While you don’t have to be a computer expert to start a small business, IT planning is a necessary step. Unless you are already a computer guru, though, you may not know where to start.
This three step process isn’t exactly simple, but at the end you have a working list of your IT needs as well as an inventory that can be used for future planning and budgeting.
Step 1: Equipment Inventory
If you’re already in possession of any resources at all — be it a functional computer in need of upgrades or an old printer you can pull out of the garage — maintaining a detailed inventory is key to keeping track of the resources needed for your small business.
IT inventories should generally be as detailed as possible, but don’t worry about that too much right now. Getting on the right track with documenting your purchases just makes planning easier in the future.
Divide your resources into two main sections for hardware and software.
Include the following hardware details, if available:
- Item type/purpose
- Model number
- Date of purchase
- Technical specifications
- Warranty information
- Cost of item
- Expected life of item (with a little internet research you can often find this information via product reviews or other sources)
And for software:
- Software name/edition
- System requirements
- Registration key
- Number of licenses owned and license numbers
- Date of purchase
Gathering some of the above information will require a bit of research, but that just means your future IT purchases will be more informed.
Step 2: Needs Assessment
Now you know what you have. Time to look for the gaps that need filling.
Create a document that includes the following columns:
- Item name
- Item type
- Item cost
- Additional notes
Treat your needs assessment as a wish list and include everything you can think of that might make life easier for your small business.
IT wants versus needs will get sorted out in your budget.
Considerations for a business with a retail storefront:
- A cash register or a desktop computer with point of sale software
- A printer to generate receipts and sales reports
Considerations for any type of small business:
- IT outsourcing if you aren’t a computer guru yourself
- The number of work stations you will need
- Internet services and website design
- A database or other method for tracking retail inventory
- Accounting software to ensure accurate record-keeping
- Software options for compiling mailing lists and customer contact information
- When purchasing a new, pre-built workstation, a mouse and keyboard will generally be provided. However if a laptop is purchased as a primary workstation, you may want to consider adding an external mouse and keyboard, if not a full docking station.
- Make sure you are not only accounting for the main piece of equipment or software, but also for any peripherals you may need. Printers don’t always ship with all of the necessary cables, and certain business software requires a yearly tech support charge.
- When purchasing software to be used on more than one workstation, there are almost always multiple license fees to be considered.
Step 3: Budgeting
Now that you’ve compiled a full assessment of your small business’s IT needs, you’ll be heading back to the internet to do a bit more research.
Search for every item on your needs assessment, select the brand and version you prefer, and write down the price of each selection using the four-column list you made in step two. Use the “additional notes” column to store links to the websites where you found each item.
With pricing at hand, pare down the list until the total fits your finances. Eliminate items you can do without, and consider where you might save by buying a lower-end or refurbished piece of hardware.
As you make physical purchases, don’t forget to add them to your inventory.
Doing Your Research Now Saves Time and Money Later
As you work through this process you will become more comfortable with the technology in your office, or you may decide you’d rather look into outsourcing. Don’t worry; sometimes hiring a professional is the best thing for your small business.
IT consultants are no different than accountants or registered agents. They handle the details so that you can focus on the big picture: making your small business a success.