Even if your shiny new business will never involve writing lengthy proposals and reports, the chances of your never needing technology are slim. Everyone needs to write letters and send out invoices. You’ll always want to make phone calls, and then there’s the website which could rake in enquiries. So how can you get all the technology you need without going broke on day one? Here is our Scrooge’s guide to buying IT!
Let’s start with your PC. Most families now live in multi-PC households; and computers have become a social phenomenon more than a business tool. We’re not advocating stealing your children’s computers, but many people already have a PC of their own at home. There’s nothing wrong with appropriating it for business purposes too.
If you do have to buy one (and chances are, you will eventually need to do so), don’t skimp. Don’t buy second-hand; used computer equipment is alarmingly unreliable, may be configured in all sorts of odd ways, and could be riddled with viruses. Bite the bullet and buy new. Not only that, buy as powerful a business computer as you can afford; as it will last longer and pay for itself more effectively in the long run.
There’s one caveat to that: at the top of the range are super-powered machines for gaming. Unless you need powerful video or design software, you really don’t need the industrial strength of one of these top-end PCs. Go for a high-end business PC from a reputable supplier; and cut costs even further by going for a simple laptop if you need to be on the road. Laptops are no longer a partner to a desktop PC; a good laptop can replace it entirely, meaning you only need to make one purchase.
If you want to make your mobile count for business, throw away the Pay-As-You-Go, and get a contract for your business. It will be cheaper almost immediately, and will give you access to a much better handset. You will also save money because the cost of the handset will be reduced (it will partly be funded by your guaranteed monthly fees across the term of your contract).
That means you can have a powerful Smartphone at a decent price. The latest Smartphones offer thousands of applications (“Apps”), excellent internet services and seamless connection with your email and other office tools for business. Want to open a PDF file, edit a document or check your calendar? With a Windows Phone, you can do all this, and even sync-up with the office over the air. It’s the closest you’ll ever be to your desk (or sofa).
Ask your provider for bundles of extra services, too. A Smartphone will inevitably mean you use plenty of mobile internet, so go for a contract which either offers unlimited mobile internet, or which bundles up internet, texts and call minutes in cheaper, predictable bundles.
The trick to buying software is to know what you want. If at all possible, buy software at the same time as you buy your PC- the very fact that it comes pre-installed will save you many hours of fiddly work which could be better spent elsewhere.
Be sure to get full and latest versions of software. Trial versions and cut-down versions (often shipped with discount PCs) will leave you ill-equipped for the road ahead. The latest version of Office, for example; Office 2010, is packed with features designed to make even the smallest company perform like a corporate giant.
Of course, we don’t need to tell you not to buy pirate software from market stalls or auction websites, do we? It really is a false economy. If you really get what you ordered (almost certainly not) and it’s not full of dodgy viruses (highly likely) and you can get it to work (highly unlikely), you’ll have wasted many hours, and still be breaking the law.
Today’s small-business printers come in broadly two flavours; laser and inkjet. Laser printers are of a slightly higher quality and will print much faster; but they cost a good deal more. That’s why most small businesses start out with inkjet printers which can cost as little as £30. There’s a reason for this, though: ink cartridges for inkjet printers are criminally priced (£20 per cartridge is by no means rare).
Therefore, before buying, be sure to check out the cost of cartridges rather than the cost of the printer itself. After all, imagine how angry you’d be if you bought a car for £5000, only to find that it cost another £3000 to fill up the tank each time. Furthermore, find out how many cartridges there are. Most inkjets have two cartridges: one for black ink and one for the other three print colours (cyan, magenta and yellow). However, some inkjets have just one cartridge – which means that when the black ink runs out, you have to replace the whole lot. And that’s not great value for money.
Anti-virus software isn’t a “nice to have”; it’s an essential. Don’t think for one moment that you can get away without anti-virus protection any more than you can leave your front door open and a red carpet out into the street while you go off to do some shopping.
The good news is, “cloud services” (software delivered via the internet) is changing the face and cost of anti-virus protection forever. For businesses, Microsoft Forefront offers best-of-breed protection and currently has a 120-day free trial.
For small businesses with up to 10 PCs, Microsoft Security Essentials is the ideal solution – it’s a completely free anti-virus protection system delivered completely online which will quietly and unobtrusively provide excellent real-time protection.
Finally, let’s make sure that all your important data is safe and secure. For 25-1000GB of data, (the latter being an extraordinarily large amount), an external hard drive and appropriate backup software will set you back the princely amount of £100 or so.
However, the problem with external hard drives is; they can go wrong; and in any case, unless you move them to somewhere secure, thieving hands can steal them as easily as they can steal your laptop.
Therefore, for smaller amounts of data (0-25GB; still a mighty amount of documents), consider online storage. It’s safe, secure, and best of all, it can be free. Windows Live SkyDrive offers 25GB of free online storage, and it’s a doddle to sign up – just use your Windows Live ID. Plus, accessing your SkyDrive is as simple as dragging and dropping.