I deal with quite a few small businesses, and they are always in need of good advice and information to run their business effectively and efficiently. The thing about a small business is they don’t have money to simply through away on computer hardware and software. They also don’t have the resources to hire a full time IT person to sit and run their network and file servers and keep everything up to date. Often the person that ends up responsible for doing the computer updating and fixing is the person that knows the most about it.
Thinking about some of the small businesses I work with I thought I would put some of the things I recommend to them in person down here on my blog, so those of you who are responsible for taking care of some of the day to day computer maintenance and work will have some more resources to make it easier. You might know of some of these things or you might have other options that I don’t know of. If you do please leave a comment so I can look at them.
Small businesses all have different needs for software. An insurance agency might have very different software needs than a non-profit, but there are some common software that all businesses and non-profits need.
I used to recommend Norton Anti-Virus but over the years Norton has become nothing but a resource hog. Not only has Norton Anti-Virus become a resource hog, but it is getting harder and harder to purchase just Norton Anti-Virus without all of the extras that they through in like a firewall. Most small businesses don’t need the bloatware that Norton has become. Windows XP has a built in software Firewall that works well enough for most businesses, not to mention most computers are behind routers that help to protect from outside attacks already. Because of the bloatware of Norton and how resource hungry it has become I recommend small businesses and non-profits take a look at using AVG Anti-Virus. It does a great job of protecting your computer from viruses, updates automatically and can be set to scan daily. Most importantly it does not take an extra GB of ram to run it. They also offer a home version that is free for home users and non-commercial use.
For some additional malware protection look at Spybot Search and Destroy. It is by far the easiest malware protection you can get. Easy to update, run and fast compared to scanning your computer everyday.
Why do small businesses and non-profits spend hundreds of dollars lining Microsoft’s pockets buying their Microsoft Office. It is bad enough that they are using Windows, and face it the majority only use Windows becuase it either came with thier computer or their finance software requires it. Two alternatives for office suite software is OpenOffice.org and Google Docs. For a lot of people OpenOffice is the better alternative because it is more like the traditional software approach they are used to, meaning it is software installed on their computers and not an online approach. I personally use Google Docs quite often, and more and more many of my office tasks are moving online.
Many small businesses and non-profits have photos and images to manage. Often all they need is an easy to use package like Picasa by Google.
You can also get Picasa as part of the Google Pack, but personally I don’t care for some of the extra things they have in the pack. But it can make it faster to just install the pack.
Sooner or later every small business or non-profit needs to create a pdf file to share with someone else. If you are using OpenOffice.org or Google Docs then you have no problems, but if you need to create a PDF from some other software then you can take your chances converting it using an online conversion site like ZamZar or you could install CutePDF Writer. There are other PDF writers but I have had good luck with this one and it is free for commercial use.
Small businesses and non-profits all need a backup plan or all of your hard work can be wiped out in an instant when (yes when) your hard drive dies. I have talked on and on about backing up your data. Buy an external hard drive like the Western Digital MyBook External Hard Drive and create a simple batch file to make copies of your data on your external hard drive and use Windows scheduler to make it run automatically. This won’t help you if you have a fire or flood and your computer is physically destroyed, so you need to have an off site backup as well. For that I prefer MozyPro, because it is very easy to use and provides a very easy off site backup solution. You could also buy two external hard drives and store one in a safety deposit box or some place secure. If you are going to do that though you should just get MozyPro it will cost less and be less time consuming. If you don’t like MozyPro then take a look at one of the other competing services. Most important make sure you have an off site backup.
There are some of my recommendations for software that will not cost a fortune to buy and will cover some of the basic needs of small business and non-profits very well. I never covered web browsing and email. You can probably guess that I recommend using Firefox and Thunderbird for those applications. Is there other basic software that you have found to be essential to small business? What software do you find essential? What software would you add to this list?