Such is the impact of information technology (IT), nowadays it’s hard to imagine what most of us would do without it. There can’t be many firms in the UK, however small, that don’t use IT in some way. Many businesses couldn’t exist without IT.
IT makes everyday business management and admin tasks simpler and quicker – from communication through marketing and selling to keeping accounts.
In many ways, the quality of products and services has improved massively as a result of IT, while the huge technological and cultural shift computers have brought has created a wealth of new commercial opportunities.
The net result, of course, is that thanks to the humble yet mighty microprocessor, many businesses are much more efficient and profitable as a result of IT.
Knowing exactly which tasks you need to be able to complete is crucial before you can buy your first IT system (even if this is just a solitary laptop with software, although some firms might need to set up a network).
You need to invest in IT (both hardware and software) that can grow with your business – not limit its development. However, most small firms don’t require highly sophisticated or expensive IT. Even fairly basic technology, available to buy on the high street or average retail park, offers greater functionality than many small firms need. Suitably enough, the best deals on IT can often be found online, but you need to know what you’re doing buying before you buy.
Once you’ve made your purchase, you must make sure your kit and the data it contains are secure and safe. There are many threats (online crime is an increasing problem) and it doesn’t pay to take chances. You need to also be aware that businesses have health and safety obligations relating to IT.
Can you really afford to run your business without having a website? For many owners and managers, however small their enterprises, the answer is increasingly ‘no’. Many people’s buying decisions are now heavily influenced by websites, while more of us than ever buy online (usually for convenience and cheaper prices).
The internet offers businesses cost-effective, 24-hour advertising, potentially to a global customer base (although language might be an issue in some regions). A website gives you a valuable presence in the virtual world and a platform from which you can communicate your messages. People can click on your website to find out more about your business and its products – and why they should buy from you.
Creating a business website is more affordable than ever – especially if you choose to do it yourself. Paying someone else to build your website might be wiser (if more expensive), especially if your knowledge of website design is limited.
If you plan to sell and accept payment online, obviously, there are laws you must be aware of. To drive traffic to your website, you must promote it effectively and use language that will give you a better chance of being found when people use search engines (this is known as 'SEO' – search engine optimisation).