Computer Essentials for Small Business

A simple plan will make technology work for you

Every small business can benefit from using computers, but choosing the right ones can be a daunting task. Do you need one computer or many? Is something big and powerful required? Or will less expensive models do. Are laptops the way to go if you plan to be mobile? What kinds of software will you be running, and will your computers be connected to things like point-of-sale equipment or a time-and-attendance system? And those are but a few of the questions you'll face. To select the best systems for your needs, you'll need a strategy, and it starts with:
  1. A quality PC
  2. Internet access
  3. A firewall and/or router
  4. A Web site and email service
  5. Business accounting software
  6. A data backup and recovery plan
  7. A preventative maintenance plan
You may also need specialized applications for your particular business or industry, a network server for shared applications and file storage if you have multiple employees who need simultaneous PC access, and possibly an IT manager or consultant to help as your business grows.

Buy a quality PC

This is your business, so you don't want to cobble together a PC you picked up at a yard sale. Only buy a laptop if you need the mobility. Get a minimum of 512 MB of RAM (1 GB is better) and at least an 80 GB hard drive. Processors and their speeds in newer PCs are nearly all powerful enough for 99 percent of small business needs.

Select a vendor that's also a technology partner

It's easy to just place an order for computers online. But finding a vendor who can help you make the right computer choices from among many manufcturers is more difficult.

Get Internet access

Internet access will help you connect with customers and use online services, like software and data backup services, which can simplify your technology challenges. Contact your local Internet Service Provider to find your availability options and rates, as well as cable and phone companies, which also usually offer Internet service.

Get safe Internet access

To make your Internet service safe and protect you from hackers, viruses, spyware and adware, you're going to need a software or hardware (router) firewall, and virus protection software.

Build a Web site and get email

The ISP you choose may also have packages available to help you build a Web site and get email service, but you may want to use a dedicated Web hosting company that offers a broader range of features.

Choose your business accounting software

You can buy a dedicated software package to install on your PC or use an online hosted service.

Create a data backup and recovery plan

You can burn CDs, DVDs or use a USB thumb drive to manually copy and backup data, or use a dedicated backup application that works with a separate hard drive, network drive or online backup service so you don't lose mission-critical data.

Plan for preventive PC maintenance

You'll need to clean, defragment and check for errors on your hard drive, as well as install patches or security updates.
  • Don't forget the low-tech side of computer maintenance and protection: Have a technician blow dust out of your computers with compressed air, use disk cleaning kits, turn keyboards upside down and gently knock out the junk, and plug power cords into surge suppressors.