Technology to help your business

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Until you reach the point where your business is big enough to have its own IT department, it can be tricky to keep up with new technology.

Although a lot of hardware and apps focus on the consumer market, some developments definitely have businesses in mind.

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What hardware should you buy?

The most straightforward IT requirement for many businesses is hard-working computer systems that come at a reasonable price. 

With new products constantly launched on the market and endless updates available, trying to keep up can feel like you’re running to stand still.

Tips for buying hardware

  • When you’re running a business, a laptop for admin shouldn’t be an afterthought, so it’s worth spending at least £300 to get something modestly quick. 
  • We recommend at least 8GB of Ram for ensuring your laptop doesn’t run out of puff. 
  • Spend around £500 and you’ll get something with an Intel Core i3 or i5, or Ryzen 3 or 5 processor, which is plenty for admin tasks.
  • If you work on things such as graphics and design, you’ll want a laptop with dedicated graphics from Nvidia or AMD.
  • To save money on a more expensive device, consider buying refurbished (see our expert advice on buying a refurbished laptop or refurbished iPad).

Desktop, tablet or laptop?

Your business needs will dictate much of your choice between laptops, desktops and tablets.

Tablets are useful for their mobility and ease of use on site, while a computer (be that a laptop or a  desktop) is a better setup for anyone who is inputting large amounts of information and writing documents. However, if you prefer using a tablet, then you could buy a separate keyboard to make it easier when you do have to type in lots of information.

If you don’t ever need to take your device out and about, then you can get better specs for your money by choosing a desktop. They’re easier to upgrade than laptops, too. Plus, forget about the beige boxes of old – modern desktops can be tiny and take up very little room on your desk.

Otherwise, it’s likely that a laptop would best suit your needs. Some now have a touchscreen screen that flips all the way back, so you can also use it as a tablet. 

To help you choose the right model for you, see our expert laptop reviews and desktop PC reviews. For more advice on which model and specs you need, plus our expert pick of the best models for a range of budgets, see our best laptops guide.

If your business uses tablets, see our independent tablet reviews to help you make the right choice. We also have expert advice on which model to buy, plus our pick of models that excel in our tough lab tests, at best tablets.

Whatever device you choose, make sure you have a good backup system in place. Consider using cloud-based storage, too, as it will keep your data safe if anything happens to your device or, if you have one, external hard drive backup system.  

Apps to help small businesses

Apps can help make running a small business easier, and the great news is that there are thousands available to meet every possible need you might have.

Across Android and Apple, you’ll find applications that can do everything from tracking expenses and issuing invoices to sharing files and even navigating regulation.

They give you access to information and processing while on the move, and most can be used from your tablet or smartphone. 

Of course, some apps are better than others, and you may have to pay to get the product that’s best for your organisation. Here are some of the timesavers worth considering.

Regulatory compliance apps

  •       CDM Wizard

Created by CIBT (the industry training board for the construction sector in England, Scotland and Wales), this app helps ensure that you are compliant with CDM 2015 regulations.

Simply answer a series of box-tick questions about the job you’re planning to carry out and the app will generate the Construction Phase Plan that’s required under the regulation.

The action plan can be viewed instantly and shared with whoever needs it. It will include:

  •               Details of your job and activities
  •               Potential health and safety risks
  •               Measures to stay healthy and safe.

The app is free. It can be downloaded on Apple, Android, and there’s even a desktop version for computers and laptops.

Information-sharing apps

There are loads of file storage and sharing apps available, and the right one for you will depend on your budget. Here are some of the main players to consider.

  • Microsoft OneDrive For Business

If your business is already using Microsoft, then the simplest option for file-sharing is likely to be OneDrive. It’s integrated with Microsoft Exchange, 365 and Teams – making collaboration easy.

Business plans start at £4.10 per month per user for a standalone OneDrive subscription. This allows for file sharing and gives you 1TB of cloud storage.

The Business Basic plan is £4.90 per month, and adds web and mobile versions of Microsoft 365 apps, the ability to chat, call or have online meetings with up to 300 attendees, business class email, standard security, and anytime phone and web support.

The Microsoft 365 Business Standard plan is more than twice as expensive as the basic option, but added features include desktop versions of Microsoft 365 apps, the ability to host webinars, attendee registration and reporting tools, and the ability to manage customer appointments.

You can explore all three plans here.

  •   Dropbox

Dropbox is probably one of the most famous file-sharing solutions. Its free solution gives you 2GB of space to store and access files. However, there are also several options for sole traders and small businesses.

The Essentials account for professionals costs £18 per month on an annual subscription, and gives you 3TB of storage, large file delivery up to 100GB, 180 days to restore deleted files, the ability to track file engagement, unlimited signature requests, PDF editing and allows you to record, review and edit video.

The Business account is for companies with three or more users. Each user gets the same benefits as with the Essential account, but it’s slightly cheaper at £16 per month per user, and you can set up admins and know what content is shared.

The Business Plus account comes with more storage, the ability to share bigger files, the option for a tiered admin structure, suspicious activity alerts, and compliance tracking.

  •   Box

Box has several file sharing solutions designed specifically for businesses.

The Business account costs £12 per month per user and is paid annually. This includes benefits such as organisation-wide collaboration, the ability to upload files up to 5GB, unlimited storage, technical support during local business hours, 1,500-plus integrations with products such as Google Workspace, Microsoft Office, Salesforce, Slack and Teams, unlimited e-signatures via web app, standard workflow automation and data-loss protection.

The next level up is Business Plus at £20 per month per user and is paid annually. This allows you to work with external collaborators, increases maximise file size for upload, and adds advanced search filters and customer metadata and metadata templates.

There are also more expensive enterprise solutions, which offer advanced content management and data protection. Starting from £28 per month per user and paid annually, advantages include document watermarking, two-factor authentication (2FA) for external users and password policy enforcement.

  •   Evernote

Evernote is a note-taking app that allows you to jot down ideas, sketches and pictures and then upload them to the cloud. This means you can review your documents, text or images whenever and wherever you want. You can find notes by searching for keywords, dates, content types and titles, including notes in handwriting. You can also create tasks inside notes so you can track your workflow.

There’s a free plan that allows you to sync up to two devices, upload 60MB of notes per month, clip webpages, and attach PDFs, receipts, files, photos, images and documents.

The Personal account, which costs £79.99 a year has unlimited devices as well as higher monthly uploads and max file sizes. It also allows users to add extra widgets, connect primary google calendars, add due dates notifications and reminders for tasks, get offline access on mobile and desktop, and search for text in images and PDFs.

The Professional account costs Pay £104.99 a year. You get higher storage limits, the ability to assign tasks to others, and track and manage progress, use words and symbols, such as AND or NOT, that let you expand or narrow your search parameters, geographic search options, the ability to export your notebooks as PDFs and integration with Microsoft Teams, Slack and more.

Finance apps

Accountancy software can make filing your personal and company tax returns a doddle. And as the government’s Making Tax Digital initiative comes into force, businesses will have to keep digital records, use scheme-compliant software and submit updates every quarter. If your business has an annual income of £50,000 or more, you’ll need to complete this process by 6 April 2026. Smaller businesses will have an extra year.

Helpfully, the government has a helpful list of compliant software providers. These are:

  •       123 Sheets
  •       APARI
  •       Cirrostratus Exedra Ltd
  •       FreeAgent
  •       IRIS Accountancy Suite  
  •       QuickBooks Online (Intuit)
  •       Sage
  •       Tax Bridge: The Drivers App
  •       Untied
  •       Vital Tax
  •   Xero

HMRC also lists some of the key features of each piece of software on its website, and a list of software that’s been built, but is still in the process of getting full HMRC recognition. This includes popular solutions such as Dext Prepare and QuickFile.

When choosing a solution, the key things to consider are price, added features, ease of use, dashboard information, app integrations, bank integrations, security and mobile apps.

You may also need a dedicated business bank account. Most traditional banks offer this, but there are also digital challengers set up with businesses in mind, such as Coconut, Starling and Tide.

If you don’t have accountancy software, you may also want to think about apps that make it easier to pay staff. Payanywhere and PayPal Here allow you to accept credit and debit card payments, and ensure that the money has arrived safely. You can also create customised bank invoices.

Finance apps

Other app solutions you might want to consider include:

  •       Apps for time management and tracking such  as Clockify, MinuteDock or Timesheet Portal.
  •       Industry-specific apps such as ServiceM8 which is designed to help trade contractors cut out paperwork and provide better customer service.
  •       Apps to help with assigning shifts or scheduling staff such as RosterElf, Deputy, RosterElf or Planday.
  •       Apps to help with job tracking such as AroFlo, Fergus, Timely and Tradify.
  •       Apps to help with payroll such as Tanda or UpSheets.

Prices correct as of October 2023.