Finding all the right technology for your new business can be a daunting process. You need equipment, software, communications, networking, security, and more. With so many things to consider, this checklist can be your guide to the IT world. The goal is to set up your business – effectively and affordably – with all the technology you’ll need.
Planning Your IT Needs
Here are a few things you should consider before completing your checklist:
Know your budget: Your IT spend is just one facet of your business. So determine what you’re willing to spend—after your research, but before making choices.
Needs vs. wants: Always address the essentials for running your business first. Then prioritize your options based on value to your business. Two important questions to ask yourself: How much time will it save? How will it help bring in more money?
Think about the future: Many new business owners want to spend less on technology now and upgrade later. Keep in mind that the costs of changing systems and infrastructure down the road are much greater than they are now. And the cost of failed security could be even higher.
As Joel Santo Domingo writes for PC Magazine, “… resist the temptation to simply go for the lowest price. Instead, invest in systems that will get the job done for years to come.”
According to Peter Alexander in Entrepreneur Magazine, “Storing information and managing its storage is critical to a company’s behind-the-scenes success.” Keeping your data protected, secure, and confidential should be one of your highest priorities.
There are plenty of storage options, ranging from flash drives and external hard drives to Network-Attached Storage (NAS) and online cloud solutions. Securing that data, however, is another matter.
For that, you’ll want a security software package that provides antivirus, malware protection, and a robust firewall. Make sure your solution protects your email and smartphones, too.
If the choices seem overwhelming, try a managed storage service. Says Alexander, “A managed service – for which you pay a regular monthly fee – may be the most affordable option for cash-strapped small businesses.”
Many people today are disconnecting their landlines and replacing them with mobile smartphones. Does this trend fit with business needs? Jim Gustke, vice president of marketing at Ooma, doesn’t think so. According to Gustke, “… even the smallest of businesses can benefit from a central business phone system, because it presents a unified face to customers, employees, and partners. Mobile phone plans are simply not set up to offer the same business features.”
You will need a dedicated smartphone, of course. Many entrepreneurs spend more time on their smartphones than on computers. And for your business phone system, make sure to investigate both options: a landline with your local provider, or a VoIP solution.
First, to connect at all, you’ll need an internet service provider (ISP). This will likely be your local cable provider or telephone company. Both have distinct advantages and disadvantages, so be sure to find out what they offer.
Then you’ll need a modem to connect to that service and a router to create your wireless network. Remember, you won’t be streaming movies or playing games here, so you need reliability not high-end speed. Most ISPs provide these for a monthly fee, but you’re better off purchasing your own.
If you travel a lot, you should consider an aircard. An aircard (also sometimes referred to as mobile WiFi, USB broadband, etc.) is like a wireless phone for your laptop. Beware that data plans can be pricey, depending on how much bandwidth you need. But for some mobile business owners, the aircard is an absolute must.
Every business needs software. Here are a few of the most basic requirements:
- An office suite with word processing, spreadsheets, and presentation software
- Software for accounting and payroll
- Software for managing your contacts
- Email and scheduling software
In addition, most businesses require specialized software and licenses to conduct their operations. Make sure you consider these up front when you’re planning your IT spend.
For most start-ups, a laptop can be your all-in-one business machine. Laptop computers can serve both in the office and on the go, which means you can run your business wherever you are.
- Processor Speed. You don’t need high-end here, but you don’t want the cheapest, either. A good, mid-range processor is more than adequate for most small business needs.
- Memory. RAM helps your processor multitask, keeping multiple programs and windows open. Higher is better, of course. Make sure to find out if your laptop comes with any open memory slots. If so, that can be an easy future upgrade.
- Storage. Music, photos, and videos eat up your personal computer’s space. You don’t need those on most business machines. As long as you keep multimedia to a minimum, a smaller hard drive will do fine.
- Screen size. A larger screen size is better for displaying more data, and reduces the need to scroll as often. The downfall is extra bulk and weight. This is a personal choice, so judge carefully what’s more important to you.
You’ll want to attach a real mouse to your laptop for ease of use. Find one that’s small enough to be portable but feels good in your hand. All you need is two buttons and a scroll wheel, so don’t overspend.
Monitor and Projector Displays
For those long hours at your workstation, connecting to a widescreen monitor can be a huge plus. Most laptops have VGA and/or HDMI outputs for external displays. Those outputs connect to projectors too. Or bring your own. With your own portable projector, you won’t worry about the venue’s equipment. And you won’t waste time fussing over compatibility and settings either.
Your first printer should be an all-in-one model with capabilities to print, scan, and fax. And it should be wireless, too. An inkjet printer is fine for this, as you’ll likely send your high volume jobs to a print shop.