If you’re like most small business owners, you can’t afford to make bad decisions. One of the most critical decisions to get right is the computer system that best fits your business needs. Computers can be the cornerstone of your small business operations or, at the least, they are tools that provide important administrative support for your company’s financial and customer service needs.
Know What You Need
Choosing the right computing devices, as with most technology purchases, should start with some time thinking about your needs and preferences for how you’ll use your technology.
For instance, someone who spends most of their time with email or spreadsheets will likely need less computing horsepower than someone who edits video or hosts videoconferences frequently.
Purchase equipment Designed for Business
As you begin shopping, it’s helpful to resist the temptation to cut costs by outfitting your team members with computers designed for consumer use. Business-oriented computers will cost more, but will also include more memory and storage, and will likely have more durable construction quality than consumer PCs.
Business computers will also offer advanced security and networking features not found on consumer devices.
Another potential benefit of business-focused computers will be a comparative lack of built-in software and games that are typically bundled with consumer PCs. While these trial versions of applications help reduce the cost, they can also degrade the performance of your new computing devices.
Windows or Mac?
Another important factor when choosing computers for your small business is whether you prefer using Windows or Apple computers.
Because so much small business software depends on cloud applications, choosing Windows or Macs depends largely on personal preference (unless you or your business partners depend on specialized software that only runs on one platform or the other).
Generally speaking, Windows PCs tend to be less expensive for an equivalent computing power than their Apple counterparts.
If your small business uses cloud applications for its most common software functions, you’ll be able to access and update files using either operating system. Similarly, the ability to share files between an Apple laptop and an iPhone could be a convenient feature for some users.
Invest in Quality
Regardless of which operating system you choose, it’s a good idea to avoid bargain-basement computing devices. For example, you can order a Windows- compatible PC for around $300, but such a device is likely to have a slow or outdated processor, as well as less-than-optimal build quality.
What may look like a bargain at first glance is likely to be frustrating to use and, given the importance of the work you are trying to accomplish, the resulting loss of productivity will more than cancel out the savings from buying a cheap computer.
Choosing a Laptop
Laptop computers are the most commonly chosen devices for businesses of all sizes, and they can offer some compelling advantages.
The most obvious one, of course, is their increased portability over desktop devices. With so many of us working at least part of the time away from the workplace, the increased mobility makes a laptop almost mandatory for some workers. Even for devices that are almost always in the workplace, their smaller size and improved energy efficiency can make laptops more attractive.
Potential drawbacks of laptop devices, though, include their generally smaller screen and lack of a full-sized keyboard. Another potential disadvantage is that laptops are more vulnerable to theft than desktop machines.
A laptop is likely to be more expensive, and offer less storage, than a desktop in a comparable price range. The comparatively smaller storage capacity may be less of a consideration if your business depends primarily on cloud applications.
In choosing a laptop, pay attention to devices marketed as being designed for business users. While these will generally start in the $700 price range, they will offer features such as larger amounts of RAM memory (you want to look for around 8GB) and more durability than less expensive devices. Some business computers will also offer advanced security features, such as automatic encryption or fingerprint-based password capabilities.
Choosing a Desktop
While laptops are generally more popular among business users, desktops still have their place in many offices because they offer some attractive advantages.
Desktops remain a good choice, for instance, if a computer is not likely to leave the workplace. For example, a computer used by a bookkeeper, receptionist, service manager, or similar positions probably doesn’t need mobility features that would dictate choosing a laptop.
Desktops also offer comparatively more power, at a lower cost, than laptops, and a higher storage capacity. Another potential advantage is that desktop machines are easier to upgrade (such as by adding memory or a larger hard drive) than laptops.
Budget models start as low as $300 (without a monitor), with 4GB of RAM and a 320GB hard disk, but business users should aim for 8GB and 1 TB of hard-drive storage (which makes the investment closer to $500 and up).
Tablets Gaining Momentum
For business users, tablets are more likely to be used as supplementary devices to their primary computers. Tablets offer portability as well as the ability to perform basic computing functions (such as email, web browsing) as well as the ability to access, often through companion apps, data, and functions from cloud applications and services.
The lack of a dedicated keyboard can be an impediment to mobile productivity, so many device manufacturers offer Bluetooth keyboards that connect wirelessly to tablet devices.
The best computers for your small business will depend on your company’s needs. Make sure you take some time to talk with your employees and get their feedback. Take your time and do your research. It’s likely your decision will be a blend of devices that serve different purposes to help the company achieve its business goals.