Essential IT for a new business

Illustration of a laptop in front of a stack of boxes

If you're starting a business, you're going to need some technology. At a basic level, every company needs it to send emails and invoices. You'll also need to make phone calls and maintain a vibrant online presence with your website and social media profiles

But how can you get all the business technology you need without spending too much?

Your business computer

Let's start with your business computer. Many households now have more than one computer. And while we're not advocating using your children's PC, you may already have a computer which is fine for business use. If you're working for yourself, this may be the most cost-effective way to get started.

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. A good workhorse computer should cost £400 or so. 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.

It's probably worth opting for a laptop instead of a desktop model. Laptop computers are every bit as capable as desktop equivalents, but offer much greater flexibility in where you work. Even if you don't plan to regularly work from other locations, it's nice to have the option.

Alternatively, consider a tablet with an integrated or add-on keyboard, such as the Microsoft Surface or iPad Pro. Both devices are examples of laptop alternatives that should offer all the functionality you need in a much more compact, touch-screen enabled package.

Mobile devices

If you usually rely on a pay as you go smartphone, ditch it and get a contract phone instead. It should work out cheaper almost immediately and may give you access to a 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, and work out how you realistically expect to use your phone.

The latest smartphones have access to millions 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.

You can also consider purchasing a tablet computer for business use. Tablets are very capable - these days they can almost replace a full computer. This makes them ideal for short trips, meetings and visits to client offices.

Business software

The trick to buying business software is to work out what you need. 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. Trial software is a good way to evaluate different packages – just be sure to buy the full version 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.

Many businesses use cloud services for tasks like managing their accounts and running backups. However, you can use cloud software for almost anything.

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.

Computer printers

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 £20. There's a reason for this, though: the ink cartridges can be very expensive.

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.

Anti-virus and security software

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. To make sure you're buying a capable package, check that it's been independently tested by AV-TEST, Virus Bulletin or ICSA Labs.

Read our guide to choosing security software. If you need more help, consult your IT supplier. This is one area where it pays to be very careful. You might even want to consider adding security software to your mobile devices.

Backup systems

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 - some online backup services offer free storage. Try Dropbox, Microsoft OneDrive, Google Drive or Apple iCloud.

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