I just found out that another local business in Torrance has gone out of business. Ironically I talked to them a few months back about their web page design, search engine ranking, and lack of online sales. Though they seemed interested in the concepts, they never followed through. It would be hard to say if that would have made the difference, but is something that I see with a lot of local small businesses is that they are way behind on current digital marketing, business processes and security issues.
Aside from this business which failed, we have also seen businesses that let server maintenance go until catastrophic failure. Those businesses usually spent more on data recovery that it would have cost to replace the server, and after spending that, still need the equipment replaced. Security issues are very common and recovery routinely cost several times what taking the preventative measures would have cost. Business efficiency and customer satisfaction are often not addressed. Down time costs are often not addressed in favor of gambling that the system won’t fail. New opportunities for income are frequently missed. Here are some of the common issues that we see around the Southbay area as well as other parts of the country.
In the past businesses that didn’t get enough walk in traffic, advertised with print ads, yellow pages and flyers. Many are still trying to do business the old way, and wondering why they are failing.
Today, news papers and magazines are being replaced with the Internet. Their circulation is down, and so the value of advertising in them is down as well. The same is true of yellow pages. They are still being distributed, by multiple publishers, but do many people keep them? Do people go find the phone book when they need to locate a product or service, or do they go to their phone or computer?
Especially for a business that does not have a highly visible physical location, a web page becomes essential. It is a leap of faith to give up the old advertising methods, but that money can be reallocated to electronic marketing for a better return on investment.
Even some of the businesses that have web pages are not doing the maintenance on them to keep them up to date and post new relevant things. With out new things, they can become stale, uninteresting and inaccurate.
Abbreviated as SEO. Yes it is that thing you get the spam on constantly. There are people that will tell you that they can get you to number one on Google because they have a special partnership with them. They can’t really make that claim since there are other horses in the race. Other businesses are putting a lot in the SEO work. While being number one can’t be guaranteed, it is very likely that if Search Engine Optimization is not addressed, you can be in last place.
While it may seem like snake oil, or computer based witchcraft, what it is really about is that a computer needs to be able to read your page, determine what it is about, and then compare that to what people are searching for. The computer has a lot of rules that it uses in ranking the pages and writing the pages with those rules in mind can help your page rank higher and be seen first by potential customers. If you think about what you do when looking at a search engine query, it is likely that you look at the first two pages, maybe three or four, but probably not five. If your business is on page seventeen, it probably won’t get seen.
It is often said that the time of “brick and mortar” shops is past. Personally I still like to have a local store, that I can purchase something immediately, or better still have the chance to talk with someone that is an expert on that product. Online sales are a reality though, but there is still the opportunity to do both. For the business I mentioned at the beginning, they had people sitting in the shop waiting for someone to walk in. They were located on Hawthorne Ave, with street visibility, but that was not resulting in enough customer traffic to fill their time. If their web page had been set up for online sales, those same people could have been processing and shipping orders while they were waiting for the walk ins.
A properly set up web page could have both increased their local visibility and provided another income stream.
To be fair there are a lot of big businesses that have security troubles as well, but they also have the money to pay for their mistakes. The impact of a security problem at a small company could be devastating. Yet it is astonishing how little attention is put in to the computer security. Many people have used the phrase “We are not NORAD”. The reality today is that you don’t have to be a large corporation or government entity to be attacked. It happens all the time, to everyone. Effort needs to be put in to making those attacks unsuccessful.
The costs associated with a successful attack can be very high. A single malware package usually installs several others in the process. The virus scanners don’t always stop or remove them. An outside person could steal bank account or credit card info, damage the operating system of your computer, or take over your computer to use it in attacking someone else. Ransomware is very common now, causing many computer users to have to pay to get their data back. If customer data is taken from your computer, it could put you in the position of legally disclosing the incident to your customers. Many small business owners don’t budget for protective measures, but this seldom pays off in the end. The cost of clean up, data recovery and damage to a business’ reputation is far higher than the cost of prevention.
Many businesses in Torrance, Beach cities, Palos Verdes and surrounding cities have unaddressed security issues. We have located some of these security issues from outside and attempted to talk with the managers and owners about them but meet with resistance, and disbelief. These include open WiFi nodes exposing parts of the network, internal services exposed to the internet, security vulnerabilities on web pages, mishandling of credit card information, and camera systems exposed to the internet.
A lot of faith is put in a new component. While it is true that a new part statistically will be more reliable than an old one, that actually doesn’t mean the new one can’t fail. Emotionally people feel that if the computer was working yesterday, it should be working today. Really, the parts work, until they don’t. Files can be damaged by hardware failure, network intruders, disgruntled employees, program bugs, power surges and many other things. We have seen even well meaning users, in the process of “cleaning up” their computer delete files from the file server, just because they “didn’t know what they were”.
Some small businesses run without any backup, or do the backups at irregular, frequently long intervals. The question that needs to be asked is when there is a problem, how many days/weeks/months of work can you afford to lose. For most businesses, one day hurts, a week is a disaster requiring many hours to reenter, or redo work. Labor hours doing so are a direct cost associated with data loss. If customer services are impacted the cost increases.
Often it seems logical that not spending money will be more profitable. This is not necessarily the case.
Labor costs per hour so if your employees are waiting for the computer systems before being able to continue their job, there is a direct cost associated with that. Also if there is the potential to do more work in a given time, or if orders can be turned around the the customer in a shorter time there is more potential profit.
Cost of failure is a big consideration as well. If your business is dependent on the computers for production, what is your down time cost? Can you afford to lose an hour, day, week, 2 weeks? Older equipment is more likely to fail. In situations where production is dependent on the computer systems, regular equipment replacement or redundant systems should be considered. Many times the cost of a failure outweighs the cost of the equipment.
Regular updates of the system software is necessary for elimination of software bugs and security vulnerabilities.
For most small business owners the technical systems and language is incomprehensible. They attempt to pick people who are up to the task without actually being able to assess the technician’s capability. There are unfortunately a lot if IT people that talk a good game, but quickly get out of their depth. Some business owners try to use friends or relatives without realizing that there is a huge difference between a home computer, and a business network. Even some professional businesses make their profit from solving 80 percent of the issues, which sounds good on the surface, but means there is a 1 in 5 chance of having something go wrong. This can lead to maintenance items missed, security compliance not addressed, infections, or data loss.
We frequently see businesses with obvious issues that say “Thanks, we have someone that takes care of that”. Audits are an important part of system maintenance, even if your IT staff is doing a great job, it is good to verify that is the case. Even the best technician can miss something.
Can a business process be done with less human intervention. Many people fear the idea, thinking that automation will take their job. There is another concept though that more work can be done in a given time making the business and each employee more profitable. Procedures of the past such as handling work flows on paper put a cap on how much work could be done where as modern computer systems have allowed businesses to be more scalable.
Nobody likes to spend when they don’t need to, but there are frequently times that an investment in the infrastructure or marketing will make a business more profitable. There is no “one size fits all” solution, but the goals are achievable whether it is all at once, or a steady progress.