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The Cheapskate’s Guide to IT for independents

One of the biggest headaches of your early weeks as an independent will be deciding how to become your own IT department. Kevin McClean has been freelancing for 3 months, and developed this guide especially for you.

I went freelance 3 months ago.  And I’ve wrestled with my (business) conscience on a number of scores, but tech was a big one for me.  Was I tempted to head off down to the Apple Store with a chunk of my severance payment and splash out on a shiny new Macbook Air with all the trimmings?  Yes, I really, really was. Can I justify that kind of money at this stage of my business?  No, I really, really can’t.  In the end, I decided on one thing:

I like free.

So I will reward myself with new technology when I start making money!  Unless you really need a Mac or a brand new Ultrabook, and you can genuinely justify the cost (and some do, and can), there are many cheaper ways to get started.

Assuming no knowledge of, and possibly little interest in, IT on your part, here are my three simple tips to save you money in your initial startup phase, and one where you could justify spending a few quid:

First, (re-) use what you’ve got.  Maybe your old employer will give or sell you your old corporate laptop, or you probably have a perfectly serviceable machine knocking about at home gathering dust. You might need to install up to date software on it (see point three below for free options).  Or find something cheap and cheerful (a Chromebook at £199, or a refurbished laptop, for example).

Second, use the Cloud.  Not only is it very ‘now’, but it is cheap or free, and all your stuff is saved if your laptop is nicked or breaks.  And you can use multiple devices (phone, laptop, tablet) and have access to everything you need, wherever you happen to be.  Personal Gmail is free and has loads of additional stuff.  Google Apps for Business and Microsoft’s Office 365 are both cheap, at £3-4 a month for all your basic needs and lots of storage.  Free trials all round, too.

Third, use free or Open Source software.   There are great alternatives to the expensive stuff.  LibreOffice is free and compares well with a fully featured version of Microsoft Office for Business , which is going to cost a lot….. and no, you can’t just use the ‘Home’ version.  Not legally, anyway. Also try Dropbox for storing and sharing files, Skype or Google Hangouts for video calling.  You get the picture.  There is lots more advice at Communityhowto.com, which is aimed at voluntary organisations but has lots of great tips that apply to freelancers too.

You could even escape the Windows world altogether and use an open source operating system, like Ubuntu, which is free, runs very well on that old laptop from your attic, and has all the free software you will ever need installed or available from its App Store.  And no, it isn’t only for geeks any more.

Finally, don’t use the email address given to you by your ISP (Virgin or BTinternet, for example) for your business.  It seems easy for now, but imagine being a few months or years into your business and moving house or changing ISPs.  Could your business stand the shock of changing your email address (and business cards and anything else you have your email address on)? Use Gmail or Windows Live email or something else that suits you.

You can even (very easily) create your own domain (have a look at 123-reg.co.uk and see what you can find!) for about $10 a year and use Gmail to power it.  It looks professional, too.

And about that Macbook Air.  I’ve already changed my mind – my tech treat when I land that next big contract will be a tablet, which I actually need.  So that’s saved me lots!

You can find Kevin on Twitter @kevinamclean and on LinkedIn here.

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  • I invested in a Macbook. It’s now approaching it’s half decade anniversary and was worth every penny. Knowing what is worth investing in and what needs to wait is a skill that comes with a bit more experience, but going with your instinct is a good one. My productivity is affected by my environment to a big degree, so for me a bit of investment made a lot of difference.

    Since we’re talking about investment though, a biggie is Boomerang for GMail and Buffer. They aren’t that expensive and can make a huge time difference.

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