Every business uses information technology (IT) to some extent. It makes everyday tasks easier, quicker and cheaper and connects you to the outside world.
You might be able to use your home computer for your new business. If you don’t have one, can’t use it or don’t want to, 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.
Creating this list will get you thinking about what sort of technology you need. However, keep in mind that you will probably identify additional ways to use technology once you're up and running. Don't try and anticipate every possibility from the start, but keep flexibility in mind when making purchasing decisions.
Many people prefer to use laptop rather than desktop computers. Choosing a laptop gives you the ability to work from other locations. Even if you choose not to do so regularly, it's a good option to have.
Most new business owners appreciate the flexibility offered by a smart phone, too. You don't have to buy the latest iPhone - even a basic model will let you send and receive email, so you can stay in touch while out and about.
Tablet computers can also be helpful for business trips, meetings and presentations.
Most start-ups don’t need hugely sophisticated IT. Typically, a mid-range PC is sufficient for performing general business tasks.
For a reliable solution, budget £400-£550 (including software and extras like a decent screen) and £80 for a printer.
A reasonable laptop will cost a little more. If you want a super-thin, light model with a longer battery life then you'll have to pay extra for it - so make sure you balance the cost with the potential benefits.
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, as you could be buying limited capability or technical problems.
You may need to budget extra for software, too. Increasingly, start-up businesses are choosing cloud software, Instead of installing this on computers in your business, you access it over the internet.
Cloud software generally offers more flexibility than traditional 'desktop' software. You usually pay a monthly subscription to use it, so the upfront costs are lower, too.
Even if you're confident you can choose appropriate business technology yourself, it might be worth speaking to an IT supplier. A good, local company should take time to understand your business objectives, then make recommendations to meet them. They may also have suggestions for technologies of which you're unaware.
No matter where you buy from, don't get blinded by jargon. Always ask sales people to speak plain English - and walk away if you're not clear on what it is they're selling you. Don’t fall for fancy add-ons, either. Focus on your business needs and budget.
Remember that you are likely to need some form of technical support, too. Often, basic support is included with IT equipment and software. If you need more comprehensive support, you can usually pay for it.
Keep security in mind when choosing and setting up your IT system.
Make sure you have some way to back-up your data. Many companies copy their files regularly to an external hard drive. For extra confidence, it's best to have two back-up methods, so you could also use an online back-up service. There are other other storage devices you might wish to consider, too.
One of the easiest ways to steal your company's data is to steal your equipment, so make sure you physically secure all hardware. Lock laptops away when they're in not in use, and keep key equipment - like servers - in a separate, locked room.
To protect your business from online threats, make sure you have a firewall on each of your computers. This blocks unauthorised attempts to access your business data.
You should also install security software. This will help keep you safe from viruses, malware and other threats.
Once you've planned out all major parts of your IT system, assess whether training would help you and any staff to get the most out of it. Also be aware of your health and safety obligations to your staff when it comes to IT.
It is usually cost-efficient for 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.