Meet Robin Thompson, IT expert

May 17, 2024 | Technical

“Show Notes”

Robin Thompson says he is an IT stress reliever working with small and medium-
sized businesses helping ensure that their IT is not causing them stress. Sam and
Robin have known each other for a long time having started their business at a
similar time and having run a networking event together.

Robin’s journey into IT has been an interesting one. As a child of the 80s he has
been using computers since he was a child. Robin spent ten years in financial
services and then moved to working in higher education. He did do some first line
IT support as part of his role. But also did things like exam timetables for the
University of Hull. At one stage Robin was offered the opportunity to take
voluntary redundancy from the University, At the same time Helen his wife and co-
director was between jobs and so they decided to take the redundancy and setup
the business.

‘Sam asks what photographers need to think about in terms of their IT. Robin says
for those in creative industries you will need high spec equipment and lots of
processing power. Backing up your data is an important thing to think about. But
due to the file sizes that photographers deal with are very large so that cloud
storage can start to get very expensive. Robin suggests one way of doing t
having project files on cloud storage, but use external hard drives to backup the
raw photo files. Backblaze is service that some photographers use as the storage
alot cheaper than Google or Microsoft cloud storage.

In terms of security Robin says the built in security has got a lot better over the
years on Windows computers. He also reminds us that Macs, contrary to popular
jon, can get viruses. They can also pass viruses onto Windows computer and it
is not good for your business if you accidentally pass viruses onto customers, so
ensure macs have 3rd party anti-virus software on them.

Robin says domains and emails are also important. Some small businesses use
Gmail or Hotmail addresses for their business and this does not look very
professional. Then have a professional email system around that, that will scan
incoming and outgoing emails. Spoofing is a challenge at the moment (spoofing is
someone pretending to be someone else). Good email scanning will deal with this.
On top of this email marketing needs a domain based email address.

Because we do have problems like spoofing there are now systems in place to
prevent this. But this does also mean it can be harder to deliver genuine email.
When properly setup this isn’t a problem, but setting up email accounts correctly
is correct.

Robin explains that backups are much more than photos. Emails, invoices, contact
information and more, all needs backing up. If these aren’t backed up it could cost
you your business.

Robin has used photography in his business and he says you can tell when
photography has been done professionally. Robin had the opportunity to be ina
magazine with a focus on his wife in the business. They got professional
photography for that and thought the results were excellent. Although you can
take photos with a phone, itis not the same.

‘Sam asked Robin to share his experience of using professional photographers.
Robin thinks that initial conversation, before the photo shoot is very important. It’s
a careful balance of the photographer providing expertise and suggestions with
listening. Also many people are very uncomfortable in front of the camera and so
making people at their ease in front of the lens is important. He likes the idea of a
retainer for photographers but doesn’t work on that basis with his photographer.

“Show Transcription”

Sam: Hello and welcome to the Shoot to the Top podcast. Today I am not with Marcus, shock horror, but I am actually in the UK and I am in Hull.I spent the day in a business expo and I have a guest with me to interview who has been in the business expo. So today on the podcast we have Robin Thompson from Redfez. Hi Robin.

Robin: Hello.

Sam: Thank you. So what we always do with Robin with guests is we let them introduce themselves. So Robin, do introduce yourself.

Robin: Thank you, Sam. Yes, as Sam has said, I’m Robin Thompson from Redfez. We are an IT support and services company based in Hull. We’ve been going about six years. Most of our customers are small, medium-sized enterprises or businesses. So we’re quite used to working with sole traders actually, or a lot of our customer base. And we just really want to help people with their IT problems. We tend to say we are IT stress reliever actually. IT can be quite a stressful thing, whatever business you’re in. And I think especially if you’re in photography as well, it’s one of those things you rely on so much these days. So our job really is just to take some of that kind of stress off you and make sure everything’s running as it should. So that in a nutshell, Sam, is who I am and what I do.

Sam:  Excellent. And so I have to add a bit of a connection. Me and Robin go back a long way. We set up our businesses at very, very similar times and we ran a networking event together. So there’s podcasts on networking and yeah, lots of things I’ve learned now. I’ve definitely learned from working with Robin and we ran networking events for many years together. And he also helps me with my IT as well. So, good place to start, Robin. How did you end up where you did? I don’t think it’s a straight linear journey for you, is it?

Robin: Well, it isn’t really. And people often ask me, how long have you been in IT? And it’s as long as I’ve been running the business officially. But I’m a child of the 80s, Sam, and that was when computers started to become a thing. And I think that was probably my first interest in computers. So it’s been very much a hobby for a lot of my life. I spent about 10 years working in financial services and then another 15 years working in higher education. And even during that time, I did do a little bit of first line IT support as one of the many hats that I wore. But that was about as far as it got, really. I looked after the timetabling and exams actually for the University of Hull for quite a number of years. And that was obviously more to do with processes, but didn’t involve working very much with the IT department and ensuring that we were thinking about what students would want to see on their timetables, on their phones and laptops and stuff like that. So very much kind of user-focused IT. But I got the opportunity to basically take voluntary redundancy from the university. And at that point, my wife, Helen, who’s also our co-director, was kind of between jobs and we were thinking, what do we do? And we thought this was just an opportunity to set up our own business. And I’d been kind of helping people out with various IT problems for a couple of years before then, and people seemed to be willing to pay for it. So it seemed like a good opportunity. And also working for large companies, you realize that they don’t worry about IT because they’ve got their own in-house IT department. So if something goes wrong, you just phone IT and they sort it for you. But if you’re a small business owner, you don’t have that luxury. So I just felt there was something we could do there to help other people. So that’s basically the journey. I guess it’s my third career change, really, to be honest with you, over the years.

Sam: Excellent. Thank you, Robin. Actually, what I didn’t mention earlier is, apologies for the background noise, we’re recording this in a cafe just by the Business Expo. So if there’s a clinking of cups and so on, then that’s just because of where we are. Yeah, so Robin, so lots of photographers, a lot of them move, I think, from being amateurs to professionals. So they’ve got a laptop, they’ve got a camera, they’ve got Photoshop, and off they go. In terms of security, in terms of a business, what kind of more they need to think about with their IT?

Robin: Okay, well, I think what we’ve found, Sam, is that for people in creative industries, and obviously photographers are in creative industries, is that you often need much more processing power than you think you do, and you often need higher-spec equipment than you think you do. The file size on a raw photograph that your average digital camera takes is actually quite big, and if you’ve got a lot of those open and you’re doing a lot of processing, it can just take longer if you’re dealing with stuff that’s not really high-spec. So you need a lot of RAM, you need a good processor in there, at the risk of getting quite techie. I think you’re looking at i7s or Ryzen 7s at least. You don’t want to be getting that kind of £300-£400 laptop from Curious and what have you. You do need to spend a little bit more money, so that’s very, very important.

And if you’re going into the realms of video as well, as many do, it’s even more so, because your render times can be vastly increased if you’ve not got a good processor. So that’s the first thing. The other to think about, and I think it’s always a challenge, is backing up. And backup is a big thing for photographers, because you’ve got big files, and that often means that the typical cloud solutions that you might think can get expensive very, very quickly. So you need to think about, what am I going to do with these raw files? And what a lot will do is they’ll back them up straight away, take a copy, get them on a backup, and then work on copies, so that they’ve got a backup of those raw files. Another tip I would give as well is, sometimes you don’t necessarily need, if you are going to be using cloud backups, often you just need to backup things like project files, because there’s a lot smaller, and it will save you money often. Particularly if you’re working with video content, backup the project files and have the raw data on an external hard drive, or something like that. It can save you a lot of money, so that could be a good way of doing it.

Sam:  Okay, that makes sense. And then what about things like security, because often people, especially as you sort of gradually move into being more professional, don’t think about that so much. You know, you’ve got your laptop, like you said, you don’t want to get your 391 from Currys, but you’ve got a decent laptop, you’ve got the software on there, and you’re kind of off. But what do people think about in terms of keeping it secure, keeping it safe, and that sort of thing?

Robin: I think obviously you need to make sure that, you know, you’ve got a good antivirus solution on there. The good thing is that if you’ve got a Windows system, the inbuilt security has improved a lot over the years. And so, you know, if it’s just one person, that’s usually sufficient to be honest. But even if you’ve got a Mac now, and a lot of people think, you know, I’m a Mac user, I don’t need to think about that. But you do, and actually you always have. It’s just one of those things, you know, clever marketing kind of suggested that Macs didn’t get viruses. They do, but they can also be carriers of viruses. So if you’ve got something on your Mac, and you know, you basically send some photographs to a customer, and you know, and they have it on the PC, and it infects their PC, you know, it’s not really, that’s not very good customer service. So it’s important that if you’ve got a Mac that you do have some third-party security solution on there as well. I would also suggest, because you are sending things out to people, you do need to think about email. And it’s very tempting when you’re any small business, just to kind of use a Hotmail account or a Gmail account, which are okay. But I always think, firstly, nothing speaks unprofessional, like, you know, I am a photographer at hotmail.com, you know, it’s much better if you had, you know, info at IamaPhotographer.com or something like that. So, you know, get a proper domain name. And obviously, somebody like yourself, Sam, it’s a great place to start, because, you know, you’re building websites, you can sort that out for them. So get a proper domain name, and then have a proper email system based around that domain name, where we can have proper security in place that’s perhaps going to, you know, it’s going to scan incoming email, scan outgoing email, and just help to make things a little bit more secure. One of the big things at the moment, and we’re seeing a lot more of is spoofing, which is people sending emails pretending to be people that they’re not. And that can be a very difficult thing to stop. So the best way to do that is having really good spam filters on incoming email so that that doesn’t reach you in the first place. It’s very hard. You know, you can’t stop somebody pretending to be you ultimately. But what you can do is to stop yourself from receiving emails that are pretending to be somebody you normally receive emails from. So that’s important really. So make sure you’ve got good, good, what we call endpoint protection, i.e. antivirus on your computer, whether that’s Windows or a Mac machine, and make sure you’ve got a good email system that’s utilizing your domain name.  

Sam: Cool, that makes sense. And then that feeds into what we I often talk about, which is email marketing, because you cannot do email marketing with a Gmail address, that is just a disaster. And also, I don’t know if you find Robin, email delivery has been getting harder. So you were saying there’s all email spam filters in place. But that does make it more challenging as a business, getting emails delivered, doesn’t it? Because they can get caught in the spam filter.

Robin: Yeah, that’s correct. Because we do have problems like spoofing, where people are trying to pretend to be somebody else. What email providers are trying to do is to make that more difficult, and to try and build systems that are going to intercept that. And one of the things that they will do is, so let’s just say, our domain is redfez.co.uk. So I send an email as robin at redfez.co.uk. Now, basically, that email is set up so that it says any email coming from redfez.co.uk should come from Microsoft, because they provide our emails. So straight away, a receiving email server can check that out. And if it doesn’t come from a Microsoft server, it can reject it, because it knows straight away that that’s not genuine. So if somebody’s really got a Gmail account pretending to be me at redfez, it’ll say that’s not genuine, and it will know that. But in order to make sure you do get the mail that you want, you’ve got to make sure that everything is set up as it should. And what you want to make sure is if you send an email to somebody, it is not going to get caught in one of those filters. So you’ve got to make sure it’s set up so that it will pass those checks. So as a that’s always the problem. When we try and stop the stuff we don’t want, you can also end up stopping the stuff you do want as well. So you need to make sure it’s set up correctly, which does make it harder, I think, for you to do it yourself. It’s one of those things, now, you really need to speak to somebody who knows what they’re doing so they can make sure it’s set up. And the email you want will get through, and the email that you don’t want won’t get through.

Sam: Yeah, that’s got hard, hasn’t it? In the last few months, there’s been a lot hasn’t implemented in the last few months, me and Robin have been working on my system, certainly helping with that because it, yeah, it certainly needed a lot of tweaks to get it all right. And then, like Robin said, if he’s using Outlook, then that’s checkable. So then if you add an email marketing tool, you’ve then got to set that up correctly so that when MailChimp, whoever it is you’re using, sends email, you’ve got to make sure that that’s set up to work too.

Robin: Yeah, that’s right. In that instance, you know, so if I need to make sure that emails are received that I send from my Microsoft email, but also that my website as well is sending them. And as you say, in our case, if it’s using MailChimp, then we have to make sure the emails are configured so that the internet knows that my domain name can also send email from MailChimp as well. Otherwise, they will get rejected. So yeah, you’re absolutely right, Sam. You can’t take it for granted now. You’ve got to actually sit down and work out where’s my email coming from and making sure that the system’s set up so that they’ll get successfully delivered.

Sam:  That makes sense. And then let’s go back. You were talking about backups and things. So is cloud backups effective for photographers? Or are they dealing with such big files that they better actually just like with a hard disk or something like that and maybe cloud backup for other things? What’s kind of an ideal setup?

Robin: Yeah, I mean, it really does depend upon the size of the files you’re trying to back up because you can get expensive very, very quickly. If it’s just photographs, you can probably use cloud backup. If you’re doing videos as well, it’s going to be much more difficult to do. That said, there are some good services out there. One I would recommend people look at is Backblaze. I do know a photographer who uses Backblaze because their cloud storage is a lot cheaper than, say, Amazon or Microsoft Azure or even using services like OneDrive or Google Drive. So that’s certainly something worthwhile looking at. I know their personal plans are very, very good. But yes, if you’re dealing with large files, as I say, it’s probably best to make sure you’ve got a good local backup. And then just if you do want to back up to the cloud, just back up your project files. And then the cost is going to be greatly reduced. In 5, 10 years’ time, it might well be different because the cost of these is coming down. But I think at the moment, it’s still quite cost prohibitive. Unless you’re a really big company, you don’t want to be paying hundreds of pounds a month or maybe thousands of pounds a month on backup. You do need backup. But there’s probably more cost effective ways at the moment than putting everything you’ve got in the cloud.

Sam: Yeah, that makes sense. It’s quite relevant to me at the moment. My daughter has just left her school bag in an airport with the laptop in. So now she’s kind of lost everything. Luckily, I set that up all to go back to Google Drive. So 99% of it, she will have. And yeah, and I work with Robin on backups. And I know basically, if I left this cafe, left the laptop and never saw it again, it would cost me to buy a laptop. But as soon as I buy a new laptop and sign in, bang, everything’s back, which is just such a relief to know my business would be down for the time. It took me to go and buy a laptop and carry on. And I’ve got the expense of that. But I know everything then carries on, which is just such a relief to know.

Robin: Yes. And the other thing to think about is what, you know, it’s not just your photographs. You know, when you’re running a business, there’s so many other things. So there’s, what about the emails? And you may want to make sure they’re backed up because you may need to refer back to an email. So, you know, if, if your emails are all stored on laptop and you lose laptop, have you got those backed up? And what about other data? So things like invoices or contracts or this kind of data that isn’t photographs that you still do need backing up and cloud backups are definitely very cost effective for those, you know, back in the day, you’d have to have like, you know, expensive server and all that kind of stuff and tapes that you’re swapping out every night. You know, we don’t do that these days. And certainly it’s not the sort of thing a small business needs to do. But the good thing about a lot of these cloud services for you for the basic data is that they’re basically providing the sorts of services that big business used to have to pay thousands of pounds for. Now, for a few pounds a month, you can have cloud backup that is, you know, very robust. And you know, you’ve got the likes of Microsoft or Google worrying about, you know, power outages and stuff like that.You know, they’ve got copies and copies and copies of servers dotted all over the world. So if one day, even if one day the data is out of the world, so it’s, it’s definitely worthwhile thinking about that. And remembering that your business isn’t just about your photographs, it’s about all the other data that you’ve got as well, that if you lost, then would be an absolute pain in the backside to recover. And if you know, potentially, if that means you’re down for a month, could cost you your business. So you need to make sure you’ve got that covered as well. No, that’s really important. And then have you used photography often in your business, like for promotional, got stuff done for personal branding, that sort of thing? Yes, we have used photography in our business. And I have to say that you can always tell when you know, the photography has been done by a professional photographer who you’ve sat down with and has understood what you want and has met the brief. So I know we there was a magazine article that we ran a couple of years ago, we wanted to focus particularly on on Helen’s part in running the business. And we backed that up with some decent professional photography and the results were excellent. You know, we, we couldn’t have done that ourselves. I know that mobile phones can take good photographs. But it’s not just about the actual technical quality of the photograph, it’s about the composition and about what it says and about the mood. And, you know, that’s sort of thing that a professional photographer is, you know, worth the weight in gold for. So yeah, we have definitely used and you know, we would recommend that to anybody else if you if you want your business to look good in print online, get some decent photographs from a photographer who you can you can work with and understands what you need and, and can put some absolutely fantastic results out there for you.

Sam: Yeah, I know that we’ve just been to this business and there’s a few photographers they’re exhibiting, which seems to be going really well for them and some going around photographing the event being event photographers as well, which was really nice to see and we got to chat with them. I forgot what I was going to say now. So have you got like, from your experience with professional photographers, have you got anything you think where you thought that worked really well, maybe other things don’t work well, because I think from our listeners who are photographers, if they get to the customer side, that can be interesting for them.

Robin: I think the key thing for me is that initial conversation is sitting down and understanding what the customer is looking for. And I know there’s a certain sense of, you know, you’re the photographer, so you’ve got a lot that you can advise on. And sometimes the customer’s expectations might be unrealistic. And so but it’s, I think it’s having that ability to be able to listen to what your client wants and make those suggestions in a way that the customer’s actually, yes, you’re right. So you’ve got to build yourself up as the trusted advisor when it comes to photography, but at the same time being sensitive to kind of what the client wants. And, you know, we’ve got a photographer that we do use. And we’ve, I think we’ve got that really good relationship that, you know, we understand each other. And, you know, we’re quite happy for him to kind of suggest stuff if he thinks that’s going to work a little bit better. And so, yeah, it is about building up that relationship, I think. And if you can get that right, I guess the other side of the coin as well is we’re all, even if we’re quite outgoing extroverts, sometimes when we get in front of a camera, you know, we can be quite camera shy. So I think that ability to put people at ease is just invaluable. So I just acknowledge that sometimes people are really uncomfortable in front of the camera. And so just to be a little bit patient with them and anything you can do to make them feel at ease, I think is really, really helpful. So, and in our experiences, our photographer does that and it’s absolutely brilliant.

Sam: And then just we’ve heard some photographers saying if they work a lot with a client, they work on a retainer basis. Are you doing anything like that?

Robin: Do you just kind of go as and when you need stuff? For us at the moment, we work on an ad hoc basis. I think if we started needing stuff on a regular basis, a retainer would be a good idea. That’s the type of model we use in our own business in many respects. You know, for customers that are going to likely to use us a lot, a retainer probably works better. If it’s on occasion, ad hoc is probably more effective. So it’s worthwhile, again, working out what your customer needs. I think retainers are really good for customers that are going to be using you on a regular basis. And they probably allow you to kind of develop that relationship more as well. So, and, you know, you can take that time out to have that chat with them and understand what they need and maybe just about where the business is going and make some suggestions about perhaps what they might want to consider in terms of their photography needs.

Sam: Yeah. And I think you’re so right. We’ve talked to so many photographers who say that beginning bit of the process is so important and interesting. What I find working with a lot of photographers on their websites is all of them to talk about that. And it’s such an important thing. And many photographers will put on their websites lots of photos and it won’t tell how much time they spent beforehand developing that relationship because some will and some won’t and the good ones, as we know, always do. But yeah, it’s so different. Yeah, that’s been really interesting. I’ve been loads to talk about there. Thank you very much. I’ve pestered him after a long day at the expo. So he’s been on his feet all day promoting his business, which has been amazing to see. So, yeah, thank you for being on the show.

Robin:  Well, thanks for having me. It’s been a pleasure, Sam.

Sam: If you’re not already on the newsletter list, you should be. It is not hard. Just go to the website shoot to the top dot com and click on the link where you sign up for the newsletter and sign up. And then the newsletter will arrive every week in your inbox. You’ll get the latest podcast. You’ll get the bonus content that nobody else gets and all sorts of other bits and pieces.

It is well worth doing. There’s also the shoot to the top Facebook group. You can find us on Facebook shock horror. So, yes, thank you again, Robin. And for the listeners, I will see you next week.