Network-connected printers have become a cornerstone of the modern work environment. They let you have one printer to which anyone in your office can print, rather than requiring employees to operate individual printers, or to print from a particular computer
A network printer is one device for everyone. Because it's connected to your computer network, anyone in your business can print from it. They don't have to email documents to their long-suffering colleague who has the printer on their desk.
It may also be one device for (almost) everything. That's because, despite the name, network printers often do more than just print.
Many have copying and scanning functions built in. Typically, you can scan a document and have it emailed to a specific person or saved to your central network drive.
There are obvious benefits to this approach. For instance:
But perhaps most importantly, networked printers are more efficient. With a dependable way to run off high-quality hardcopies, your staff will spend more time focusing on their work, and less time faffing around with a cheap or unreliable printer.
"Network printing really supports the modern office, simplifying daily tasks and making complicated processes incredibly efficient," explains Christian Ralph of Printerland, the printer and ink company.
"The increased capabilities of modern printers have made it easier for offices of all sizes to add multiple devices to a single machine."
Having said that, if your printer includes centralised management software or other advanced functions then you may want to seek advice before ploughing ahead!
To set up a networked printer, there are two options:
Cheaper printers may not include a dedicated network connection.
In this case, you'll need to connect the printer to one of your office computers (or servers). You can then use the software on that computer to set up printer sharing.
This will allow anyone in your company to access the printer, but only when the computer to which it's connected is switched on.
If you can, it's best to invest in a printer with a dedicated network connection. This might cost a little more, but means you'll be able to print without having to first check that a particular computer is switched on.
Printers that are connected to your network directly are usually faster and more reliable. Most businesses take this approach.
If you use Windows, Microsoft provides lots of information to help you set up a printer using one of these methods.
Modern printers are very different to their counterparts of 10-15 years ago. Your typical networked printer isn't a 'dumb' slave to your computer; it has processing power, memory and even software of its own.
It uses this to manage print queues, optimise print jobs, resize images and more.
Occasionally, this increasingly-sophisticated software can go wrong. Back in 2013, a Xerox photocopier had a bug that meant it sometimes changed the digits in documents that it copied.
And, just like any other computer, networked printers can fall victim to hacking attacks.
Indeed, they could conceivably provide a soft target, as businesses may overlook the importance of protecting a networked printer. (Hackers have previously targeted broadband routers in a similar way.)
Printer manufacturers are aware of these issues, of course. Many have developed security software that protects these devices from attacks. And your business should make use of it.
Printing off a document isn't always as simple as it looks. Employees may have to grapple with confusing quality and paper setting. Some companies even have smartcard or PIN-based systems to control printing quotas.
If staff don't know how to use these features and settings properly, it can waste their time - as well as ink and paper.
Sure, 'printer training' can be a tricky one to sell to your staff. But if you can overcome the 'do I really need that?' factor then it can help to develop standard, secure printing practices across your business.
In short, creating a positive printing environment can standardise all your printed output. That means quality will never suffer - and cries of 'is the printer working?' should be few and far between.
When you're running a smaller business, you don't need to hire an expensive accountancy firm to keep your finances on track. Nor do you need to spend hours wading through complicated financial reports.
Many accountants provide software that makes it easier for your company to maintain your accounts and balance your books online. These cloud accounting services - where your data is stored and accessed online - can be an excellent option.
They make it easier to monitor revenue, generate invoices, track cash flow and manage payroll. Your business's financial information stays secure, but you can access it no matter where you are.
What's more, using an online accountant will often be cheaper than working with a High Street firm.
There are many online accountants available, offering a range of services for a range of costs. This means it is important to think about your needs in order to determine what specific features your business will need.
However, here are five features that are a must for any business considering online accountancy:
Look for an online accounting service that charges a fixed monthly fee. Ideally, this should include unlimited telephone and email support, plus access to your own dedicated accountant.
If you don't choose a fixed-fee service, you could be hit by a bill that's higher than you expect. If your accountant charges for their time, you might be charged every time you email or call them.
One of the biggest things going for online accounting is that it's available 24/7. There are no office hours. This flexibility should be matched with a mobile app that lets you manage your money from anywhere.
A mobile app allows you to sign in and manage your money from any location. You can easily stay up-to-date with relevant projects and make sure you don't miss any deadlines.
You'll have to deal with a real accountant at some point, even if you have the very best online accountancy service. Many online accountants provide a generic telephone number or email address for queries or issues. This means you can end up talking to a whole variety of people.
It's better to find a firm that offers a dedicated personal accountant. This means you'll always get to speak to the same person. They'll get to know your business, so you won't have to tell them the full story every time.
With access to the right information, you can handle more of your finances yourself. The benefit of doing this is that it keeps you closer to your figures, so you always know what's going on.
It's easier to work this way when your online accountancy service provides a substantial online knowledge centre or help website. Make sure this support is in place, perhaps via an FAQ section, support documentation or user forums.
Online accountancy is an increasingly popular way for smaller companies to meet their accounting needs. Make sure the supplier you choose has a solid reputation - both as a business accountant and as an online company.
Many online accountants will give you a quote via their website. Do not jump at the first one you get. Take out a few quotes to compare prices and service levels.
Copyright © 2015 Rachel Smith, Technical Writer at Nixon Williams's Vantage Online Accounting.
How does your company website stack up against bigger competitors? New research suggests that smaller companies can sharpen their competitive edge by creating websites that are mobile-optimised and personalised to meet the preferences of individual customers.
An online study of over 2,000 British adults found that small businesses rule when it comes to personal service. A whopping 71% of people said smaller companies deliver a more personalised offline service than bigger ones.
However, 59% of people felt that big businesses generally have better websites. Given that such companies typically have generous budgets to build customised sites, that's perhaps not a great surprise. (They don't all go to plan, of course - just look at Marks & Spencer.)
The research was commissioned by web hosting firm 123-reg and conducted online by YouGov.
And it suggests that small companies could clean up, if only they can find some way to deliver that same personal service online. After all, they're already beating big competitors in other contexts.
The problem is that it's not easy to deliver personal service via a website. On the internet, personalised content risks coming across as clumsy or misguided.
Just take retargeting banners, beloved of many an internet marketer. These are used to encourage you to buy a product that you've shown interest in.
After you've viewed a product on a website, you often see repeated adverts for the same thing as you browse different websites. That's retargeting in action.
Retargeting banners do work in some circumstances, but they can also engineer irritation and mistrust in customers, who get tired of seeing the same adverts over and over and over again. Worse, badly-implemented campaigns can see you targeting customers who've already bought your product.
But let's not get hung up on retargeting. The point is that it's easy to do personalisation badly. To do it well requires you to tread a fine line between showing customers that you know them, without becoming repetitive or overbearing.
So, when you want to incorporate personalised, targeted elements to your website or mobile app, it's a good idea to proceed with caution.
Try to find some way to measure the impact of any changes. You could perform an A/B test, or at least try to monitor any change in conversion rates.
With that in mind, consider starting with some basic personalisation, such as:
In any case, it's definitely worth experimenting. As part of its research, 123-reg joined forces with Patrick Fagan, a behavioural scientist.
"The experiment shows that SMEs could almost halve lost sales opportunities and double their propensity to return to a site by using information about the visit to show specific content," he explained.
"It also highlighted that personalisation of a site significantly affected people's trust and empathy with the business which, in turn, directly translated into purchase and behavioural intent."
Or, in other words: appropriate personalisation really does help you sell more stuff.
If you want to incorporate personalised, targeted elements into your website or app, there are a number of ways to proceed.
The options available will likely depend on how your website is built. So, if you're planning a new site, it's a good idea to consider personalisation features before you get started. You might be able to:
Ultimately, your website is likely to be a key sales or marketing channel for your business. (And if it isn't already, it certainly has the potential to be so in future.)
With personalisation and targeting steadily becoming more common, now is a good time to consider whether personalised content could make it easier to compete with larger rivals.
At the end of last week, broadband and telecoms company TalkTalk announced it had been hit by a cyber attack. As a result, there was a chance sensitive customer data had been accessed.
Clearly, the ultimate blame for these incidents lies with the attackers who set out to steal data. They're the real criminals in this scenario.
But at the same time, it's fair to say that some organisations are making it too easy for hackers to steal sensitive data. Although we don't yet have full details of the TalkTalk incident, other newsworthy breaches have involved below-par security measures.
Such is the frequency of these stories that you could be forgiven for shrugging each off as 'yet another cyber attack'. But as new research reveals a lack of trust in business, it would be unwise to ignore the cumulative impact of these incidents.
Digital identity experts Intercede recently released some interesting research. It suggests people don't tend to trust businesses when it comes to protecting their personal information.
The survey questioned around 2,000 people aged 16-35. These people are often referred to as 'millenials', and tend to be comfortable using technology during their everyday lives.
It might therefore come as a surprise that the research found a significant proportion of these people have little trust in business to protect their personal information.
The research asked people to rate their trust in businesses from different sectors. When it comes to data security, 61% of respondents described their level of trust in social media platforms as 'none' or 'a little'. The figure was 38% for retailers and 19% for financial institutions.
Indeed, few people describe their level of trust as 'complete' - just 13% for their employers, and 4% for telecom operators.
The same group of people was asked about how organisations share data. Many respondents said that their personal data should only be shared with companies they have specifically authorised.
Over 74% of people said that it was 'very important' or 'vital' that they should be able to specifically authorise how their location data is shared. 58% said the same for social media content and 57% for data on their purchasing preferences.
"Millennials are hungry for change," reckons Lubna Dajani, a communications technology expert and futurist. "Major data breaches happen every week and millennials, along with the rest of the general public, have found the trust they put in government institutions and businesses to protect their digital identities are being shaken."
"This is by no means an apathetic generation. If business and government leaders don't adopt better protocols now, millennials will soon rise up and demand it."
We're long past the point where 'the cloud' was just another piece of technology jargon. Businesses of all sizes are adopting the cloud as part of their everyday strategies.
And it's not the complex entity that many smaller companies fear. In fact, it can be a reliable, straightforward way to store data. It can also make you more productive, thanks to its ability to offer unhindered access to real-time information.
It's very likely that parts of your business already run on the cloud. There may be a strong argument for moving more of it there. Here are four reasons to get you thinking.
Technology is crucial to your business, but storing and handling data can place serious demands on your IT resources. Keeping your IT up to date in the face of ever-increasing processing requirements is tricky.
But cloud computing can revolutionise how you approach refreshing and replacing hardware and software in your business.
Typically, IT infrastructures are reviewed every three to five years. If replacement hardware is required, this can be costly.
When you switch to the cloud, you get a stable, predictable solution that requires fewer manual updates and less maintenance overall (that's because your cloud provider should take care of these items). It also relieves you of the burden and cost of servers and other equipment.
The cloud gives you continual access to your business systems. They can be accessed any time of the day, from any location (as long as you have an internet connection).
If you have sales teams on the road or people who tend to work from home, this accessibility makes it easier to stay in touch, coordinate work and give people access to what they need.
What's more, this accessibility is only set to improve. Fast 4G mobile networks are spreading across the UK, and public Wi-Fi is available more widely than ever.
At the same time, the way teams work within a business is changing. The number of remote workers is increasing. Give them access to the cloud and they can be much more productive. For instance, automatic document uploads make it much easier to work together.
This gives you a competitive advantage in many ways. With location less of a barrier, you can access a pool of talent that stretches across the country, or even the globe. Remote working can make your employees happier, too – leading to increased staff retention.
When serious breaches happen, they're big news. High-profile hacks have placed cloud computing under scrutiny, encouraging providers to boost security measures and test them regularly.
Although private cloud services are a good option if your business needs to store really sensitive data, cloud services generally offer excellent security.
Most providers implement strong physical security, with round-the-clock monitoring and surveillance. Other measures to protect servers include high perimeter fences, bollards, security checkpoints, biometric security controls, and 24/7 security teams.
Together with active monitoring that identifies and blocks network attacks - plus automated backups - using the cloud can dramatically improve security.
Richard Kennedy, head of cloud computing at The Cloud Simplified, explains further:
"When migrating to the cloud, security is a common concern. Where is my data located, who has access to it and what measures are in place to protect it?"
"If your business has a noisy, dusty server sitting in the corner of the office, consider this: how safe is your data right now? What's stopping someone from physically removing it from your premises and what measures are in place to protect your information from a disaster or human error?"
Moving everyday business data and processes to the cloud can deliver significant savings. For starters, it reduces the need for in-house equipment, cutting your energy costs.
Additionally, running servers in-house usually means investing heavily in maintenance and support. By moving to the cloud, you reduce this expenditure. Most cloud services require minimal outlay upfront. You just pay a regular monthly fee.
Finally, cloud computing protects your business from IT-related financial loss by reducing the risk of hardware failure from incidents such as fire, flood or break in.
The capabilities of cloud computing have progressed enormously even within the last three years. If your business isn't ready to leap to the cloud, you can move in small increments instead. As your knowledge of and trust in the cloud builds, you'll start to see your entire company benefit.
Copyright © 2015 Rebecca Moore