If you’re starting a business, the chances of you never needing technology are slim. At a basic level, every company needs to write letters and send out invoices. You'll need to make phone calls - and then there's the website which could generate enquiries or sales
But how can you get all the business IT you need without spending too much?
Let's start with your business computer. Many households now have more than one computer. And while we're not advocating stealing your children's PC, you may already have a computer which is fine for business use.
However, if you do decide to buy a new computer, don't skimp. Used computer equipment can be unreliable, may be set up in unusual ways, and could even contain viruses.
You don’t have to spend a fortune. You can get a good workhorse computer for £300 - £400. It might be worth spending more for a faster, higher-quality computer, but don’t go overboard. Unless you need powerful video or design software, a top-end computer is overkill.
If you plan to be on the road, opt for a laptop or tablet computer instead of a desktop computer. It’ll be just as good and will give you lots more flexibility.
If you usually rely on a pay as you go mobile phone, ditch it and get a contract instead. It should work out cheaper almost immediately and will give you access to a much better handset.
Because the cost of contract handsets are covered in part by your monthly fee, you can get a powerful smart phone at a decent upfront price. Compare contracts carefully though, and work out how you realistically expect to use your phone.
The latest smart phones offer thousands of applications (apps), internet services and seamless connection with your email and other tools for business. Want to open a PDF file, edit a document or check your calendar? You can do it all on your mobile.
The trick to buying business software is to know what you want. If you’re just starting out, it’s often a good idea to buy software with your computer. It will come pre-installed, saving you some fiddly work.
Get the full, latest versions of the software you need. Cut-down versions will leave you ill-equipped for the road ahead. The latest versions of software often run faster and have additional useful features. For example, Windows 8 has been designed to work with desktop, laptop and tablet computers as well as touch screen technologies. Trial software is a good way to evaluate different packages – just be sure to buy the full versions in good time, before the trial runs out.
One advantage of starting from scratch is that you’re not tied to existing software. This leaves you well placed to take advantage of online services and cloud computing. With these options, you don’t install software on to your own computer. Instead, you access it over the internet, typically for a small monthly cost.
Cloud services like Microsoft’s Office 365 can cost from a few pounds per month – meaning you don’t have to spend hundreds of pounds upfront.
In any case, don’t buy pirated software from market stalls, auction websites or dodgy online traders. If it looks suspiciously cheap or unofficial, it probably is. Quite apart from the fact that it’s illegal, pirated software often contains viruses or doesn’t work as expected.
Today's small business printers come in two flavours; laser and inkjet.
Laser printers are slightly higher quality and will print much faster, but they cost more to buy initially. This means many businesses start with inkjet printers which can cost as little as £40. There's a reason for this, though: the ink cartridges can be very expensive (£15-£20 per cartridge is common).
So before you buy a printer, work out the overall running costs. In most cases, laser printers are the cheaper option over time. And if you think you’ll be printing lots of stuff, there’s no contest. Laser printers are faster, better quality and cheaper for high-volume printing.
Security software is essential. You can’t get away without it any more than you can leave your front door open while you go off to do some shopping.
If you only have one or two computers, you’ll probably want an all-in-one security package to keep you fully protected. This doesn’t necessarily need to cost you a penny.
For small businesses with up to 10 PCs, Microsoft Security Essentials is a complete, free security system and can be a good option. Additionally, some broadband internet providers offer free security software.
If you’re at all unsure about what security software you need, consult your IT supplier. This is one area where it pays to be very careful.
It’s important that you keep all your important data safe. This means backing it up. To stay protected, take at least two backups. You can start with an external hard drive and some backup software. That should cost you less than £100.
It pays to be paranoid when you back up, so to guard against your external hard drive failing or getting stolen, back your files up across the internet too. Depending on how much stuff you need to keep safe, this might not cost you anything - try Windows Live SkyDrive, which gives you 25 gigabytes of storage (that’s enough for a lot of documents) for free.
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