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Like any other commercial enterprise, small business owners must regularly contend with burglaries, break-ins, vandalism and other property crimes. Though with limited available budgets and resources, these incidents can often have a significant financial impact.

FBI figures reveal around 7 million property crimes are reported each year, with a single act of vandalism potentially costing small businesses over $3,000 in damages, indicating just how important preventative measures and reliable security systems can be to long-term business success.

For small business owners looking to upgrade existing security systems or set up entirely new installations, this guide explores how to choose the best small business security camera system to fit any budget. From which features to prioritize to important installation considerations, here’s how to choose a camera system for small business.

Components of a small business security camera system

Before detailing the more complicated aspects of security cameras for small businesses, it’s worth reviewing what makes a camera system appropriate for commercial use.

An effective small business security camera system must contain the following components:

Video security cameras for small companies

Video security cameras should be positioned in strategic locations covering the small business’s perimeter and key internal locations such as the shop floor, cash register and any active access points. Cameras must be connected to a Digital Video Recorder (DVR) or a Network Video Recorder (NVR) designed to record and store captured footage on a built-in hard drive.

DVR or NVR unit

There are specific reasons to choose an NVR or DVR for your small business. A DVR is essential if analog cameras operate, while NVRs are typically designed only to process digital footage. NVRs also encode and process video data at the camera rather than natively, meaning recorded footage can be sent remotely via Wi-Fi in wireless installations.

Monitoring screen

Finally, a monitor must be connected to the video recorder to view real-time and recorded footage. Most video security systems for small business will also be linked to a specialized video management system (VMS) to store and organize recorded footage appropriately.

Video management systems for small business security cameras

VMS for commercial use can be divided into two main categories: operating via a cloud-based software service or using an on-premise solution.

Cloud-based VMS requires no hardware or software to be installed on the premises. Instead, all footage is sent to a cloud-based video management platform that the small business owner can access remotely. The service provider will perform all maintenance and update procedures automatically, provided the business pays a recurring subscription fee.

On-premises VMS must be installed and managed by the small business owner or a chosen security integrator, with all on-site maintenance and update procedures performed. On-premises VMS can be freely customized, allowing for integrations with analytics programs and storage expansions. However, managing these systems can be a lot of work without assistance from a security expert.

The choice between cloud-based or on-premises VMS will depend on the businesses’ unique needs. However, cloud-based services are often preferred for small business security cameras, as they’re typically more affordable and easy to manage for the average user.

Types of video security hardware for small business

When choosing the best camera system for small business installations, owners should weigh the pros and cons of several different hardware options, with some products better suited to certain locations and some costing more initially with the potential for savings over time.

Analog vs. IP camera system for small business

Another decision that will impact your security infrastructure is whether your small business requires analog cameras or Internet Protocol (IP) cameras.

Analog cameras must be physically connected to a central video recorder via coaxial cables and a separate wired power supply, meaning they are often more expensive to install and scale. However, they’re also typically cheaper by unit and less prone to signal loss and interference.

IP cameras transmit data via an Ethernet cable or Wi-Fi signals. They can send footage and power down a single cable, meaning installing and scaling the system is fairly straightforward. Data sent from IP cameras will also be encrypted at the source to prevent signals from being intercepted.

Wireless vs. hardwired video security for small business 

Though analog cameras can send data wirelessly if an additional transmitter is purchased, IP cameras are designed for this purpose. Wireless systems are easier to install and can use cloud storage to view and organize footage remotely, but the image quality is affected by Wi-Fi strength.

Hardwired small business security cameras produce consistent image quality and are more reliable and secure than wireless systems. However, installation will be more time-consuming and expensive, and wider security integrations may require expert help.

Bullet vs. dome small business security cameras

The best surveillance systems for small business installations will use a range of cameras for specific locations, such as bullet and dome cameras. Bullet cameras have a narrow field of view designed to record footage at a long distance, with optical zoom features to cover perimeter areas, hallways and parking lots.

Dome security cameras for small businesses or companies offer a wider field of view, typically with options to control the camera’s viewfinder remotely. Dome small business security cameras can cover relatively large and open areas like shop floors, storage rooms and similar interior spaces while offering a slightly more discreet form of video security for small business.

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Choosing the best security cameras for small business

With a basic understanding of common styles of video surveillance for small businesses and different hardware components, employers must combine this knowledge with the following considerations to develop an effective and reliable small business security camera system.

Property and security assessments

Recently published data shows that over 50% of small businesses in the US have experienced retail theft in the last year, meaning an effective small business security camera system should be designed to deter on-premises criminality and collect evidence to investigate incidents.

Small business owners or physical security audit specialists must thoroughly assess their premises to identify all areas of potential risk. For example, all cash registers, doors, windows, storage areas, display cabinets and cash-counting locations must be covered by an appropriate video security camera for small business. However, it is important to ensure the privacy of customers and employees. For example, break rooms and restrooms must not have a security camera installed to remain compliant.

Once the potential risk is identified, the business can begin assessing whether a bullet or dome video security camera for small businesses will be best suited to the area and whether a hardwired or wireless installation will be appropriate. For instance, if the property has irregular walls creating several blind spots, will a dome camera provide a clear view of the shop floor? Will it be possible to install camera cabling? Will a wireless system be better suited?

Small business owners must also assess all existing wiring and network infrastructure before committing to installing new security cameras for small companies. Purchasing new analog cameras may be cost-effective if sufficient cabling is already installed in desirable locations. If owners wish to use wireless IP cameras instead, a high-speed and secure Wi-Fi network must be in operation.

Small business security camera budget considerations

Small business owners must determine a budget for developing a new video security system. First, teams should decide how many channels the DVR or NVR will need to support. Each channel serves a single camera, with prices rising as more channels are added.

Small properties may only require an inexpensive four-channel system, though it’s better to ensure that the whole property is covered rather than trying to save a little money. Suppose a site assessment has been performed as discussed. In that case, owners can optimize this process by working out where each small business security camera should be installed to provide optimal coverage with fewer units.

Understanding how channels are configured in a DVR and an NVR system is also important. Analog cameras must be physically connected to a DVR so that the hardware will limit the number of available channels. IP cameras must be connected to the NVR via Ethernet cables, but a PoE switch can be added to connect two cameras to a single port.

Small business owners may also consider installing wide-angle and PTZ cameras to maximize the space covered with fewer hardware units. PTZ cameras have built-in pan, tilt and zoom functionality, allowing 360-degree coverage from one vantage point. In contrast, wide-angle security cameras for small companies have a fixed lens designed to capture footage with a field of view between 80° and 180°. 

Maintenance, scalability and support

IP cameras and NVR systems are popular amongst small businesses as the final installation can be upgraded and scaled as the business grows, and the system’s cloud service provider will automatically apply all maintenance and updates. However, if a property already has suitable wiring infrastructure installed, new analog cameras will typically be cheaper per device.

Operating cloud-based video surveillance for small businesses also allows growing companies to combine the management of systems installed in multiple properties, meaning security cameras across several locations can be viewed from a single remote access platform.

Analog camera systems for small business and DVR systems also have their advantages. As the system is managed using on-premises software, there are few limits to the customizations and integrations business owners can develop. However, an expert will be required to achieve this.

The best-hardwired security cameras and video surveillance for small business installations will also generally provide a more consistent and reliable degree of video quality, as live signals will not be affected by wireless interference, and businesses will not be required to pay a recurring fee to operate the system.

Key features in a small business security camera system

Alongside the core hardware and software components discussed above, the best video surveillance systems for small business will include additional features designed to improve wider security systems and related business technologies. Below are a few key features worth looking out for.

Native cybersecurity protections

Cybersecurity will be particularly important for small businesses operating IP cameras and cloud-based file storage systems, as active cameras will constantly stream video footage to an off-premises server. However, any internet-connected system can be vulnerable to threats.

The best security camera systems for small business will be configured to encrypt live signals at source, with business owners committed to regularly updating the system’s firmware to prevent new exploits from being exposed and system access secured behind layered password protections.

Modern software design

Though the technical specifications of a camera system for small business are important, these devices are only as effective as the software instructing their operation. Small business owners should look for modern software services designed with automation, including features like event-triggered recording, automatic motion detection and remote-access viewing controls.

AI and machine learning solutions should also be carefully considered, as with support from AI-informed data analytics, business owners can develop automated incident responses. Cameras can be configured to detect anomalous events like crowds forming or loitering around the property, with automatic alerts programmed to trigger alarms and notify admins remotely.

Compatibility and integrations

As previously discussed, a great security camera system for small businesses will likely contain multiple types of camera hardware used to provide ample property coverage. This means that all hardware and software devices in the broader security system must be compatible and capable of being safely integrated to form a connected system.

Some manufacturers restrict their hardware to only work with their systems, while others offer limited compatibility with a few related technologies. Small business owners must research this before purchasing any new components. Thankfully, there are ways to ensure compatibility between certain products, such as prioritizing ONVIF-compliant tech for IP security systems.

Versatility beyond security 

Modern video security systems should be designed to support businesses beyond simply recording live footage. For example, security cameras for small companies integrated with access control systems can automatically capture and store images of suspicious access attempts, with cloud-based systems alerting business owners remotely to provide 247 support.

AI-powered video security cameras can also improve energy efficiency by analyzing footage to see how frequently rooms are accessed, allowing business owners to adjust HVAC systems and lighting accordingly. Similarly, AI analytics can monitor inventory levels to improve stock management procedures and prevent retail shrinkage.

Camera health monitoring

Small business security cameras will often act as the primary line of defense against property crime during and outside opening hours. Business owners must be able to ensure their security systems remain operational at all times, so it’s worth searching for video security cameras with some form of internal automatic system health monitoring feature.

Camera health monitoring software is used to perform frequent diagnostics checks while the system runs to ensure that each camera works properly. If the program detects a potential issue such as a faulty battery, signal loss or other similar malfunction, an automatic alert will be sent to the business owner warning of the issue and recommending a suitable fix.

Use cases for small business surveillance systems

Deter retail theft

Research suggests that 60% of burglars will avoid targeting a property if visible security cameras and alarms are installed. In addition, high-quality video cameras positioned inside commercial properties can help deter retail theft and collect evidence of crimes to support investigations.

Avoid lawsuits

A well-designed small business security camera system can help employers avoid the cost of lawsuits by providing high-quality, time-stamped footage of supposed events. This means false claims regarding workplace injuries, harassment and negligence can be quickly disproven.

Promote workplace safety

Small business security cameras installed to cover all entrances, exits and parking lots will help to promote a safer workplace by deterring criminal activity. Visible cameras act as a deterrent for physical crimes like break-ins and vandalism and provide evidence of suspicious events.

Reduce insurance premiums

In many cases, the presence of a well-maintained small business security camera system can help employers reduce the cost of business insurance premiums. By installing cameras inside and outside the property, owners can prove they’re less vulnerable to targeted attacks.

Improve wider systems

Installing security cameras for small companies designed to be integrated alongside additional security devices allows businesses to customize wider systems. Motion captured by cameras can trigger alarms, lock doors and alert staff remotely to improve incident responses.

Gather valuable insights

The best security cameras for small business can provide valuable information and data that can help transform a business. For example, for a retail store, the best security cameras for small business can analyze stock levels, show insights into customer journeys and indicate footfall. This data can help management make informed decisions that provide a better customer experience.

Develop an effective small business security camera system

Upgrading and improving small business security camera systems should be a top priority for business owners across all industries, with modern systems and technologies allowing for the development of proactive, bespoke and scalable solutions well-suited to budgets of any size.

The best security cameras and camera systems for small business will be designed with longevity, scalability and automation in mind, meaning business owners must take the time to create detailed plans before purchasing any new equipment. Consider how many and which types of cameras will be needed, whether a wired or wireless system will be best and how maintenance and upgrades will be delivered. Sticking to these principles will produce an effective security camera system.

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