Most businesses now routinely use information technology (IT). It makes everyday tasks easier, quicker and cheaper and connects them to the world beyond.
You might be able to use your home-based PC for your new business. If you don’t have one, can’t use it or don’t want to, IT hardware and software is more affordable than ever. The money you spend can also be offset against your tax bill. So what factors should influence your decision if you need to buy some new kit?
List every task you need your IT to perform. This might include: writing letters; producing invoices; emailing customers and suppliers; basic book-keeping; maybe stock control; maintaining staff records possibly; producing marketing materials, etc. You might want to source materials and buy online or sell online yourself, find new customers or research competitors.
Also think about whether a laptop (portable) might be more suitable, especially if you expect to be on the road or working from home occasionally. Maybe you need two or more computers. Try to anticipate your future needs, too.
Most start-ups don’t need hugely sophisticated IT. Typically, a mid-range desktop PC (ie computer, monitor, keyboard, mouse, basic office software) is sufficient. For a reliable solution, budget for £400-£550 and maybe £80 for a printer. A reasonable laptop will cost £350-£500. Specialist software provides additional cost. If you're concerned with how stylish your PC looks or want a cutting edge model, you'll have to pay for it, but you need to consider the impact it will have on your start-up budget.
The cheapest IT deals are usually to be found online, but finding them could be a problem if you don’t have internet access. When buying online, you can’t always ask face-to-face questions. However, some suppliers provide online chat facilities and helplines that allow you to ask the seller for advice.
Don’t buy capability you don’t need or kit that falls short of the mark, just so you can save a few quid. Avoid second-hand and reconditioned goods, you could be buying limited capability or technical problems.
When buying online, find out how much after sales support you’ll receive (if any) and use your credit card for added protection from online 'con-merchants'.
Adverts in newspapers and computer magazines can point you in the direction of the latest deals. You could seek recommendations from friends, family and other businesses, although retail parks and high streets usually have at least one PC dealer.
If confronted with jargon, ask sales people to speak in plain English. Don’t fall for fancy add-ons, either, focus on your business needs and budget.
Find out how much technical support, maintenance or guarantees cost before signing up, as other options might be cheaper.
If you buy items separately (eg computer, scanner and printer), make sure they’re compatible. Buying bundled goods prevents incompatibility, but consider the value of each component.
Whoever you buy from, bargain hard and don’t be rushed into your decision. Find out what credit terms are available, if any.
For security reasons, you should buy an external storage device (around £70-£150 depending on how much storage capacity you need) onto which you can regularly back up data. This should be removed from your premises each night, which will ensure you won’t lose important information if disaster strikes (eg fire, flood or burglary). Make sure all hardware is physically secured, too, and laptops should be locked away securely.
Invest in anti-virus and firewall software, if it doesn’t already come with your purchase. A computer virus entering your system or an uninvited intruder accessing your system could devastate your business. It’s also wise to line up technical support before problems occur. Assess whether training would help you and any staff who work for you to get the most out of your IT system. Also be aware of your health and safety obligations to your staff when it comes to IT.
It will be more cost-efficient for some small businesses to arrange IT support from an external supplier (especially those who need to operate a computer network). If so, shop around for the best value, seek recommendations you can trust from businesses that are similar to your own and be sure to have the details of the arrangement set out in an IT support contract.
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You can also find in-depth guidance on the IT Donut.