Small businesses that don’t prioritize security could lose everything

Data security

As part of a regular series powered by Dell Technologies, BetaKit asks prominent entrepreneurs and the experts at Dell Technologies who work closely with them to share how technology has evolved since they first launched their careers, before predicting where it will take them.

With over 20 years of experience in the IT industry, Erin K. Banks is focused on how technology can help entrepreneurs build sustainable businesses. As the Portfolio Marketing Director for Data Analytics at Dell EMC, Banks has seen thousands of businesses both struggle with and embrace security, data analytics, artificial intelligence, and machine learning.

What technology were you using regularly at the beginning of your career?

I started off in the networking and security realm and, at the time, things were simple. We were only talking about basic solutions, like firewalls and antivirus programs. For every problem we encountered, there seemed to be a clear, absolute answer.

Yet these singular pieces of technology didn’t tell a complete story. There’s never just one quick answer to a security problem. We needed to look at the greater challenges of the business as a whole.

Now, things have changed. IT is the differentiator providing companies with a competitive advantage. By managing IT risk as business risk, you create a more complete view of the unique challenges any given business faces.

Are there tools or support systems available now that you wish you’d had back then when helping clients?

When I started off, we didn’t have social media or blogs. Now everyone has a blog or podcast, including me. These platforms create an opportunity to get out there and connect with others facing similar situations and challenges.

There should never be a reason why data security isn’t a priority for your business.

When communicating online, customer success stories are a great source of inspiration that can ignite your passion for business. But, at the same time, you also need to focus on examples of failure. This is especially important for small businesses. The learning curve is steep, but discovering why businesses fail may prevent you from repeating those same mistakes.

Educating yourself through blogs, podcasts, videos, or other resources is a great way to supplement your day-to-day responsibilities. There are also a lot of meetups available where entrepreneurs explain either why they failed or how they became successful. You’re not in this thing alone; it’s always better to learn from the experience of others.

Is there any advice you’d give to entrepreneurs just starting out?

I always go back to the question: “where do you want to be in five years?”

I’m not looking for a financial goal like “make money and reduce costs.” That’s important, but your answer should also explain how you plan to achieve those financial goals. Your answer should include the tools that will make your business successful in five years.

Many people think they can’t afford to plan for the future, they’re too focused on getting through day-by-day. But, if you want to see growth, my advice is to always think down the road.

What are some of the biggest struggles you see in clients when it comes to getting their small businesses off the ground and scaling?

A lot of small businesses think they don’t have to take certain actions because of their size.

For instance, I’ll ask customers what they’re doing for security and if they have a chief data governance officer. The answer is usually, “no, I’m a small business, I don’t need one.”

Then I’ll ask if they still plan to be a small business in the next five to 10 years. Often, the answer is no. Just as we tell people to “dress for the job you want,” entrepreneurs need to prepare their business for the company they want it to be.

Photo via Unsplash

You need to do this across the business – from the technology, to the analytics, to the security, and so on. Because, when you’re 10 years down the road, it’ll be too late to suddenly start following regulations or implement a security strategy.

For these reasons, I don’t allow customers to give me the excuse that they don’t have to do something just because they are a small business.

How do you respond to people who say they understand security, but don’t have time or budget to allocate to it because they are a small business?

I would be so sad if someone came to me and said they don’t have time or money for security. If you don’t secure your data or IP, you could lose everything.

Every big company started small. Coca-Cola started with a recipe they managed to keep secret for decades. Now, everyone remembers the story of when someone got a hold of its recipe and tried to sell it to Pepsi, but Pepsi refused.

Imagine if the story was different and Pepsi took the recipe. Now apply this lesson to yourself and your business: how different would your world be if your competitor could copy your exact product and what makes you stand out?

If your data gets in the wrong hands you could lose it all: your credibility, your individuality, and your competitive advantage.

If you think nobody wants what you have because you’re not a large company, you don’t understand your business. If you’re too focused on one thing – a unique item or application – instead of looking ahead, at your next steps and the insights behind your data, you will more than likely fail. To understand the power of your data, you need to see the bigger picture.

There should never be a reason why data security isn’t a priority for your business.

What if small business owners want more security but don’t know what to do?

Small businesses need to remember that, in some way, they are already thinking about security, so it should not “frighten” them. For instance, say you are opening a store. From the surface level, of course, you’ll want to ensure the physical safety for you and your customers, the goods you’re selling, the cash register, your property, etc.

But are you thinking about the security of your vendors and their vendors? Will you have public Wi-Fi? Will your customers have access to your corporate information through the Wi-Fi? Do you have any regulations that you need to adhere to from a local or higher level? Security has a broad scope with huge implications.

Security has a broad scope with huge implications.

Then there’s your data. You might use a financial tool to collect payments to protect your customers’ credit card data, but what about your sales and customer PII information? What about your intellectual property?

If, as a small business owner, you don’t ask questions about the security of your business, your network, and your data, you’re living with blinders on. While there’s a lot to do in the day-to-day running of a small business, you can never lose sight of the question: “am I taking the right steps to give me a competitive edge now and for the future?”

Companies like Dell Technologies can help you with these questions and concerns. We have financial services to help make security affordable and consultants to help you identify the problems you need to solve.

Photo by Nicole De Khors

Stefan Palios

Stefan Palios

Stefan is a Nova Scotia-based entrepreneur and writer passionate about the people behind tech. He's interviewed over 200 entrepreneurs on topics like management, scaling, diversity and inclusion, and sharing their personal stories. Follow him on Twitter @stefanpalios.

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