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, tablet or smartphone 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?
Think about your business needs
List every task you need your IT to perform. This might include: producing invoices; emailing customers and suppliers; basic book-keeping; maybe stock control; maintaining staff records possibly; producing marketing materials; and updating your website and social media feeds.
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 laptops or tablets rather than desktop computers. Choosing a mobile device of this kind gives you the ability to work from anywhere. Even if you choose not to do so regularly, it's a great option to have.
Most new business owners appreciate the flexibility offered by a smartphone, too. You don't have to buy the latest iPhone - even a basic model will let you send and receive email, browse the web and run business apps so you can stay in touch and on top of business while out and about.
Set an IT budget and consider your options
Most start-ups don’t need hugely sophisticated IT. Typically, a mid-range computer or laptop 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 more powerful 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 – unless you buy them from certified stores, such as those provided by Apple.
You may need to budget extra for software, too – although thankfully not too much. Start-up businesses typically use cloud software which keeps costs down by charging a fair monthly fee for use.
Cloud software generally offers more flexibility than old 'desktop' software. The monthly fee you pay usually includes security updates and future upgrades, too.
Choosing your business device
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.