The desktop PC or laptop has become so ingrained into UK society that it is almost as common as the TV set. According to the Office of National Statistics the highest income group, 98 per cent of households, owned a home computer and 97 per cent had internet connection in 2009. This compares with 38 per cent of households who owned a home computer and 30 per cent and had an internet connection in the lowest income group.
We've seen similar growth in UK business, with even the most humble one-man operation seeing direct benefits from having an online presence. But as with any business purchase, it's important to be clear what a computer can do for your business. After all, there's no point splashing out on a top of the range PC just to use it for email or word processing.
To help demonstrate what using a computer can add to your business, here's a list of some of the main advantages:
Virtually every type of business communication is now online. You can pay bills, order stock, file tax returns, network, advertise for staff and, of course, sell your products. What's more you can do all of this when it is convenient for you instead of squeezing in trips to the bank.
Every businesses has to produce literature of some kind or another, whether it be promotional brochures; letters; invoices; posters or staff documents. Producing your own is simple; saves printing costs and gives an air of efficiency.
If you're organised, chances are that you're efficient. But despite their numerous pretty colours, post-it notes just won't do. Your accounts, stock level and orders, sales and contact details should be stored on computer so that if you need to know anything about your business, it's only a click away.
Data has never been so important or valuable. If you collect the details of your customers you can contact them again when you're running a special offer or to let them know about new lines you're releasing. By having the details of a solid customer base stored on computer, you can do much of your marketing yourself.
'The paperless office' might be a myth, but it's important to ensure all your company documentation and records are stored on file. Not only does it save space, but back-up copies can be invaluable in the unfortunate case of fire, flooding or theft.
Incorporating a computer into your business, in the simplest terms, should make you more efficient. It should save you time and money that you can reinvest into actually running and growing your business – not administering it.
Here are some of the most common objections to using computers – and the reasons why they don't make sense:
“I like to interact with my customers.” Great, don't stop. But consider this, do they like the way and the time that you interact with them? Also, are you missing out on ways of building this relationship?
“I know where things are at the moment.” Once again, great. But is it taking up too much room? Can you see your invoices, orders, customer history and bank balance all at the same time without routing through reams of folders? What will happen as your business starts to grow and what if you're unfortunate to suffer a fire, or are burgled?
“I haven't got time.” If all your records are filed on computer correctly, everything should be just a click away. A short amount of time spent installing the right system will save you hours in the long run.
“I can't afford it”. Time and money are often associated with each other, and quite rightly so. Investment in IT equipment will allow you to spend more time chasing orders, pursing new avenues and growing your business, and will soon be recouped. It could also be cheaper than taking on a member of staff.
“I wouldn't be able to work it” The majority of packages that you're likely to be using are often simple to use and designed for the inexperienced. If you're completely new to computers you should view a training course in basic computing as an investment in your business, in the same sense that a 'how to manage accounts and taxation' course might be.
How to buy a business computer
Buying a PC for your business should be as easy as buying any office office equipment. Here we look at the three main places you should look:
Large retail stores
The big boys buy in bulk and so can offer low prices. This also gives them the ability to offer incentives such as a 'free printer'. Also, they often have sales where you can pick-up considerable discounts.
They predominantly cater for consumers and so the cheapest packages won't be targeted at businesses.
Big retailers offer low-cost packages that are always worth having a look at – especially at sale time. However, check that you actually want the bargain you're buying and that it meets your business' needs.
Small independent stores
Smaller stores will build the computer you need, and you're likely to be dealing with someone who knows their stuff instead of a pushy salesperson.
They can't offer the low-cost prices that the larger stores are able to.
Consider a small retailer if you want a machine to meet specific needs. If you only want it for basic office jobs and the internet, check the price matches that offered by larger retailers or on the net – because it probably won't.
Simplest way to compare costs and you can buy direct from the manufacturers. Some sites such as Dell allow you to add and remove individual components from packages and immediately refresh the price.
You'll need to telephone or email if you've got any questions.
Don't be scared to buy online. It's the easiest way to compare prices, it offers the widest choice and could end up saving you hundreds, or even thousands, of pounds.
You don't have to know how a hard drive works to negotiate for the one that you want, and shouldn't let yourself be persuaded by a salesperson who appears to be more knowledgeable than you are. In turn, speak to as many people as you can and listen to their advice – even if you end up not taking it.
Don't be rushed into buying a package that looks a good deal but isn't quite what you want. Computer suppliers are becoming more flexible in the way that they sell their products and you shouldn't be afraid to ask for a mix-and-match of two packages.
Finally, once you've made your decision, be prepared for the extended warranty and technical support sales pitch. It'd be unfair of us to say these policies either are or aren't worth having, but check your own insurance first and then the small print – particularly the cost of calls to helplines.