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Choosing IT for your business

Nearly every business has at least some sort of IT requirement. Here’s an overview of what you need to think about when choosing IT for your business.

What is connectivity?

In IT terms this is about connecting devices to each other so they can pass data between them. For some businesses this might involve little more than connecting a single computer to the internet, and hooking-up a printer. For others, it might require creating networks of computers, routers, servers, storage devices, etc.

What sort of hardware and connectivity do I need to run a small one-person business?

If you’re a one-person band – or to use a buzz-phrase, a ‘micro-business’ – you may be able to get along very nicely with just a few pieces of kit.

Basic kit

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Your basic requirements are probably a computer, a portable storage device, and a printer. 

If you’re only going to have one computer, opt for a laptop / notebook over a desktop as this gives you more flexibility, e.g. you can take it to a customer’s premises.

Select a model that’s been designed for business use – more fashionable-looking machines can prove to be flimsier ones. 

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Make sure you get a printer that also scans and copies. It helps if it can connect wirelessly to your computer so that you don’t need to bother with a cable.  

Before you choose a printer, check-out the price of ink refills – or as they’re called in the trade, ‘toner cartridges’.

Some printers are inexpensive, but you get stung when you need to buy more ink. It can be more cost-effective in the long run to get a printer that’s more expensive but has cheaper ink refills.  

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Backup your work to an external storage device at least once a week. Losing your computer would be bad enough, but losing all the work that’s on would be even worse. 

Try to keep two copies of anything that’s important. If you remove files from your computer to save space, remember to copy them to two external devices. Ideally, keep these in separate places. 

Here are the websites of some of the companies that provide backup software: 

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What hardware do I need to run a business that has several people?

If your business employs a few people, chances are you’ll have outgrown the kitchen table or the spare room and have your own workspace.

  • Network

    Rather than having stand-alone computers, you’ll probably need a network. This means that when it comes to sharing files, you don’t have to keep saving documents to memory sticks and passing them around from one machine to another – instead you access centrally stored files. The network also enables everyone to connect to shared devices, such as printers, and to the internet. If there are just a few of you, and you don’t have complex application needs, you could manage with a NAS (network additional storage). The NAS is basically a hard drive where you store all your shared files. A NAS can cost around £400.

  • Router

    To run a network you’ll also need a router. This the device that links all the kit – the computers, the NAS, the printer, etc. Routers for business start at around £100. Everything can be connected using Ethernet cables – those ones that often come in bright colours – or wirelessly (as long as your router and other devices can work wirelessly, and there aren’t too many walls blocking the signal). As well as directing data between the different computers on the network, the router also provides what’s called a hardware firewall – it sits between the computers and the internet, blocking out anything it doesn’t trust.

  • Firewall

    There are two types of firewall in a network. As well as the hardware firewall provided by the router, each computer also needs a software firewall. This sits between the computer and the network. If one of the computers still gets a virus (e.g. through an infected memory stick) the software firewalls on the other machines help to protect them from catching the virus.

  • Server

    If you need a device that’s going to do more than just store data – for instance to run databases, websites, etc – you may need to take a step up from a NAS and get a server. Now you’re getting into big-boys/girls territory, both in terms of the costs (£1,000 and more) and the technical abilities required to set-up and maintain servers. You’ll also need network servers if you have more than 10 or so people. Or, instead of going to the expense of getting additional hardware and software, you could use cloud hosting. With this, you work online and your data is automatically saved and stored on a vendor’s servers. As long as there’s a good internet connection, you and your people can sign-on and work from anywhere.

  • Cloud

    To use the cloud, you pay a monthly fee for each person, or up to a certain number of people. If you need to upscale or downscale, you simply adjust what you’re paying. Many small businesses are seeing the cloud as a way of reducing their internal IT burden – the cloud vendor looks after the software, the data and the security, and you concentrate on running your business. Using cloud services gets around the problem of how you and your people access shared data when away from your premises. Obviously, your cloud provider needs to be reputable, have excellent security, and deliver great service. Before signing-up, check their service level agreement (SLA) to find out what they’re committing to regarding uptime (typically 99%+), and what compensation they give if they fail to hit this target.

  • Point of sale

    If you’re in retail, you’re going to need at least one point of sale (POS) terminal with associated items such as a chip and pin reader for card payments, barcode scanner, cash drawer, receipt printer, cash drawer, keyboard, customer display, etc.

Checklist: What software do I need?

You may need software that’s specific to your industry. For example, 3-d designers might have CAD software, online retailers may have e-commerce software, and so on. Here’s some information on the types of software that nearly all businesses need. Login to save this checklist to your profile for future use. (To register to join and enjoy the benefits of membership click on the link at the top right of the page. It will only take a few minutes to create your profile).

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What phone and internet arrangements do I need?

Here’s how you can connect to the outside world

Dedicated business line

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If you’re running your business from home, you might be able to manage with your existing domestic phone line and internet connection.

But maybe you’ll need to consider getting a dedicated business line and upgrading your broadband. Almost certainly, you’ll need dedicated business email – maybe one of the free ones, like:

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VoIP services

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You could sign-up with a VoIP (voice over internet protocol) service like Skype, or Google+ Hangouts.

These services let you communicate over the internet, for free, with other people who are also signed up – such as customers, suppliers and associates – using text, audio and video.

You can also buy credit to make and receive Skype calls from your computer – calling a landline or mobile this way is normally cheaper than the usual rates.

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Business broadband package

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If you’ve got your own premises, to connect to the internet you’ll need a business broadband package that comes with a higher level of support than for a domestic service.

You could also get your broadband supplier to provide a separate line for VoIP. This will enable you to have a number of different phone numbers through just the single line.

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Checklist: What sort of support will I need?

Here are the key things you need to consider about IT support. By logging in you can save this checklist to your profile for future use. (To register to join and enjoy the benefits of membership click on the link at the top right of the page. It will only take a few minutes to create your profile).

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