Geeks2U Promise
We guarantee you'll love our fast, friendly service - or we'll refund your money.  
133,572 Happy Customers & Counting
Need tech support?
1300 769 448
Extended hours, 7 days a week

Author Archives: Anthony Hill

Rollout delays might keep your business off the NBN for longer than expected

nbnmap

As the national rollout picks up pace, NBN is putting more and more premises in the too-hard basket and sending them to the back of the queue.

Australia’s nationwide high-speed broadband rollout is approaching the half-way mark, aiming to hook up the entire country by 2020 using a mix of technologies. Some businesses will receive fibre all the way to the premises, while others will only receive fibre to the curb, basement or neighbourhood node while relying on the existing copper phone lines to cover the last mile.

Around 30 percent of premises – mostly in the major cities – will connect to the NBN via the pay TV HFC cable networks. Meanwhile around 7 percent of premises will rely on Fixed Wireless or satellite, mostly in regional and remote Australia although also on some city fringes.

By now the online NBN rollout map should give you a rough idea of when the NBN will reach area your area and which rollout technology will run to your door. The rollout is gathering pace, but unfortunately it’s not all smooth sailing.

The NBN uses a range of “Service Class” classifications to describe the current telecommunications connectivity at a premises, so it knows how much work is involved in connecting up the NBN. There are more than a dozen Service Classes and the lowest is Service Class 0, which basically means there is no existing connectivity or there are major impediments to connecting your premises.

This time last year only 10,000 premises across the country were deemed Service Class 0, but the number has blown out to 100,000 over the last 12 months and is likely to grow as more installation issues are discovered. Premises classified as Service Class 0 will likely need to wait until 2020 before they’re connected, as NBN wants to focus on the easy installs and get as many premises as possible connected as soon as possible.

Regardless of what’s happening in your suburb, if your business premises is deemed Service Class 0 you could be in for a long wait. If you’re concerned it’s worth investigating the issue, if you’ve been pushed to the back of the queue and you can’t wait until 2020 then perhaps it’s time to start considering your alternatives.

To further complicate matters, NBN has already revealed details of delays to the HFC cable rollout – caused by demand for connections doubling NBN expectations and a spate of cable activation issues.

Premises destined for HFC cable NBN connections which don’t have an existing cable lead-in from the street will now be pushed to the end of the Ready For Service lists sent to internet service providers as the NBN reaches a new suburb. It’s not the same as being declared Service Class 0, but it could see you wait another six months compared to the other premises in your area.

The NBN rollout is picking up speed, but it’s worth checking whether your business will be stuck in the slow lane for a while yet.


Is it time to crack down on office paperwork?

Accounting

If paperwork is choking your business then perhaps it’s time to take paper out of the equation.

Paperwork might be a necessary evil, but actual paper isn’t. These days pretty much any business process you manage via paper can be digitised – not only helping to curb your business costs but also offering a major productivity boost.

If you’re trying to eliminate that briefcase full of documents, or the makeshift filing cabinet in the boot of your car, then you’ll need a portable device to take its place like a notebook, smartphone or tablet. It’s tempting to rush out and buy a fleet of Apple iPads or Microsoft Surface Pro tablets, but you’d be approaching the problem backwards.

The first step is to definite the specific problems and business processes you want to address and then start evaluating possible solutions, rather than starting with a shiny gadget and then hoping it meets your needs.

Don’t try to change everything at once, instead start with the low hanging fruit so you can get early runs on the board and perhaps look for a quick return on investment.

You might start by considering a document management system to make it easy to store large libraries of static reference documents, from customer contracts to council regulations. Straight away you’re carrying less paper, plus you’ve made that document archive easier to search, share, synchronise between devices and backup to the cloud.

Always think about the big picture, because once your business starts to see the benefits of digitisation and the cloud you’ll begin to recognise other opportunities for improvement. For example you might decide to integrate your document management system with a project management platform or Customer Relationship Management suite to help create a single view of clients or projects.

These kinds of powerful business tools were once only available to the big end of town, but the cloud puts a wide range of enterprise-grade services within reach of small businesses. They’re also designed to scale as your business expands to help ease some of the traditional business growing pains.

Any efforts to eliminate paper from your workflows should be part of a wider business strategy to improve the way your business runs and equip you to tackle new challenges.


Are you making the most of your customers?

customers

Customers are one of your business’ most precious assets and if you don’t understand them, you’re flying blind.

Considering businesses tend to live or die depending on how many customers walk through the door, many businesses know surprisingly little about what makes their customers tick. Going on a gut feeling will only get you so far — there comes a time when you need to take a more systematic approach to understanding your customers to ensure you’re making the most of each other.

Customer relationship management (CRM) software is no longer just for the big end of town, with a new generation of cloud-based services designed to put enterprise-grade features within the reach of the smallest of businesses.

Rather than just offer a centralised way for your people to manage your customer contact details, a well-rounded CRM system lets them handle everything from marketing, lead generation and prospect nurturing, to sales, order tracking and forecasting. It can bring you closer to having a single holistic view of a customer, making it easier to transform all that data into insight.

You can also use a CRM system to manage a customer loyalty program that goes far beyond simply stamping a loyalty card and giving customers their 10th coffee for free. Electronic loyalty programs gather invaluable data regarding customer behaviour, which can help with business planning by giving insights into purchasing trends, peak demand times and staffing requirements.

This information can also help with cross-selling and upselling — which is not a dirty world if handled delicately and selectively, rather than taking a shotgun approach and risking alienating some customers. Customer behaviour data also allows you to look at the big picture, including conversion rates, customer lifecycles and customer lifetime value.

Once you move into data analytics you can also look for indications of customer dissatisfaction and tell-tale signs of impending churn. Churn is not necessarily a bad thing; once you map customer lifecycles you can better appreciate that sometimes losing a customer is for the best. Once you understand your customers, you can focus on attracting and retaining the right kind of customer, with a better appreciation of what they actually want from you.

If you don’t know which are your most valuable customers, or even how to measure true customer value in your industry, then it’s time to do your homework. Once you have a better understanding of your customers, you can start focusing your efforts to ensure you keep the right customers coming back for more.


Is your old-school finance system holding your business back?

finance

If your paperwork piles up while you’re away from your desk then it might be time to streamline your business with a cloud-based finance package.

Paperwork is one of those necessary evils when you run a business. You might prefer to spend all your time focusing on your passions, but the business won’t get far if you neglect your finances.

There was a time when all of that admin work saw you stuck at your desk for hours, wading through piles of paperwork and dealing with desktop software restricted to a single computer. If your job involved spending most of your day away from your desk then all that paperwork would need to wait until the end of the day, week or even month.

These delays can play havoc with your cashflow if you’re putting off issuing invoices, processing payments and chasing slow payers. As a result you might be working harder than ever, yet feel like you’ve got little to show for it when it comes time to pay your own bills.

Thankfully the new generation of cloud-based finance packages make it easy to manage your business anywhere, anytime and from practically any device. All your data is securely hosted online, so you can pick up your computer, smartphone or tablet and have everything at your fingertips. You also have the advantage of paying a monthly subscription for your finance system rather than buying the software outright in a lump sum.

The more finance processes you can automate the smoother your business will run, for example by automatically reconciling a customer’s payment advice against your bank statements and notifying you of outstanding invoices.

You can turn any handheld device into a portable payments terminal using a tiny contactless card reader, letting you do business on the spot while importing the transaction directly into your finance system.

Meanwhile it’s easy to track your expenses on the go, processing them straight from your smartphone rather than throwing all your paper receipts in a box until tax time.

A cloud-based finance package saves you time and effort every day, but you’ll particularly appreciate the benefits when it comes time to pay your quarterly Business Activity Statement or annual tax bill. Instead of spending days shuffling paperwork and scouring spreadsheets, you can now draw together that information with a few clicks.

There are several cloud-based finance packages to choose from, some offering optional advanced modules such as inventory and payroll. It’s worth seeking advice from your accountant and doing plenty of research to find the best fit for your business, rather than jumping in the deep end and hoping for the best.

Keep in mind that you’re not just looking for a finance system which meets your current needs, it needs to scale to meet your future needs so you don’t outgrow it quickly. That way you can get back to doing what you do best, knowing that your cloud finance package is taking care of business.


Is there room for a streaming media player in your office?

appletv

Streaming media players like the Apple TV and Google’s Chromecast might seem more at home in the lounge room than the boardroom, but these tiny wireless gadgets offer a great way to fling presentations and other content around your office.

No matter how articulate you are in the boardroom, sometimes it’s more powerful to show people what you mean rather than just talking them through it. A new generation of slick presentation tools have helped us escape from PowerPoint hell, but there’s still the challenge of getting your presentation up on the big screen.

It’s easy to spend a lot of money setting up an expensive networked multimedia system in your office, but before you splash some cash it’s worth considering whether a simple streaming media player like the Apple TV or Google’s Chromecast could be the solution to your problems.

They’re best known as the easiest way to get streaming video services like Netflix into your lounge room, but these devices also let you mirror the desktop from your computer, smartphone or tablet. You can plug a player into any monitor, television or projector with an HDMI video port, giving it a wireless overhaul so it’s easy to fling video to it. This is even more convenient if you regularly waste time during meetings waiting for one person to relinquish control of the big screen while the next person fumbles with the cables they need to connect.

As you’d expect, the Apple TV is a very Apple-centric device, designed to play nicely with iPhones, iPads and Macs using Apple’s AirPlay streaming format. You can easily mirror the screen from any of these Apple devices, and many iOS apps have built-in AirPlay video support.

If you’re only interested in AirPlay then an old third generation Apple TV should do the job, and you’ll find them for less than $100. The newer fourth generation Apple TV starts at $239, but in return you gain the ability to run a wide range of third-party apps.

There’s no official Android support for AirPlay. You’ll find third-party apps in the Google Play store that support AirPlay video streaming, such as Allcast, AppleTV AirPlay Media Player and AirScreen – AirPlay & iTunes, but the results can be hit and miss.

Meanwhile Google’s Chromecast is more flexible—it’s designed to mirror the screen from an Android device, Windows PC or Mac, plus mirroring is built into the Chrome desktop browser. You’ll pick up the Chromecast for around $59, or you can step up to the $99 Chromecast Ultra, which supports Ultra HD resolution.

Streaming to a Chromecast from an iGadget is slightly less convenient. You can’t mirror the screen but you can mirror Chromecast-compatible apps—not just multimedia apps like Netflix and YouTube, but also Google’s apps like Google Slides for presentations and Google Photos for images and video clips.

Choosing between Google’s Chromecast and the Apple TV comes down to what devices you’ll need to connect—you might even decide it’s worth having one of each. Once they’re set up, it’s simple to get your big ideas up on the big screen in the office.


Fire up your VPN when using public Wi-Fi

mobilevpn

It’s best to play it safe when you’re out of the office using someone else’s Wi-Fi network.

Mobile data has traditionally been rather expensive in Australia so we’re in the habit of jumping onto free Wi-Fi networks wherever we find them—from cafes and shopping centres to sporting stadiums and airport lounges. These days mobile data costs have fallen and monthly download allowances are more generous, yet we still tend to use free public Wi-Fi when we’re out and about.

The trouble with using public Wi-Fi is that you don’t know who controls the network and whether they’re trying to eavesdrop on your online activities. In somewhere like an airport lounge, who is to say that the nearby “Public_WiFi” network isn’t really being generated by someone sitting at the next table, hoping that you’ll assume it’s a legitimate network?

Even if you are connecting to a legitimate Wi-Fi network in somewhere like a cafe, can you be sure that the network hasn’t been infiltrated by someone who is up to no good? The cafe owner might make a great latte, but what are their credentials when it comes to wireless network security? Would they even know if someone was lurking on the network, watching for passwords and other sensitive information?

If you can’t vouch for the integrity of a Wi-Fi network then it’s best to engage a virtual private network (VPN) to cloak your activities. A VPN creates an encrypted tunnel between your device—your computer, smartphone or tablet—and the VPN server. The VPN server then acts as your gateway to the internet.

The benefit of this is that no-one else on the Wi-Fi network can monitor what you’re doing online, not even the network operator. They might be able to tell that you’ve created a secure encrypted connection, but they can’t peer inside to see what you’re doing.

There are plenty of free and paid VPN providers to choose from, although you tend to get what you pay for in terms of speed and security so be wary of using a free service to protect important business data.

Alternatively you might run your own VPN server in the office and let remote staff connect directly to that server. One advantage of this is that your people are making a secure connection all the way to the office, rather than just to a third-party VPN server in the cloud. Another advantage is that once connected to the office VPN, your people can access in-house servers and other systems that aren’t accessible across the open internet.

As Australia’s 4G mobile data networks become cheaper and faster there’s less and less reason to use public Wi-Fi hotspots, but if you do, it’s important to take sensible precautions to protect your privacy.


Watch out for old business scams in the new year

scam

From fake utility bills to bogus money transfer requests, scammers have their sights set on small businesses in 2017.

For all the advancements in modern technology, it seems the old scams are still the best scams. Con artists appear to have given up on trying to trick you into thinking you’ve won the lottery or landed some other deal which seems too good to be true. Instead they’re returning to the old fashioned business scams which seem too dull to be fake.

Fake invoices are always in fashion, whether they’re sent via email, fax or in the post. Sometimes they’re for advertisements supposedly placed in publications that might not even exist. Other times they’re for stationery or printing supplies that you never received or even ordered.

Usually the scammers don’t get too greedy; the idea is to hit you with an ordinary, realistic-looking bill and hope that someone in your organisation will pay it without giving it a second thought. If you fall for a fake invoice once, they’ll probably keep sending them.

Fake bills are also popular with scammers peddling ransomware who hope to trick you into opening an attachment or clicking on a link that contains malware designed to encrypt all the important documents on your hard drive. The scammer then demands money for the release of your documents, expecting payment in an untraceable currency like Bitcoin.

These kinds of scams come in all forms. Sometimes they’ll pose as an unpaid utility bill, hoping that you’ll open the attachment out of fear that the power company is about to leave you in the dark. Other times the scam might pose as a small windfall, such as a tax refund—large enough to sound enticing but not so much as to seem suspicious. All you need to do is fill out the attached form.

Scammers also love the old undelivered parcel routine, claiming to be a notification from FedEx or Australia Post alerting you of a package waiting to be claimed.

Other times scammers are looking to steal passwords and other sensitive information, such as tricking you into logging into a spoof banking website or finance platform.

Most of the time these “phishing” scams take a shotgun approach, sending the same email to thousands of businesses in the hope that someone will take the bait. Other times they’re “spear phishing” attacks targeted specifically at your business, with the scammers doing their research to target specific people in your organisation with personalised emails.

More sophisticated scammers are also hitting organisations with Business Email Compromise scams, breaking into your email system in order to wreak havoc.

For example, they’ll wait until a senior executive is travelling overseas and then forge an email to a subordinate in the finance department, instructing them to urgently transfer money to an offshore supplier. The money is long gone before anyone realises that it’s a scam.

Unfortunately there’s no shortage of people out there looking to scam small businesses, so it’s important to train your people to treat every communique with a healthy skepticism. You can’t be too careful when it comes to doing business online.


Are you on the best business mobile plan?

mobilegraph

Rather than blindly sticking with the same telco year after year, wedded to the same plan, it’s worth shopping around to see if you can get a better deal.

Depending on what your business does, things might slow down over the summer break or it might be the busiest time of year. If there is a bit of a lull, now is the time to do some strategic planning for the year ahead – which should involve re-evaluating whether you’re getting the best deal from all your service providers.

Communications can be a significant cost for tech-savvy businesses, but there’s always the temptation to chalk up your mobile phone bill as a “necessary evil” and leave well enough alone. That’s exactly what some telcos want, they deliberately make their bills and plans overly complicated in the hope that you’ll put it all in the too hard basket and stick with your old plan even if it’s not the best deal for you.

Keep in mind that business mobile plans aren’t just for big companies, they’re generally open to anyone with an Australian Business Number. Even if you’re flying solo you can probably still get an ABN, which lets you weigh up the merits of your telco’s business mobile plans compared to the consumer plans. You might also be able to combine your business fixed-line and mobile communications on the one bill to make things easier and save a few dollars.

If you’re coming off a 12 or 24-month mobile plan you’ll probably automatically rollover to month-by-month payments, perhaps with a slight price drop if your plan involved paying off a handset. At this point it’s worth doing your homework, as your telco has almost certainly introduced new deals since you signed up for your last plan. Often they won’t tell you when a better plan comes along, they’re happy for you to languish on the old plans rather than signing up for a better deal.

Signing up for a new plan might entitle you to a new handset, but if you’re happy to stick with your old handset for another year then you might find that signing up for a 12-month Bring Your Own Device plan offers better value than the default month-by-month deal which kicked in when your old plan expired.

It’s important to study the fine print, which is much easier now that all telcos are required to offer a Critical Information Summary – a simple explanation of your plan which makes it easy to compare plans and know exactly what you’re getting for your money.

Don’t pay too much attention to claims like “$1000 worth of calls each month” – this figure is meaningless unless you know how much you’re paying for each call. More expensive plans offer cheaper call rates, so if you make a lot of calls you might save money by opting for a more expensive plan rather than sticking with a cheap plan and exceeding your call cap.

Once you exceed your cap, calls can get quite expensive. A look back over your phone bills for the last 12 months should give you a good idea of how you use your phone.

One key advantage of business plans is that you often get free calls between your business mobiles, making it easier for your people to stay in touch. You might also be able to pool your call and data allowances between your handsets, so less goes to waste.

Along with calls and texts it’s also important to consider your monthly mobile data allowance. Sometimes you’re forced to sign up for more calls and texts than you really need, just to boost your mobile data allowance. It’s worth weighing up the cost of extra data packs to see whether it’s more economical to sign up for a cheaper plan and then pay for the occasional data boost during the year.

There’s no one-size-fits-all solution and telcos like to make things complicated, so a bit of research can go a long way to saving you money on your mobile phone bill.


Use technology to strike the right work-life balance this summer

worklife

Even if you can’t get away from it all these holidays, the right tech can help you make the most of the sunshine.

Four weeks annual leave over Christmas has become less and less common over the years as the nature of work has changed—especially if you run your own business. If you’re distraught at the thought of another summer chained to your desk while your loved ones enjoy the sunshine then it’s worth investigating how handheld devices, mobile broadband and cloud services might grant you a little more freedom.

Australia’s mobile broadband coverage has come a long way in the last decade, so chances are you can still get online when you’re off the beaten track. But don’t trust the mobile coverage maps, especially if you’re travelling close to the edge of the network footprint.

If in doubt it’s best to call ahead and enquire about the real-world coverage offered in the area. Even if your telco leaves you stranded at your destination, you might get by with a pre-paid mobile Wi-Fi hotspot from a competitor. Alternatively you might discover free or paid Wi-Fi hotspots in the area—from the local library or coffee shop to a Telstra Air hotspot—that might save the day.

Of course getting online is only part of the challenge, you also need to lug around the right devices and hope they’ve got enough charge to get you through the day.

If you’re still reliant on a desktop or notebook PC in order to stay on top of things then it’s worth investigating whether a more travel-friendly tablet or smartphone is up to the job. Not only are they more portable than PCs but they also tend to offer a significantly longer battery life—plus it’s easy to throw a mobile charger in your bag. If you need the best of both worlds then consider a Windows tablet like the Microsoft Surface Pro.

If you’re using your tablet like a laptop but typing on glass slows you down, consider adding a small Bluetooth keyboard to your travel kit.

To rest your gadget at that correct viewing angle you may also want a case or stand designed to hold it up. Some designs also feature built-in keyboards.

Keyboard issues aside, you might have tried in the past and found that mobile apps and services didn’t cut the mustard. It’s worth checking again, as many vendors have recently adopted mobile-first development strategies to support users working away from the office.

However, if you do find apps for all the services you need to access while out on the road, don’t assume they’ll meet all your needs. Test your workflow in advance to ensure you can perform all the necessary tasks or implement a workaround that will suffice until you get back to your desk.

If you’ll struggle to process payments or issue invoices and purchase orders away from your desk then this might be the excuse you need you upgrade from shoe-box account practices and other manual processes to embrace cloud-based device-agnostic services which are always at your fingertips.

We can’t all go off the grid for the summer, but with the right tech at your disposal you can strike a better balance between work and play.


Is the wait for the NBN hurting your business?

nbnmap

If slow broadband is hurting your bottom line then it’s worth investigating the National Broadband Network alternatives that might already be available in your area.

It’s been a long time coming but Australia’s national broadband rollout promises to eventually reach every corner of the country. Once it arrives in your street you’ll enjoy download speeds of somewhere between 25 and 100 Mbps, depending on which NBN broadband technologies are deployed in your area. But that’s little consolation if your business is hurting now and your suburb or town isn’t even included in the latest NBN rollout plan.

If you’re a large business then you might be able to afford to pay for your own dedicated high-speed fibre, DSL, microwave or satellite link rather than waiting for the NBN. If you’re a small business that can’t justify the expense of a dedicated link then you’re probably stuck on ADSL running over the copper phone lines.

Relying on ADSL means you’re at the mercy of your distance from the telephone exchange and the quality of your copper phone line—some lines have fallen into disrepair but at this point Telstra is reluctant to repair a flaky phone line unless you’re actually having trouble making voice calls.

A few broadband providers have popped up to cash in on the slow NBN rollout by tapping into the pent up demand for decent yet affordable high-speed internet access. Your options include fibre rollouts like DGTek, wireless providers like VividWireless and microwave services like Lightning Broadband. Some are only cherry picking the most lucrative neighbourhoods, so it’s hard to say if or when these NBN competitors will reach your area.

For now the easiest alternative to ADSL is to access the internet via the mobile phone networks from Telstra, Optus and Vodafone. LTE 4G mobile broadband is often faster than ADSL, for both downloads and uploads, but the trade-off is that it can be a lot more expensive so you need to use it sparingly.

You can access mobile broadband via a USB dongle, a battery-powered mobile hotspot or by generating a Wi-Fi hotspot using your smartphone. Some telcos also offer ‘Wireless Broadband’, which uses the mobile networks but relies on installing a new modem in your office. This can work out cheaper than mobile broadband, although you may be capped at slower speeds than you can get through other mobile devices.

If slow broadband is costing your business in terms of lost customers or productivity then it might not be hard to build a case for switching across to wireless/mobile broadband—although it can be more susceptible to network congestion during peak times. You’ll also find a range of fixed wireless providers aimed at businesses, which focus more on reliability than speed.

In terms of price and performance you might find it more practical to rely on a mix of ADSL and wireless/mobile broadband, jumping between them depending on the task at hand; you’ll need to weigh up your needs and decide on the best tool for the job.

The NBN will reach your office eventually, but if you can’t wait then it’s worth investigating other ways your business might satisfy its need for speed.


Recent News

nbnmap

As the national rollout picks up pace, NBN is putting more and more premises in the too-hard basket and sending them to the back of the queue. Australia’s nationwide high-speed broadband rollout is approaching the half-way mark, aiming to hook up the entire country by 2020 using a mix of technologies. Some businesses will receive… More 

amazon

It’s been the worst kept secret in the retail space that Amazon was looking into launching in Australia. For some years now it’s maintained the Amazon.com.au as a way to sell its Kindle e-book readers and ebooks, and more recently as an avenue for its Amazon Prime Video service, headlined by The Grand Tour, a… More 

win10

There’s no need to waste hours installing and removing apps from a new computer when you can do it with a few clicks. It’s always exciting to take a new computer out of the box, but setting everything up can be a tedious task. Firstly you need to create a user account and install the… More 

data_plans

If you use a mobile phone in Australia, you connect to only one of three actual mobile networks, even though there are more than 30 brands of mobile provider. That’s because the underlying networks that service those brands rely on those three networks, built and maintained by Telstra, Optus and Vodafone respectively. It’s been a… More