The short answer is, not necessarily. I’ve been trying to convince my daughter to buy a computer for her hair salon for 20 years, but she continues to run it successfully on paper. She keeps things simple and that suits her. At the other extreme, I’ve been fascinated by personal computers for decades. I probably started a business just to have one.  (Or more than one.) (OK, maybe a lot more than one.)

 Here’s a list of reasons you might want a computer:

  1. You use software to run your business. (This seems like a no brainer. Of course you need a Or do you? Some software runs fine on tablets or even phones. However, if you choose that option you might need coordinated thumbs and good eyesight.)
  2. You want to do your own bookkeeping and/or accounting. (Computers can save money and time, and you don’t have to be an expert to use them. See below.)
  3. You want to track employees’ time and do your own payroll. (Again, computers can save time and money.
  4. You want to send professional looking invoices or other documents.
  5. You have to track inventory. (Again, time and money.)
  6. Customers will contact you by email. (Phones or tablets can work, too.)
  7. Your business will generate lots of documents, spreadsheets or data.

Here are a few more thoughts on computers:

Phones or tablets might work well for you if you’re a  “Lone Eagle” who spends a lot of time on the road running a simple business. Even our IT technicians use their phones frequently to chat in Microsoft Teams, enter their time and provide remote support.

Business computing isn’t rocket science anymore. I’m not a bookkeeper, and I found QuickBooks very helpful. I started out using Excel templates but soon realized that these were going to be difficult to save, organize and track. I also had to enter everything twice—once in the invoice and again in my journal. QuickBooks was easy to learn, and it saved me a lot of work.

Retail businesses require a system to track sales. It can be as simple as a receipt book or a cash register. That said, computerized “point-of-sale systems” can automatically transfer receipts to your accounting software and track your inventory. These systems used to cost tens of thousands of dollars. Now, thanks to low-cost computers and cloud-based software and storage, they’re affordable. And many cloud-based systems work well with tablets.

Twenty years ago, for me, the choice was obvious. I was starting a computer consulting business so of course I had to have a computer. But over the years I’ve learned there are other options—like using paper, or apps for your phone or hiring a bookkeeper (who will probably have a computer). Starting a business can be expensive, and you have to put your money where it counts.