Advice to businesses for 2009 (B&F January 2009)

This article was previously published in Business & Finance Magazine, 15th-29th January 2009.

Even by the most optimistic estimates, 2009 is going to be a tough year in business. Here three technology experts give their advice on how technology can be used and managed to allow businesses to survive and thrive.

Damien Mulley is the owner of Mulley Communications, which specialises in media training and online PR. He says by taking a hold of your own promotion strategy you can have a more cost-effective and modern approach to marketing:

You should buy every paper for two weeks and jot down the journalists that cover the stories your company would fit into. These are the people you’ll want to build a relationship with.

If you only have resources to do this a few hours a month then pick one journalist and work on understanding them and what they want. Actually e-mailing and asking what kind of information they want works quite well; most journalists are happy to tell you.

You should still do PR with the generic e-mail addresses for papers and radio stations, just make sure your releases make sense and tell a story.

If you plan to be away from the office when you have sent out a release, make sure to have a fully charged phone. Buy a copy of the Media Contact book too, the best listings for the media in Ireland and well worth the investment.

None of this will add too much to your work load but you may still find you need a PR company’s expertise. Many of them are very experienced in what they do and can have great relationships with the media. If you decide you do need one it might be an idea to get other companies involved to see if they will do a group deal with you. 2009 is going to be tough for PR companies so they might be happy with the work. Always ask for recent – as in 2 weeks ago – work they did for a client and the result. Something from last year is like a lifetime ago in a news cycle.

It is vital you have a website too, even the most basic one is better than none. Make sure you use an Irish webhost or a .ie domain name to help you do better in Google.ie listings – if Google can find the information on your site that is the main thing. You should not need to run ads for the basics of your business if you have a website that is simply designed. You should be first in Google for these things already.

www.mulley.ie

Pat Phelan is founder and owner of MaxRoam, a service that offers low-cost mobile phone roaming internationally. He advises businesses to examine every aspect of their outgoings, saying they should not be afraid to end agreements that are not proving beneficial:

I would suggest any company immediately re-negotiate all their maintenance contracts, cancel all direct debit payments and change them to invoice-based.

Cancel all contracts with recruitments agencies and offer your existing staff a bonus if they find you an incredible employee; this has considerable benefits in the short term.

On a telephony side, do not make mobile calls whilst in range of a fixed line. Sometimes I see people calling others in the same office on their corporate mobile. Your mobile supplier should also be requested to immediately review your existing contracts and minute bundle.

Examine your telecoms spend whilst traveling in minute detail. I use Boingo as a wifi provider whilst I travel and spend $30 a month on an unlimited account, we share this in our office and no longer pay for internet connectivity whilst travelling.

Obviously hardware will need to be replaced from time to time and I would certainly consider looking at reconditioned units as there will be plenty floating around.

www.patphelan.net

Conor O’Neill is a director at IT consultancy company Argolon, which owns the social networking-based review site LouderVoice.com. He says the arrival of cloud computing means serious savings and efficiencies can be found by SMEs:

The key to saving money on IT in 2009 is “the cloud” and Software as a Service (SaaS). By pushing as much as possible online you can keep using older hardware, allow staff to work from anywhere, make use of some great new tools and minimise all your traditional support headaches.

A simple, free example of SaaS is Google Apps. It gives you 6GB+ of free, spam-filtered e-mail per employee with GMail whilst keeping your existing mail domain. With it you can write documents, spreadsheets and presentations online and share them with others. Employees can communicate about these shared documents using Google Talk, while Google Sites can host your intranet and information-sharing wiki.

Zoho provides even more online applications than Google, some of which are paid-for. If you are struggling to manage your customer contacts and sales process, Zoho CRM is free for up to three users. They have everything from e-mail to Form builders and Invoicing applications to Project Management tools.

You can provide online support to customers and get their feedback using sites like LouderVoice, GetSatisfaction, IGOpeople and PollDaddy. If you want to sell online but are worried about cost and complexity then sites like Venda, NitroSell, FastCommerce and Shopify can have your online shop up and running almost instantly at a cost starting from £50 per month.

Cloud-based sites also mean you can stop relying on portable harddisks and USB drives to back-up information. PutPlace, JungleDisk and others let you back-up machines online and are cheap, reliable and scalable.
The cloud also makes aging IT useful again – my top tip for an aging PC is to cram it with memory and install the Firefox or Chrome web-browser to enable your staff to “live in the cloud”!

www.argolon.com

Again, many thanks to Pat Phelan, Damien Mulley and Conor O’Neill for their input.

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