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6 lessons I learnt during 6 years in business

I am going completely left field today and not going to talk about anything tech related at all.  You see on 1st April 2016 ComTech is going to be 6 years old.  During that time I have made mistakes (same as everyone else) and learnt so much about myself and what I do that I thought I would share some snippets with you.

I am not a business development coach and this is not meant to be a guide on how to run a small business.  These are just the thoughts of a rambling Welshman who has made mistakes and learnt to run a business over the last 6 years, nothing more.

So lets go;

1.If you want to start a small business DO IT!!! I dipped my toe in the water for quite a while before I started but once I took the “leap of faith” I found I was more focused on what I was doing and how I would make my idea work.  Running ComTech alongside my “paid work” meant I was splitting my time and energy which didn’t really work for me.

2. Get your pricing right at the start.  I didn’t and had to change my pricing structure 3 times in 2 years which looks bad in the eyes of your clients.

3. Don’t spend money at the start unless it is essential.  You are not going to have lots of money coming in from the off so keep your outgoings as small as you can. If you do have to purchase business essentials (eg PC, laptop, manufacturing equipment etc) don’t skimp on the money as you will end up replacing them sooner than you think.

4. Network, network, network!!! Word of mouth is fantastic for any business and mine is no different.  I get most of my work through networking but people have to know you, and more importantly trust you, so get out there and meet people.  One word of warning though don’t try to sell to people whilst networking as they will switch off very quickly.  Get to know the person and trust me work will follow.

5. Be patient.  I am not the most patient person in the world so in the early days I wanted instant results which of course didn’t happen.  Success doesn’t happen overnight it takes time.

6. Finally peaks and troughs in your normal workload are natural.  I used to get really worked up and stressed when work went quiet and then really excited when it started again.  I would look at my account data for the month and wonder where my next job would come from.  I learnt that when work goes quiet this is the time to catch up on social media, studying and all those other things you hate doing (I’m looking at you paperwork).

Like I said at the start this is no HOW-TO but rather some insight into what I have learnt running ComTech for the last 6 years and hopefully in 6 years time I can redo this post with even more tips!!

About the Author

P1020114

Hi I’m Chris Wakefield the owner of ComTech IT Support. I provide Cisco, Windows, OS X and Linux based IT Support to small businesses throughout Scotland.

Follow @Comtech247 on Twitter

“I only have a small home business why do I need IT support?”

“I only have a small home business why do I need IT support?”

This is the question I get asked a lot during my hot chocolate sessions (ie networking) and it is a fair question to ask.  When answering it I always give the reasons outlined below:

1. Your business works with data whether it is emails, invoices, documents etc.  Would your company survive if suddenly all your data was lost? If it is like mine and countless others then probably not and it is here that IT support comes into its own.  IT Support can implement backup strategies that fit your business meaning you get on with running your business and not worrying about losing anything.

2. Believe it or not your business will have the same issues as the “bigger companies”, they just have more of them.  Computers are wonderful things when they are working but buggers when they aren’t.  A virus for instance doesn’t care what size of business you have so long as it can cause damage.  A Windows update that causes some kind of stability issue is exactly the same.  The software you have on your system is more or less the same as the “big boys” and their systems need maintaining so why would yours not?

3. Things break.  Sometimes a hard drive will fail, a screen gets cracked or if you are very unlucky a motherboard will die.  Someone has to fix these issues.

4. Probably the most important reason for IT Support is that the person you are employing will be able to guide you on the latest technologies and best strategies for your business.  As your business grows your IT should grow with it.

Your IT Support should be on the end of a phone when you need them and quietly monitoring your systems when you don’t.

About the Author

P1020114

Hi I’m Chris Wakefield the owner of ComTech IT Support. I provide Cisco, Windows, OS X and Linux based IT Support to small businesses throughout Scotland.

Follow @Comtech247 on Twitter

 

 

 

Home working

We have an issue in Scotland at the moment called the Forth Road Bridge.  You see the old girl is a bit sick so the government has had to close her until she gets repaired.  The problem is 60,000 vehicles a day cross the bridge and now have to be diverted upsteam to the other two bridges which is causing chaos on the roads and a lot of unhappy commuters (myself included).

I am lucky though that I can do most of my work from home.  A lot of other people could probably do the same if their employers thought about it a bit more and implemented the required measures.  If you think about it you don’t actually need to implement a lot of measures to work from home.

So what do you need?  The main two are:

Access to emails

Emails can be accessed from anywhere so long as you have an active internet connection.

Access to files

You have two main options here, either setup a VPN to your main server allowing secure access to all your files or migrate all your files to cloud storage.  Using something like Onedrive for Business, Box, Google Drive, or Dropbox would accomplish this very easily but as always the size of your business would determine how scalable these options are.

You could go the whole hog and migrate to Office365 or Google Apps and have access to the complete package (ie emails and cloud storage).  Yes these are monthly subscriptions (per user) but if you way up the monthly cost against lost productivity whilst commuting to work you may be surprised.

Now I know that for some people working from home is not a practical solution but for a lot of us it is so long as the required measures are put in place.

And the Forth Road Bridge? Please get the old girl fixed!!

About the Author

P1020114

Hi I’m Chris Wakefield the owner of ComTech IT Support. I provide Cisco, Windows, OS X and Linux based IT Support to small businesses throughout Scotland.

Follow @Comtech247 on Twitter

 

When is old tech too old?

I was trawling the internet yesterday when I came across an article on zdnet about how some major organisations throughout the world are still using outdated technology on a daily basis.  As nuts as it sounds systems running early versions of Windows are still running critical systems around the world but, and it is a BIG but, is this necessarily a bad thing?

Bear with me here.  If a system is connected to the internet then it should be updated and running a newer version of whatever operating system it uses, whether it be OS X, Windows or Linux.  The constant threat of cyber attacks and security vulnerabilities in general dictate this. If the system is not connected to the internet then the threat of cyber attacks is diminished and the choice of operating system is no longer that important from a security point of view.

One downside of course is finding people who are still able to maintain ageing software. “Recent” software like Windows XP should not be a problem but when did you last work on a Windows 3.1 system? Or use floppy disks?

Another big downside which I have come across recently is that while yes your system still works, and works well, it is not compatible with anything else.  I had a call a couple of months back from a guy who was having printer issues.  Upon arrival I was shown a lovely BIG Windows 95 system which the guy had been given as a retirement present 25 years ago!!! It still worked and all it was used for was to type letters and print them off.  The problem was that the printer (of the same vintage) was now dead and none of the newer ones had Windows 95 drivers.  I explained that he would have to upgrade the entire setup to a newer system and printer to which he replied “but it still works!!”.

So I guess the questions is “When is old tech too old?”

About the Author

P1020114

Hi I’m Chris Wakefield the owner of ComTech IT Support. I provide Cisco, Windows, OS X and Linux based IT Support to small businesses throughout Scotland.

Follow @Comtech247 on Twitter

 

 

 

Updates – do you love them or loathe them?

Updates are a very controversial topic at the best of time.  Some people don’t mind updating their systems when new software is available whilst some people absolutely detest them.  Me I am somewhere in the middle.  I am of the mindset if it isn’t broke then I try not to fix it, meaning I will update software when I have to for security reasons and not much else (unless the client says they want to).

I met a potential client last week who has a Windows 7 PC in his office on Service Pack 1 with the updates turned off.  He has had the updates turned off for over a year and his system runs like a dream. No update issues or restarting the system when you are in the middle of something.  Now I did try to point out that Microsoft had issued several security updates during this time and it might be wise to install them on this particular system. “Not a chance as I have seen what happens when I update Microsoft software. Some of the other systems in this office have updates enabled and they crash too often when software is updated.  My system just works”

I can see his point.  I have lost count of the times I have had to deal with issues over the last 12 months which were caused by dodgy Microsoft updates.  It is worth noting here that this is not a specific problem to Microsoft.  Apple have had some crackers too with both iOS and OSX and even Android can be just as bad.  One minute my app works then it updates and no longer functions.

Of course the downside of not updating software is security.  If a hole is found and not patched then you leave a potential vulnerability for someone to exploit.  This message though will be lost if said update breaks something else on the way through.

We can’t expect Microsoft, Apple, Google and the like to test every potential configuration for their software as this is just impossible but it does seem that recently (and we are talking 12 months here) standards have been slipping. If anyone is listening a bit more testing please!!

So what do you think? Are updates a good thing or a pain in the ……….?

 

About the Author

P1020114

Hi I’m Chris Wakefield the owner of ComTech IT Support. I provide Cisco, Windows, OS X and Linux based IT Support to small businesses throughout Scotland.

Follow @Comtech247 on Twitter

The internet of things and the connectivity issue

I have been reading a lot lately about the internet of things (IoT) and I must admit it does sound awesome. Imagine a world where everything is connected to the internet and I do mean everything. Fridges that can sense when you are short of milk and send you a text message to pick up some on your way home or bridges that can detect ice on their surface and send that information wirelessly to your car which automatically slows down are just two of the many possibilities available with the internet of things.

All this is based though on being connected to the internet and at the moment this is where the house of cards falls down.  If your devices are located inside buildings then you should have a reliable broadband connection and have no problems.  The problems start when you leave the building and get out into the “wilds”.  Getting online when out and about relies on being able to pick up either 3G or 4G and in certain parts of the UK mobile coverage is rubbish.  Only last week there were calls to improve mobile signal coverage in rural Wales where at the moment signal is appalling.  It is the same in the north of England and extensively so in Scotland.  You can’t have electronic devices connected to the internet if they can’t actually connect to the internet.

Take my house as an example.  I live in Alloa which lies in the central belt of Scotland (basically where most people in Scotland live) so you would think mobile coverage should be good.  It isn’t.  I am currently with O2 on a two year contract and it is sketchy to say the least. Other networks do have better coverage here (EE for example) but there are too many places in Scotland where you can’t get anything better than 2G.

As a lot of regular readers know I travel throughout Scotland for work.  I have clients all over the place who I need to assist if (and when) problems arise with their IT.  This usually means remoting into their systems and fixing any issues.  For this reason I have EE 4G mobile broadband, Three 3G mobile broadband and the data allowance on my O2 Phone.  In theory this gives me three networks to choose from so you would think at least one would have 3G signal.  I have lost count of the number of places in Scotland where I get 2G at best!!

For the internet of things to work mobile operators have to pick up the batton and run with it.  Their network coverage must improve as it is no longer good enough to say “well most people are covered”. Instead we need “almost all areas are covered” and only then will the internet of things come to its full potential.

About the Author

P1020114

Hi I’m Chris Wakefield the owner of ComTech IT Support. I provide Cisco, Windows, OS X and Linux based IT Support to small businesses throughout Scotland.

Follow @Comtech247 on Twitter

 

 

A couple of things to think about before switching to Mac

Mac’s are great.  Yes they are expensive but for your money you get a fantastic design, intuitive interface and a system which (in general) tends to be free of viruses.  But moving to a Mac is not as simple as buying one and switching it on.  If you are thinking of making the switch I would strongly suggest you consider the following:

 

Why exactly are you making the switch?

Is it because a friend told you they were better than Windows machines or is there some business reason behind it? Make sure you understand the why before you spend your hard earned.

 

Mac’s are much more expensive than Windows systems.

You would be surprised how many people still don’t understand the difference in price before they purchase one.  Also bear in mind that although Mac’s tend to break less than Windows machines (in general) repair costs tend to be much higher.  Most techs, myself included, don’t tend to fix Mac hardware issues just software ones.  This means the machine goes back to Apple who ramp up the repair cost.

 

Make sure your Windows programs actually work on Mac’s.  

This is the one thing which catches most people out.  Windows programs do not work on Mac’s.  The software you use might have have a Mac variant (eg Microsoft Office) which can be used but a lot of programs still don’t (eg ACT!).  I know of one company in Stirling who were advised by an IT guy to purchase 4 new iMac’s because “they are much better than Windows PC’s” only to discover during the installation that none of their accounting software worked. The solution was to run Windows as a virtual machine which kind of defeats the purpose of buying the Mac in the first place!!!

 

You can get viruses and malware on a Mac. 

Yes you read that correct.  Is it possible to get them but not that often as most viruses and malware are still written for Windows.  If your system interacts with Windows machines (eg on a work network) I would suggest running some form of antivirus as you might inadvertently be passing viruses around the network even though they can’t infect your system.

 

Lastly it is not Windows!! 

The interface and keyboard are different.  You will have to relearn how to access your documents, use shortcuts and even use the delete key (shift + backspace).  This does take time and patience.

So hopefully the above has given you a couple of things to think about before taking the plunge.  What I usually tell clients is that if you are Windows based then stay with Windows.  It is what you know and unless there is a business reason for changing why change?

Yes Mac’s are great but if it isn’t broke then don’t fix it!!

About the Author

P1020114

Hi I’m Chris Wakefield the owner of ComTech IT Support. I provide Cisco, Windows, OS X and Linux based IT Support to small businesses throughout Scotland.

Follow @Comtech247 on Twitter

 

 

 

 

Mac’s can break too

I am finding that more and more of my clients are looking towards buying Macs for their businesses. Some like the design, others the functionality while others have been told that Mac’s are much better than Windows machines in that they never break.  It is that last bit I have issues with.

You see it is true (generally) that Mac’s last longer than Windows machines, whether it be laptops or PC’s, but they are not without problems of their own.  I have seen MacBook’s lose their wifi connection on a regular basis and need new wireless cards installed (I have had this on my own system).  Then there are the hard drives that die on relatively new systems and of course screens get damaged just like a Windows system.  When some piece of hardware does go it gets VERY expensive as most tech’s (myself included) don’t deal with Apple hardware which means you go back to Apple and they ramp up the repair price.

People expect Mac’s to be superior to Windows systems and in some respects they are.  For example there are much less options for a someone to tinker with when compared to a Windows system (unless of course you open up a terminal) which means that your average user can’t go and break anything by accident.  On a windows system this is much easier to do but on the flip side this means that Windows systems tend to be more configurable.

This expectation that Mac’s are better also transfers across to the quality of the hardware.  “Macs don’t break” is something I have heard a lot of during the last couple of years and it is simply not true.  Yes they do break but they also tend to break less.

So if you are looking to purchase a new Mac do yourself a favour and take out that lovely expensive Apple Care as chances are you might need it at some point.

Comments welcome as always.

About the Author

P1020114

Hi I’m Chris Wakefield the owner of ComTech IT Support. I provide Cisco, Windows, OS X and Linux based IT Support to small businesses throughout Scotland.

Follow @Comtech247 on Twitter

 

Securing your data starts with the basics

How secure is it? Will anybody be able to get at my data? You would be surprised how many times I have heard these words over the last couple of years. I am finding people (and businesses) are beginning to think seriously about what might happen if they get hacked or someone gets full access to their data. Chances are most businesses will never get hit (aren’t statistics great!!) but more and more people are thinking about the consequences of it happening.

One problem though. Security starts with getting the basics right and most people simply don’t. Lets take a look at some of the basics.

Passwords

1. Use them!!

2. Don’t use easy passwords that people are likely to guess (eg Password123 is not very secure)

3. Store them in a safe place

4. Don’t give people login details to your accounts

OK number 1 should be obvious.  Over the last two weeks alone I have seen 5 systems with absolutely no passwords to login.  If the system gets stolen then all the thief needs to do is switch it on to gain access to all your documents.

If you do have a password then make sure it is not an easy one to guess. Pets, children’s names, birthdays etc are all no go areas and whatever you do don’t use the same one for all your accounts.

Where should you store them? A lot of people have a “bible” with all their passwords in which is stored in a safe place.  This is a good idea and much better than notes around the desk.  Better still is using an online password manager like Lastpass which allow you to access all your passwords from anywhere.

Lastly don’t give people login details for your accounts.  You share files not accounts!!

Giving people access to your documents

1. Only give people the access they need and no more

The less access people have to your files the better.  I know of a woman who gave a client full access to her Dropbox account which included personal pictures.  I know of a business who worked closely with another firm and decided to join their Office 365 account not realising that both firms now had access to their client files and emails.

Of course we all have to share files. A traditional server can be set up to only give people access to what they need and NOT WHAT THEY WANT. Cloud based services like OneDrive and Dropbox allow you to share individual folders which means you don’t have to give people the login details for the account.

Working while out and about

More and more of us are doing this and this brings with it it’s own set of challenges.  Be very careful what you decide to do using free wifi as these are very inscure.  For example I would always advise people never do your internet banking on free wifi.  Then there is the problem of securing the devices themselves.  All smartphones and tablets should have a pin set whilst all laptops should ideally have encryption.  Some apps like Dropbox allow you to set a pin on the individual app itself which adds another layer if security.

This is only a quick overview of some of the basic security considerations you should look at.  It is not meant to be a HOW TO guide as there are already loads of those on the internet.

Comments are welcome as always!!

About the Author

P1020114

Hi I’m Chris Wakefield the owner of ComTech IT Support. I provide Cisco, Windows, OS X and Linux based IT Support to small businesses throughout Scotland.

Follow @Comtech247 on Twitter

If you like your privacy don’t upgrade to Windows 10

Unless you missed it Windows 10 came out last week. Overall it seems a good update but one thing that has risen to the forefront is Windows 10 privacy settings.  You see by default Windows 10 sends personal information to Microsoft, uses your bandwidth to upload data to other computers running the operating system, share Wi-Fi passwords with online friends and remove the ability to opt out of security updates.

If you login with a Microsoft account all of your data on your PC or laptop will be uploaded to Microsoft’s servers. Now call me old fashioned but that can’t be a good thing especially if you are a big multi national company.

Windows updates now work along the lines of torrents (think file sharing sites) so data will be uploaded from your system using your broadband bandwidth.  If you have a capped limit (eg 40 GB) you could rack up expensive broadband bills quickly as you go over your usage limit.  Forgot to mention you can no longer turn updates off either.  If Microsoft sends out a dodgy update which crashes systems you have to wait until they pull it from the updates rather than turn off updates. Don’t like the idea of that personally.

I have already covered Wifi – Sense in a previous blog but it needless to say I am not a fan.  My facebook friends don’t need to know the wireless key to my network!!

Of course you can turn off most (but not all) these settings but having them turned on by default is not a good thing.

About the Author

P1020114

Hi I’m Chris Wakefield the owner of ComTech IT Support. I provide Cisco, Windows, OS X and Linux based IT Support to small businesses throughout Scotland.

Follow @Comtech247 on Twitter

 

 

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