Every business wants to cut costs and many cover the basics like fully shutting their PC down rather than leaving it on standby overnight. But few take advantage of the time and money they can save by being online.
The Lloyds Bank Business Digital Index 2017 found nearly a third of Welsh small businesses do not see the relevance of an internet presence. Even though 50% of small business in Wales say they have saved costs online and 76% save time when they apply digital know how.
If you can download an app on your phone, book your holiday online or can even programme a microwave; taking a step into the ‘Cloud’ and using digital technologies will be easier than you thought.
This guide outlines why you should have faith in your ability to reduce costs and save time online. You will see how pay-as-you-go software can simplify the way you run and market your business, and how you can save money using the internet to make phone calls, and store and back up important information online for peace of mind.
2. What benefits might I expect?
Efficiency: Faster broadband provides a more reliable and stable platform so multiple users can share the same service connection without slowing down.
Profit margins: Reduced outgoings, improved communication speed and greater customer engagement can lead to increased profit margins.
Choice: Entry level products with standard features compete on price and service level agreements (e.g. office productivity, HR, or accounts).
Peace of mind: Service level agreements (SLAs) are binding and define the support and response times that you can expect from your provider.
Staff productivity: Cloud-based applications allow off-site staff to update information in real time rather than having to come back into the office.
Cost savings: Reduce capital costs by using cloud computing services; replace servers with cloud-based storage and scale up and down as required.
Customer loyalty: Increase customer retention using cloud-based Customer Relationship Management (CRM) and social media platforms to build relationships.
Customer service: You can also use CRM reports and analysis to plan marketing campaigns and deliver enhanced customer support and services.
Protect assets: Pick cloud-based packages that automatically fix software bugs to reduce security issues and limit downtime from mandatory upgrades.
Data back-up: Reduce the risk of losing your customer, product and commercial data with cloud-based automated data back-ups.
Environmental responsibility: Swap face to face with virtual meetings to reduce fuel consumption and win back unproductive travel time.
Energy costs: Exchanging virtual servers and cloud computing services means less need for energy-hungry servers at every office.
3. Real life example
A Welsh company that manages a network of more than 70 professional journalists and translators is using online technology to be more efficient and increase revenues by 40%.
Based in Rhondda Cynon Taf, Nordic International Ltd uses Superfast Broadband to run a cloud-based network that the team can access remotely to download and share large data packages online, as well as use video conferencing to brief freelance writers and translators on new projects.
“I remember when we first started, our phone bill was around £500 per quarter, which is crazy now looking back,” said Mr Draper.
“For example, there was a job that involved a 30-minute telephone interview with a fund manager in Greenland that cost us more than the fee that we received, but with internet-based calls, we are now probably paying about £20 per month.
The company made significant time and cost savings by moving across to the cloud-based Office 365 system, introducing SharePoint to host project documents in the cloud for better access, and using Skype to conduct regular meetings with its Denmark-based project manager.
Efficiency savings have also enabled Mr Draper to invest more time in growing his database of freelancers, as well as increasing the focus on promoting the business to new potential customers.
4. What is the Cloud?
Cloud computing involves accessing resources such as office productivity software or storage over the internet rather than having them all on your own PC or network. Instead of buying a bigger disk drive, you simply rent more disk space and instead of struggling with installing and upgrading software, you let a Cloud provider take the pain.
The cloud is flexible and cost efficient and has been made more accessible by Superfast Broadband as the high bandwidths make the use of remote servers and services more manageable. By 2018, it is projected that more than 85% of UK business will be using at least one type of Cloud service. (Cloud Industry Forum).
5. Why use the Cloud?
If you run an in-house PC network or your own servers, the chances are high that you’ve paid for computing power which is sat idle much of the time. Plus, there’s the constant chore of maintaining, updating and troubleshooting equipment. But moving to Cloud computing can substantially reduce costs.
The cloud can save you money because you’re billed only the resources that you use on a pay-as-you-go basis, which allows you to increase or decrease your requirements instantly. It’s like having unlimited computer power, on tap, but only paying for it when you need it.
6. Where could I make cost savings?
Running your business
These days there is no longer the need to purchase and install memory eating software onto office PCs. Most suppliers offer cloud-based Software as a Service (SaaS) solutions that allow companies to pay-as-you-go so you can reduce the high costs of running a business. You can also increase or decrease the number of licenses you require and pick and choose functionality to suit your needs and price point. As these packages are cloud-based, pre-selected employees can access them from anywhere, which means off-site staff can complete the paper work, for a sale, for example whilst the deal is hot.
Flexible working can help increase productivity as well as offer costs savings for when staff work from home. Office space, car parking and associated overheads (such as utilities) are the most obvious areas for cost reductions. Although, you will need to consider whether you will need to subsidise home workers’ telephone and electricity bills. As a rule of thumb, you can remove one desk from your office space for every three employees who work from home.
A reliable internet connection gives businesses the option of making low cost phone calls as well as to set up and attend video conferences. Voice over IP (VoIP) offers huge savings to annual phone bills, cuts down on travel and accommodation costs, and minimises unproductive travel time. As long as you have access to a device with a robust internet connection you can access VoIP. Some businesses set up VoIP on their desk phones, desk top, laptop and mobiles to reduce their call out costs.
Virtual private networks
Just as VoIP replaces your telephone lines with a cheaper internet link, a virtual private network (VPN) eliminates the hefty expense of leased lines and uses the internet to connect multiple work sites. These could be different offices, or simply your headquarter and your remote workers’ homes. There are many ways to implement a VPN, and the option you choose may well include VoIP and or Cloud computing as well as a data network.
Secure data storage
Superfast Broadband offers you reliable access to cloud storage solutions that reduce the need for buying and maintaining expensive servers and building in redundancy and security options. Because of the new GDPR rules, you will need to ask your ISP where they store ‘personally identifiable data’, including their back up data. A safe option is to choose one that stores data within the EU. Many companies choose a cloud or hybrid solution because you only purchase the storage space you need and capacity can be increased easily and quickly.
It is always worth bearing in mind that the more we rely on digital communication, the more we are at risk from cyber-attack. Preventative actions not only lowers the risk of data and financial loss, but it protects your customers and defends your reputation. There are many low cost automated data back-up solutions give you the peace of mind that, in the event of a cyber-attack or systems failure, your essential business data is secure and easily recoverable.
Larger businesses could save money through virtualisation as many servers are over specified for the majority of duties they perform. They need to have enough computing muscle to cope with the toughest tasks but could be performing those power-hungry jobs for 10% of the time or less. Virtualisation allows one server to pretend to be many servers so you need less. Typically, one virtualised unit might replace 10 to 20 stand-alone ones. And you could also save on software and networking infrastructure, and even electricity.
7. Recommended action points and tips
What should I consider?
Cloud-based systems allow pay-as-you-go solutions with the benefit of monthly payments and ongoing upgrades to the latest version. This can provide significant advantages for a growing business as you are able to transfer the cost of a new system from capital expenditure to recurrent operational expenditure.
Look at free software
Your starting point should be ‘off the shelf’ packages, which offer excellent value for money if you only require simple, standard business functions such as office processes, stock control, accounts or payroll. If your requirements are not entirely standard, then it’s worthwhile mapping out your specification before you refine this into a Request For Quotation from potential suppliers.
Check for compatibility
Don’t forget to check compatibility with all your devices and other hardware or machinery that you currently use or plan to use in the future. And also consider whether leasing expensive items could be advantageous or if it is better to buy and quickly write off the costs against tax. Because Corporation Tax allowances change over time, it is always advisable so consult your accountant.
Think outside of the box
Make use of the software available to design online brochures or manuals available to customers as a .pdf download. Making these accessible via your website can be a great way to cut down the cost of printing. Along a similar vein, sending e-newsletters using a product such as MailChimp is simple, effective and, for a modest volume, free.
8. Additional information
Use the Superfast Business Wales Software Directory to explore the software that could help you run your business.
Register to attend a fully-funded Superfast Business Wales workshop.
At the workshop, make an appointment to see a Business Adviser who will help you create a digital action plan to grow your business.