If you are setting up an office away from your own residence in commercial premises, this point will not be an issue to you, as you will as a matter of course set up an account for telephones, faxes and email use, but if you plan to work from home you may consider saving costs and using your home telephone. However, think carefully about the downsides of having a joint telephone service. If the telephone rings as you sit down with the family to eat your evening meal or weekends when you do not want to be disturbed, you will have to take the call, unless you have a telephone that can display the number of the caller and you know the telephone number of the caller. Switching off from work and keeping personal and work time separate ‘out of hours’ will be difficult. You might have a young family, and your toddler might pick up the telephone as your most important client calls or a potential new client calls and the impression of a youngster gurgling down the telephone may give out the wrong message about your practice. Separate services will help you manage your business and home communications.
Despite the popularity of email, fax machines are not yet museum pieces, though the need to send or receive faxes diminishes with each passing year. You may consider it un-necessary to set yourself up with a fax machine and dedicated fax line if you intend to offer your services to private clients, but if you expect to act for businesses, then, a fax will still be an important tool to receive or send information quickly as small businesses are more likely to have a fax machine than a scanner to email documents and receive documents when they need to be sent or received quickly.
Consider your internet service provider carefully. Files sent over the internet can be quite large. These can be simple documents between you and your client or files sent via the Government Gateway to satisfy the new internet filing requirements, so ensure that your internet service can accommodate large files.
An email address for your practice is essential. If you have friends in business find out who they use as their service provider, and find out how promptly they can respond to breakdowns in service. Emails are instant forms of communication, so if your own or host server breaks down you will want a prompt return of service so you do not loose credibility with your clients.
Also, if you are intending to trade through a Limited Company, do ensure that your ‘email signature’ complies with the Companies Act 2006 for statutory information required on electronic communications.
Your biggest expense, in setting up your practice, will probably be your computer equipment. So it is important to get it right first time. Advances in information technology will probably mean that you might replace your equipment in three or four years, but you don’t want to be replacing it in twelve months, so set out your requirements at the outset and allow for growth too. So this means getting a computer with a large enough memory to handle the software you expect to run on it such as personal and corporation tax self assessment programmes and even accounts production software.
Where will you use the equipment? Will you work on your clients premises or will you do most of the processing work in the office. This will determine whether you set yourself or your office up with a laptop or desk top computer. A desk top will be much more robust, and unlikely to be knocked about very much but totally useless if you want to work out of the office. So a laptop will be essential, but remember it is easier to lose or have a laptop stolen and will suffer from knocks and maybe even dropped, so invest in a good carry bag and protect it. If you and your laptop become separated, for whatever reason, remember, it is not just the inconvenience of loosing your working tool, but you will have confidential client records on it, that you are obliged to protect from falling into the hand of a third party. So, you will need to take care that the computer cannot be accessed without a password, and do consider locking away your laptop when it is not in use. If you do choose to purchase a portable device, security and back-ups will be much more important, and this is considered in more detail later, within ‘Best Practice’.
When you purchase your equipment pay particular detail to the small print in the warranty terms and conditions. Ensure that you have an ‘on-site’ repair service. If your computer breaks down you will not be pleased to learn that you have to pack up your equipment and send it off to the supplier with little chance of seeing it again for 28 days or more.
If you have come from industry or a mainstream practice you are probably used to using a PDA or a smartphone. No longer is a mobile just a telephone, but they are mobile devices. So no wonder HM Revenue and Customs re-classed them as a computer. If you like using a smartphone and decide to use them in your own business, study the functionality of those in the market in detail, as some have only limited Windows Mobile capabilities, whereas others have full Microsoft Office enabling you to not only download attachments to emails, but create them and edit them too, helpful when you are out of the office working without your computer. Also, shop around for your supplier, as many will now offer free internet browsing and unlimited emails as part of your telephone and text package.
How much you spend on your stationery may again be dictated by the market you plan to target. Personal tax clients may not look twice at your letterhead, but business customers may judge you by your first impressions on paper. With advances in technology and affordable printers you may choose to print your own, though the cost of printing has fallen over the years so it may be just as easy to have them professionally done. Remember also, to check what statutory information you need to include, as, if you are intending to trade through a Limited Company, the Companies Act 2006 sets out what information you must include on written communications.