Small and medium-size businesses (SMBs) are notorious for not spending. This is especially true with the smaller companies. Many SMBs try to spend money only when necessary, which can result in loss of data, work, or worse. To avoid disasters or the inability to grow and function as needed, SMBs need to bite the bullet and make some purchases. As the old saying goes, "You can't make money if you don't spend money."
And so, with that adage in the back of your mind, let's take a look and see just what purchasing bullets SMBs need to bite.
1: Hardware spec'd for at least five years out
If you're purchasing hardware based on your current needs, you are wasting money. Never buy hardware to fit the needs of now. When it comes time to replace desktops, laptops, servers, and networking hardware, look at least five years into the future. If you purchase a machine that will fill your needs down the road, you can be sure it will serve you well. But if you're buying machines with CPUs, RAM, HDs, etc., based on your current needs, you can bet you'll be facing an upgrade soon enough.
2: Backup software
Many SMBs want to get by with built-in backup software. Windows Server backup does a good job, but when you need serious backup that will allow you to recover from an image, you'll have to break down and purchase a third-party backup solution. I say this with a grain of "hoo boy!" because we all know no backup solution is perfect. But having the ability to recover from bare metal will, in the long run, save your company a lot of bottom line.
3: Suitable network pipes
It blows me away when I find out a business is attempting to run on a consumer-grade DSL line. Yes, I get that fat pipes are costly... but doing business with an insufficient data pipe will be far costlier in the end. Not only will work be slow, but work could easily come to a halt. Don't let something as simple as a network bottleneck cause you headaches day in and day out. Drop the coin for more bandwidth than you need.
4: Firewall hardware
If you are relying on the Windows desktop or server firewall to protect you, think again. Take network security seriously and drop the notion that the Windows built-in firewall is enough. What you really need is a hardware solution, from Cisco, Fortinet, or Sonicwall. Not only are these devices far more secure, they are also more reliable and flexible. Don't entrust the safety of your business to weak software firewalls. Period.
5: Cloud space
Let's face it: Cloud storage makes sense. Not only does it expand your capabilities, it allows you to easily access files from outside your network. But don't just settle for the free version of Dropbox or UbuntuOne. Purchase extra space. This is one of the cheapest investments you'll have and it will replay you with a flexibility and ease of use that few other investments can. It sounds overly simplistic, but cloud storage is simply a must-have for many businesses.
6: Powerful Web site with ecommerce
If you don't already have a Web site to showcase your business, you need one. And do not do the standard, from-template site that won't get your noticed. As well, don't rely on a Facebook page for your business. (I actually came across this recently.) You need to take your online presence seriously. If that online presence includes ecommerce, you really need to buckle down and invest in a solid solution. Remember, your bottom line is directly affected by your presence online. If you shortchange that presence, you shortchange your business.
Things break. Period. Be it a network pipe, a switch, a modem, a router, or a server-it all eventually goes down. When something goes down on this level, you can't do business. The cost of redundancy, in some instances, might be high, but the payoff will be worth it. Like backups, this investment will be one you hope you never have to use. But should that occasion arise, you'll be glad it's there to have your back.
One way or another, you need IT support, whether it's an in-house department, outsourced, or purchased support for software. This is a essential. If you don't have support, and the need arises, it's already too late. By then, you're scrambling to grab up the first company you can find. I've seen a number of instances where a client has encountered a corrupted QuickBooks data file only to find they didn't have a support contract with Intuit. The cost of getting Intuit involved at this point is far worse than purchasing a support contract. Always make sure you have support in place and at the ready.
9: Mobile solutions
Your business needs to be mobile. Tablets, smartphones, laptops-you need the solutions to enable you to work away from the office. This might also require a VPN setup. Spend that money so you are not locked to the office at all times. Besides, consumers need to know you have caught up to current technology trends. I've seen many small businesses turn to tablets for checkout registers. That is forward thinking and, on some levels, can help win over new customers.
10: Powerhouse business-class printers
Why would a business rely on a consumer-grade printer? Not only do they not have all the features you need, they don't have the longevity to withstand business-level usage. You need a serious printer that can handle a serious job load. Don't skimp here or you'll be screaming at that HP Deskjet until you feel your hair turn gray and your sanity start to slip.
It is true: To make money, you must spend money. No matter how tight your purse strings are, you're going to have to open them up if you have any hope of growing your company. That doesn't mean you must run out and purchase everything on this list. Start out small and proceed from there. In the end, your company will thank you.
- IT Innovation for Small Businesses (ZDNet special report page)
- Executive's guide to IT innovation in small businesses (free ebook)
Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website jackwallen.com.