If you’re at the beginning of your journey to starting a business, it’s easy to get your head turned with all the shiny technology tools out there. You’ve just got to have a smartwatch! The biggest laptop! Or That top-of-the-line tablet. In reality… you don’t need most of that stuff. You can always grow your technology once you turn a profit, but start conservatively and only buy what’s going to help you launch and grow your business. Here’s a rule of thumb: ask yourself Why three times before buying any technology for your small business. Here are some ideas on where to start.
1. A Computer
It doesn’t really matter if it’s a laptop or a desktop, but consider your specific needs. Do you need to be mobile and have access to your documents and emails while having the functionality of a full keyboard? If so, a laptop might be best. Whatever you buy, be sure to get the three-year crash and burn warranty.
On the other hand, if you will spend the majority of your time working at your desk, a desktop computer with a decent-sized screen may make you more comfortable while working.
Bonus Tech Tip: Pay attention to when a computer company is about to release a new product. This is an excellent time to snag last year’s model at a sizeable discount since stores will want to clear their older inventory to make room for the newest model.
2. A Credit Card Reader
If you plan to sell items in-person or online, you must accept credit cards. Doing so will make it easier for you to make more money, and it entices people who don’t carry cash to buy from you.
You’ve got a few choices here. The first traditional option is a larger card reader. This is the machine you swipe your card at every time you buy something at the grocery store. When you sign up for services with a merchant card processing company, they’ll likely offer you several options for this machine.
In reality, you might not need it. You can also manage quite well with a mobile card reader, which affixes to your smartphone or tablet and lets you run credit and debit cards and process them on your device. The reader is usually cheap or free with your card processing service.
Bonus Tech Tip: While you probably won’t need to ask (since it’s becoming the standard for card payments), make sure the card reader you get is EMV compliant. That means it can read the chip cards that you insert rather than swipe.
3. A Smartphone
I don’t know what I’d do without my smartphone. It lets me schedule appointments on the go (and remind me when I need to be somewhere), talk to clients, and check my email. You can also access your cloud-based VoIP phone through your smartphone while you’re away from your desk. If you’re rarely in the office, your smartphone will be your personal assistant and best friend all wrapped up into one neat technology package. The good news is: you probably already have one. If yours is older and slow to load apps, see if you’re eligible for an upgrade. It’s worth it to shell out a little more for a highly-rated phone rather than automatically opting for the cheapest available. Smartwatches are quickly becoming a staple among today’s consumers. Make sure you have a smartwatch charger that keeps up with your busy lifestyle.
Bonus Tech Tip: Buy the insurance for your smartphone. You want to make sure you can get another one quickly if you ever lose or damage your phone.
4. A Tablet…or Hybrid Device
Tablets are fun, aren’t they? Don’t assume you need one, though. I’d say that businesses that are retail-based, such as a restaurant or spa, or a service business that needs to demonstrate their digital work, such as a design firm or architect, would best benefit from buying a tablet. They’re light enough to throw in your purse or briefcase and are great tools to process credit card payments, place orders, or close business in a sales presentation.
Bonus Tech Tip: See if a hybrid device that is a tablet and laptop all-in-one could work for what you need. If you only need a tablet 10% of the time, this could be the best option.
Strategies for Smart Technology Purchases
I don’t care how badly you want a piece of technology — wait on the decision. Let it simmer and really consider your needs. Do you really need a top-of-the-line solution, or would a model from a generation ago do the job?
It can pay off hugely to look for sales and pay attention to pricing. As I mentioned, newer products make older ones more affordable. Also look for holidays (especially Black Friday and Back to School) when technology is marked down. And if you’re buying online, look for coupon codes to get free shipping or even a percent off of your purchase.
Yes, you need technology to run your business. Just be selective about what you buy initially, and plan to grow your collection as you grow your bank account.
Melinda is a founder and president of Quintessence Group, an award-winning marketing consulting firm based in Philadelphia, PA, serving Fortune 500 brands who target small businesses.