I’ve been fortunate to meet many entrepreneurs who grew their business from a part-time home-based endeavor to a multiple location business with dozens of employees. They all seem to share the “I can do it!” attitude. Which is what enabled them to be successful.
When I go visit customers I’m often at their business for two days. I get to know them while I’m there and I”m always fascinated by their stories. In order to build their businesses they had to educate themselves on all aspects of the operation--from janitorial to accounting, HR to information technology. And it was a challenge.
If you aren’t familiar with basic networking, the topic can seem daunting, but the bottom line is that a network improves employee productivity and can save your business money by allowing employees to share computer hardware and an Internet connection. Also, connecting your employees to the Internet means they can access the Web and email, providing an easy, low-cost way to serve your customers better. A network can make such an impact on your business that you have to be educated on the topic. I’ve written this post to give you some basics and some sources for more information.
There are fundamental basic network building blocks: a switch, a router, network management software and wireless access. It’s really important that you purchase equipment that’s designed specifically for a small business--don’t buy consumer-grade home networking products, which lack the features and enhancements to expand your network as your business grows. I’ve met many business owners who invested in what they thought was bargain equipment only to have to replace it within a year because it couldn’t support their business needs.
Basic Small Business Network Foundation
1. A switch: A switch is used to connect computers and laptops, printers, servers, and storage devices to a Local Area Network (LAN). With a switch you can create a network of shared resources that all of your employees can access. Switches can be managed or unmanaged. Most businesses opt for managed switches because they give you more control over security and bandwidth allocation within your network.
2. A router: A router is used to connect your office network to the Internet. With a router you can share a single Internet connection among all of the users on your network, connecting your small business to the world.
Your router is the first line of defense against Internet attacks, such as hackers and viruses, so it’s smart to choose one that has built-in security features. Features to look for:
- Firewall - Scans at incoming Internet traffic for potentially malicious files and data
- Intrusion Detection System (IDS) - Prevents hackers from accessing your network
- Spam Blocker - Prevents unsolicited email from entering your network (for more information on spam check out my recent post -- The Big Cost of Spam and Viruses for Small Business)
- Virtual Private Network (VPN) - Provides secure, remote network access for mobile employees.
3. Network management software: Network management software lets you manage all of the devices on your network, as well as the traffic traveling across your LAN. With network management software, you can quickly add new devices, manage file sharing among computers and a printer, and control which users have access to which devices on the network. You also can use network management software to maintain and repair your network, and have it send you alerts if your Internet connection goes down or if there’s a security breach.
4.Wireless Access: Wireless access allows employees to move throughout the building and take their data with them. Deciding to provide wireless access depends on your business situation, but when making the decision think not only about your employees, but how would your customers benefit from being able access the Internet while at your location. We recently had a blog post on this topic -- Go Wireless or Go Home
When you build your network, make sure it gives you room to add new users as your business grows; for example, buy a router and a switch with more ports than you currently need. An expandable network will also let you add new network features as you need them, such as Voice over IP (VoIP) for a network-based phone system. Finally, be sure to select hardware that can work with your other network devices.
So now that you know a little about building a network you may be thinking that you need some help.There are always Certified Cisco Partners ready to assist. Find a Partner in your area.
To see how a network helped a small California swimming school grow, check out the video below:
Got any tips on building a small business network?