Every week as SmallBizLady, I conduct interviews with experts on my Twitter talk show #SmallBizChat. The show takes place every Wednesday on Twitter from 8-9 pm ET. This is excerpted from my recent interview with Gene Marks. Gene Marks is a columnist, author, and small business owner. Gene writes every day on business, politics, and public policy for the Washington Post and weekly for Forbes, Fortune, Fox Business, Inc. Magazine, Entrepreneur and the Huffington Post. Gene owns and operates the Marks Group PC, a highly successful firm that provides technology and consulting services to small and medium business. For more information, visit: www.genemarks.com.
SmallBizLady: WHAT ARE THE BIGGEST CHALLENGES FACING SMALL BUSINESS OWNERS TODAY WHEN IT COMES TO TECHNOLOGY?
Gene Marks: If you’re a small business owner, you likely share challenges in common with your fellow professionals. One of the most prevalent challenges is the lack of a dedicated budget for IT resources and technology. Because of this, it often puts them at a critical disadvantage: they typically use outdated systems, which leaves them vulnerable to hack attacks. Unlike their enterprise counterparts, who have teams of internal experts, small business owners are short-staffed and do not have subject matter experts onsite to guide their digital/technological strategies.
SmallBizLady: HOW CAN BUSINESS OWNERS PROTECT THEMSELVES IN A DIGITAL AGE?
Gene Marks: The key is for small business owners to take a layered approach to security. A few components of this should include:
Limit Employee Privileges – this means employees should only have access to the data and applications they need to effectively do their jobs – and nothing more. Privileges must be managed and updated on an ongoing basis (promotions, transfers, or leaving/terminations must be accounted for)
Use Antivirus – It’s important to use antivirus software from a reputable vendor and ensure that it is constantly updated. Most solutions will catch nearly half of the viruses in circulation at a given time
You Better Backup – Every business should expect to get hacked, and if they want to survive the event, backups of computers and servers are a must. The best backup system is one that works automatically in the background
User Security Awareness Training – Every business gets bombarded with ‘phishing’ emails that contain virus-laden attachments and links to malicious websites. These are sent from outside cybercriminals, but it takes an action from a company insider to unleash the malware. Employees must be taught to identify fishy emails and what to do in the event that they click a bad link
SmallBizLady: WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN DATA BACK UP AND DATA STORAGE?
Gene Marks: One of the most common misperceptions I see among small business owners is that they use storage as their backup solution. Unfortunately, users often learn the hard way that cloud storage does not offer the same protection from accidental deletions and costly disruptions as cloud backup. Also, many SBOs don’t realize that solutions like this do not back up all their files, or their desktop. Instead it backs up only the files shared through the service.
Cloud storage is fine for things like file sharing or accessing your files from mobile devices, but it won’t protect you from the most common forms of data loss. Only a true cloud backup solution will protect your files in situations where you’re most likely to lose it. A few benefits of backup that are fundamental to a small business’ security includes comprehensive, automatic backup that continuously monitors for file changes to back up the newest files. Additionally, backup solutions provide private encryption key for security and privacy and procvide compliance support, including HIPAA, FERPA, GLBA.
SmallBizLady: WHY IS DATA BACK-UP IMPORTANT?
Gene Marks: Backup has never been more important to small business owners than it is today. Research shows that downtime – from a computer or system crash, or data loss – can range from $82,000 – $256,000 for one single event. That is no small sum, and can be the difference between keeping or losing a business.
Today’s threat landscape is increasingly nefarious and complex, making solutions like antivirus inefficient to the point of becoming obsolete. We’ve seen this with the rise of ransomware, which preys on unsuspecting victims who click on a link and holds the user’s data hostage – shutting down a business – until a sum of money is paid. Antivirus won’t get a person’s data back; the ONLY solution to getting data back in this instance is rolling back to recent backups.
SmallBizLady: WHAT TYPES OF COMPANIES SHOULD CONSIDER BACKING UP THEIR DATA?
Gene Marks: All types. Every business is a data business in this day and age, and businesses of all sizes need to invest in a good backup solution at Day Zero.
A new survey from survey shows that a majority of SMBs – 68% – consider data as their new currency. No longer are the highly regulated industries those who have to worry about critical business data being secure – data is critical in every organization and it’s up to the business to protect it.
SmallBizLady: WHAT ARE THE THREE SMB TECHNOLOGY MUST-HAVES FOR SUCCESS?
Gene Marks: It’s hard to limit technology must-haves to only three, so let’s consider them in segments.
First, it’s critical to have an online presence – such as a website, or web page within a social site – to promote your product/service and provide customers/prospects a way to reach you. It’s also critical you think about your communications platform – everything from email marketing, to customer relationship management, to social media platforms – so you can continue to market to and reach new audiences. Finally, it’s important that put your data first – everything from Google analytics, to data backup, to document management – to monitor your business running effectively and efficiently.
SmallBizLady: HOW CAN SMB’S BEST USE “THE CLOUD”?
Gene Marks: The most important benefit of the cloud for small businesses is data security, especially with a backup solution that stores copies of your business data in the cloud. With Carbonite, for instance, your files are protected with advanced encryption in climate-controlled data centers with armed guards 24 hours a day, seven days a week. You can also log in to your account remotely from any internet-connected device, so you never have to be in physical possession of your computer or external hard drive to access your files. Cloud-based software solutions, such as those specific to HR, Payroll, Customer Relationship Management, etc. will also let you save money, avoiding the expensive upfront investments that come with those traditional services. Communication tools such as GoToMeeting and Yammer will foster better collaboration and anytime-anywhere working, which is crucial to the modern small business.
SmallBizLady: WHAT TECHNOLOGY SOLUTIONS ARE BEST FOR A GROWING SMB?
Gene Marks: There are many excellent solutions out there, but I’ve compiled a list of a few I’ve seen work best in small businesses:
- Slack for communication
- HootSuite and Sprinkr for social media marketing
- Quickbooks for accounting
- Hubspot for CRM
- Canva for graphic design/marketing images
- Carbonite for cloud backup and data protection
SmallBizLady: WHEN SHOULD AN SMB BRING IN AN IT CONSULTANT OR IT PRO?
Gene Marks: It’s important to develop an IT environment that is unique to your company’s needs. However, there are a few signals that suggest a small business should work with an IT consultant.
First, if a technology has complex implementation, I advise trusting a pro with experience in that field who can handle the deployment. It’s also a good idea to ask for outside IT help if a system or service needs constant monitoring and maintenance, and there’s not already an internal IT expert onsite. Finally, a small business should think about calling an IT pro if upgrades or overhauls are required.
SmallBizLady: WHY SHOULD A SMALL BUSINESS BE CONCERNED WITH PROTECTING DATA?
Gene Marks: Today, there are dangerous cyber threats targeting small businesses to not only steal data but also to exploit it. Small businesses are particularly at risk because malicious actors suspect that small business lack the IT systems to defend against them. Small businesses need to start recognizing the serious risks they face if they don’t protect it: data is the lifeblood of every business. If you lose your data, your business will likely go with it.
SmallBizLady: I’VE BEEN HEARING ABOUT RANSOMWARE EVERYWHERE. WHAT IS IT AND WHY SHOULD SMALL BUSINESSES BE CONCERNED?
Gene Marks: Ransomware is a type of malware – software that is intended to damage or disable computers and computer systems – that holds a user’s computer systems hostage until a sum of money is paid. The only way to recover data without paying the ransom is by reverting to previous backups. Even if users do pay the ransom, there’s no guarantee they will get their data back, necessitating cloud backup solutions.
Small businesses are unfortunately the primary targets of ransomware attacks because they can pay more than an individual would to get data back, but usually don’t have the IT security in place to prevent attacks. Small businesses should expect that they will get hit with ransomware and put best practices in place to prevent and recover from it.
SmallBizLady: WHAT IS ONE COMMON MISTAKE SMALL BUSINESSES MAKE WHEN IT COMES TO TECHNOLOGY DECISIONS?
Gene Marks: Failing to implement a data strategy at Day Zero. As previously noted, data is the lifeblood of every business. Small businesses product BIG data from everywhere: their emails, social media platforms, e-commerce systems. The most successful businesses are the ones who have a plan in place that allows them to not only leverage this data for insights but also protect it from looming threats.
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