If you are thinking of starting a business then, at some point, you will probably need to consider a computer and that will, most likely, be a laptop.
Browse online shopping sites or wander into your local electrical retailer chain and you will see shelves of laptops, possibly in different colours and slightly different sizes but otherwise nothing to distinguish one from another, other than a load of numbers, acronyms and a price tag.
Most (normal) people have better things to do with their time than understand the specifications, how an SSD differs from an HDD, the differences between the models from each brand and even versions of Microsoft Windows 10.
Some things are down to personal preferences such as look and feel, that you can easily decide for yourself, but what about the more important things that make it fast, reliable and suitable for business use?
Over the years I have recommended, supplied and setup hundreds of laptops for customers.
Some customers prefer me to supply and setup the laptop while others prefer to source the laptop from an online store then have it setup by me and some simply source the recommended laptop themselves and I don’t hear from them for a while but I am pleased to discover when they ring up about something that they bought the laptop I had recommended.
I would always prefer people get the right machine rather than the wrong one – even if I don’t make a sale.
So, if you don’t have time to read much further – my recommended starting point would be a laptop with a 15.6” 1920×1080 resolution screen, an Intel Core-i5 processor, 8GB RAM, 256GB SSD for storage and Microsoft Windows 10 Pro.
For the last few years, the Intel Core-i5 processor has met most needs as have 8GB RAM and 256GB local storage. Conventional HDDs (Hard Disk Drives) with their moving parts have been replaced by SSDs (Solid State Drives) which are electronic with no moving parts. The moving parts have held back speed improvements over the years to the point where the disk became the major performance bottleneck. As the volume of sales of SSDs has gone up the price has come down and this makes them essential rather than preferable. You get more storage capacity for your money with a hard drive but if you need to store the amount of data that needs that capacity then I recommend you look at Cloud, NAS devices or servers to store that extra information.
Windows 10 Pro
I recommend Windows 10 Pro for businesses rather than Windows 10, the home edition. It is more expensive, but the added features are worth the additional cost. If you grow your business to a point where you want to join your machine to several other computers and possibly a server this is important but, more importantly, Windows 10 Pro comes with something called BitLocker which means the drive can be easily encrypted without additional software that can add unwanted complexity and costs.
Encryption protects your data from unwanted access in the event of theft or loss of the laptop and helps you meet a GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) requirement that most businesses need to comply with. GDPR requires you to protect customer and employee data that you hold on your systems.
A laptop with a 15.6” screen is a decent size for viewing but light enough to carry around. The resolution of 1920×1080 will also mean you can fit a decent amount of information on a screen without forever having to scroll up and down. When working from your main base, you may also consider adding a larger second screen, such as a 24” monitor that can be connected to the laptop so you can spread your work out across 2 screens. A docking station will also allow you to have a couple of large screens, network, full size keyboard and mouse connections to the laptop but through a single connection to the laptop rather than having to connect and disconnect everything when you decide to move to another location.
Most business laptops typically come with a 1-year return-to-base or carry-in warranty. Onsite warranties are preferable to minimise down time in the event of a hardware related issue but like most insurance policies you need to weigh up the costs and probabilities. Typically, if the price is right, I would recommend adding a 3-year onsite warranty though.
Windows vs Mac
Most people will typically go for a windows-based computer because that is what they are used to although some industries use Mac devices.
Usually a windows-based computer will be cheaper than a Mac for the same performance and if you are unfamiliar with a Mac then it may take some adapting to. (I’ve also had customers who use Macs find Windows-based machines difficult to adapt to though)
Some laptops will have an optical drive for CD’s and DVD’s but these are not essential for most users as the majority of software will be downloaded from the Internet or preloaded and configure by someone like me. Laptop manufacturers are offering machines with no optical drive as it reduces costs a little, makes them lighter and slimmer.
Single Point of Failure, backups and retention
Never store anything just on the laptop drive and never store anything just on an external flash drive or USB hard drive. If you accidentally delete a file or the drive fails, then you have lost the file – and probably a lot more.
Data backups are important but so are disaster recovery images. If you accidentally delete a file or overwrite it, you will want a quick way to recover the previous version of a file. If your laptop has a drive failure or is attacked by malware or a ransomware attack the entire system may need recovering. Disaster recover images recover an entire system to a state where you can get working again much more quickly than wiping the disk, reinstalling everything, reconfiguring everything, linking to all you email accounts, cloud accounts, finding license keys for software apps you’ve installed since you bought it, etc.
Some professions are required to retain certain types of information for several years. HMRC require all businesses to store employee payroll data, tax data, etc for several years and GDPR adds additional requirements. You need to make sure the data is safe, can be recovered if needed and is retained for the required number of years.
Security and Updates
It is essential that you have decent security monitoring & Protection services on your machines. This will help protect you from emails with dodgy links, phishing scams, etc, dodgy websites you might click when doing a Google search. Nothing is 100% secure so you need to be vigilant and not complacent. Staff awareness training can help keep you and your staff aware of the latest risks and what to look out for.
All systems should be kept up to date. Windows along with all the apps you install and use on your machine. This is a GDPR requirement too.
Security, updates and backups are essential.
Microsoft 365 (previously named Office 365)
Microsoft recently rebranded the Office 365 offering as Microsoft 365. Added confusion possibly but the available options can be very cost effective, are always up to date and can be installed on several machines.
Using Microsoft 365 Exchange services makes email, calendar and contacts across multiple devices easy to manage.
Over the years many companies have tried to copy the features of Microsoft Exchange, but none have succeeded.
Microsoft Teams, a recent introduction adds the ability to arrange virtual meetings with staff and customers too.
Other things to consider
2FA or MFA – 2 Factor Authentication or Multi-Factor Authentication – this can help increase the protection of your online accounts and, where possible, should be activated.
A modern telephone service – having additional, expensive dedicated phone lines installed is no longer required. So long as you can access the internet then you can use a modern phone system. From your mobile, a desk phone or a cordless handset you can contact people and be contacted. Voicemails, call forwarding, auto-attendants (those -press 1 for sales, press 2 for support menus), along with many other features usually reserved for expensive office-based systems.
A scanner and shredder – start your business with the intention to be paperless. If you get paperwork try to scan it into your electronic system then, depending where you store things, it will be accessible whenever and wherever you are. The shredder is to safely prepare paperwork for disposal.
Accountants and Accounts Packages – Find an accountant and have a chat with them about what you want to do. They can give advice on various useful topics about the financial side of your business. Should you be a sole trader, limited, VAT registered and even suggest a suitable Accounts package to store all the financial information in. Having an accounts package that is easy for you to use but also makes it easy for your accountant to do your accounts is important and can also save you money.
Marketing – Mailchimp is a good way to start building up a mailing list and keeping your own customers and potential customers up to date with what you are doing
Social Media – Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram – which of these you should use will depend on your audience
Website – still important even if you use social media. Setup properly you can post you latest news to the website and let the website update your social media channels automatically
A standing desk – A comfortable chair – if you’re going to be sitting down then invest in a decent comfy chair but also consider a standing desk. Sitting for extended periods is not good for your metabolism or health in general. Sitting at home can be different to sitting in an office full of others who you more regularly get up to walk and talk to. If you have a desk already then consider something to stand on top of it so you can use your laptop at standing height. If you have conventional monitors, then variable height monitor arms can raise the screens to standing height or lower to a seated level.
Working from home – this can be a challenge for many people. Some people need that physical action of walking into an office building for their brains to switch into work mode. I’m fortunate and can walk into another room of the house and that’s enough (although I have also found running to the top of the stairs can make me forget why I went upstairs – but that’s probably an age thing). Try different ideas such as different rooms of the house, hold meetings away from the house in pubs, hotels, etc (when possible again), rent space in an office or rent an office if needed.
Using a trusted IT advisor can help you with the IT side of things. Someone like me and my company, tKnowIT Limited, can managing much of the monitoring, maintenance and management of IT systems along with providing useful consulting advice on what to buy and when, as well as settings everything up so that you can simply get on and use it.
If you’re starting a business or simply changing the way you work – I wish you the best of luck.
Nick Teasdale BEng(Hons) MIET