Dear Karen: I get offers about cloud hosting for my business. Is it safe?
Answer: Putting your company infrastructure online, or "in the cloud," can be cheaper and more reliable and allow advanced functionality. But given the importance of trusting your data to a third party, you must make an informed purchase, said Todd Benjamin, a vice president at Hostway Corp., an online hosting and data center.
"Don't assume that a provider is inherently reliable," Benjamin said. Look for a well-known company that stores data in geographically redundant server centers, rather than a single facility that could be vulnerable in a disaster. Check its reputation with current and former customers, asking about tech support, user interface, data backups and recovery strategy.
Compare your current technology costs with the company's billing rates. "Hourly costs may seem lower on the surface, but if the servers are going to run all the time, make sure you know the total cost," Benjamin said.
• Manufacturer seeks sales rep
Dear Karen: How can we find a good jewelry sales rep?
Answer: Talk to retailers in your area and ask for referrals: Who calls on them, what lines do they represent, do they sell independent jewelry designs? Try the "RepFinder" tool at http://www.manaonline.org, the website of a professional organization for manufacturers' representatives.
You can also find reps through http://www.rephunter.net. Just make sure that your products are well-aligned with what they already sell and that you have a clear understanding of their commission rates.
Small-business questions? Email Karen at firstname.lastname@example.org.