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TRAINING: PART ONE

Three ways your business may be falling behind Add to ...

You’ve got work to do, we get it. Small business owners can’t spend all their time reading about online developments that change every few months anyway.

The Web brings new opportunities and new dangers every year – but unless owners take the time to train themselves and their staff, it’s all too easy to fall behind without even realizing it.

More related to this story

As we embark on a four-part series on keeping current in an evolving world, here are three blind spots to check, as you consider your business's state of digital preparedness.

SECURITY

All too often, data security is a matter of disaster recovery, rather than prevention. Do we really need to be reminded of the risks of malware? Do we really need more hectoring to back up our data? Yes, yes, we probably do.

Chief culprits

The only thing more dangerous than outdated software is an outdated attitude.

The best way to keep information safe is to keep software current – starting with the latest versions of your Windows or Mac operating systems, and all of the updates that automatically download.

The same goes for antivirus software: It’s not much good if you don’t keep it current. You might think, “if it’s not broken, why fix it?” but remember that there’s a whole underworld of people trying to break that software as we speak.

To stay current

Just because you’re on top of security best practices doesn’t mean that everyone on your team is – and that means training.

Keeping your data secure means making sure that everyone in your firm is on the same page about issues such as how often to open unexpected e-mail attachments (never), how often to recycle the same password (almost never) and how often to give banking information to deposed foreign princes (discretion is advised).

Also, watch your blind spots. Have you changed the default passwords on your network equipment – including your wireless router? Is anyone going to access your data by trying the password “password” or your street name?

WEB PRESENCE

In this world of social media wingdings and cloud whatnots, the plain old website can be left by the wayside, set up once and left to languish for years. Compared to the click-to-update ease of Facebook pages, it can be a hassle to maintain. But then, think of the first thing you do when researching a new service or supplier. (Hint: It’s not “look it up in the Yellow Pages.”)

A dated website can make a terrible first impression, and leave the customer thinking that he or she has found a firm that doesn’t care about appearances.

Chief culprits

Web-savvy consumers are keenly aware of a website that doesn’t look like it belongs in 2012. For instance, does your website display well on both widescreen and mobile displays? Does your site rely on Flash? Then say goodbye to iPad users – and anyone unwilling to wrangle with unnecessary visual frills.

And are you showing up on Google? You don’t have to dominate the search rankings for your field, but if your own website isn’t the first result when you search your own business name, then something’s amiss.

To stay current

Keep an eye open for what’s appealing and unappealing as you surf other sites, and remember that others are appraising you the same way. If the core of your business doesn’t rest on a website that’s kept current, then keep it simple. A simple, to-the-point design will age better than an attempt to keep up with the latest fad in Web design – whether animated gifs, Flash intros or widgets connecting to every social network you’ve thought to sign up to.

SOCIAL MEDIA

The prevailing wisdom that every small business must embrace social media is a double-edged sword. Yes, social media is a world full of opportunity, but falling behind is easy to do. Unlike old technology that might be lurking inside your firm, this one’s on view for the world.

Chief culprits

A social media presence that’s gone to seed is a huge liability.

Company blogs can be a great tool, but nothing says out-of-date like a company blog that got started in the “everyone must blog” heyday of the mid-2000s. If the last time someone posted was July, 2011, it’s time to rethink your strategy. Ditto for Twitter accounts that were opened on a whim but never updated, and LinkedIn accounts that last show activity several years ago.

To stay current

A good online presence is like a well-tended garden: It’s all in the weeding. Make sure someone in your firm is trained and responsible for keeping an eye on what comes up when someone searches for your company’s name. Any employees who take on social media tasks need to be trained on how to carry the company’s voice into the new media space, and on the same page as the rest of the team on how the firm should be represented.

And if your firm embarks on a social media experiment (as well it should), make sure that it’s in proportion with your enthusiasm and ability to keep producing content for it.

If not, pull the plug and dispose of the evidence. Better no social media than old social media.

Special to The Globe and Mail

Other stories can be found on the Web Strategy section of the Report on Small Business website .

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