4 Key Questions for Managing Your Business Technology Solutions

It’s one thing to know that your business technology solutions are working. That’s helpful information.

But it’s something else to know the minor changes that would make your business technology solutions even better—like tweaks that would save some money or the areas where you might run into trouble in the future.

Really, that’s the kind of information a managed services partner should include with even the most basic package. But what if you can’t afford a managed services provider (MSP)?

Life without managed services.

55% of SMB owners say the business technology they use every day doesn’t help them become more efficient. It actually gets in the way. At the same time, “72% of SMB decision makers say that technology solutions can help them significantly improve business outcomes and/or run the business better.”

Do you see a problem there?

SMB owners are largely convinced of the benefits of business technology, but most of them don’t think they’re actually seeing those benefits, themselves. Ouch.

Bridging the gap.

If you’re taking care of your business technology yourself, there are things you can do to ensure a stable network today and strategic growth for where you’re headed. Here are four key questions to ask.

1. What Are You Using Now and Why?

This sounds like basic information, and it is. And yet, a lot of SMB owners have to stop and think before they can list off all the applications and services they rely on.

Small businesses grow organically. There’s a decent chance you’re using a mix of several different kinds of technology and services to meet your needs. And all those solutions might not even fit together well.

That’s why it’s important to take stock of your current situation. Carve out the time to make note of it all. We’re talking about the OS you use on company PCs, how your server is set up, every cloud solution and chat program and CRM you use—all of it.

Then do the real work and ask why. What business need does each solution meet? And how well does your current mix of services and solutions work together to meet those needs?

2. Where Do You See Yourself in 5 Years?

Now that you know where you are, where do you see yourself going? Will you double your staff in the next five years? If so, will you need to stop using Excel to track customer orders and move to a proper CRM?

It’s a lot easier to get out ahead of big changes on the horizon than wait until you’re in hot water. By the time you feel the pain of technology that isn’t particularly growth-oriented, it’ll be too late to change to something new without a hassle and some real consequences.

Basically, plan ahead. If something’s not working well now, it’ll only get worse as you grow.

A farmer had two sons. Separately, he gave both sons the same task—talk to the neighboring farmer about buying some cattle.

The first son came back to his father and said, “Our neighbor has six cows for sale.”

But the second son’s answer was quite different. “Our neighbor has six cows he’s willing to sell. He wants $2000 for each cow, but he’s willing to cut the price by 10% if we buy at least four of them. He also said he has some new cows coming in next week, a very promising group. He thinks they’ll be even better than the ones he has now. He said if we aren’t in a hurry, it would be wise to wait.”

It’s the same core information, but the second son was so much more strategic, providing crucial details that could easily inform the father’s next steps.

3. What Are Your Biggest Security Risks?

Cybersecurity is a big topic. It makes headlines all the time because it’s a big deal when a company of any size experiences a breach. And the negative publicity of a security mishap is something you don’t want.

So think about your business like a criminal would. Where are you weak? If you wanted to steal your own information, how would you do it?

Whatever your answer to that question, that’s where you need to upgrade your security. And if you’ve never really thought about security at all, maybe it’s time to talk to a professional consultant. After all, small businesses get targeted almost as much as big corporations.

Being an SMB doesn’t make you automatically safe. You need to be as careful as any other business.

Read more about protecting your company from ransomware here.

4. What Do Your Customers Care About the Most?

At the end of the day, what matters to your customers is their experience. So how does your technology affect your relationships with customers?

Is your phone system a nightmare to navigate? Are you using advanced communications options (everything from email to video chat) effectively? When customers contact you with questions and complaints, how long does it take for your staff to dig into customer records?

If you can harness the power of technology to make the customer’s experience better, then you’re using technology the right way.

The next level.

All of that might seem like a lot. Admittedly, it is, though we’ve seen plenty of small business owners do a masterful job of managing their own business technology.

But it won’t surprise you to learn that we believe there’s real value in partnering with a professional managed services provider for the very best technology strategy.

If you’d like to learn more about managed services and how they can benefit small businesses, check out our free whitepaper, “9 Ways Managed Services Pay Off Big for SMBs.”

6 Common Cybersecurity Pitfalls (and How to Avoid Them)

What do you know about leprechauns?

In Irish folklore, leprechauns have a rich, complex heritage. (The first leprechauns didn’t even wear green! They wore red suits.) But here in the states, our understanding of leprechauns is pretty simple.

They’re short, usually dressed in green, they have gold, they grant wishes, and they tend to be crafty. In fact, most of the stories you’ve heard about leprechauns probably focus on those last two details—wishes and tricks.

If you catch a leprechaun, so the modern mythology goes, you get wishes . . . but be very careful how you phrase your wishes. The leprechaun will technically grant your wish, but you may not like the results.

For example, consider the classic story of the man who caught a leprechaun and wished to be shown where the leprechaun had hidden his gold. The leprechaun showed him the tree his treasure was buried beside, but the man didn’t have a shovel with him. So he marked the tree with the red scarf he was wearing.

When he returned later, the leprechaun was gone, and all the trees in the area were tied with red scarves.

Why do we fall for it?

Given their reputation for trickery, you’d think the characters in leprechaun stories would learn to be more cautious about their wishes. But no. Stories about leprechauns often feature disappointing (or disastrous) wishes gone wrong.

That’s human nature. We tend to make the same mistakes repeatedly. And when it comes to your cybersecurity, that’s a dangerous thing.

Cybersecurity Ventures’ 2017 Annual Cybercrime Report estimates that the total cost of cybersecurity crime will exceed $6 trillion by 2021. 60% of the SMBs who fall prey to a cyberattack are out of business within 6 months. And yet, the Ponemon Institute reports that “only 14% of the companies represented in this study rate their ability to mitigate cyber risks, vulnerabilities and attacks as highly effective.

The vast majority of SMBs know they’re not prepared. But much like asking a wily leprechaun to grant a carelessly-worded wish, these business owners are just hoping they don’t get targeted by cybercriminals.

Good luck with that.

Avoiding common cybersecurity mistakes.

Instead of ignoring the very real danger represented by cyberthreats, we recommend taking action. Here are some of the most common cybersecurity pitfalls SMB owners tend to make and how to avoid them.

1. No Plan at All

Okay. So we’ve already covered this one, but it’s worth touching on again—in part because we find it genuinely alarming. A shocking number of businesses have absolutely no cybersecurity strategy. If you’re in this boat, you’re basically inviting a security breach.

Even basic cybersecurity measures are better than no plan at all.

2. Bad Passwords

Believe it or not, the most common password used in business is still “123456”.

We get it. Passwords are a pain. Especially if you’re using cloud solutions, you probably have more passwords to keep up with than you care to think about. Using something ridiculously easy to remember is appealing. And dangerous.

Ditch low-security passwords. Use nice, complex, non-words instead. And don’t use the same password for multiple logins.

3. Careless Data Storage

The phrase “data breach” is practically synonymous with cybercrime, and for good reason. That’s what cybercriminals are after—your data. So you need to be careful about where and how you store it.

You don’t walk around with hard copies of your company’s most sensitive files. You keep those locked up. Do the same with your data storage. Make sure it’s encrypted, protected and secure. And only give employees access if they need it to do their jobs.

4. Ignored Updates

Software updates can be inconvenient. We don’t know of a single business owner who gets excited about a Windows patch. But dismissing those notifications is a big mistake.

Every update isn’t security related, but a lot of them are. What’s more, a surprising number of successful cyberattacks hinge on old vulnerabilities. You know, the kind that have already been addressed and resolved in an update.

5. Clueless Employees

We’re sure you hire smart people, but that doesn’t mean they necessarily know how to help you protect your business from cybersecurity threats. In fact, 90% of successful cybersecurity attacks happen as a result of human error.

The average employee simply doesn’t know how dangerous an email can be. Or a bad password. (See above.) Or a Facebook post. Which is why it’s so important for SMB leaders to talk to their employees about network security and bring them up to speed.

6. Wide-open Wi-Fi

It’s great when small businesses offer guest Wi-Fi. Customers love it. But it also represents a pretty significant cybersecurity threat.

Don’t just remove the password from your Wi-Fi signal. You need a very specific kind of wireless set up to allow for customer access without cybersecurity risk. Be sure to do your homework instead of just inviting any random stranger onto your network.

Set up for success.

Every one of the above pitfalls is fairly easy to address. You just need to be strategic and intentional about it.

That’s the key to all SMB cybersecurity. Have a plan, make sure it’s a good plan, and stick to it.

9 Ways Managed Services Pay Off Big for SMBs

It’s an odd story when you think about it. Granted, bears live in the woods. That detail checks out, but that’s about where this well-known tale parts ways with reality.

For starters, bears don’t live in houses. They certainly don’t live in houses that are well furnished and stocked with plenty of food. And even if they did, they don’t prepare food and then leave the house for a bit, with the door unlocked, mind you, leaving their hot food for anyone who happens to come along.

And someone did come along. A little girl—though why would a little girl take a stroll through bear-infested woods all by herself? Your guess is as good as ours, but that’s what Goldilocks did.

And you know the rest.

She visited the bears’ house, sampled their porridge, their chairs and their beds. (Just think about how presumptuous that is!) Having found something that was just right for her in all three cases, she eventually fell asleep in one of the beds . . . only to be startled awake when the bears came home.

Let’s talk about “just right.”

The story ends well, all things considered. No one gets mauled, the bears reclaim their home, and Goldilocks learned her lesson. Never again did she go snooping in the woods, breaking into animals’ homes while they foraged in the forest.

Despite its implausibility, the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears is an enduring tale. We think that has a lot to do with one concept the story highlights several times—the idea of finding solutions that are “just right.”

That’s certainly a concept that resonates with us.

In the world of IT support, we’re forever searching for the “just right” solutions for our clients. Given the range of business technology available, that’s a tall order. It can be tough, both for us and for business owners, to know what’s “just right” for their size, scoop, goals and projected growth.

And in the midst of that, we hear the same thing from a surprising number of small business leaders. “We don’t need managed services,” they tell us. “Our network is small. Our needs are meager. Really, we only have 10 or 12 computers. We don’t need full-blown tech support.”

We cringe every time.

Managed services for SMBs.

Here’s the truth. Every business of every size can benefit from managed services. And we don’t mean there are minor perks. We mean managed services can make the difference between consistent growth and painful plateaus.

Even if your company only consists of a few employees, there’s no way to do business in today’s world without technology. Your success depends on the reliability of that technology, and managed services can help guarantee you have the tools you need when you need them.

Said another way, if managed services were a bed in the three bears’ house, it would somehow be “just right” for the papa bear, the mama bear and the baby bear.

What SMBs get out of managed services.

It’s one thing to say that managed services are a good fit for small businesses. It’s another thing entirely to explain why that’s the case. So let’s dig into the details that make managed services a compelling benefit for companies of any size.


— SMB Group

Below you’ll find 9 reasons why SMBs should invest in managed services. Any one of them could make a powerful difference. Taken together, it quickly becomes clear that managed services are critical to the day-to-day operations of up-and-coming companies.

Peak Performance

According to a report from SMB Group, “72% of SMB decision makers say that technology solutions can help them significantly improve business outcomes and/or run the business better.”

A managed services provider can help ensure that you have the best technology in place for your company’s needs and that your technology is in tip-top operational shape. When your IT solutions are firing on all cylinders, it makes a real difference in your organization’s overall performance.

All the Uptime

Downtime is expensive.

When your network is offline, your entire organization is handicapped. Just think for a moment about all the core functionalities you lose when your network encounters a hiccup. There’s a lot you simply can’t do.

A managed services provider can protect you against downtime by taking a proactive approach to network health. The best downtime is no downtime.

Quick Response Times

In a perfect world, solid proactive network maintenance would be an absolute guarantee against downtime. But this isn’t a perfect world. Hardware fails, software can misfire, and human error is a very real factor.

When your network goes down, every minute counts. That’s when it really pays to have a managed services provider. With the right kind of IT support, you can be online again in minutes instead of hours . . . or days.

Another Layer to Security

Security concerns are among the most common reasons organizations turn to managed services providers, with almost 40% of companies citing a concern about possible data breach. Given how often cybersecurity incidents make headlines, that’s hardly surprising.

What’s more, managed services providers are well positioned to provide comprehensive cybersecurity. Your managed services partner should already know your network inside and out. Who better to protect it?

Streamlined Processes

Far too often, technology is a thorn in the side of small business owners. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Imagine IT solutions that make everything about your daily tasks easier, more manageable and less cumbersome.

That’s what managed services can do for you.

And if you run an SMB, that matters. You have limited resources, limited funding and limited personnel. You can’t afford to be inefficient. With solid IT support, you won’t be.

Strategic Growth

Growth is a double-edged sword for SMBs. Of course it’s good to see your customer base expand. That boosts your stability and profitability. But it also brings with it new challenges and greater demands.

In fact, tech giant Oracle recently cited technology as one of the key areas for growing SMBs to address. The right IT solutions are critical to the future of your business.

One of the tricks to strategic growth is implementing the appropriate technology at the appropriate time. A managed services partner can help you make that call.

Onboarding and Offboarding

Speaking of growth, it’s important to address your process of onboarding (and offboarding) employees. Even if you don’t experience high turnover, people will come and go. And if you’re growing, it’s possible a lot of people will join.

The faster you can get those new folks into productivity mode, the faster the investment in more personnel will pay off. Managed services providers can smooth that transition, making sure new employees have all the tech tools they need from day one.

Extra Help

Occasionally, we talk to a small business owner who already has in-house IT staff. You might think that pretty much nullifies the need for managed services. Quite the opposite—managed services paired with in-house IT staff is a powerful combo.

Leave regular maintenance, upgrades, network stability, employee onboarding and other fairly mundane IT tasks to your managed services partner, freeing your full-time staff to focus on revenue-generating projects that propel your business forward.

Bottomline Value

Finally, a word about money. Note, however, that we didn’t say “savings.”

Historically, cost savings have been a significant driver for SMB owners when considering managed services. And there are cases where a managed services partner can lower overall technology spending. But it would be misleading to make any kind of blanket promise that you’ll save money.

You might, or you might need to spend a little more.

What we can promise, however, is that you’ll see value in managed services. The ROI is there, even if it requires a bit more investment upfront—and sometimes it does. It’s hard to overemphasize the strategic advantage of responsive, proactive IT service. The gains in efficiency, employee morale and uptime alone can easily justify any additional spending.

In terms of value, managed services are most certainly worth it.

Finding your “just right.”

If you’re still on the fence about enlisting the help of a managed services provider, feel free to give us a call. We’ll be happy to address any questions you have, no strings attached.

Even if you prefer to work with a different provider, we genuinely believe that managed services give small business owners a powerful advantage—and we’d like to help you tap into that power.

When you have the tools you need, there’s no limit to where your business can take you.

Cybersecurity Basics: Laying the Foundation for Your SMB’s Protection

Loki is an interesting member of the Norse pantheon. For one, he’s not really a god.

His father was a giant, and his mother was—well, we’re not sure. Maybe a giant. Maybe a goddess. Maybe something else. What that makes Loki is something of a mystery. But we do know that he’s a trickster.

Trickster gods are common in several different mythologies. Tricksters tend to be troublemakers, though they aren’t always evil, per se. But they are deceptive and mischievous. Loki is both. He’s practically always working some kind of hidden agenda.

And everyone knows it, but that doesn’t seem to stop him from causing chaos. In part, that’s because he’s really good at lying. But he also has a handy little trick up his sleeve.

Loki is a shapeshifter.

Shapeshifting shenanigans.

Throughout Norse tales, Loki has been known to take on the form of everything from a salmon to a mare to a fly. He’s even disguised himself as an elderly woman. All those different forms make it difficult for victims of his schemes to know he’s even involved.

Which is how he’s able to wreak so much havoc.

When you can’t easily spot a troublemaker, it’s doubly hard to keep your guard up. And that, believe it or not, is the primary challenge of cybersecurity. Cybercriminals are as crafty as Loki when it comes to changing tactics. The malware that causes massive breaches today will morph into something new and different tomorrow.

You probably won’t see the next attack coming. So, if you want to keep your company safe there are a few critical cybersecurity practices you need to put into practice today.

Everyone is at risk.

Before we get to the tips, a cautionary fact-based warning. A surprising number of small business owners mistakenly think they’re not at risk for a security breach. The logic makes sense. If cybercriminals can go after companies with vast financial resources, why target smaller companies?

And yet, Small Business Trends reports that 43% of all cyberattacks are aimed directly at small businesses. Why? In part because criminals assume small businesses typically aren’t as protective of their data, making them easier targets.

You may not have the same kind of resources Fortune 500 companies have for cybersecurity, but there’s no excuse for dropping your guard completely. Even if you can’t afford a cybersecurity consultant, there are still things you can do to protect your business.

Defending against the unknown.

Basic cybersecurity is critical. The following tips serve as a solid foundation for network security. If you don’t have any kind of cybersecurity in place now, this is the place to start.

1. Antivirus and Firewall Protection

Commercial-grade antivirus and firewall applications are your first line of defense against cyberthreats. While the business-specific versions of these programs are similar to the applications you probably use on your home computer, there are differences. After all, you’re protecting a whole network, not just a single PC.

Even if you don’t have the budget to pay a security consultant for top-tier protection (like 24/7 monitoring, automated backups and real-time helpdesk support), we still recommend getting some professional help with your antivirus and firewall solutions.

2. Update Everything

As security expert Phil Quade pointed out in the wake of the WannaCry ransomware attack, “Cybercriminals aren’t breaking into systems using new zero-day attacks, they are primarily exploiting already discovered vulnerabilities.”

In other words, most malware attacks take advantage of known weaknesses. When software makers offer security updates, they’re offering you ongoing protection. Take it. Don’t ignore update notifications. Keeping your software up-to-date is one of the easiest, most effective ways to keep your network safe.

3. The Human Factor

An overwhelming 91% of cyberattacks begin with a phishing email.

Phishing emails look like safe emails sent from trusted sources—even banks and other financial institutions. When users open these emails, click on links and even enter their passwords without making sure the email is legitimate first, they open your network up to all kinds of bad stuff.

The best way to stop phishing dead in its tracks is thorough, ongoing employee education. Make sure your staff knows how to spot a phishing email and remind them often to keep their guard up. If you’re not sure how to discern dangerous emails from safe ones, CSO has a great article on the subject.

Just the beginning.

As we mentioned before, these tips make for a great cybersecurity foundation. But there is a lot more to cybersecurity than these basics.

If you’d like further information on more advanced protection, just give us a call. We’ll be happy to walk you through more sophisticated options.

What Fairy Tales Can Teach You About HIPAA Compliance

Fairy tales have a unique kind of charm. Animals talk, magic is routine, heroes and heroines have mystical protectors . . . and there’s almost always a lesson. As one article put it, “It’s in a fairy tale’s DNA to have a strong moral lesson, a fight between good & evil, love and loss, and these lessons rub off on our children.”

Just think about the well-known classics. Every one of them encapsulates a life lesson.

  • Cinderella teaches us bad circumstances aren’t an excuse for bad behavior. Even in the most challenging situations, we should strive to be our best.
  • Little Red Riding Hood serves as a cautionary tale—be careful who you trust.
  • The Three Little Pigs clearly demonstrates the value of a solid foundation, both metaphorically and literally.
  • Rapunzel reminds us to find creative solutions to life’s problems using whatever is at hand.

While we think of those as children’s stories, the truth is every one of those lessons has some valuable, real-life, adult-level value.

And yes, we really are about to tie this to the idea of HIPAA compliance. You know you’re curious as to how it all fits together. More beautifully than you might think.

HIPAA compliance is no fairy tale.

HIPAA compliance is serious business. Violations cost anywhere from $100 to $50,000per violation. And the annual cap for violations of the same provision is a staggering $1.5 million. That’s more than enough to severely impact any SMB.

To further complicate things, it’s genuinely difficult to combine strong cybersecurity practices, backup and disaster recovery, ease of use and integration with the rest of your IT network. As a recent article in Forbes pointed out, cybersecurity alone is a beast of a challenge for HIPAA-compliant organizations. It’s difficult to balance functionality with protection.

And yet, the basic lessons from fairy tales listed above make a strong framework for building out your HIPAA compliance policies. HIPAA compliance may not be a fairy tale, but fables and folklore can still show you how to approach this complex topic.

4 fairytale lessons for HIPAA compliance.

What can fairy tales teach you about HIPAA compliance? Four powerful lessons.

1. Always Strive for Your Best

Matt Fisher is a partner with Mirick O’Connell who specializes in health law. Here’s how he summarized the right approach to HIPAA compliance: “The best thing an organization can do is try to stay ahead of the issues. As soon as you identify issues that could turn into problems, you have to seek help. And don’t try to do it alone.”

HIPAA compliance can’t be a back-burner issue. The stakes are just too high. The fines are steep, the negative impact on your reputation can be downright crippling, and the sensitive data HIPAA rules protect is, well, sensitive.

Start by making HIPAA compliance the priority it should be.

2. Be Careful Who You Trust

Because HIPAA compliance is a complex thing, you’ll need help. That help could be as simple as following industry-recognized publications, like HIPAA Journal, or as strategic as partnering with a HIPAA compliance consultant.

Either way, be careful who you take your HIPAA advice from. Managed services providers who don’t specialize in HIPAA compliance, for example, can do more harm than good.

3. You Need a Solid Foundation

Every element of your infrastructure needs a solid foundation. HIPAA’s no different. But the raw scope of HIPAA compliance means you’ll need to work harder to craft this particular foundation.

That starts with thorough research and documentation. Know which HIPAA policies affect you, and then document your internal practices (both tech-related and otherwise) for adhering to those policies. Make sure your documentation is clearly explained to all staff members and always available for reference.

4. Creative Solutions Are Essential

At times, HIPAA compliance can seem to conflict with efficiency. HIPAA regulations require more work on your part, and that slows down every internal process in your office. The key to weaving HIPAA compliance into your workflow is a well thought out, creative approach.

That requires several things. You’ll need to stay up-to-speed with the latest technical solutions, office management practices and regulatory requirements. You’ll need dependable, knowledgeable staff. You’ll also need a positive attitude about HIPAA, rooted in the understanding that compliance rules protect sensitive data . . . even though they also require you to work a little harder.

Your HIPAA happily ever after.

HIPAA compliance is daunting but doable.

If you’re just beginning to wrap your mind around HIPAA, don’t get discouraged. Instead, use the four tips above as a launchpad to get your organization in line with current regulations. We’ve seen organizations of all sizes tackle HIPAA, striking the perfect balance between compliance and convenience.

And you can, too.

Why Hybrid Cloud Solutions Are a Big Deal

One can only imagine the woman’s surprise. She was simply going about her day when she encountered the beast. It was . . . unique.

Descriptions vary, but here’s what she saw, more or less. Its body was equine, bearing resemblance to a cross between a horse, a deer and an ox. It had scales along its body, like a fish, and its head looked more like a dragon than anything else. A dragon with antlers.

If you or I bumped into such an animal, we would probably not react as this woman did. She smiled, a hand on her belly. She was the mother of Confucius, and the creature in question was a Qilin, also known as a Chinese Unicorn.

A good-luck mutt.

The Qilun is, by western standards, a strange beast. A conglomeration of multiple animals, it looks nothing like anything you’ve seen in nature. And yet, it’s hardly the only mythological hybrid.

You’ve probably heard of others, like centaurs (half human, half horse), griffins (part lion and part eagle), and mermaids (beautiful woman on top, fish on the bottom). Hybrids pop up in mythology and folklore all over the world. Sometimes they’re meant to invoke fear, and sometimes wonder.

Or, as in the case of the Qilin, they represent an inspiring form of help.

As one article explains, “The Qilin or Chinese unicorn is a mythical beast that symbolizes good luck and prosperity.” Their presence signified the birth of a sage (like Confucius). They were so gentle and kind that they reportedly walked in the clouds to avoid harming even one blade of grass.

Basically, they were a good thing, even if hard to understand at first glance.

Introducing the hybrid cloud.

That’s the thing about hybrids. Because they’re a mashup of other things, sometimes they’re confusing.

We run into this all the time when we try to explain the benefits of hybrid cloud solutions. People who’ve never heard the term before look at us like you might look at a Qilin if you bumped into one tonight outside your home.

So let us set your mind at ease. The hybrid cloud isn’t as confusing as it sounds. Not only that, but like the Qilin, it’s a really good thing.

The beauty of the hybrid cloud.

Hybrid cloud solutions make use of two kinds of resources: local resources and cloud-based resources. One of the most common examples for small business is hybrid cloud storage.

A hybrid cloud storage solution gives you onsite storage space (which allows for speed and convenience) as well as offsite storage (which gives you remote access and the assurance of an additional backup). It’s an amazing fit for growing SMBs because it’s secure, scalable and cost-effective.

Secure

Security is a common concern for all cloud solutions, including hybrid cloud tools. However, it wasn’t that long ago that Gartner Research VP Jay Heiser made a bold claim: “Generally speaking, public cloud computing represents a more secure starting point than in-house implementations.”

In other words, hybrid cloud solutions tend to boost overall security rather than bringing it down a notch.

Scalable

Scalability is a big deal, especially for SMB owners. As your company grows, you need technology that can gracefully keep pace. Storage is a particularly critical component.

As Forbes points out, “A hybrid cloud can provide the architectural framework for a dynamic IT environment—one that can handle unpredictable fluctuations in usage and offer new possibilities for making the customer experience better across the entire organization.”

In other words, hybrid cloud solutions are a great fit for growing organizations due to their scalable flexibility.

Cost-effective

Most business owners perk up at the idea of savings, and hybrid cloud solutions certainly have the potential to drive down costs. After all, why pay for storage space you don’t need? It makes far more sense to take advantage of the scalability of a hybrid approach, adjusting storage space as your storage needs change.

But a word of caution here. While hybrid cloud solutions can trim your budget, any solution that doesn’t really meet your needs isn’t worth it in the long run. Be sure to think strategically before making a change. You may even want to talk to an IT consultant first.

The future is now.

Hybrid cloud solutions are more than a passing fad. Big names like Microsoft and VMware are already duking it out for the top spot in the growing market. It’s estimated that by 2020 90% of companies will be utilizing hybrid options.

If you’ve been considering a move to a hybrid cloud infrastructure, you’re in good company. And if you need a little help navigating the change, don’t hesitate to let us know.

This Is What Complete Cybersecurity Looks Like

No good deed goes unpunished. Not in Greek mythology, anyway.

Take the case of Prometheus as a prime example. A hero among men and the object of the gods’ wrath. One god, in particular. The one you really don’t want to cross. Zeus.

In fairness to Prometheus, Zeus started it. Zeus hid fire from humanity. Not a fire. All fire. Which, of course, made for some cold nights. Being the clever, crafty problem-solver that he was, Prometheus decided to fix the situation. He stole fire from Zeus, returning it to humankind.

Zeus did not take the news well.

He sent Pandora to earth. She brought some fun things with her, like hard labor, disease and evil. And that’s not the worst of it.

As a more personal form of punishment, Zeus had Prometheus chained to a mountain where every day a giant eagle ate his liver. Because Prometheus was immortal, every night his liver regenerated . . . only to be eaten again the next day.

All because Zeus couldn’t tolerate theft, even though he kind of did it first.

Getting all philosophical.

Granted, the Greek gods were a trainwreck of soap opera-like antics. None of them, including Zeus, seemed to be above rash decisions, vengeance or debauchery. And yet, it’s not that hard to understand why both Prometheus and Zeus did what they did.

It is uniquely frustrating to be the victim of theft.

In fact, the Greek philosopher Aristotle believed there are some things that are always wrong, no matter the circumstances. His list? Things like murder, adultery and, of course, theft.

It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about the bully who stole your lunch in second grade or reaching for your car keys only to find your vehicle isn’t where you left it. It’s not fun when something that belongs to you gets stolen.

And when it comes to your business, few things are as upsetting as stolen information.

Why cybersecurity might be the most important thing you do.

Cybersecurity is a hot topic right now. You can’t turn on the news without hearing about a new ransomware attack or (yet another) data breach. The entire nation is still reeling from that massive Equifax breach, and we will be for years to come.

Of all the important things you do as a business leader, cybersecurity might be the single most important. That’s because cybersecurity impacts three different core elements of your business.

1. Your Data

With the kinds of cybersecurity disasters that tend to make national headlines, it’s easy for SMB owners to assume they’re relatively safe. If cyber thieves are going after the big fish, the pond is relatively safe for everyone else, right? Actually, no.

43% of cyber attacks are directed at small businesses. Let that sink in.

Just because your organization doesn’t have a global footprint doesn’t mean you’re automatically safe. Your company’s data still has value. There’s still a risk.

2. Your Productivity

Let’s consider a surprisingly grim hypothetical. You experience a cyber attack. The attack leaves your staff unable to work for a few business days. On the surface, that may not seem like a big deal—until you run the numbers.

22% of small businesses hit by a single successful ransomware attack have to stop all business operations completely. Even if they’re able to recover the same day, that downtime can get expensive fast.

– CNN

Downtime is a profitability-killer. You can’t afford it. No one can.

3. Your Reputation

Successful cyber attacks kill something else, too. Your customers’ opinions of your business.

As Security Magazine warns, “The harm done to brand reputation can be long-lasting and hard to control . . . The appearance of negligence, repeat attacks or unpredictable fallout from a breach can significantly unravel public goodwill that took decades to build.”

Even small breaches make you look bad in the eyes of potential customers. And when the damage is done, it’s done. Then you have to rebuild, even if it takes years. It’s so much easier to avoid the damage to your reputation to begin with.

Getting your cybersecurity up to par.

So what does it take to protect your company?

In one sense, that’s a tough question to answer. It depends on so many unique variables. That’s why a lot of business owners prefer to work with a cybersecurity expert than to go at it on their own. It makes the process easier, and it dramatically improves the level of security protecting your organization.

But if you don’t have the money or inclination to call in a pro, there are still things you can do. And here’s where we share a bit of good news. The core elements of solid cybersecurity are pretty easy to break down.

Make sure you address all four of the following areas.

Cover the Basics

First things first—make sure you have the bare-bones essentials. We’re talking antivirus software on every PC, anti-spam protection for your email server and a firewall. These are the very same layers of protection you have at home (we hope!), so this shouldn’t be unfamiliar territory.

Back Up Everything

Onsite backups are important because they allow for the fastest possible recovery if you need them. Offsite backups are important in case something happens to your computers and your onsite server. Restoration is slower with cloud backups, but at least you don’t lose your data.

— smallbiztrends

And that’s why backups are so critical. Without secure, redundant backups, you have no safety net. Anything from a corrupt file to a natural disaster can mess with your primary copy. Always keep a backup.

Restrict Access

Some smaller companies don’t give a lot of thought to access. When your employee count is lower, it seems easier to grant everyone access to everything. After all, members of your staff likely wear a variety of hats. It’s easier to just open the digital doors wide.

Easier, but not wise. Every employee who has access to software, cloud services, servers and databases is a potential point of breach.

We know—that sounds really negative. Your employees are assets, not liabilities. That absolutely true, but it’s also true that it’s in your best interest to minimize cybersecurity risks. If your bookkeeper doesn’t need access to your sales database, don’t grant it.

Educate Your Employees

We’ve saved the most important point for last. Nothing will do as much to boost your cybersecurity as employee education.

Did you know that cyber criminals use one devious tactic to start 91% of breaches? Phishing emails. Phishing emails look like legitimate messages from trusted sources, but there’s all kind of potential malware hiding behind those seemingly innocent links and download buttons.

Ransomware attackers love phishing emails.

Just taking the time to help your employees understand how important it is to be careful when opening emails (and surfing social media sites) can go a long way to making your network more secure.

Protection matters.

Don’t wait until you experience a breach or a ransomware attack to get serious about cybersecurity. Start taking steps today to protect your company. Even if you plan to partner with an expert (we recommend it), get started now with the tips included here.

Your data is the lifeblood of your business. Keep it safe.

Why a Virtual Server Makes Sense for Your SMB

In Norse mythology, the end of the world is kind of a big deal.

According to Norse legend, everything ends with a very literal bang—a huge battle in which competing deities face off. All the major players are involved, including Odin, Thor and Loki, the great trickster, as well as some interesting lesser-known characters. Like a giant wolf named Fenrir . . . who is somehow Loki’s son.

The battle is both fierce and chaotic, ending in something of a draw. Gods and monsters slay one another, trading a death for a death. When the dust clears, everyone is defeated.

The world is destroyed, but mythology scholars believe that’s not the end of the story. The world does end, but shortly after it’s recreated. The gods return. New people form new civilizations. Reborn, the world goes on.

This world-ending/world-beginning battle is known as Ragnarök.

Endings and beginnings.

In the course of your company’s history, there will be several beginning/ending events. Major milestones will mark times when something huge changes.

You’ll move from your garage, where the business first started, to a proper office. You’ll hire your first staff members. You’ll seek investors or forge your first business-to-business partnership or completely discontinue one offering so you can focus on another.

Each shift is the end of one thing and the beginning of something else. Kind of like Ragnarök. And when it comes to your company’s technology, there will be several of these.

Introducing the virtual server.

One specific game-changing shift we’ve seen a lot is the shift from onsite hardware to cloud-based virtual servers.

The cloud, in general, is blowing up right now. Organizations of all sizes are moving critical business functionality to cloud-based solutions. In fact, a recent survey found that 90% of companies use cloud-based tools for at least some of their business solutions, and 50% actually cite cloud services as their preferred option.

Even Forbes touts the benefits of cloud-based virtual servers, observing, “Today, it doesn’t seem rational to invest in hardware such as servers and backup drives that need constant care . . .” The preferred option? A move to the cloud.

Of all the business functionality you could move to the cloud, few solutions make as much sense as a virtual server.

Why you should use a virtual server.

Which begs the question, what makes a cloud-based virtual server so appealing for small businesses? Just because a new business trend is emerging doesn’t mean you should jump on the bandwagon without doing your due diligence.

What are the advantages?

No Maintenance

First and foremost, a cloud-based virtual server means absolutely no maintenance for you. You don’t have to buy it, store it, maintain it or service it. Ever. The cloud provider will do all of that for you. You get the benefit of a state-of-the-art server without any of the hassle.

Get Exactly What You Need

Then there’s the issue of storage. Upgrading your server space is a pain when you work with a physical, onsite server. But you can add (or remove) space on a virtual server with the click of a few buttons. That kind of scalability is ideal for small businesses.

Anytime, Anywhere Access

Remote access is another compelling advantage. Onsite servers are location-locked. There’s little you can do about that. But a cloud-based virtual server is accessed via the internet. As long as you have a WiFi connection, you have access—from your home computer, your laptop, your tablet or even your smartphone.

Superior Security

Finally, there’s the matter of security. Cloud-based virtual servers are extremely secure. Most likely far more secure than you could make an onsite server. Cloud providers have good reason to ensure redundancy and security. Not only are virtual servers more convenient—they’re safe, too.

The right virtual server for you.

Finding the right cloud-based virtual server for your business is simply a matter of doing your homework. Different providers offer a variety of subscription-based plans. As long as you go with a reputable company, you should be fine.

Of course, the move to a virtual server is significant. For that reason, some SMB owners choose to work with an IT consultant to guide them through the process. While not necessary, that’s an ideal place to start.

However you choose to proceed, we certainly recommend looking into a virtual server for your small business. This is the future of business technology. It’s one more new beginning, full of exciting potential.

How Cloud Services Can Make Moving Offices Way Easier

Ancient mythology is chock-full of epic tales.

For example, there’s the story of Romulus and Remus, the brothers who built Rome. (Spoiler: It took more than a day.) Theirs was not a cooperative effort. Romulus eventually killed Remus, becoming the first king of Rome.

Or what about the Greek myth of Apollo and Cassandra? Cassandra was a priestess and apparently something of a looker. She caught Apollo’s eye, so he offered her a gift in exchange for a bit of passion. That gift? The ability to see into the future.

But Cassandra’s new-found clairvoyance gave her the ability to see Apollo’s role in the fall of Troy, so she spit in his face . . . at which point Apollo made a slight alteration to his gift. Cassandra could still see the future, but no one would believe her. Ever.

All her warnings fell on deaf ears, even though she knew exactly what she was talking about. Talk about irony.

We could go on, but you get the idea. Ancient mythology is a treasure-trove of good storytelling.

The Missing Myth

However, there’s a notably missing story. We know of the Roman god of beginnings and transitions. His name was Janus, and he was an important part of most Roman celebrations. But we don’t have any stories about him.

Not one.

Which is weird. Beginnings and transitions are important. When change happens, it definitely affects us. That’s true for personal change, and it’s just as true in your business.

It kind of makes you wonder if the Romans understand how distressing change can be, but didn’t particularly want to think about it. Who knows? Regardless of why they didn’t leave us with any stories about Janus, change can certainly be stressful.

What if you could eliminate some of the stress from one of the most difficult changes your business can undertake? What if you could make changing locations way easier?

Movin’, Movin’, Movin’

Moving a business from one location to another is a HUGE task. There are so many logistics to take into account. Anything that makes relocation easier is worth doing.

There are a lot of ways you can ease up on the stress of moving, but we have one suggestion that makes sense on multiple levels. Moving offices is the perfect time to embrace cloud services.

Why Cloud Services?

When it comes to relocation, there are three specific benefits to cloud solutions. What are they? So glad you asked . . .

1. Make the physical move easier.

Guess what? The less you have to move, the easier it is to move. If you don’t have to lug a server from one office to another, that’ll make relocation a whole lot easier. The same goes for any other technical tools you can replace with cloud solutions.

2. Save some money.

Not only will you have less to move, but you’ll have less to set up. That means fewer billable hours to your IT service provider for installation, cabling and equipment setup. Cloud solutions will be there, ready to go to work as soon as you log in from the new office. No setup required.

3. All kinds of new functionality.

We saved the best for last. You and your staff will already be open to new things. You’re changing locations—why not ditch any outdated solutions, as well?

This is an ideal time to make adjustments to processes. You’re already disrupting the flow of the average workday. Make the most of it by upgrading to cloud solutions at the same time. That’s killing two metaphorical birds with the same high-tech stone.

What If You’re Not Moving?

This post is great if you’re prepping to pack up the old office and move into a new one, but what if you’re cozy where you are right now? Does any of this apply to you?

You bet.

Cloud services make sense for SMBs in general. You don’t have to be in the middle of a chaotic relocation to take advantage of the cloud. And if you’d like to know more about how cloud solutions helps SMB owners in general, you’re in luck.

We’ve written about the general advantages of cloud solutions for small business owners before. You can read that post here.

The Complete Backup & Disaster Recovery Checklist

You’re probably familiar with the story of the ant and the grasshopper. The classic fable is meant to teach the importance of preparation.

All summer long, the ant works diligently, storing up food and supplies. But the grasshopper sees no immediate need to prep for colder weather, so he spends his days playing in the sun. When winter comes, the ant is well prepared while the grasshopper has no food.

As morality tales go, it’s a good one—though perhaps a little too simple to apply to you.

Preparation vs. Productivity

You’re a business owner. You’re not playing all day, every day. You’re busy. Really busy. Busy with business stuff. But a full schedule and constant activity don’t equate to preparation.

Maybe it would be better to compare the forward-thinking ant to something other than a frolicking grasshopper.

Consider bees. They tend to be fairly active. So much so that we use phrases like “busy as a bee.” And bees get things done. They make honey and collect pollen. They’re industrious little buzzers, but that doesn’t mean they’re prepared.

We see a lot of busy-ness when working with SMB owners. And we’re not knocking productivity. Productivity is good. But even the most efficient, dynamic small businesses need to think about the future.

Backup & Disaster Recovery

Backup and disaster recovery (or BDR) is all about future-proofing your business. No one wants disaster to strike, but sometimes there’s no avoiding it. Challenges ranging from a simple power outage to a full-blown natural disaster have the potential to take your business offline.

If that happens, all the efficiency in the world won’t keep you from losing money. You’ll need a plan.

Despite the clear need for preparation, 68% of small businesses have no documented BDR plan. In fact, 21% of the small business owners without a plan were alarmingly candid, stating that BDR simply isn’t a priority. This can literally undo your entire organization, causing massive financial loss and a real hit to your reputation.

How is that not a priority?

Building Your BDR Plan: The Checklist

If you’re one of the small business owners without a backup and disaster recovery plan, we recommend addressing that. The sooner the better. And if you’re not sure where to start, you’re in luck.

The following checklist will give you all the basic components of a BDR plan. For full protection—and to make backup and disaster recovery planning much easier on yourself—you might also consider talking to a BDR expert.

Documentation

You can’t have a plan without . . . well, a plan. To be clear, we’re not talking about a loose idea of what you’d do in a worst-case scenario. We’re talking about written documentation available to all your employees detailing policies and procedures to be following for any kind of emergency, great or small.

Local and remote backups

Not only do you need backups, but you need two kinds of backups: local and remote. Your local backups allow for the quickest possible recovery, assuming they’re unaffected by the disaster. Remote backups are your insurance policy. If something devastating happens to your physical office, destroying your server, your remote backups ensure you don’t lose critical data.

Remote work options

Speaking of disasters that might make it impossible to work from your office, you should also have a plan for continuing business operations remotely. If you’re taking advantage of cloud solutions, a lot of that work is already done. If not, there are still ways to maintain a business while your sort out your workspace. Just be sure to think through how you’d tackle this challenge.

Communications fallback

Finally, you need to know how you’ll keep up communication with employees, customers and vendors. Ideally, this should address essential business processes first, as well as including clear directives for what employees should tell customers. In the midst of a disaster, how and what you communicate has the potential to leave customers feeling either uneasy or reassured.

Getting Started

This checklist is admittedly basic. But for small business owners with absolutely no backup and disaster recovery plan, it’s is a great place to start.

As your business grows and as you come to see the need for a fuller BDR plan, it’s a good idea to revisit the documentation you create. Update it regularly to account for changes in your business process and your growth as a company.

Disasters are no fun. Unfortunately, there’s nothing we can do to prevent every possible unpleasant, unexpected challenge. But a solid backup and disaster recovery plan can take the sting out of otherwise devastating situations.

It’s all about having a plan.