Use tech to prepare your business for Christmas

Many small businesses function with a skeleton staff or shut down completely for Christmas, while for others, December is the busiest month of the year. Either way, planning ahead and getting your IT processes in place now is essential. Here are 10 top tips for small business when preparing for the festive season:

1. Work productively from home
Mobile technology can help to enable small businesses maintain productivity and efficiency over Christmas. Tablets and laptops can connect to cloud services, allowing users to access work networks and files which are hosted and managed remotely. Staff can work to their full capacity without needing to be connected to an internal network or having to come into the office over the festive period.

2. Don’t come into the office for meetings
Avoid missing essential meetings if you are out of the office in the weeks around Christmas by using a tablet such as the Google Nexus 7 or Blackberry Playbook to hold video calls. Communication apps such as Apple’s Facetime and Google Hangouts mean you can stay connected from anywhere.

3. Automate your business over Christmas
Small businesses often shut down over Christmas. But by using automated services, firms can continue to communicate with customers even if staff are not physically in the office. Software such as Hootsuite or Tweetdeck allow users to time and schedule Tweets and Facebook posts at specified times and dates. While Tumblr also allows firms to schedule blog posts to be updated at set times.

4. Back-up your files remotely
If the office IT network won’t be accessed for a few weeks around Christmas, consider a full back-up of files so the risk of losing important documents is minimised. Ideally, use two external hard drives, keeping one off-site, just in case the worst happens. Alternatively, backing up online using cloud services, for example KNOWHOW cloud storage, is a cheap and flexible way of working and storing your documents in a central system.

5. Increase capacity to meet increased demand
If an increase in web traffic is expected over the Christmas period, particularly likely for online retailers, hospitality or catering firms, extra bandwidth and server-processing capacity may be required to keep the website functioning. Speak to a service provider to estimate demand.

6. Manage stock levels
For many businesses, particularly retailers, December is the busiest time of the year. If a firm is expecting extra orders over the Christmas season, a good way to keep track of stock remotely is via an inventory management app such as Inventory Tracker. Small businesses can use their tablet or smartphone to input new stock with a barcode scanner and track inventory, sales, payment and shipment on the go.

7. Keep track of customers
Employees may need to work from elsewhere over Christmas. Apps such as, the world’s most popular CRM service, or Microsoft’s latest release, Dynamics CRM 2011, will help users track customer behaviour and manage sales teams from mobile devices, while out of the office.

8. Keep track of Christmas expenses
The festive season is often full of Christmas parties with clients and new business prospects. Employers and staff can use apps such as Expensify to keep track of expenses racked up during this busy period. This allows users to scan receipts, track mileage and collate purchases into one report while out and about, leaving no nasty surprises for January.

9. Ensure staff are connected for the holiday
Boost employee motivation by letting them work remotely during the days inbetween Christmas and New Year. Instead of buying everyone a smartphone to read emails, offer to install work email accounts on personal phones, introducing a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policy. This will save the business money but also give staff the flexibility to work away from the office.

10. Take the sting out of January
Use apps such as Wunderlist task manager to prepare for the first day back at work after the holidays. The app allows users to organise tasks on the go, programme email reminders, set due dates and sync everything to the cloud. Business owners can relax over the break, safe in the knowledge that the business will be ready for January 2013.