Chris Stening, managing director of EasyNet Connect, explains how businesses can punch above their weight by using the internet.
One of the great entrepreneurial truths is that the odds of raising first-round venture capital are about the same as getting struck by lightning whilst standing on the bottom of a swimming pool on a sunny day.
Most entrepreneurs have to dig, scrape and claw out the essentials needed for running their business while surviving on beans on toast.
In the digital age, however, technology, when applied correctly, enables businesses to punch above their weight, with minimal investment.
To avoid wasting resources on technology that could be obsolete within a year, businesses must spend wisely on the core building blocks, which will provide flexibility and security for future expansion.
This applies to business broadband services as well as the hardware itself.
Whatever the sector, high-speed internet access enables staff to download and send large amounts of data, track interactions with customers and mine for information to serve customers better.
But what are the key considerations for a growing business when investing in high-speed internet access?
The speed and availability of the connection is a major consideration - companies should look for UK-wide availability and bandwidth that scales to the demands of the business.
Plan for the unexpected by having a thresh-old that will cope with peaks in demand - a capacity of 20 Mb is an ideal 'cushion', should you need to expand your operation quickly, adding many more users in a short period of time.
With the rapidly growing bandwidth needs of applications and the advancement in web pages in general, with increased video stream-ing and high definition content, this could be sooner than you think.
Fortunately, the next phase of innovation in technology means that planning for future requirements no longer has to be expensive. Using bonded copper connections, for example, companies can now receive speeds of up to 20 Mb for a fraction of the cost and installation time.
When bonded at the network level (as Easynet Connect's innovative EtherStream is) they offer a high quality leased line equivalent service.
Crucially, for industries to which broadband is time-critical, such as financial services, the new copper-based Ethernet connections can be upgraded dynamically as you need them.
One such company is London-based financial services leader, Blue Index, whose head of IT and online marketing, Timothy Francis, is quick to advocate the scalability of Ethernet.
"Using EtherStream from Easynet Connect means we now have the ability to expand to five times our broadband capacity within hours, which is key in our sector where things can change very quickly.
"This could be a change in the market or expansion in the number of our traders as a result of a recruitment campaign."
He added, "Also, it is important that while we have the flexibility to up our capacity by five times, we don't have to up the price of the broadband service by the same multiple."
Broadband services should also offer low or zero contention ratios.
In other words, fewer other businesses using the broadband line at the same time as you, allowing you faster, better service.
Obviously labour is one of the largest continuing investments you will make, so boosting the productivity of individual workers by providing an 'always-on' connection is key.
Unlimited round the clock support and a service level guarantee will ensure that in the event of downtime, rather than wasting time sorting out IT problems you can concentrate on running your business.
With the smorgasbord of broadband Internet Service Providers (ISPs) available, analysts such as Sandra O'Boyle, at Current Analysis, agree that: "It's a bonus to be part of a specialised SME division that will focus only on the needs of smaller businesses."
In other words, select a well established supplier which understands your needs and has sufficient bandwidth to cater for your growth strategy.
The step from a small to a medium-sized business can be problematic.
With staff numbers rising so rapidly at this stage of the business, many companies now access their entire suite of business applications over the web.
Software on-demand, or Software as a Service (SaaS), offers an alternative to buying and installing software and maintaining applications on your own machines.
Instead, businesses simply pay a monthly subscription and access the most up-to-date services, such as shared calendaring, diaries and virtual meetings, over the web.
Outsourcing applications in this manner alleviates the IT manager's headaches, but to operate a 'web office', you must be confident that your ISP can offer you at least 99.9 per cent guaranteed availability.
While software on-demand won't replace the current model overnight, it's testament to the falling costs and rising reliability of business dedicated ISPs that IDC projects that ten per cent of the enterprise software market will migrate to a pure SaaS model by 2009.
Fortunately, once a business has survived the capital-deprived early days, as it expands it can reduce costs by taking advantage of economies of scale.
Major changes are afoot in the communications sector as BT nears its 2011 target for transforming its telecommunications infrastructure into a pure IP-based network.
The use of internet telephony, or Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) already eliminates call costs across multiple premises, but once IP communications is broadened out externally, businesses will be able to eliminate their traditional leased line telephone charges.
Progressively businesses are no longer confining their staff to nine-to-five working policies.
Productivity and staff retention is greatly boosted by providing internet-based flexible working technologies, such as virtual private networks (VPNs), unified messaging and wireless communications.
Construction firm McKean Group, for example, uses broadband from Easynet Connect in conjunction with mobile technology to eliminate project delays by allowing employees to access email and information at any location at any time via their PDAs or laptops.
With the convergence of voice and data, ever increasing volumes of sensitive company information are being securely passed to employees, customers and prospects over the web.
Business leaders should use this broad spectrum of new, internet-enabled options creatively to help craft their strategies.
However, in doing so, don't overlook the importance of selecting a long-standing, dedicated business ISP that understands the importance of an internet backbone to support your growing business.