Your new business venture is just about ready to go. Financing, business plan, office space, bank account, market research and, of course, the product you’re selling - everything’s in place except your IT solutions. Have you got the best deal for your broadband? Is your website design up to scratch? What about internet security and cloud storage?
There’s a lot to think about when it comes to starting a business. With the right IT solutions set up from the beginning, you can focus on what really matters: growing your business. Use our checklist to make sure you’ve got everything covered.
Business IT: step-by-step
- Get Business Broadband: BT, Virgin, or a Specialist Provider
- Install a Leased Line if you Need One
- Contract a Business Phone Line and a VoIP Calls Package
- Procure Cloud Technology Solutions
- Check what Broadband Speed to Get
- Get the Best Malware Removal and IT Security you can Afford
- Set up Guest Wifi for Clients and Customers
- Check that you have a Static IP Address
- Choose a Domain Name and Register it
- Create a Website
Get Business Broadband: BT, Virgin or a Specialist Provider
Whether you’re buying a business or creating your own start-up, it’s important to get broadband specifically for businesses; an internet service contract for home based broadband is unlikely to offer you the support and standard of service that your company needs. Key factors to consider when you compare business broadband deals are the minimum guaranteed connection speed, fast response and resolution of technical faults, and the availability of static IP addresses.
BT business broadband is often the go-to choice for new businesses. It’s a familiar brand, the network covers the entire UK and they have years of experience behind them. However, BT’s prices can be pretty steep and you may find a better deal elsewhere. Vodafone business broadband, for example, receives positive feedback from customers and beats BT on price.
Virgin business broadband, another of the big players, is more or less on a par with BT at the pricier end of the scale. Virgin cable broadband can certainly deliver in terms of connection speed, with some of the fastest broadband speeds in the UK. However, don’t forget that if you’re not already in a Virgin cable area it could be difficult and costly to get connected.
While a big internet service provider (ISP) like BT has the resources to support large corporations, small and medium-sized businesses could be better served by specialist ISPs dedicated to enterprises like yours.
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XLN and bOnline provide broadband specifically for small businesses. Since they understand your needs as an entrepreneur they are well-placed to provide a service that is more tailored to your business. Customer reviews and feedback for both of these two providers suggest they’re doing a great job. Their competitive prices, high standards of customer service and super-fast response to technical faults make XLN and bOnline amongst the top choices for small business owners.
Did you know..?For home based businesses, you still need business broadband to make sure your internet connection is fast and reliable. Read our essential guide to small business broadband to help you make the right choice.
Install a Leased Line if you Need one
A leased line costs around a couple of hundred pounds per month - is it worth it for your business?
First of all, leased lines are dedicated internet access routes; in other words, your leased line is your own specific internet connection that links your premises directly to the telephone network, instead of going via the same cables as your neighbours’ internet connection. Essentially, a leased line is like having your own lane on the motorway, whereas a standard internet connection means you can get caught up in other internet traffic.
For internet-dependent businesses, your broadband connection is your bread and butter. Any downtime, network outage or even just slow internet speed will have a negative effect on your productivity, and therefore on your profit margins. At peak times, a standard internet connection will suffer from slower speeds for all users because there is only a certain amount of bandwidth to go around. With dedicated internet access through a leased line, your connectivity is never affected by other internet users.
A leased line gives you not only faster connection speeds, but your provider will also put in place a service level agreement that sets out what you can expect in terms of speed and fault resolution when there are technical problems. This means that your business is better protected against outages and any other practical issues that could ultimately end up costing you money.
Finally, another advantage of leased lines is that they come at different levels of bandwidth. This is a bonus because you can expand the bandwidth and capacity of your dedicated internet access in line with your business growth.
You’re probably thinking ‘how do I know if my business needs a leased line?’ It really depends on the nature of your business. To help you decide, think about the following questions:
- Can your business function without the internet?
- Are you losing money if your internet connection fails?
- Do you rely on cloud computing for day-to-day operations, e.g. data storage, applications and VoIP communication?
- Do any of your employees work remotely, from home or from other locations (such as from clients’ offices)?
- Has your workforce started to complain that productivity is hampered by an unreliable or slow internet connection?
If your answer is 'no' the first question and 'yes' to the others, then it's time to upgrade your internet connection. If your business’ success is less dependent on your online presence then perhaps the benefits of a leased line would not be outweighed by the cost.
Leased lines are available from major providers, such as BT and Virgin business broadband, as well as from newer telecoms companies, such as Hyperoptic Broadband. To help you make up your mind, we recommend you compare prices from several providers and ask those important questions about connection speed and fault repair time.
Contract a Business Phone Line and a VoIP Calls Package
You may do most of your business online or face-to-face but you will still need a business phone line, or perhaps multiple phone lines. Regardless of the type of business you have, there will always be customers who prefer to contact you by phone.
The vast majority of business broadband providers will be able to offer you a business phone line with essential calling features such as call forwarding and call waiting. Setting up these features helps enormously to give your business that professional edge. For instance, playing music while customers are on hold instead of leaving them in silence gives a positive, businesslike impression (although choose the music carefully!).
Did you know..?Your business phone line is tax deductible!
Remember to keep your business telephone billing records separate from your personal phone bill so you can include this in your tax return.
Here’s an idea of how much a business phone line costs:
|Phone provider||Indicative cost per month||Type of call package|
|TalkTalk Business Line||From £16.95||Pay-per-call|
|Vodafone Business Phone||From £14||500 anytime minutes to UK phone numbers|
|BT Business Phone lines||Fom £18||Pay-per-call|
Bear in mind there are upfront installation costs to pay no matter which deal you choose, and prices do not include VAT either.
VoIP for businesses
VoIP stands for Voice over Internet Protocol and is basically a way to make phone calls and video calls over the internet instead of with standard telephone equipment. You will also hear VoIP referred to as cloud-based phone systems. This method of communication is usually cheaper than traditional landline calls. Providers such as bOnline and XLN specifically offer VoIP for UK small businesses; with these companies you can tailor your package to your business needs.
Using a cloud-based phone application means that your can receive calls on any of your devices. In other words, when someone dials your number, each device that’s connected up to your VoIP phone system receives an incoming call alert so there will always be someone available to take the call. You don’t have to worry about staying in the office to answer the landline, or having to provide multiple phone numbers for the office or different mobile numbers for different members of staff.
Not only does the cloud phone system handle it all neatly for you, it is also perfect for conducting videoconferences or conference calls with people in multiple locations. To give you some idea of the costs involved in cloud phone systems, here are some of the options available on the market:
|VoIP provider||Cost per month||Need to know|
|XLN Cloud Voice Unlimited||£14.95||Requires XLN business broadband contract at £28.95 per month|
|bOnline VoIP Talk Unlimited||£16 per month||No contract required|
|BT Cloud Voice||Price depends on the length of contract, the number of users, the level of features.
Basic features: £8 per month on a 12 month contract;
Advanced features: £13.60 per month on a 36 month contract.
Procure Cloud Technology Solutions
‘The cloud’ - you might not know what it is yet, but it could be the answer to your prayers. The cloud is THE alternative to storing data locally on your computer’s hard drive or on USB sticks. It’s basically a network of virtual servers hosted online, which you access via the internet. Your company’s files, databases, documents, payroll records, everything, can be stored securely in the cloud.
For ease of access and filesharing, the cloud is perfect. As long as you have an internet connection you have access to everything you’ve put in the cloud. You can even have multiple people working on the same files at the same time, updating in real time. You will find cloud technology to help you streamline your working practices in several ways:
- Point of Sale (POS) systems
- Online invoicing
- Restaurant management apps
- VoIP communications (see above)
- Payroll systems
And the list could go on and on. With cloud-based solutions, the only real downside we can think of is that if you ever lose your internet connection for whatever reason, you’ll find yourself locked out of your files. With that in mind, we recommend that you and your team come up with a contingency plan for those rare moments when the internet goes down.
Read on for a glimpse of the cloud technology solutions available to make your business work more efficiently.
BT Cloud Storage
BT cloud storage is a well-known cloud solution for consumers, which comes free with BT broadband but is not available to anyone who is not a BT customer. However, that means free with BT home broadband, not with the BT business plans. Business users might want to consider BT’s other cloud options, such as BT Private Compute or BT Cloud Compute.
Having said that, the target market for BT’s cloud plans seem to be businesses with fairly complex information technology needs. If yours is a well-established, large organisation, with a couple of hundred users and an extensive IT network, then a private cloud managed by BT could be a worthwhile investment.
On the other hand, if you’re starting out as a company, or if you’re well-established but you have a relatively small number of users, it’s probably not going to be cost-effective for you to commit to such a capital-heavy investment. There are plenty of cheaper options for you to choose from.
Dropbox for Business
Dropbox has had great success as a free cloud storage solution for consumers. Maybe you already have it for personal use and you’re thinking about upgrading to Dropbox Business, but is the extra cost worth it?
As well as efficient and easy filesharing and data synchronization, Dropbox Business has a user management tools and admin controls that the free version lacks. It also has a very useful facility to see previous versions of files and to recover deleted files. The Advanced version gives you as much storage capacity as you need so you don’t need to worry about running out of space as you build your business.
The drawback is that Dropbox Business seems expensive compared to competitors such as G Suite from Google. For instance, G Suite not only offers business data storage at a similar price to Dropbox business, you also get the full range of office applications: email, Google Docs, Google Sheets, Google Forms, and Google Slides for creating presentations.
Make the most of the free trials on offer from Google and Dropbox so you can see which features you like best before you start spending your hard-earned cash on cloud storage and applications.
Check What Broadband Speed to Get
When you’re shopping around for business broadband, one of the most important questions you need to ask is: “What broadband speed can I get for my business?” To some extent, this depends on your postcode and how far away your premises are from the telephone cabinet. Don’t forget that most broadband connections are still tied to the phone network, so even if you have fibre broadband that only means that the connection is delivered on fibre-optic cables as far as the telephone cabinet. Between the cabinet and your premises the connection is via copper phone lines (or coaxial cable in the case of Virgin cable broadband).
Typical speeds with a fibre internet connection are approximately 35-76 Mbps for download speed and 3-10 Mbps for upload speed. For more information about what these metrics mean, read our guide to upload and download speeds.
In a nutshell, download speeds are related to how quickly data arrives at the user end; for example, basic internet usage (browsing the web, emailing etc.) requires a download speed of less than 2 Mbps, while streaming videos needs a speed of around 5 Mbps. Upload speeds are related to the speed at which data is transferred from your device to the internet; for example, livestreaming on Instagram needs an upload speed of around 1.5 Mbps.
What does this mean for your business? It depends on your online activities. Perhaps you need to make a lot of Skype video calls, in which case you want both your upload and download speeds to be superfast (at least 35 Mbps for downloading and at least 3 Mbps for uploading). You should also think about how many devices are connected at the same time; the more PCs, tablets and smartphones that access your network at the same time, the more bandwidth your need. For most business functions you need your internet speed to be reliably fast, otherwise you and your staff will end up frustrated by slow-loading pages and a substandard Skype connection.
To find out your current internet connection speed use our tool:
Before you sign up to a business broadband deal your internet service provider should tell you the minimum guaranteed speed that you will receive. With your speed test result you can make a comparison between the speed your ISP promised you would get and the real speed of your connection. If you’re unhappy with your internet connection, a possible solution for your organisation could be the Gigabit Broadband Voucher Scheme.
Business Broadband SpeedRead Ofcom’s better broadband speed information to find out if your ISP is complying with the code of practice relating to broadband speed for businesses.
Gigabit Voucher Scheme
If you have fewer than 250 employees you could be eligible to receive up to £2500 towards installing full fibre, ultrafast broadband through the Gigabit Broadband Voucher Scheme. The grant, which is administered through the UK Government’s Department for Culture, Media and Sport, is used for installing brand-new fibre connections that are capable of delivering blistering broadband speeds of around 1 Gb.
To qualify you need to be able to demonstrate that your broadband speed would be at least doubled by the installation of the new connection, i.e. if your speed is currently less than about 45 Mbps. The grant is paid to broadband providers by the government, not directly to businesses. For more information, read our guide to find out how to apply for the Gigabit Voucher Scheme.
Get the Best Malware Removal and IT Security you can Afford
Small businesses whose internet usage is minimal might be tempted just to use free antivirus software, such as Avast Online Security. After all, if you don’t rely entirely on internet technology for your income, why not just use one of those free malware removal tools that gets such positive user reviews?
Firstly, the free online security tools are designed for home PCs, not for devices that are used for business purposes. There is more at stake when it comes to your business internet connection. Malware in the form of ransomware, where hackers lock you out of your data and demand money in return for unlocking it again, is a very real threat nowadays. Your business is also at risk of being infected with spyware, which is where information is stolen from your computer systems and used for illicit purposes.
You don’t want to put yourself at risk of someone stealing information about your customers, your products or your employees. An investment in quality antivirus software is a kind of insurance policy against your business falling victim to cybercrime. You also have an obligation under General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) rules to take appropriate steps to secure personal information against cyber attacks.
Many internet service providers include antivirus software with their business broadband packages. Often the included software solution is a well-known brand such as McAfee internet security. Other broadband providers develop their own unique antivirus tools that they offer as part of a business internet package. See our guide to business online security for the full low-down on minimising your online security risks.
Set up Guest Wifi for Clients and Customers
Being able to provide free wifi for your clients, customers, collaborators or anyone else who comes to visit your premises is great for business. Customers spend more time on business premises where they can easily access wireless internet, and the longer they stay, the more money they’re likely to spend.
Companies with a BT business broadband contract automatically get guest wifi included as part of the deal. Alternatively, if you don't have a BT broadband contract, you can still pay for access to the BT wifi hotspot network (formerly known as BT Openzone and BT Fon). BT Wi-fi comes as either a managed service or a guest service. With a managed service BT installs their own equipment and manages the service for you, while a guest service means you retain the management of your wifi network and BT has responsibility only for the public side of the network.
XLN is another provider that is leading the way in free public wifi. XLN wifi hotspots are popping up on high streets all over the UK and they’re proving to be very popular with the public. For comparison, BT business broadband starts from around £35 per month, with guest wifi included. XLN business broadband deals cost around £20 per month; for an extra £4 per month, XLN clients can enjoy the benefits of guest wifi - it’s free for your customers and they will love you for it!
Check that you have a Static IP Address
One of the important differences between residential and business broadband is the option to use a static IP address. BT and Virgin Media business broadband deals are among those that offer static IP addresses. Before we go any further, let's answer the burning question 'what is a static IP address?
It’s the unique identifier assigned to your device when it accesses the internet. Most IP addresses are dynamic, in other words, the number is not permanent. In theory, if your computer has a dynamic IP address, every time you switch off your computer your IP might be different the next time you log on to the internet. The problem with this is that a constantly changing IP address is not suitable for hosting a server, using VoIP applications or VPNs (Virtual Private Networks), amongst other things.
A static IP is a permanent identifier allocated to you by your internet service provider. This means your IP address is the same every time you access the internet. It gives you a much more stable connection to the internet, which is important if your business hosts a website or a server. Download and upload speeds also tend to be faster with a static IP address.
Many business broadband suppliers include a static IP address as standad so if you’re not sure whether you already have one, contact your provider to find out. If your broadband contract does not come with a static IP address you should be able to get one for a small extra charge.
Choose a Domain Name and Register it
No matter what kind of business you own, the first place people are going to look for you is on your website. A domain name for your business gives you a recognisable identity and makes your enterprise look instantly more professional and attractive to potential clients and customers. Using your domain in your business email address certainly helps with your image too. While we’re not saying there’s anything wrong with a @gmail address, customers will respond more favourably to an email address that includes your business domain name.
Domain names come at a cost - but it doesn’t have to eat into your profit margins. For example, bOnline charges only £2.50 per month for a domain name for one year. This also includes two business email addresses and a high level of security for your incoming and outgoing email messages.
For comparison, BT offers a domain name (without any email addresses) for £11.98 for two years, but you must have other BT business products, such as business broadband or a business phone line. Virgin Media, on the other hand, does not offer any domain name hosting at all for its business broadband customers.
- What makes a good domain name?
- Make it short, catchy and memorable. Try saying it out loud. If you don't like how it sounds, change it.
- Use the appropriate extension. Your best options are probably co.uk for a UK audience, or .com if your aspirations are more international.
- Avoid numbers and hyphens if you can.
- Above all, make it relevant to your business.
Consult a registry to see if the domain name you want is available. You can use Nominet to check if your domain name is available with an extension ending .uk, including .co.uk. On the nominet site you can also register your domain. Check here for other domain names with other extensions, part from .uk extensions.
You should also register common misspellings of your domain name. This means that you can set up a redirect from the incorrect version to the correct one so that people who have used the wrong spelling still end up in the right place - your business’ website.
Top tips for business email
You can get email accounts for your business in several ways:
- Through your business broadband contract - ask your provider for details.
- With a website hosting service that will manage your website and email address, such as WebHosting UK.
- Sign up to an email hosting plan: e.g. Liquid Web, Microsoft Office 365 Business Essentials, bOnline.
You want to be able to include your business name in your email, something like "your name"@johnsbusiness.co.uk, so whichever option you choose make sure you have that facility. Another feature to look for is webmail. Accessing your company’s emails via webmail (i.e. on the web as opposed to through a dedicated email client app) is faster and more efficient since you don’t need separate software.
Create a Website
Anyone can design a website, right? Converting your business idea into something that sells itself in website form is not as easy as it sounds. Instead of labouring for hours over HTML, CSS, image placement and all the rest of it, get the professional touch from a website design specialist, like bOnline or Broadband Cloud Solutions. In the long term it will pay off in spades. Visitors to your website will stay on your pages longer if they are well-designed full of interesting content. The longer a user stays on your website, the more likely you are to earn money from that visit.
In the same way as a shop window is key for attracting customers into your business on the high street, you need to put time and effort into your website. It’s not just about putting together text and images. Your website should also be optimised to be Google-friendly. That means your existing and potential customers will find you easily, listed first on a Google search result page. Getting expert help with your website design will help set your business apart from the competition, just like an attractive shop window stands out from its neighbours.