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Eight of the best mobile apps for small businesses

July 25, 2016 by IT Donut contributor

Eight of the best mobile apps for small businesses{{}}If you're a sole trader or owner of a small business, there has never been a better time to visit the app store of your chosen smartphone. Thanks to the efforts of a thriving developer community and increasingly powerful hardware, the ability to remain productive while on the move is now available to us all.

There are literally thousands of apps available on every conceivable mobile platform, all of which are designed to make the best use of small screens and provide users with tools previously only available on cumbersome desktop and laptop computers.

Unfortunately, with such a colossal choice of apps to sift through, it can be somewhat daunting for those with limited time to hunt down the best tools for their business.

Good news - we've done the hard work for you, which is why, in this post, you'll find 8 of the best mobile apps for small businesses.

1. Evernote (iOS, Android, free)

If you spend most of your day wading through multiple notebooks trying to find the essential points you noted down during your last client meeting, Evernote may very well be the most useful discovery you'll make today.

Available across pretty much every mobile and desktop platform you can think of, Evernote gives you the ability to create multiple notebooks into which you can pile all of your notes, images, web pages and doodles. You can tag notes for easy retrieval later on and the ability to collaborate with other Evernote users completes an app that should be on the home screen of every business owner's smartphone.

2. Xpenditure (iOS, Android, free)

Receipt management can be a considerable source of frustration for anyone running a small business, but with Xpenditure, you can finally wave goodbye to that wallet full of receipts and accompanying, bulging spreadsheet.

Simply take a photo of your receipt with your smartphone camera and Xpenditure will automatically decipher the amount, VAT, date and merchant. You can then draw up a monthly report when processing time arrives. Xpenditure saves an inordinate amount of time you can better spend on running your business.

3. Google Docs (iOS, Android, free)

Google's free alternative to Microsoft Office is very popular with small businesses, and the companion mobile apps increase the value of Google Docs considerably by offering all of the functionality found in their web-based brethren.

If you thought small-screen spreadsheet editing was a non-starter, we'd urge you to try our Google's range of mobile apps. The collaboration features alone are fantastic for any business that relies on communication with remote colleagues and partners.

4. Trello (iOS, Android, free)

Task and project management is often the bane of small business owners' lives. Thankfully, Trello performs the seemingly impossible feat of making such stuff enjoyable with an addictive card-based method for creating and actioning to-do lists.

If you work with others, you can all get involved by using Trello's simple but effective messaging system which enables conversations to take place within each task. Working your way methodically through multiple projects has never been so much fun!

5. Wordpress (iOS, Android, free)

Wordpress is one of the most popular blogging platforms, but is also a fantastic website creation tool for small businesses. The mobile app enables you to publish blog posts quickly while on the move and even lets you view detailed statistics for your website.

6. LastPass (iOS, Android, free)

Chances are, you've got a lot of passwords linked to your business and you're forever being told that you shouldn't use the same one each time. Easier said than done? With LastPass, you can put all of your login details for the various websites and services you use into one, secure location.

Password security has never been more important, and apps like LastPass enable you to operate a far more robust password regime. With it, you can set up different passwords for different services and let it do the remembering for you.

7. Hootsuite (iOS, Android, free)

Social media now features prominently in most marketing plans, and it's a safe bet that your business already has a presence on at least Twitter and Facebook. Unfortunately, managing multiple social networks can be time consuming, which is why Hootsuite makes this list.

In Hootsuite, you can bring all of your social media accounts under one roof and post content to them from a single screen. That means no logging in and out of websites and the ability to schedule posts in advance. It is hands down the best way to manage your social media campaigns.

8. Box (iOS, Android, free)

Mobilising your files has never been easier. Box offers new users a generous 10GB of cloud storage completely free of charge. You simply upload your files to Box and then use the mobile app to access them wherever you happen to be. Your brochures, spreadsheets and crucial documents can follow you wherever you go.

Summary

The above list is certainly not-exhaustive, but it represents what we believe to be the best examples of how a small screen can become any business owner's best friend while away from the office.

Written by Mark Ellis, author at BusinessFiction

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Posted in Business software | Tagged apps | 0 comments

Protecting your business against cyber threats

July 19, 2016 by IT Donut contributor

Protecting your business against cyber threats{{}}Big companies enjoy the protection of dedicated IT departments, but for small businesses cyber security can often be an after-thought. However, this can be an expensive mistake - the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) recently found that two-thirds of small companies have been the victim of an attack in the past two years. 

This need not be the case though. In fact most scams aren’t as sophisticated as you might think and simply rely on user complacency. The best weapon against this is vigilance, and a few simple steps can help you protect your business.

Established techniques used to commit fraud include "phishing" attacks and Trojan viruses.

Phishing uses email to trick you into giving out personal information, such as bank log-in details, or getting you to download malicious software (known as malware).

Trojans are a common type of malware and can be installed on your computer without you knowing. They can be designed to do many things, including steal money from your account.

Convincing imitations

Phishing works by sending you an email pretending to be from a genuine company, like your bank, often convincingly imitating the company’s branding and tone. Criminals can also spoof email addresses, so an email may look as if it is from someone in your own company.

The email might ask you to click on a link. This will take you to a fake website where you will be asked to input your secret information, where it will be captured. It also might ask you open an attachment, which will then install malware such as a Trojan.

Phishing emails can be very convincing, so check whether you recognise the sender’s address and if tone and language used is normal for them. If the request is urgent, would you expect this from the sender?

Play it safe

Be suspicious of all unsolicited emails, particularly those that ask you to make a payment, open attachments or click hyperlinks. Verify all email requests by telephoning the sender on a number taken from your own records.

This will help prevent Trojans from being installed, but it’s important to keep your computer safe in other ways too.

Install a firewall and antivirus software. We recommend our customers download Trusteer Rapport, which is free. Keep this software up to date, as well as your operating system and your web browser. Block access to websites your staff don’t need for business. Don’t conduct sensitive transactions over public wi-fi networks or while using internet cafes, as these can be insecure.

Finally, make sure your staff follow these rules and are as vigilant as you, as it just takes one mistake to leave you vulnerable.

Copyright © 2016 Marcelino Castrillo, managing director, Business Banking, NatWest.

For more information on cyber security, as well as other issues affecting small businesses, NatWest’s Business Growth Enablers are running education sessions across the UK, free to anyone running or setting up a business. To find an event near you, go to www.eventbrite.co.uk and search NatWest.

HMRC’s latest advice on phishing can be found on the  GOV.UK website.

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Five reasons Poland could be your perfect IT outsourcing destination

July 11, 2016 by IT Donut contributor

Five reasons Poland could be your perfect IT outsourcing destination{{}}As a small business owner, it's very unlikely you'll be able to design all the software you need using your own in-house resources. There will come a time when you will need to consider outsourcing.

So, when you think about your perfect IT outsourcing partner, what do you look for? There are many issues to consider - cost and technical expertise are probably most important, but you will also need to think about communication, distance and travel cost. Mutual trust and reliability are also critical. But does your IT partner have to be local?

If you are familiar with the term off-shoring, you'll know it's the relocation of the business to a foreign country. In terms of IT development, off-shoring usually means outsourcing to Southeast Asia, North or South America.

Near-shoring, on the other hand, means your outsourcing partner is located on the same continent and is relatively close to you. Near-shoring is increasingly used by Western European companies as a way to outsource their software development to Eastern and Central European countries. The costs are much lower and the distance is not such a big issue. But which country should you consider?

If the quality of expertise and service are key factors for you, Poland could be your best option. Here's why:

1. Cultural similarities

Poland has been an EU member since 2004 and its economy has reached the maturity stage. Polish firms understand changing business needs and offer a process-driven approach. You'll work with people who share your business standards and you'll find them committed, goal-oriented and ready to build strong relationships with clients.

2. Cost effectiveness

Although Poland has one of the strongest economies in the region, IT specialist rates are at least 50% lower in Poland than they are in the UK.

3. Technology expertise

The majority of Polish software engineers are graduates of technology universities. Poland has a strong engineering education tradition and technical universities are very popular among students. Polish programmers have deservedly gained an excellent reputation within the industry.

4. Time difference and distance

Poland is in Central Europe and so it shares the CET with Germany, France and Italy. It is just an hour away from the UK. Travel is easy as there are many low-cost airlines and the list of destinations is impressive. Almost every major city in Poland has direct flight connections to the UK and Ireland. And you don't need visas.

5. Security and collaboration issues

As far as security is concerned, Poland shares security measures with other EU countries. English language literacy among professionals is common and advanced technology infrastructure makes long-distance communication easy.

So, if you are looking for a reliable IT outsourcing partner, try Poland. You'll be glad you did.

Advertorial

Copyright © 2016 Edyta Szczęśniak of SolDevelo solutions development.

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Can you run your business entirely online?

July 04, 2016 by IT Donut contributor

Can you run your business entirely online?{{}}The digital age has made it easier than ever to run a business, with everything you could ever possibly need just a click away. At the same time, environmental concerns are rising, with more businesses aiming for a paperless office to reduce their impact. But do we even need an office any more - or is it possible to run your entire business online?

Obviously, it all depends on the nature of your business - a hairdresser, for instance, isn't going to be able to offer virtual haircuts - but assuming that your business model allows it, it's surprisingly easy to go virtual.

Get started online

Let's start at the beginning. When you first set up your business there was lots of paperwork to file, right? Well no. In fact, setting up a limited company is not only quicker online than by post, it's also cheaper. If you file by post, it can take 8-10 days and cost £40 to register with Companies House. Go online with a formations agent and you can have it done the same day, and depending on the package you choose it could cost less than half that price.

Once your business is up and running, you can also file things like your annual returns and company accounts online.

Take advantage of the cloud

Cloud-based software is rapidly becoming the norm for many applications. Most small businesses are already moving towards online accounting solutions, and as the applications are tested and improved, more sizeable businesses will be able to follow suit.

Cloud-based spreadsheet, word processing and database applications make it easy for staff to collaborate without ever needing to be in the same room, and if they need to communicate face-to-face, a video conference can be conducted online. As more businesses move towards the cloud, digital security for these applications is constantly being improved.

Build an online presence

With a good website as your digital doorstep, backed up by a strong presence on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, your customer interactions can be quick and easy. Email and instant messaging allow for easy communication, and for customers who like to speak to a "real person" you can implement VOIP systems to take their calls.

Can your products or services themselves be delivered digitally? If so, then you really can have a business that's entirely online. Just make sure that your internet connection can take the strain.

Sponsored post

Copyright © 2016 Rapid Formationsspecialists in online company formations, rated #1 in the UK by Trustpilot.

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Five tech essentials for start-ups

June 27, 2016 by IT Donut contributor

Five tech essentials for start-ups{{}}Launching a start-up is no mean feat. There are so many important decisions to make that will dictate how your business will operate and how successful it will become.

With this in mind, we've created a list of the top five essential pieces of tech for start-ups. After all, you need the best technology out there to give your business the best chance of succeeding.

1. Website and social media

To get your start-up on the road to success, a strong website is a must. In the age of social it has never been so important to establish an online presence in your market.

A well-designed, user-friendly site will help generate leads, drive engagement and increase brand awareness. It's an extremely effective way to showcase your business and what makes you unique.

You should also set up accounts on social media platforms to share company news and insights and build your audience. Use your blog and social media channels to tell your start-up story; involve your audience in every stage of your exciting journey.

2. A virtual phone number

A virtual phone number will give customers, clients, leads and press a point of contact for enquiries, so make sure that setting this up is high on your business to-do list.

Once your website is live it's worth implementing call tracking so that you can see which areas of your site are performing the best and which need tweaking. You might also want to consider adding a unique number to your offline material in order to track performance of all aspects of your marketing efforts.

3. Google Analytics

Once your website is up and running, it's time to think about setting up tracking. Google Analytics is a great tool that allows you to monitor your site's performance, discover your most popular content and identify any areas for improvement, such as basket abandons. Google Analytics will enable you to identify your key audience, improve the user journey of your site, boost its performance and enhance your revenue stream.

4. Software and hardware

You'll need the basics - a laptop, mobile phone and tablet - to get started. If you're planning to handle transactions, you'll also need a card reader to hand.

Once your business starts to expand, you can add to your tech collection. In the meantime you may find that renting your IT equipment is the most cost-effective option when you're starting out. That way you can hire it as and when you need it without investing in pricey devices.

5. Data back-up

It's vital to back up your data so that all your hard work doesn't go to waste. There are data back-up solutions for businesses of all sizes to suit a number of needs, ranging from data storage on third-party or external hard drives, to using cloud services such as Dropbox. If you decide to go down the cloud storage route, it's worth checking whether you can access your data on the go, so that you can work from anywhere in the world as long as you have a decent Internet connection.

Got all you need?

If you're starting up as a new company, be sure to check that you've got these key pieces of tech in place at the earliest stage possible.

Having access to this technology will help to set your business on the right track and ensure that all your marketing efforts don't go to waste.

Sponsored post.

Copyright © 2016 Hire Intelligence. Hire Intelligence rents IT, AV and electronic equipment to UK businesses.

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Protecting your business against telecoms fraud

June 14, 2016 by IT Donut contributor

Protecting your business against telecom fraud{{}}Fraud within the telecommunications industry costs UK-based SMEs about £1billion a year, according to data from Incom.

Telecom fraud covers a number of aspects: using the phone system as a backdoor to your data if the two are linked; using your phone system to make calls, usually to expensive destinations eg international or premium rate numbers; or even someone making calls that look like they are coming from your organisation in order to scam other organisations.

A number of suppliers offer fraud detection and indemnity - some for free, others for a fee. However, before you choose one of these services, it is important to be clear about how much of the fraud is covered.

Ofcom insists that providers should not profit from fraud, so if you're a victim, and you have to make a payment to your telecoms provider, it should be only for the cost of the calls incurred by the supplier, not their normal resale price.

All employees should be made aware of the risks and how to mitigate them:

  • Always be cautious when speaking over the phone to anyone claiming to be a representative from your provider;
  • If you are unsure, always end the call;
  • Bar calls from unknown numbers;
  • Do not call back to numbers that you have never seen before;
  • Security measures, such as passwords or questions on their accounts, should be set up;
  • Try to make passwords unique and memorable, but not predictable - fraudsters love obvious passwords.

A new set of potential problems has arisen because of the rise of IP or internet solutions such as SIP and VoIP. Before businesses moved from analogue phones to IP phone networks, it was rare for staff to be able to access anything relating to their phones from the corporate computer network; so why should employees be able to access the phone network now simply because the network's underlying protocol has changed?

Ideally, you should have physically separate data and phone networks, but if this isn't realistic, VLANs can separate traffic. You want to ensure that no data can traverse between the two networks without passing through a network security device. Many providers recommend using a session border controller (SBC) but some companies are reluctant to pay for this extra measure, partly because its significance is not always understood.

Whether you use landlines or IP, it's worth setting up call bars on premium numbers (and even, if appropriate, international numbers) to limit the impact if your systems are compromised. It's also worth taking a more robust approach with the use of passwords.

All SMEs need to be aware of the threat and should talk to their provider about what steps they can take to avoid becoming the victim of a telecoms fraud.

Copyright © 2016 Dave Millett, founder of independent telecoms brokerage and consultancy Equinox. Dave also advises telecom suppliers at www.equinoxcomms.co.uk.

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Posted in IT security | Tagged telecoms, Phone, fraud | 0 comments

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