This week, our forum discussions include free tools and ways for Web site owners on a budget to increase traffic to their Web sites, as well as a discussion on barcode scanning software that integrates well with QuickBooks. One hot thread covers data backup, recovery and storage for small businesses. Here you can read what solutions other small business professionals use, issues to consider when searching for a data backup and security solution, plus details on choosing a hosted or off-site service provider.
Feel free to add your own comments through a handy quick link to each topic, which lets you easily join in on the discussion and debate in our Small Business Computing forums.
Free Services to Increase Traffic to Web Site
Like many small business owners on a tight budget, forum member Benji22 said that he's looking for help in finding free online services and tools that can bring more traffic to his Web site.
The Old Sarge asked, "Have you tried submitting to directories related to your site or topic?"
Joseph88 said, "First I would try blogs and signature links. I also know of a Web site called TheNewestWebsites.com that allows you to post your link for free. Maybe you can try searching Google for some sites similar to this."
SeattleCPA replied, "I find most of the really easy and free stuff to be nearly worthless. I'm disappointed with this. I like free as much as the next guy, but anything free and easy gets way, way overused and abused."
Mucker said, "I too am trying in vain to promote my Web site and have used many free submission sites. My budget is very low indeed -- I even added Google ads to my site to see whether that will help my rankings. I just feel like I am wasting my time, no matter how determined I am. All the tips I can get my hands on are very welcome guys."
Looking For a Good Barcode Scanner/Software
Markw10 said he has been looking for a good customer database program for his business along with a good bar code scanner. The scanners, he said, are easy to find but good software apparently, is not.
Markw10 said, "I've seen quite a few scanners available but I'm looking for the best software to use with a scanner. For now I'm using QuickBooks Pro for Windows as my inventory program, so if I get something that interfaces with that it would be great. I'm also hoping to switch to the Mac version of QuickBooks but think this might mean I'll have an even harder time finding a scanner solution. I plan to use this for logging in new inventory and also for scanning it as it is shipped out."
Noblenull replied, "As far as I know, bar code scanners work as a second keyboard, just reading the characters in from the barcode. You basically just select a text field and scan. I don't believe I even installed a driver. We use a Symbol LS 2208 and have had success with it."
Usasportstrain said, "We use Opticons for desktop scanners (attached via USB or serial) at work. I have some PDAs with Symbol scanners built in. Symbol makes a pretty good product."
RealStores replied, "You can try Amplexus. A friend of mine runs his business using their solution. Hope this helps."
Backup, Recovery and Security
'Back it up' is a phrase we probably don't use enough in small business environments. Here in the forums our members discuss their own backup and recovery systems and offer forum member Unvalidated advice on how to get started. This forum thread also provides valuable insight for anyone considering offsite or hosted data backup solutions.
Unvalidated asked, "I was wondering what you use or what you would recommend for backup and storage of data, both internally and externally?"
InfoSourcing said, "I recently bought a 100 GB Iomega backup drive that comes with backup software that you install on your server or desktop. The software lets you can schedule your backup time and it maintains different versions of the same files for you -- a pretty cool feature if you want to roll back to specific version.
It can store data 'as-is' or encrypted. If you store as-is, it basically works like another hard drive to retrieve files easily. For security, any security software, along with a spam detector and popup blocker combined with windows default security settings should suffice."
Hannah said, "Traditional backup methods like DVDs or tape cost both time and money. Have you considered online backup services, which secure your data off-site? It provides options to retrieve, edit and share the resources with your partners. We have been using IBackup online storage service for years, and it works well.
Responsive replied, "We have clients which, due to confidentiality reasons (lawyers, accountants, consultants, etc) don't feel comfortable with online, or off-site, backup. In addition, external hard drives are still too bulky to send home each night with the person responsible for office backup. The flexibility of having multiple backup points and a true media rotation scheme are valuable enough to justify the cost.
Symantec/Veritas' Backup Exec for Small Business Server is priced at a great point and makes sure you can backup your Exchange store while killing the log files to alleviate the space issue they create.
While tape doesn't have the cachet that external hard drives and online storage do, it still works great when configured properly. Our firm uses external hard drives as a secondary backup to tape for our own data.
Volusion said, "Secured hosting is a big deal. To focus only on the backup aspects of hosting is somewhat dangerous to you as a merchant. It is also important to focus on the security of your data.
Make sure you are hosting with a PCI/CISP-certified hosting company. Being PCI/CISP certified means that auditors from Visa and MasterCard have actually approved your hosting environment as secure and that credit card data is safe from Internet hackers. A simple hard drive in your home or office is probably not the safest route to protect you. If this drive gets compromised, you could be out of business.
In terms of backups, it is good to host backups in an off-site facility that is secured and backed-up nightly. When you consider the ramifications of having credit card data stolen (being blackballed by credit card companies, fines, etc.), secured hosting really is the only way to go."
The Small Business discussion forums offer advice on data backup, recovery, servers, marketing issues, and general topics related to current trends and practices. Fellow small-business owners can network and share tips, tricks and advice. You can use the forums for knowledge gathering or create a free member account to take part in the discussions and ask your own questions.(Ed. Note: The forum postings in this story have been edited for grammar and clarity.)
Based in Nova Scotia, Canada, Vangie Beal has been writing about computers, games and technology since the early 90s. She's also the managing editor of Webopedia.com.