Having once been a small business owner myself I applaud this week's pledge by the British government to simplify regulations for start-ups by removing or amending around 3,000 rules that will save the nation's small businesses a total of £850 million a year. I also believes in greater simplicity for small businesses. For small businesses to thrive it is vital they get off the ground quickly. So it makes perfect sense that as part of this initiative the government is committed to a package of measures worth £1.1 billion aimed at stimulating entrepreneurial growth. Included in the package is £100m of broadband vouchers to help businesses get online.
So far some 22 "growth hot-spot" towns and cities around the UK are participating in the Connection Vouchers Scheme. Start-up firms must first submit an application form and outline the potential benefits superfast broadband could bring to their business. Certainly I am strongly in favour of any move that encourages small businesses to help themselves to better broadband access. While standards of broadband connectivity are by and large pretty good there are still pockets of the country where speeds of 1 MB or below are the norm. If the scheme allows more firms in these areas to take advantage of cloud security services it should make for a brighter future for smaller businesses.
The programme is welcome recognition by the government that access to superfast broadband speeds in this country is still something of a postcode lottery. Something else that start-ups need in order to thrive is to be confident that their data is secure and that they can trade safely. This month the government also launched its 'Cyber Streetwise' campaign aimed at raising awareness of how to protect yourself from falling victim to cyber criminals.
The government's Cyber Street website offers some basic tips. It even features a business health check quiz that is very reminiscent of our own free online business security health check aimed at providing additional peace of mind.
We also have a set of online safety tips but these are specifically tailored for small business owners and are a little more comprehensive:
1. Acquire reputable security software - it is advisable to have security software that is purpose-built for small business and keep it updated regularly
2. Use a spam- and virus-filtered email service - you can save yourself a lot of time and effort keeping your inbox free of spam by using an email filtering service
3. Never assume your workforce know anything about computer security - do take proactive steps to educate your staff about common scams and phishing techniques used by cybercriminals to trick their way into accessing your systems
4. Use strong passwords - try to always use passwords with a mix of upper case/lower case letters and numbers. The longer the password or phrase the better. It is also a good idea to change passwords at regular intervals
5. Set up a central Cloud-based drive - as an extra safeguard it's a good discipline to keep a cloud-based drive and ensure master copies of all important documents are stored there
6. Back up regularly - always back up your files locally and use an online back-up service to be perfectly safe. In a recent study 75 percent of the 1,000 small businesses taking part said they relied on traditional automated local backup. Tellingly 64 percent of SMB owners in the US said they are suspicious of the cloud. Most (54%) do not even enforce a backup policy.
7. Think about retaining the services of a trusted local IT services provider - unless you are an IT genius it really doesn't make sense to tie up valuable time looking after your IT. It may surprise you to learn that you retaining the services your local professional IT provider is well-equipped to service small businesses and is likely to be much more cost-effective than doing it yourself.
8. Don't forget to protect ALL devices - in addition to anti-virus security for your office-based devices and encryption for your WiFi if you have a small workforce who use their own smartphones and tablets at work these too can easily be protected using a free security app like our own. It's a good idea to also ensure all laptops and home computers are covered by an approved security software package. Remember managing this does not have to be complicated and if you do not want to do it yourself why not retain the services of your local trusted IT provider to look after it for you.
The turn of the New Year may still fresh in the memory but already the signs are looking much more optimistic for the year ahead. The economic prospects are at last improving and 2013 saw a record number of new businesses launched in the UK. And it's great to see the Government chipping in with supporting initiatives by increasing start-up funding and putting a cap on business rates. The £300m Business Bank is now launched. The Growth Vouchers scheme is set to go live any time now. The future looks bright indeed. Taking the government support, the flexibility of the cloud and the ubiquity of mobile technology into account it seems there's seldom been a better time to start a business.