This is a problem on a personal level for those operating on their own, but also on a professional level as few small businesses can afford the sophisticated communications equipment that underpins larger companies.
However, recent advances in broadband are making it easy and affordable for SOHOs and SMEs (Small and Medium-sized Enterprises) to have high speed Internet access, making them better connected and ultimately more competitive.
Don Fisher, accountants in East Finchley
Don Fisher runs Don Fisher & Company, an accountancy business in East Finchley, that he founded 16 years ago. His clients are small businesses working mainly in media, design and communications based across London. To prepare clients’ accounts, Fisher works through electronic files sent to him by the clients. Once his evaluation is complete, he compiles and sends detailed reports to the business owner. Previously he would print out these reports and send them by post. To speed up this process, he started using email to send information to and from clients. However, his dial-up service couldn’t cope with the size of the files he was sending back and forth, which meant the process was slow and cumbersome, with Fisher sometimes having to send things two or three times before they would get through.
Fisher read about ADSL broadband in 2001 and was particularly attracted to the increased capacity it offers and the fact that it provides an always-onservice at a fixed price. At this stage he didn’t know how the technology worked or what he’d need to do to get up and running with broadband but the amount of time he spent online downloading documents meant telephone billswere rising alarmingly so he was keen to find out more. The fixed cost of the broadband service meant there would be no more nasty surprises at the end of each quarter.
He buys broadband
Fisher bought BT Openworld’s Business 500 broadband service a year ago and hasn’t looked back since. The fixed rate allows him to effectively predict and budget for his Internet access. Furthermore, the quality and reliability of the connection means that there are no problems in sending large files.
‘The broadband service has paid for itself from the beginning – the speed is merely a bonus,’ he said.
He uses the service to download lots of forms and information from the web, particularly Inland Revenue documentation. ‘The service is very straightforward to use and requires no real technical knowledge. It’s much more reliable than my old dial-up service and it’s very quick so there’s no waiting around.’
The speed of broadband has changed the way Fisher works. He now sends email where he would previously have sent a letter and then waited at least a week for a reply. For example, a client might send a spreadsheet with accountsdata – previously they had to copy this onto disk and post it to Fisher or print it out on A4 sheets and stick them together to form a larger sheet.
Now they can simply send it by email and Fisher can make changes easily when required.
Fisher estimates that 75% of his business communication is now carried out via email. He still believes that it’s vital to meet and talk to clients but most of the detailed work can be carried out over the Internet.
Surfing the Internet has also become quicker – key sites that he visits include the Inland Revenue and Customs & Excise websites where he can access an up-to-date database of information, forms and leaflets about tax.
A further benefit is that there is no longer a need to keep all this reference information in paper files and worry about whether he has the most recent copy. Instead of having rooms full of files, Fisher just goes to the Inland Revenue website when he needs to and downloads the relevant information in a matter of seconds – a task which would previously have taken many minutes and been liable to disconnection part way through.
Submissions made online
In the future, Fisher hopes he will be able to submit tax returns online to the Inland Revenue on behalf of clients. This will mean huge time and cost savings for clients. It also makes filing returns at the last minute much easier as he just needs to press a button, rather than hiring a courier and hoping it gets there on time.
‘Broadband has made my life so much easier. I don’t have the resource here to spend time on admin tasks – if something needs doing it’s down to me to sort it out so the ADSL connection has had a huge impact. I don’t have to waste precious time sending paper documents back and forth by post so my business is more productive and my clients receives a more immediate service. I’d recommend that any small company or sole trader investigates broadband as I could never go back to a dial-up service,’ he concluded.
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