5 critical tips for running your small business online

5 Tips for Maximizing Online Small Business Productivity AppsI hear lots of back-and-forth among my friends (all varying from 20-somethings to 50-somethings) about whether technology – and, more specifically, Web-based technology and apps – has actually made us more efficient and saves us time or whether it has just elevated time-wasting and wheel-spinning to a whole new level.

Of course, as a developer of online productivity software, I am in the former camp, as technology, online software and apps can certainly help us accomplish so much more and be much more productive. However, with that said, your computer gear needs to be set up properly so that you can make the most of online tools like Planning Pod. Here are 5 tips for extracting every drop of productivity from the online tools you use.

1. Ensure your computer can keep up
I’ll serve as a case study here. Until last month, my daily computer was a 5-year old MacBookPro. Sure, it had 4GB RAM (pretty standard in most computers these days) and a 250 GB hard drive (a bit small for most computers these days), but the processor chip simply couldn’t keep up with all the programs I was throwing at it (MS Word, latest Firefox and Chrome browsers, Adobe Creative Suite, MOG streaming music service, iMovie, iWork suite and tons of online apps … many open all at the same time). It took 5 minutes to boot up, 5 minutes to power down and sometimes an eternity to run certain programs. Hell, exporting a simple 5-minute iMovie took 45 minutes.

All this led to lots of headbanging (and not the cool kind you do when you listen to death metal) but, even worse, lots of wasted time and inefficiency.

The answer in my particular case was a new MacBookPro that simply flies. If you’re at a crawl, you should calculate how much time every day you spend waiting for your computer (or screaming at it) and determine how much money you are losing. You will probably find an upgrade will be well worth it.

2. Opt for a faster internet connection
Unless you live in a very rural area, most people have access to some sort of high-speed connection, whether a DSL or cable line. At a minimum, you should have at least 1.5 Mbps download speed to handle most Web-based tools and applications … and even streaming if you watch lots of video on your computer or on your TV via a media device that serves up platforms like Netflix. I have 7 Mbps at home, and I’m starting to think that’s even a little bit slow. Oh, and if you’re a gamer, then definitely at least 7 Mbps.

3. Check your WiFi
The 802.11n WiFi connection in many current WiFi devices (also called a wireless router) has been an industry standard and will continue to be even after the new 801.11ac chipsets are introduced here soon (don’t worry about the technical gobbledygook … the 801.11ac is just a newer, faster connection). A modem with a 802.11n should do you fine.

However, the distance between your WiFi unit and the device that is receiving the signal – be it your computer, mobile device, BlueRay player that streams Netflix, etc. – can make a big difference in speed and how many buffering hiccups you suffer. You can either place your WiFi in a centralized place in your home/business or upgrade your wireless router’s antenna (yes, they make replacements, but you should consult the manufacturer to see the details of doing this).

4. Update your browser version (if possible)
Many people who are on older computers don’t realize that they may be operating on a browser that’s practically as old as the computer and that it hasn’t been automatically updating. However, before you go poking around to update your browser, you should check to see if the most recent browsers are actually compatible with your computer. For example, my mom’s 7 year old Apple desktop couldn’t run the last two version of Firefox.

Here’s the thing with browsers and online software. Some new online apps won’t run on the older versions of Internet Explorer (IE) or Firefox, and this is because trying to retrofit a new app to the constraints of an outdated browser is extremely difficult and fairly idiotic from a business standpoint. (This is the reason Planning Pod only works with IE versions 9.0 and later).

Plus, online application providers like us have to always keep up with the new browser version releases and all their quirks (every time there’s a new IE version we cringe knowing how uncooperative IE can often be with online apps and how much time we will have to spend on updating our system to work with it).

So, if you want online apps to work fluidly, you are best served if you have a browser that is less than 2 years old, and ideally the latest version if your computer can handle it. Oh, and IMHO, most apps I use work much better on current versions of Chrome or Firefox.

5. Adjust your security settings
It’s pretty common for PCs users to implement security programs from Norton, McAfee, Webroot or other anti-malware software providers. And other computer users will set the security settings on their browsers to “high” or something equivalent in order to keep out the spammers, popups and whatnot.

That’s all fine and good, and you should certainly secure your computer so nefarious individuals can’t access your personal information. However, a by-product of this could be that if you amp up the security settings, it may interfere with the access to your computer that online apps need in order to function properly.

For example, if you set your browser security settings so high that the apps you use can’t place cookies on your computer, then it may severely limit the performance of the apps. In such cases, you may want to whitelist that app in your security settings so the app can do what it needs to do so you can use it properly.

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