With businesses chasing every customer online, it's vital for your company to have a broadband service that can deliver the performance you need today, and handle your needs in the future.
Choosing a broadband service for your business may seem like child's play, with these services becoming almost a commodity. However, it is critical to carefully consider the service in use, since this can have a massive impact on performance, and ultimately on the profitability of your company.
Claire Sadler, head of marketing at BT Business, advises: "Traditionally business-grade services are slightly more expensive, but that's because they include things such as greater levels of support - both during and outside of normal office hours and guaranteed fix times - as well as more consistent speeds where business traffic gets priority at peak times.
"One other area to look at is whether it includes a free Wi-Fi connection outside of the office, which can enable staff to work effectively wherever they are - whether that's on a laptop, tablet or smartphone."
For business users of broadband services the service level agreement (SLA) is all-important, because the SLA governs how the broadband service will be supported. Richard Phillips, managing director of CUP Classic Cars, says: "As with anything these days, you need to do your homework and know what you need.
"Choose a reputable supplier that really understands your requirements and works with your business needs, so they can give you advice on the best service for you. You have to be comfortable with your supplier and know that problems are going to be resolved quickly should anything go wrong."
Need for more than just speed
Buying broadband services is more complex than simply choosing the fastest speed. Business broadband services also mean data management, backup and recovery, and of course email. Look closely at any services on your shortlist and ensure that they are not consumer grade, and are built with business users in mind.
Cost of course is a clear driver here but the devil is in the detail, as Andrew Ferguson, editor at thinkbroadband.com, says: "A good business connection should come with clear information on what speeds you can expect. So while cheap services will use the classic 'up to' marketing phrase, those services aimed at the business sector should talk about things like committed rate and burst speed. Do not be afraid to ask for explanation, though be wary of sales staff who trot out the line 'our consumer services are 50:1 contention and business is 20:1'... this sales person's patter is eight years out of date."
No discussion of business broadband would be complete without considering the impact that the cloud is now having. Small business users can clearly see the advantages that cloud-based services can offer. What is also vital is the connection that is available to the cloud, which is where a reliable, fast and robust broadband connection becomes essential.
David Barker, technical director of 4D Data Centres, says: "SMBs need to make a decision on what their immediate requirements are to meet the business's needs. Usually for a first connection this is a small office or sole trader, so a basic business ADSL line will suffice. But, if you are looking to grow your staff quickly or if you're planning on using cloud services for your day-to-day activities, then you might want to look at a faster connection such as fibre to the cabinet (FTTC) or even a leased line which can offer speeds from 10Mbps to 1Gbps and is usually able to scale the speed as your business grows."
Top tips for business broadband buyers
To ensure your business chooses the right broadband service for its needs, use the checklist below to help you define your needs, and then locate a broadband supplier that can become a trusted business partner:
1. Perform a data audit
Before choosing a broadband service, look at how your business uses the data it is creating, storing and analysing. This will give you a benchmark to use that will ensure the broadband service has the capacity to handle these data loads. Is your LAN or WAN set up to handle high speed broadband?
2. Connect to the backbone
Your internet service provider (ISP) can be connected to the internet in one of three ways. These are referred to as tiers 1, 2 and 3. Look for a host that has a tier 1 connection, since this means they have their own portion of the internet that they control. These are the most expensive, but the most reliable.
3. Look for better bandwidth
The speed and efficiency of your website depends on how much data your server can send and receive. This is the bandwidth. Look for a hosting service that has bandwidth utilisation of below 50% to avoid bottlenecks.
4. Study service level agreements (SLAs)
Any hosting service worth their salt should offer you one of these. Look closely at every clause so you don't get any nasty surprises. Most items should be open for negotiation.
5. Seek cloud optimisation
As small businesses increasingly use cloud-based services, look for a broadband supplier that is set up to manage a hybrid cloud storage approach to data management, so your small business can use on-site servers and cloud services together.
6. Embrace data services
As more businesses embrace the cloud and the flexibility that this offers for teleconferencing, VPNs (Virtual Private Network), VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) and support so you can bring your own device (BYOD), choosing the right broadband service is more important than ever.
Phillips adds: "Don't think in the short term. Technology is changing so rapidly and now enables businesses to do all sorts of things that were unimaginable even five years ago - the internet is at the heart of that change. There is a wide range of options, but as with all things you need to buy the best you can afford, as you'll soon grow into the capacity, whether or not you think you currently need it."