So my computer died this week. It's less than six months old and it's staring at me with the black face of death. Three hours of manufacturer support couldn't resurrect the poor bugger. It hadn't been particularly overworked, I hold all of my data in various cloud storage facilities. I mean I do work long hours but I hadn't maxed out on its capabilities, storage or even downloaded much software, mostly because I don't need to as nearly all applications that I use are based on a cloud platform. The thing that sent it over the edge was an automatic software update that I had no control over installing. The end result was that my money was refunded as I was expected to pay the difference to buy a newer model. Customer service was shocking. I was passed from pillar to post between reseller and manufacturer. A total of seven hours of my day was spent calling one company, before being told that I needed to contact another. 7 hours. I run my own business. I don't have time for this! Whatever is the outcome, I won't be buying the same brand again.
One thing it did remind me of is the importance to back up your system regularly, for some reason, no default existed on mine. I'm quite handy with IT, even more important if you are working for yourself but even as I searched through the options, I could see that something had removed some vital components on my machine. The hard drive had gone. What?
So if you're embarking on a solo adventure, be that freelance, sole trader or setting up your company, we have detailed some of our top things to think about when setting up:
1. Invest in good quality antivirus software - make sure it is the right software to meet your needs, check whether your operating system needs 32-bit or 64-bit and buy the correct package to match.
2. Back up your files, regularly. Even if you use cloud services, keep a copy stored on a secure separate hard drive. Remember that you should only keep the customer data that you need and use for the time period that you need it for to be GDPR compliant. As for projects you have completed, hold them for a min of three years before securely destroying files. Obviously if you work in other sectors, such as finance/law you may be required to keep these for a minimum of six years or have other requirements. Your company accounts should be held for six too
3. Ensure your own website is HTTPS secure and invest in SSL certification, especially if you are collecting customer's data on your website. If you are collecting data payment details via your site, make sure you have the appropriate security to keep your customer's data as secure as you possibly can. Make sure you are familiar with GDPR requirements, if you ask people to sign up from your website. When did they sign up? Do you have clear consent that they have opted *IN* to your newsletter or communications? Do you make it easy and clear to them, whenever you communicate with them, how they can opt out? Failure to offer proper security via your site can lead to big fines, if your site is hacked and your customer data compromised.
4. GRPR rules will soon be applying to business data as well as employee data, so if you were thinking this is all another re-write of consumer data protection and doesn't apply - think again.
5. Cyber security. These days this is just vital. With so many connected devices and IoT (Internet of Things), from printers and security cameras, if you don't have a secure security network that these are connected to, then they become an easy target for hackers. That could take your business off-line and it puts your customer data at risk.
6. Invest in a good quality CRM (customer relationship management) database. Ideally one which integrates with your email client. There are many available on the market that can integrate with Google and Outlook, ensuring that you can track your sales pipeline and keep your customer data secure. Spreadsheets are for numbers.
7. Keep on top of your invoicing and record keeping, and set up a business bank account to keep all of your payments traceable and separate from your own personal ones. You should have clear reporting for these and look at investing in an accountant to complete your tax returns and file them for you at the end of the year.
8. Make sure you have appropriate terms of business for your client relationships and contacts. If it is the first time that you are working for them, it is common to ask for half of the project fee as an initial payment up front. Make sure these terms are signed, before you start the work, otherwise you may find yourself in an expensive situation.
9. Do the research. Whatever you invest in for your business, make sure you spend some time researching whether your target market will be interested in it. You should also stay on top of what the competition are doing and offering. Be that from a pricing persepctive or services/products/packages. One product to help you stay ahead from a SEO and Adwords perspective is using a provider like SERPstat.
10. Looking to hire a contractor or freelancer? Then try a platform like People Per Hour where you can find a range of freelancers and contractors. You can also review a freelancer's reviews from clients that they have worked with, so you get a bit more information on them.
Looking for digital marketing support, or something more strategic? Take a look around our site to see how we have been helping clients with their marketing. Get in contact so we can have a chat about how we can help you with your next marketing project.