The Absolute Best Way to Maintain Compliance

Taxes are a necessary evil. They have to be done. If you mess up or intentionally fudge the numbers, you’re likely to get audited. You need to be proactive in your approach and do them right. The first time.

Compliance is fairly similar, but the stakes are raised tenfold. If you don’t stay on top of regulatory requirements, it could ruin your business.

There are two approaches you can take to maintain compliance: technology-based and policy-based. Each has pros and cons. To help you decide which approach is best for your organization, we’ve explored both.

Policy-based Compliance

Policies are the core of your business operations, enabling you to get things done in an efficient manner. Without policies, you lack consistency and accountability.

Working without clear, well-documented policies eventually leads to things slipping through the cracks. When it comes to security and compliance, these slip-ups can lead to hefty violation fines and mandatory external audits.

Here are a few tips to help your organization stay compliant with the right policies.

Account for Personal Devices

While you can’t stop employees from bringing their cell phones to work, you can set strict guidelines for how employees use their mobile devices at the office. For instance, make it clear that snapping a photo or taking a recording of anything with sensitive information on it (computer screen, file, paper) will be grounds for immediate discipline and possible termination.

Train Your Team

Employees need to be taught how they can help maintain regulatory compliance — and they need to know what will happen if they stray from your organization’s guidelines. There should be specialized training for employees who need to follow unique compliance policies.

Document your policies and procedures, and keep that documentation in a place where your team can easily access it for reference. Also be sure to perform periodic training sessions so your team receives consistent reminders and updates on compliance best practices and standards.

Document Everything

When it comes to compliance documentation, the devil’s in the details.

Auditors need to understand exactly what your employees are doing and how they’re doing it. It’s best practice to appoint a person in your office dedicated to creating, managing and updating relevant documentation in a timely manner. Enlisting the help of an experienced professional never hurts, either.

The Pros

  • Implementing and enforcing policies will help you maintain data integrity
  • Employees will better understand their role and impact in maintaining compliance
  • You’ll have the proper documentation if audited

The Cons

  • As standards and regulations change, policies need to be updated and communicated
  • Establishing, enforcing, and updating policies and documentation requires a substantial time investment
  • You cannot control people, even if you provide thorough training on a regular basis

Technology-based Compliance

Technology enhances the way you do business and allows you to more effectively maintain and document compliance. Without IT, employees are more likely to accidentally (or intentionally) compromise sensitive data.

Use GRC Software

Set User Permissions

Role-based security prevents data from accidentally being changed or exposed. Don’t give an employee access to applications, databases, or folders containing sensitive data unless they need that information do their job. For instance, your receptionist doesn’t need to see every employee’s social security number. Your HR manager does.

Enable Password Protection

Require that devices, databases, and applications are all password-protected. Every time an employee needs to access sensitive information, they will need to log in first. Also, ensure that your employees follow password complexity best practices. Passwords need to be strong, changed frequently, and different for every end user.

The Pros

  • Technology provides layers of protection, enforcement, and monitoring that humans cannot
  • If well managed and updated, technology works consistently
  • You can customize and configure technology based on your organization’s needs

The Cons

  • Researching the right type of GRC software for your organization takes time
  • Employees can easily forget passwords, especially if they have to remember more than one
  • Certain technology can be costly to manage and maintain

Which approach should your organization take to maintain compliance?

These two approaches work in concert with one another. Technology enhances the policies put in place to protect sensitive data. Policies allow you to effectively use IT, better preserving data integrity.

So which do you want? Most likely, the best results will come from using a combination of the two.

A compliance consultant can provide the guidance you need to select and implement the policies and technology that align with your organization and its specific standards and regulatory requirements.

Your crash course on the different types of data backup.

Data creation is on the rise. People are expected to generate more than 40 zettabytes of data by 2020. That’s one trillion gigabytes.

While there’s a lot of data out there, your business has its own unique set. And in order to maintain your operations and your reputation, you’ve got to preserve that data. How? By backing it up.

To help you better understand the various types of data backup, we’ve put together a list of the 4 most common methods, including the pros and cons of each.

Full Backup

A full backup archives a data set in its entirety. If you choose full backups as your default, entire copies of your data will be made every time you run a backup.

Pros

  • All of your files and folders are available in one backup set
  • Of all backup types, full backups offer the fastest data restore time

Cons

  • Full backups require a large amount of storage space
  • They take longer to perform than incremental or differential backups

Incremental Backup

An incremental backup only makes a copy of the data that’s changed since your last backup, whether that was full or incremental.

Pros

  • Incremental backups use the least amount of storage space
  • They take less time to perform than full backups

Cons

  • All backup sets are needed to perform full data restores
  • If any of the backup sets have failed, some files may be unrecoverable

Differential Backup

A differential backup only includes the changes made to your data since its last full backup.

The difference between differential and incremental backup is that a differential backup only uses two backup sets to fully restore your data. An incremental backup uses many.

Pros

  • These backups require less storage space than full backups
  • Differential backups have faster restore times than incremental backups

Cons

  • These take longer to perform than incremental backups
  • Differential backups have slower restore times than full backups

Mirror Backup

A mirror backup is a direct copy of a data set at a given instant in time. Instead of creating a different container file for each backup set, mirror backups keep individual copies of files and folders in their original locations.

Pros

  • Mirror backups don’t contain old, obsolete files
  • They’re the fastest type of backup to perform

Cons

  • Password protection isn’t possible
  • If a source file is deleted, it will also be deleted in the mirror backup

Pro data backup tips.

  • For maximum coverage, we suggest following the 3-2-1 backup rule. Have at least three copies of your data backed up on two different storage types with one stored off-site. An IT provider can help get you set up with the right hardware and software to maintain this standard.
  • Perform a full backup on a Monday and either incremental or differential backups throughout the rest of the week. This lets you experience the best of both worlds: a thorough initial backup with smaller, faster backups throughout the week.
  • 60% of SMBs who lose their data close within six months. That’s why it’s important to test your backups regularly. If your backups fail, it’s likely your business will, too.

Related Blog: The Complete Backup & Disaster Recovery Checklist

4 reasons SMB owners should use managed IT services

As a small business owner, you wear many hats and have a wide range of skills. Unless you’re an IT guru, however, you probably have someone else take care of your IT needs. For many, that means keeping an IT person on staff or paying for hourly help, two less than perfect solutions.

If you’ve thought about managed IT services but haven’t pulled the trigger yet, here are four things that you should consider.

1. Cost

Small business owners worry about the cost of everything. You have to in order to keep your business running. Managed IT services may sound expensive but, in reality, they can offer you significant savings.

Businesses that switched from paying an hourly rate for IT to managed services saw their costs drop by up to 50% or more. 13% saw that level of savings, while 46% saw savings by 25% or more. A quick analysis of your expenditures and a consultation with Intelligent IT will reveal how much you can potentially save.

LEARN MORE: 9 Ways Managed Services Pay Off Big for SMBs

2. Security

Choosing managed IT services leads to better cybersecurity for your data. As you are painfully aware, hackers are growing more skilled at illegally accessing data. In the first three months of 2017, for instance, 950,000 records, including sensitive data, were accessed by outsiders, putting companies and their clients at risk.

By making the shift to a managed IT service provider (MSP), your company data will gain the protection of more sophisticated cybersecurity measures, making it less likely your data will be stolen.

LEARN MORE: 6 Common Cybersecurity Pitfalls (and How to Avoid Them)

3. Fast Repairs

When your computers go down, your productivity can slow to a crawl or stop entirely. You can end up paying your employees for a day when they can’t get anything accomplished.

The cost of downtime can be monumental when you combine the lack of production and the harm to your reputation. In some instances, a company can lose approximately $84,000 for every hour their system is down. Even a one-person shop can sustain serious financial losses.

Managed IT services providers can immediately begin working on your IT problems. Because your MSP knows your system, they can quickly diagnose and address problems. An MSP can also identify other potential issues that might cause problems in the future.

LEARN MORE: Cloud Computing Can Make Your SMB a Lean, Mean Productivity Machine

4. Recovery

If your small business manages its own IT, you know that adequately backing up your system can be challenging. If your system crashes and burns, recovering your data can be costly. In fact, every year, 140,000 hard drives crash in the United States alone. Paying for a recovery attempt can cost approximately $7,500 for a service that may not be successful.

Any kind of data disasters can seriously harm your business. In fact, in the months immediately after a data disaster, 60% of companies go out of business.

Managed IT service providers make sure your data is backed up and easily recoverable. A disaster on-site at your business doesn’t have to cause long-term damage.

LEARN MORE: Your Crash Course on the Different Types of Data Backup

Are managed IT services right for you?

Managed IT services make sense for small business owners on a number of fronts. You can improve your bottom line by utilizing affordable, reliable outsourced IT help.

And really, that’s what it’s all about—equipping you to run your business as effectively as possible. If managed IT services help, then it’s worth your time to talk so a few providers and see what options are available.

Which is better: in-house or outsourced IT support?

Outsourced IT support is on the rise among SMBs. In fact, the market for outsourced IT is expected to grow at a CAGR of around 8% over the next four years.

But is outsourced IT support better than having an in-house IT department? That all depends on your business needs.

To help you decide which type of support is best for your organization, we’ve created a list of the pros and cons.

In-house IT Support: Pros

You can customize your team.

Building an in-house department from scratch means you can hand-pick employees based on your company’s specific needs.

For instance, if you work in healthcare, you can hire an expert focused on maintaining your company’s HIPAA compliance. If you use Linux, you can hire an engineer with a Linux+ certification and years of experience supporting a Linux environment. You have the specialists you need right there, in your office.

Easy access to onsite support.

Your internal IT department is there onsite with you. If you have an issue, they can immediately start working to fix it. Or if you need to call an emergency meeting, an onsite team can be there in a matter of minutes.

An MSP has many clients. And while they’re typically fast when responding to problems, it’s hard to compete with the speed of an onsite team.

In-house IT Support: Cons

Finding and maintaining an internal team is costly.

Hiring and retaining a well-rounded IT team can be costly. Why? IT professionals with specialized skills expect competitive pay.

Plus you’ll need to pay for training and certification updates to keep your team current on IT best practices and tech trends.

Getting new employees up to speed takes time.

Finding and training the right people for your organization’s particular needs requires a substantial time investment. They’ll have to learn your equipment and network setup. And the more specialized you need your team to be, the longer it’ll take to get them up to snuff.

In contrast, an outsourced IT provider learns new network setups and adapts to the needs of different clients every day. It won’t take nearly as much time to onboard an outsourced IT provider.

Outsourced IT Support: Pros

Get around the clock network monitoring.

Most MSPs offer 24/7/365 monitoring for your business network. If any urgent issues arise after-hours or on the weekend, your outsourced team will be able to take care of them.

Plus, many outsourced IT providers have after-hours support for basic IT issues. So if you forget your password and need help resetting it at 2 AM, they’ll be able to help you out. To get around-the-clock support from salaried employees, you’ll have to pay them overtime.

“Outsourcing your IT operations has many advantages, from the integration of the latest technology to overall cost savings for your company.” —Forbes

Gain access to a wider knowledge base and skill set.

To remain competitive, MSPs require their engineers to attend frequent training and maintain reputable certifications. This means that every one of their engineers is up-to-date on the latest technology trends and best practices.

When you partner with an outsourced IT provider, you’ll have access to their team’s collective knowledge and skillset. Plus, challenging projects are unlikely to phase an MSP’s seasoned engineers.

Outsourced IT Support: Cons

Shopping around takes time.

Finding the best MSP for your business won’t happen overnight. It just takes time. You’ll need to contact multiple providers for quotes, read online reviews, and even reach out to see which providers other local SMBs are using.

The process can be tiring.

They’re not onsite during work hours.

If you need onsite assistance, you’ll have to wait for an outsourced IT provider to travel to your office. Depending on where they’re located, this could be minutes or over an hour.

Of course, you can enlist the help of an outsourced team to work with your internal team on complex projects. That way they’ll be onsite if there are any issues with implementation.

Deciding which IT support is best for your company.

Many SMBs use a combination of in-house and outsourced IT. Some businesses contract out their day-to-day maintenance needs while letting their internal team tackle bigger projects. Other SMBs choose to do the opposite.

At the end of the day, you should choose the kind of support you feel your business needs – in-house, outsourced or a blend.

Cloud Computing Can Make Your SMB a Lean, Mean Productivity Machine

There are some things that matter to all business owners, no matter the size of their company. Profitability, for example, is always a good thing. Who isn’t looking for ROI?

But you can’t have profits without performance. And performance will always be dependent on productivity. The more efficient you are, the more you’ll get done. The more you get done, the more opportunities you have to grow your customer base and improve your bottom line.

That’s more or less Business 101.

While every business out there is looking for ways to be more productive, small to medium-sized businesses need to be as efficient as possible. This is the make-or-break point for an SMB. You can’t afford to get this wrong.

Unlocking SMB Productivity

Unlock lock

If boosting productivity is the lifeblood of SMB growth (and it is), how do you tap into greater efficiency? There are some small things you can do, like limiting unnecessary meetings, scheduling your workday in advance, and getting serious about a practical task management strategy. Each of those is a genuinely helpful approach, which is why we’ve included links in case you’d like to follow up on any of them.

But do you notice something missing?

In each case, those tips are focused on individual productivity, not team productivity. And individual productivity is not the same as team productivity. Unless your SMB is a one-person organization, you need both.

The most powerful boost in efficiency will happen when you unleash organization-wide change.

Technology to the Rescue (Sort of)

When it comes to improving business productivity, you’re going to get the most bang for your buck in the area of technology . . . if you use it the right way.

Think about it. The technological advancements of the last 20 years have radically changed how we live, from the way we ask for directions to the way we buy groceries. All our new tech toys were supposed to make our lives easier, less chaotic and far more productive. Have they? According to the statistics, no.

In fact, it’s so well known that technology has failed to make us more productive that articles are written about it frequently. It’s been dubbed “the productivity paradox.” We can do more with fewer resources in a shorter amount of time, yet the cold, hard facts betray a startling reality. We’re simply not more productive.

A provocative, insightful article published by Vox suggests a straightforward reason for the disconnect. “Why isn’t all this technology improving the economy? Because it’s not changing how we work.”

New technology certainly has the potential to positively impact productivity, but there are no guarantees. If you don’t use it the right way, it won’t make you more efficient. It could even slow you down.

Cloud Computing & Productivity

Gears productivityAmong the game-changing technologies reshaping how SMBs work, few have been as powerful as cloud computing. Even if you don’t know exactly what cloud computing is, you’ve almost certainly heard the phrase. The cloud is taking over how business is done.

In general terms, “cloud computing” applies to any application or tool that you access remotely. Some cloud computing solutions are available for free, but these are primarily for private use. Gmail and Dropbox are both excellent examples.

Most business-oriented cloud computing solutions are available on a subscription basis that scales with your business needs and the number of users who require access. They include things like productivity suites (for example, Microsoft Office 365), project management systems, communication apps and even more sophisticated tools like backup solutions CRMs and ERP.

The beauty of cloud computing is that it pairs perfectly with the kind of workflow changes that make a real difference with team productivity.

The 4 C’s of Cloud Computing

The secret to turning cloud computing tools into productivity powerhouses comes down to how you use them. The technology alone won’t make you more efficient.

If you want to harness the power of cloud computing, stick to the 4 C’s.

Configuration

First and foremost, implement the right tools the right way. The most amazing CRM in the world will do you little good if you completely botch the implementation process, leaving your staff with a sour taste in their mouths and no inclination to actually utilize your shiny new tech toy.

Even if your employees are enthusiastic about a new solution, it won’t matter if poor configuration keeps it from being useful.

Configuration starts with the selection of the cloud computing solution and continues all the way through deployment and employee training. There are several critical steps here. If your organization is very small (say, 5 or fewer employees), it’s possible to handle configuration on your own. If you’re any bigger, it will likely pay off to talk to an IT consultant.

Collaboration

Most cloud computing solutions have collaboration baked right into them. The trick is adapting your work processes to include that collaboration.

Take Microsoft Office 365 as an example. All your favorite Office applications (like Word, Excel and PowerPoint) are available on your desktop and via the cloud. Using the cloud-based versions of documents, spreadsheets and presentations, you can easily write, edit and design as a team.

You just have to remember Office 365 (or Google Docs, or whatever productivity suite you use) has this new functionality. There’s no need to email versions of a document back and forth, leaving yourself open to possible mistakes or missed edits.

Communication

Let’s explore Microsoft Office 365 a little deeper. If you pay the modest additional fee for Teams (currently only $5 per month per user), you also have a robust IM application at your disposal. You can use Teams to take collaboration and communication to a whole new level, embedding files into IM discussions right alongside your messages.

And Teams is just one of the many business communications apps available. In the IM arena alone there are several other worthy competitors, including Slack and Google Hangouts.

In each case, the challenge for you as the business owner is the same. Look at your business processes and provide your employees with clear direction about when and how to use IM tools for fast communication. There will, of course, be other times when face-to-face meetings or phone calls are preferable.

But cloud computing can help there, too. Options like video conferencing and hosted VoIP can supercharge your entire communications strategy.

Continuation

Finally, one of the more well-known cloud computing functionalities is still an essential business tool—backup.

Regular data backups ensure that you don’t lose valuable information in the event of a disaster, which could be anything from a simple power outage to an act of God. Not only that, but backups make it possible to get back on your feet (and back to business) much faster in the wake of the unexpected.

The productivity payoff is huge, especially for small to medium-sized businesses that don’t have the capital to operate for months on end without revenue.
Hand in shape of a bulb

What will you do with cloud computing?

There are more cloud options than we could possibly cover in this space. Cloud computing is a beast, and its potential to overhaul SMB productivity is nothing short of revolutionary.

If you know how to use it.

Be smart. Be strategic. Don’t ever deploy a cloud solution “just because.” Know what you’re using, what it’s capable of, and deliver clear instructions to your team so everyone gets the most out of every cloud computing solution your business adopts.

Disaster Recovery Helps With the Little Stuff, Too

Disaster Recovery Helps With the Little Stuff, Too

When you hear the words “disaster recovery,” you probably think big.

Big natural disasters, like Hurricane Sandy or the recent fires in California. Or big man-made disasters, like the WannaCry ransomware attack. Or any number of doomsday events, from solar flares to the zombie apocalypse.

What’s almost certain is you don’t think about little things, which is unfortunate. Anything that causes downtime interferes with business. It all affects your bottom line.

When small disasters strike, the only thing standing between you and the very real potential of profit loss is a disaster recovery plan.

What causes downtime?

We don’t have to tell you how devastating a blizzard or hurricane can be. You already know that all too well. What you may not know is how often other factors impact your IT network uptime.

For example, the leading cause of network down is power loss, accounting for 25% of all IT outages. Cybercrime comes in second, at 22%—sadly, no surprise there. But in third place? Human error, neck and neck with cybercrime at 22%.

In fact, cybercrime and weather (like hurricanes, tornadoes, blizzards and earthquakes) only account for 32% of all network failures. That’s less than a third. The remaining 68% of outages are caused by the “little things” like hardware failure, human error, power loss and exposure to heat or water.

Learn more about protecting your business from cybersecurity threats.

Little things hurt.

The majority of network failures aren’t spectacular. Instead, they’re caused by little things. But little things can do big damage.

Are you familiar with gremlins? Not the furry ones from the 1984 feature film. The mythological ones.

In mythology, gremlins were small creatures that snuck into people’s homes in the middle of the night to meddle with mechanical things. Said another way, they broke stuff. Not big stuff. Little stuff, like household appliances. In the morning, your walls would still be standing, but your toaster wouldn’t work.

That, in and of itself, isn’t earth-shattering—until the cumulative effect of all the appliances you rely on day in, day out starts to interfere with your ability to do the things that matter. You can’t work, or sleep well, or enjoy time with family. That’s when a gremlin’s minor stunts start to cause major breakdowns in your life.

Just like the small events that lead to network downtime.

Disaster recovery tips.

Just one hour of downtime can cost a small business as much as $8,600. As the amount of downtime goes up, so does the cost. It’s in your best interest to leverage a disaster recovery plan to minimize downtime.

Here’s how you do that.

1. Have a plan for staying productive.

If your network goes down, it doesn’t have to bring work to a grinding halt. The secret to remaining productive is knowing how you’ll shift gears when (not if) you need to go into disaster recovery mode.

Identify critical tasks you can continue to work on that don’t require network connectivity. If there are elements of your business that will be hit hard by an outage, prepare for how you’ll adjust to minimize the negative impact.

Downtime might still cut into your profitability. The goal is to limit how much it does.

2. Have a plan for working remotely.

One powerful way to maintain productivity, especially if your technology is critical to business operations, is to work remotely. Take the time to determine who will need remote access, and what technology tools those folks will need to be able to access.

The more your business relies on cloud solutions for everyday operations, the easier it is to work from another location on the fly.

The Complete Backup & Disaster Recovery Checklist

3. Have a plan for maintaining communication.

If the power and phone lines go out, even for just a few hours, how will you communicate with your customers and employees? Make sure you have contact numbers for everyone and put together some kind of organized strategy for getting information out to the whole company in the event of an outage.

Customer-facing communication can be a bit more challenging. If there are key clients or vendors you would need to reach out to, record their numbers somewhere non-digital, as well.

4. Have a plan for getting back online.

And here is where disaster recovery really pays off. If you have a plan for staying the course and keeping your business going even during a full-blown, act-of-God kind of emergency, that same plan can get you back online after something small.

If you’re not sure how to develop a disaster recovery plan, you have two options. First, feel free to check out our free guide. It’ll walk you through the core components. Or you might decide it’s time to talk to an IT consulting expert.

We won’t argue with you there. A lot is riding on your disaster recovery plan. Either way—DIY or working with a partner—put a plan together.

Downtime: A Tale of Business Reputation

Downtime: A Tale of Business Reputation

According to Aesop, three old friends, Genius, Virtue and Reputation, were planning a trip to Great Britain together, when the discussion turned to what to do if any of them should become lost.

“Should it be my fate be severed from you, my associates,” said Genius, “you can find me kneeling in devotion before the tomb of Shakespeare, or wrapt in some grove where Milton talked with angels.”

“And were I to be lost,” Virtue cried, “ I will choose to take sanctuary in the temples of religion, in the palaces of royalty, or in the stately domes of ministers of State.”

When it became clear it was Reputation’s turn to speak, he shook his head and sighed. “My dear friends,” said Reputation, “I am so happy that if you are lost you can be found again. But take care, I beg you, to always keep sight of me. For if I am lost I cannot be recovered again.”

The relevance of this tale to your business operations should be obvious.

No matter how much genius your company has, or how much virtue you demonstrate out in the marketplace, if a customer service issue damages your business reputation with a client, you probably won’t be able to recover it again.

And there’s perhaps no greater threat to your customer service reputation than potential downtime due to offline systems or programs.

Minimizing the potential for such downtime is why many companies choose to trust their IT to a managed services provider and cloud computing solutions.

Downtime is not only expensive in the short term. It can create long-term effects on your client relationships.

Downtime Dispels Confidence in Your Brand

We’d all like to believe people will be understanding.

Sometimes it’s true.

But should the unthinkable happen and your business operations come grinding to a halt, there’s always the possibility that your clients might not understand.

And worse if their data is lost or compromised as a result. Lost data craters customer relationships.

At a minimum, clients will see downtime as an inconvenience. At a maximum, they might come to see it as a liability in doing business with you.

The longer you’re down, the greater the chances of negative outcomes.

Each time a client reaches out for your services and you’re not there to provide them because of downtime, you risk alienating that client’s belief in your company. And that belief is everything when it comes to loyalty.

How to Save Your Business Reputation When Downtime Happens

Choosing the right tech and solutions to minimize downtime is one thing. But it will come as no surprise that things can still happen outside of your control. That’s life. We all have to deal with it.

Even Genius gets lost sometimes, right?

And when things do inevitably happen, what matters is how you respond to the trouble.

Just like Genius and Virtue, you need a plan for when things go wrong.

More specifically, a professional, executable business continuity plan. Failing to plan is planning to fail, as the saying goes.

Not having a continuity plan majorly increases the chances that your business falls into reputation-damaging chaos.

By having strategies and steps in place for dealing with downtime, you can demonstrate your competence to customers while accelerating the process of getting back online.

Waiting to develop that plan until you’re already in the thick of trouble is a losing strategy. That’s why the three travelers from our fable made plans before they left.

So what will you do to minimize downtime and prepare for it when it happens?

Like our friends Genius, Virtue and Reputation, it might be time to make a plan before one of them gets lost for good.

A Few Tips for Your Journey to Readiness

Define what constitutes a downtime incident.

Is it two minutes, 30 minutes, three hours? How long are systems down before you consider it an incident? What larger events constitute an incident – security breaches, data loss, etc?

Determine which communication channels to use with clients.

Will you use email, phone, or your website to communicate? How will you prepare and deliver that communication?

Decide who will communicate with customers during downtime.

By designating a dedicated employee to manage customer communication during downtime, you instantly begin to organize your response by creating a hierarchy for it.

Create templates for downtime scenarios that outline what to expect when problems crop up.

Determine up front what your potential risks are so you can develop better plans for dealing with them.

Update customers on the situation and steps to remedy it (the initial update is the most important).

This will be a task for your designated response employee, so make sure they have the information, tools and training to be effective and reliable.

Business Continuity: Your Guide to Surviving Any Kind of Chaos

The idea of business continuity is both hopeful and cynical. It’s an odd combination.

You’ll only need a business continuity plan if something goes wrong. In that sense, it’s like insurance—a bet you place against yourself. If it pays off, something bad happened.

See? Kind of cynical.

But there’s a hopeful side to business continuity, too. A well-rounded business continuity plan prepares you for virtually anything, from full-blown natural disasters to rolling blackouts. It gives you the ability to navigate the unpredictable with grace and ease. It gives you a serious competitive leg up when most of your peers are scrambling. And it’s peace of mind.

In other words, you both need and want a business continuity plan, even if the idea is new to you. And by the end of this guide, you’ll know the basics of putting one together.

SMB Owners Stat

– Nationwide

Like a samurai.

There’s a classic Japanese tale that speaks to the importance of grace under fire. “The Samurai and the Tea Master” tells the story of a tea master who served a renowned samurai. The tea master’s lord was so impressed with his devotion to his art that he granted him the title of samurai and even gave him samurai robes.

One day, the tea master encountered two samurai warriors. One of the warriors sensed that the man was not a samurai and challenged him to a duel. He accepted, though he was sure he would die.

The duel was scheduled for the following morning, so the tea master asked his lord to teach him to die with honor, like a samurai. In response, his master instructed him to perform the way of tea for him one last time.

The tea master did, and as he focused on the ritual he became calm. When he finished, his lord told him to channel that same peace and presence the next morning. “Hold your sword like you hold the kettle,” he said.

The tea master did and, seeing the man’s peace, resolve and confidence, the challenging samurai apologized and called off the duel.

Mastery, as it turns out, has a lot to do with staying focused and calm, even in the midst of chaos.

Why business continuity matters.

Of course, the tea master in the story above didn’t just wake up one day knowing how to serve tea. He invested time, effort and energy into learning that skill. And that’s what you’ll need to do to, as well.

But first, let’s explore why it even matters.

A report published by Nationwide reveals that an astonishing 68% of SMB owners don’t have any kind of documented business continuity plan. Of those without a plan, 21% say it’s just not a priority. But it should be.

Consider this. Anything that causes network downtime is a disaster. Really. Even a simple power outage.

According to The Aberdeen Group, a single hour of downtime can cost a small business as much as $8,600. And that estimate is on the low end. ITIC reports that an hour of downtime costs 98% of organizations more than $100,000.

We’re talking about lost opportunities, hits to your reputation and decreased efficiency. Just 60 minutes of downtime could affect your business for weeks.

A business continuity plan dramatically lowers the impact of downtime, allowing you to bounce back faster and sometimes eliminating downtime altogether.

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Building your business continuity plan.

When it comes to designing a business continuity plan for your organization, you have options. If you’re already working with a managed services provider, we recommend starting there. There’s a decent chance business continuity is included in your service package.

If that’s the case, get the ball rolling and let the pros take it from there.

But if you’re on a tighter budget and you need to develop a business continuity plan on your own, we can help. Here are some guidelines for giving your organization a solid foundation for disaster recovery.

Keep It Simple

First and foremost, business continuity has the potential to be a rabbit hole. There’s a lot you could do to protect your company. When IT professionals develop a business continuity plan, it’s likely to include some sophisticated strategies for keeping your business up and running, no matter what.

And all of that is helpful. But if you’re designing your own business continuity plan, just focus on the basics.

There’s no need to do the hours of research necessary to explore every option. Instead, focus on getting the most possible downtime protection for the least possible effort.

Write It Down

Whatever your specific plan, write it down.

Formalize it, print it, make it available to every employee in your organization. Make sure everyone has seen it, has a copy, and has read it.

Stack of documents

Remember, business continuity is just a plan. If your people don’t know the plan and aren’t ready to act on it, it won’t do you any good. And keep in mind, passing familiarity isn’t enough. Make sure you review your business continuity plan routinely as a group.

Know Who Does What

This is a big one. Sometimes, everyone will just assume that so-and-so will be the main point of contact, for example. But assumptions are dangerous when it comes to business continuity.

Don’t take anything for granted. Actually think through all the business-critical things you’d need someone to take care of in the event of a true disaster. Then make sure each task is assigned to someone, along with a backup person.

These assignments should be clearly outlined in your documentation.

Back up Everything

A key part of business continuity is a thorough data backup. What if something happens to your physical office space? Is your data backed up in the cloud? Is it secure?

We typically recommend two kinds of backup, when possible. Local backups are great for quick recovery and easy access. Cloud backups are great for redundancy and an extra layer of security against data loss.

Combining the two makes it unlikely you’ll lose any valuable data.

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Maintain Communication

Perhaps the single most important step in the wake of a disaster is the initial communication. The businesses that proactively reach out to customers, even if they’re not yet running at 100%, will make a strong impression.

Have a plan for maintaining internal and external communications. Identify the folks empowered to send an email to your entire customer base, for example, and make sure everyone knows what to tell customers who ask what’s going on.

A solid foundation.

A basic business continuity plan is far better than nothing. If you don’t have a plan at all right now, use this guide to lay down the foundation for your disaster recovery.

As your business grows, you may decide later that you need something more robust. When that day comes, there are qualified IT consultants out there who can help you design a thorough strategy. In the meantime, don’t procrastinate.

There’s a lot riding on your business continuity plan. Make sure you have something in place.

A Managed Services Provide or Internal IT Staff?

It’s relatively easy to make the case for working with a managed services provider for most SMBs. Maintaining your own network is time-consuming. It requires a pretty high degree of technical knowledge. Plus, this is something that’s simply too important to overlook.

It’s like anything else you outsource—from the maintenance on your car to medical care. Few people overhaul their own engines or perform physicals on themselves! There are pros who know how to do that stuff. There are clear times when you need an expert, and network upkeep falls squarely in that category.

But there’s one group of SMB owners who have a unique objection. What if you already have your own IT staff? Surely then you don’t need a managed services provider.

Actually, it’s still a good idea.

There are four ways managed services providers help SMBs: “improved operational performance, reduced operational risk, cost avoidance and accelerated innovation.” – Forbes

It’s all about focus.

We like to make frequent reference to folklore, myths and fables in our blog posts. It breaks up all the jargon and adds a little bit of intrigue (and sometimes even deeper meaning) to all this tech talk. But we’re careful to use these stories the right way.

Take “The Three Little Pigs” as an example. We trust you know the story.

The fairy tale teaches the value of hard work. Two of the pigs take the easy way, building their homes quickly so they can kick back. The third pig puts in the considerably harder work of building a sturdy house, and it pays off. When trouble comes (in the form of the big, bad wolf) his is the only home that holds up.

It’s not a story about the virtues of brick, the trials of construction, the likelihood of rogue wolf attack, or ways pork could be better utilized in building projects. If you misapply the moral, using the story for something other than its intended purpose, you’ll get the wrong message.

And that’s why you need a managed services provider, even if you have IT staff.

9 Ways Managed Services Pay Off Big for SMBs

A managed services provider vs. IT staff.

There’s a misconception out there. The tension is not between working with a managed services provider or internal IT staff. Both have value, but often each is working toward a completely different goal.

Managed services providers are focused on keeping your IT network in tip-top shape. They handle basics, like routine maintenance, updates, cybersecurity, backup and disaster recovery and help desk support. When a managed services provider does their job well, your network . . . just works.

In most cases, internal IT staff focus on more specific tasks. Few and far between are the small businesses that hire internal staff to babysit the network. Usually, internal personnel are focused on innovation and revenue-generating projects.

When someone you hired has to stop doing something that turns a profit to help Karen recover her password, that’s hardly efficient.

“Organizations are continuing to turn to MSPs to handle elements of their IT needs as part of a collaborative arrangement with the internal IT department . . .” – CIO

How a managed services provider helps.

If you have your own IT professionals on the payroll, a managed services provider frees them to focus on what matters most. They can devote their time to projects that directly address your business goals. In a case like this, partnering with a managed services provider is a strategic move.

We’ve seen firsthand the impact this can have on a small business. While a managed services contract is an expense, it’s far less costly than derailing your IT staff. No one can manage maintenance and maintain your internal development goals without compromising somewhere. Isn’t better for your employees to focus on more important (ie, profit-generating) tasks?

Don’t think of it as an either/or proposition. The right managed services provider will work collaboratively with your IT staff, creating a powerful pairing that keeps your network in the best possible shape without holding innovation back.

What is the Business Value of Managed IT Services?

It must have been a terrifying sight. Green, piercing eyes. Muscles that rippled beneath striped flesh. Teeth sharp as knives. When the tiger bore them, it must have taken all the fox’s energy to hide his fear. With no other choice, he steadied himself and spoke.

“Do you think you’re the only king of beasts?” he said. “Your courage doesn’t overshadow mine.”

The tiger smiled. Or maybe it was a snarl. Either way, the fox continued, his life depending now on his cunning mind.

“Let’s make a deal. Walk now behind me, and if everyone who comes along does not flee in fear, you can devour me.”

You can imagine the tiger must have licked his lips. After all, who would flee a fox?

So he agreed, and off they went down the highway. And to the tiger’s surprise, every traveler they encountered fled at first sight of the fox.

“See,” the fox remarked, “I went first, and they fled in terror at the sight of me.”

The tiger decided he had judged the fox wrong, tucked his tail and left. It never occurred to him that the fox had harnessed the benefit of his own ferocity to succeed in the wager.

The fox, for his part, knew the truth. Being cunning is its own strength.

You’re probably wondering what all this has to do with your IT department. The answer is simple. Smart businesses know where they are strong, and are cunning enough to know when to lean on the strength of others for maximum success.

Three Invaluable Benefits of Managed IT Services

Just as a fox can match the courage and cunning of a tiger, many SMBs are capable of managing their own IT.

But that doesn’t mean they all should.

In fact, there are a host of advantages in harnessing the power and expertise of managed IT services. Here are three quick ways managed IT Services can help your business thrive.

Focus on What You Do Best

Most SMBs are working on a limited budget that doesn’t allow for a focused internal IT department. By taking advantage of managed IT services, they get tiger-sized services in fox-sized portions, all custom-designed to meet their unique needs.

This means more time focused on the company’s mission and less time troubleshooting network problems.

Achieve Continuous Protection

Most businesses can find a way to fix technological issues after they happen. The problem is, this takes time and money and resources away from focusing on business growth. Maybe more than they can afford if delivery or communication to customers takes a hit. A good Managed Services Provider (MSP) heads off problems before they start.

Don’t think of that as minimizing downtime. It’s more like maximizing uptime – and minimizing risk.

It’s like our fable above, but with the tiger going down the IT road first, making sure the path is safe, while the cunning fox is behind him taking care of business with no interruptions.

Network security and proactive problem solving keep you working on strengthening your results with the confidence that your data, and thus reputation, are secure at all times.

Create A Competitive Advantage

One of the toughest operational challenges facing SMBs is managing the cost of their technology infrastructure. Many companies invest up to their fur in the latest technology, only to find it outdated a few years later.

Even growth can become a problem, if not handled correctly. Often, SMBs who manage their own IT end up requiring additional staff to meet their expanded needs, in addition to purchasing new equipment – all of it diverting time and resources away from the tasks that bring in revenue and serve customers.

With managed IT services, SMBs gain the dedicated resources and expertise to stay on the cutting edge of technology at a cost-effective, predictable price point. And with the added ability to scale up services and equipment seamlessly as needed, IT solutions grow and change with the company.

All of this coupled with the benefit of professional planning from the MSP throughout the process.

Foxes and Tigers and Services, Oh My!

Like a fox, an SMB’s greatest advantage is their ability to move fast and stay mobile in the marketplace. You rely on your cunning to get the job done.

And while there’s no question that cunning SMBs are capable of managing their own IT, there will always be a point where their brilliance is better spent serving up value to the company’s mission.

With managed IT services, companies free up resources and manpower while saving a bundle in their budget. Taking advantage of professional services gives SMBs the power to send the would-be tigers scurrying away with their tails tucked.

So maybe you’re curious about taking advantage of managed IT services. Give us a call and we’re happy to help– it’s what we do best!