Guardian Q&A roundup: How can technology give your business the edge?

The highlights from the Guardian Small Business Network Q&A on how technology can give your business the edge, with MD James Cotton on the panel of experts.

There's no doubt that technology makes our lives easier - but how do you sift through the glut of apps to find something that works for you?

Onespacemedia founder and CEO, James Cotton, joined the panel on the Guardian Small Business Network Q&A, to answer questions on how technology can give businesses the edge. Here are the highlights.

The panel:

Derek Griffiths: Joint head of FSB Telecom.

Laura Crossley: Communications & engagement lead at Surevine.

Gary Stewart: Director of startup accelerator Wayra UK and Wayra UnLtd.

Peter Chadha: Founder of DrPete Technology Experts.

Eddie Holmes: Founder of Launch22, a sustainable charity supporting entrepreneurs.

Q: Would my mail order business be better off investing in a site redesign that is responsive on mobile, or leaving our site (which is performing very well on Google) as it is, and developing an app?

"Native (e.g. installable iphone/android) and desktop apps are expensive to develop and maintain. Forward compatibility also can be a huge drain on cash. I don't know enough about your business to give solid advice but web design/development is often a much more cost effective route to market." (James Cotton)

"It could be useful to start with looking at your website analytics and understand the percentage of people accessing the site from a mobile device - as an indicator at least, you can start to understand demand and therefore assess how much to spend/budget for development." (Laura Crossley)

Q: What’s the best software to use for online meetings for businesses with flexible workspaces?

"Skype video is great, as are google hangouts - and Jitsi is a great open source alternative. As a distributed team, we have found video makes for the most engaging conversations." (Laura Crossley)

"A couple of tools that are growing in popularity for collaboration and productivity are Trello and Slack." (Eddie Holmes)

"I strongly recommend going Google for work and using hangouts for text messaging outbound phone calls and videoconferencing. Google for work integrates collaborative workspaces, spreadsheets, presentations and there is a whole Google apps store where tools like Slack and Trello can be integrated into the Google environment." (Peter Chada)

Q: Broadly speaking, what IT security measures should small businesses be taking?

"One option that I've used (although for a different purpose) would be to use the wizard to create an IT policy. (Eddie Holmes)

"Using respected cloud based software will protect small businesses to some degree and there should be policies on the use of machines and devices but the real danger is people. Training and a solid, evolving IT policy will protect the majority of SMEs. It depends on the type of business." (James Cotton)

"First step - keep your passwords safe. A great password management tool is step 1 - you need a tool where you can share passwords with colleagues, access on the go, and not have to manually type passwords in - LastPass is our company password tool of choice." (Laura Crossley)

Q: Would you recommend BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) for small businesses? What are the risks and the best approach?

"This is a cultural, macro trend as employers and employees want flexibility and lower cost options. Providing the underlying software infrastructure is sound, and there are a LOT of legacy systems that aren't, then BYOD should work fine. Most of the cloud based tools are native across all devices and platforms (Google Docs, Office 365 etc). Depending on the size of the company and the amount of legacy systems the risks can certainly vary but are likely to include increased cost of support and a loss of control over IT policy." (Eddie Holmes)

"We get around this with TYWDH (-; (Take Your Work Device Home) and allow staff to use their laptops for personal stuff. It means that we can control the device at the OS level and enforce policy. It's also a nice perk." (James Cotton)

Q: Which social networks should small businesses use? Do you need to be on them all? If not, how should they prioritise which ones?

"Depends on the business and where the business' customers are. A lot of our start-ups use LinkedIn for professional networking, thought leadership, etc. They use Twitter to create fan pages and might also create Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest accounts, depending on where they feel that they might best engage their customers/users. Experiment with various to test which is the most effective channel and then prioritise based on the results." (Gary Stewart)

"Wholly depends on the business. If it's b2b then LinkedIN is a no brainer. If you are selling furniture or fashion online then image based social networks are very useful - Pinterest, Etsy, Instagram. It also depends on the resources a company has to maintain its presence. Spreading oneself too thin is counter productive. If in doubt then I would recommend LinkedIN, Twitter, Facebook and possibly Google+ for enhanced search listings." (James Cotton)

"It may be useful to consider using a tool like IFTTT (if this then that) as if you post an update into Facebook there are ways automatically posting to other social networks." (Peter Chada)

Q: What data on customers should small businesses think about collecting to help them grow and how should they go about starting to capture this data?

"Think about what you want that data for. Is it to keep track of people you have spoken to, track customers so you know who are returning (reward schemes in the future?), understand the demographics of your customer base? When you know WHY you want it, you can plan HOW to collect it... and then what tool to use." (Laura Crossley)

"Invest in a good cloud based CRM - we used to use HighRise but recently moved to Base. Make sure that you have a clear policy on how contacts are recorded and categorised that can grow with the organisation or your CRM will quickly turn into a unwieldy mess of data. (James Cotton)

Catch up on the full Q&A with advice from the whole panel here. If you have anything to add, please feel free to comment below.

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