Each small business has requirements on what gadgets can be used. You may work; at home, in a coffee shop, out in your truck or other non-standard office. I have talked to many small business people about their gadgets and technology, observing what they use and how they use it. Many people are limited by their experience level and lack of interest in learning about the latest and greatest tech. I think this is generally a healthy approach to using technology. I believe that using second or third wave tech is the best way to use technology in business.
What is a first, second or third wave of technology? If you think of the latest phones released, for instance an iPhone 5 or a Samsung Galaxy S4 smartphone, this is a first wave device. When these first wave devices come out the previous latest device, iPhone 4S and Samsung Galaxy S3, are now in the second wave. The acquisition price usually drops and the availability is high. To get to the third wave go back yet another generation of devices and you get the point. The advantages of second and third wave devices are:
- Lower cost
- Stable software and services
- Known usage and usefulness of systems
- Supported standards (USB, HDMI etc)
The problems associated with first wave are just the opposite of the list above while the problems with fourth and higher waves are:
- Unsupported software and hardware
- Missing advantageous technology
- Old standards that do not interface with other devices
You have to have a laptop or access to a laptop for at least occasional use. There is no substitute for accessing all things you will need in a small business. Whether it is filing forms and taxes or accessing online banking services to get the full range of functions and be able to do it efficiently and quickly you need a laptop. Which laptop you use depends upon whether your business is digital and requires heavy graphics or software development. If not then stick with a modest laptop that provides you the smallest footprint with the quickest startup and run time.
If you want to stay cheap then you can find deals from Amazon or keep your eye out on Black Friday and you can get a Windows laptop for under $500. Over a year ago I purchased a set of Core i3 laptops for around $325. Today you are able to find even better deals if you are willing to work hard at it. If you don’t want to bother with a big effort then just go online and compare to Best Buy and your good. If your budget is a little higher and you want to have a nicer laptop because you use it heavily then I would recommend a Samsung Series 9 or equivalent for Windows or a MacBook Air for the Mac people (IMO these are over-priced because you are paying for fashion). The Samsung has a startup time which is less than 30 secs which you will love.
This is by far the most often missed technology that I meet. I had a difficult time scheduling with a contractor. I had to get him directly on the phone before anything would be arranged. Turnaround was anywhere from 4 to 24 hours. These are things that would take a few text messages and then we would be done. Texts not only communicate but they also document. What was that time again? measurement exactly? brand name he used?… Right now texting itself is a third wave technology. It is where faxing was 5-10 years ago. It’s used by everyone but is in the process of being replaced. It’s being replaced because there are better, faster less costly services. For years I refused to do texting because my carrier wanted to charge me an extra $5-$15 for texting. I might send 100 texts in a month and most of them are unnecessary.
You don’t need a Smartphone for texting. So why get one? You may need to use email or you may need to do a quick search. You also might want to take a picture and send it. Although older phones will take and send pictures the process and the quality is a bit dubious. Smartphones now function in the way that computers functions, in fact they are computers. They are quickly adapted to the particular needs of any small business person by using apps and built-in function to speed up your customer communication, do your job better and more efficiently, save you time and money.
I would recommend a phone like the LG Nexus 4(a first wave at a second wave price $300) and a service plan that fits your budget. You can get plans for about $25 month data added to a standard voice/texting plans. You need to understand how much you use voice, texting and data and how you might change now that you have IM and email on your phone. Where everything used to go through texting and voice it may now be relegated to other communication methods like calendars, IM’ing, PDFs, Online Banking apps and others. Here is a secret, if you don’t watch any videos than your online data use will rarely go above 1G. This puts you in one of the lowest data ranges. So don’t watch that YouTube cat video and you’re good to go.
My ability to use a smartphone to both weave together (yet keep separate) my personal and my business life is the greatest advantage. I have four phone numbers that I can get voice mail notification to monitor and if I desire I can ring them through to my handset. I have four email accounts and 4 chat accounts that I use simultaneously. I use these to manage two businesses and for two personal accounts. I use convenience features like instant upload to make my life easier as I go through both personal and business situations where a photo is needed.
Sometimes you need to print and mail something, that’s a fact. So you need a printer. You probably only need to print one thing every few months but when you have to do it the convenience factor is very valuable (imagine a trip to Kinko’s for every print). For a business today more important than printing is scanning. I receive far more paper than I give and sometimes I file it the good old-fashioned way but many times I have to share it or sign and pass it along to someone else. In this case a quick scan, store to Google Drive and electronically sign (see an upcoming post on electronic signing) then email it as a pdf. When people ask for my FAX number I resist. I have an electronic service that I pay $8/mnth that emails me a PDF of any fax that I receive. I get about 3 faxes a year. I send about 4 faxes a year. So I pay almost $100 a year for that privilege. Keep an eye out because I’m looking to find a good free alternative.
Scanning to archive is another benefit that let’s you scan and dump your paperwork in a shoebox without sorting or worrying about them. All sorting is done online with Google Drive or other cloud service. There are also mobile apps that support your receipts that I have discussed in a past post.
I’ll start by saying I own a tablet. I have owned 2 tablets at the same time. My current one of choice is a Google Nexus 7 because of its portability and affordability. But I can’t endorse this or any other tablet for business use (read here for my post on tablets.) It is convenient and easy and pleasant to use. It’s just not required. Anything you can do on a tablet for business you can do on your smartphone. So If you want a tablet put it on your Christmas wish list and call it a personal item. Just don’t fool yourself into thinking this is primarily for business.
As is true with many other gadgets the answer here is ‘it depends’. Many businesses depending upon sales presentations and in this case it is probably a good idea to make sure you have a good one. It’s pretty easy to justify if you sit and think, how many presentations will you make in the next 6 months and how much money is at risk in those presentations. If the answer points you to getting one then I suggest keeping it under $1000. Check this past Dealz post as an example.
The above list is a good general list for all businesses. Particular businesses may have specialized situations where hardware is a key part of what they do. I want to keep this simple and straightforward so I have left out accessories like chargers, docks, cables and all assortment of doo-dads. If you have some ideas for gadgets that you think are necessary for all small businesses then please leave a comment and share.