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Email and the internet

Electronic communication helps us do business faster and with many more people than ever before. The challenge is to understand this exciting technology and find the best ways to make it work for your business.

What are the benefits of using the Internet in my business?

  • Communication is usually quicker and cheaper using email in comparison to using the post, phone or fax.
  • Access to information on the World Wide Web is a time-saving research option.
  • Your home page on the Internet can provide information about you to prospective customers, though you will need to see this as part of a marketing strategy rather than a substitute for it.
  • Using e-commerce technology, you can sell your products over the Internet.

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How do I set up the systems necessary to access email and the Internet?

You will need an external modem if your computer does not already have one built in. Most computers now come with a modem already installed.

There are three main options in connecting to the Internet:

  • A dial-up connection - you will need a standard telephone line to plug into your external modem or directly into your PC if the modem is built in.
  • An ISDN or ADSL connection - which uses a different type of modem, and requires an ISDN or ADSL telephone line.
  • A cable connection (which provides a permanent, high-speed connection) - you will normally need a USB port or a network port on your computer.

Finally, you need an account with an Internet Service Provider (ISP), who will act as your 'host' on the Internet by collecting and delivering your emails and letting you browse the World Wide Web.

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How do I choose an Internet Service Provider?

Your choice of Internet Service Provider (ISP) will depend mainly on how much data you expect to send and receive, and what features you require. There are a number of aspects to consider.

  • Type of access required - some ISPs can provide only dial-up connections though most now offer ISDN/ADSL options. A true broadband connection will be expensive but is a realistic option if you start your business in an incubator or managed workspace.
  • Pricing - some ISPs charge an initial join-up fee, and charging options include a flat monthly rate and paying per dial-in.
  • Reliability - make sure that the ISP has a good service record.
  • Compatibility - many ISPs only offer access in Microsoft Windows format.
  • Technical support - if you are new to the Internet, use an ISP that you can phone with any questions.

There are also free services available, which are useful if you need to keep costs low. But these ISPs may not always be reliable and might not, for instance, allow you to retrieve email when you are out of the office.

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What should I expect to pay for Internet services?

Costs can vary depending on your area and service provider.

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Are there any legal issues of which I need to be aware?

  • PC and Internet magazines regularly compare and review the services provided by major Internet Service Providers.
  • If you have staff that will be using the system make sure you draw up an Internet and email policy.
  • The growth of computer viruses makes it essential that all Internet users protect their systems with good quality virus-checking software that is regularly updated.
  • If you advertise your e-mail address for use by customers and suppliers, e-mails should be checked frequently as Internet users expect a speedy response.

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How can I monitor how my staff are using email and Internet resources?

There are computer programs available to track the way that staff use their computers, and to check that they are not used excessively for personal use. As a first step, however, work out a business policy on the use of email and Internet resources. This is best done in consultation with staff, to ensure that the policy is understood and implemented so that the resources are used effectively. It is good practice to allow staff some freedom for personal use of the Internet and email, but this should neither be excessive, nor interfere with their work, and should not include circulating large attachments.

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Hints and tips

  • PC and Internet magazines regularly compare and review the services provided by major Internet Service Providers.
  • If you have staff that will be using the system make sure you draw up an Internet and email policy.
  • The growth of computer viruses makes it essential that all Internet users protect their systems with good quality virus-checking software that is regularly updated.
  • If you advertise your e-mail address for use by customers and suppliers, e-mails should be checked frequently as Internet users expect a speedy response.

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