devices. Those services typically aren’t free, but trained staff are available to help solve technical or complex printing issues.