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By Lynne Gowers on 10th September 2014
Technology has become fundamental to the way many professionals work in the past few years. The rapid pace of the digital revolution – driven by the ever-increasing functionality of devices and an all-powerful internet – means being offline and unconnected simply isn’t an option for businesspeople.
This is particularly the case for self-employed professionals, for whom the internet represents a vital resource. Not only can freelancers use the web to deliver online services to their clients, but they can network in real-time, build their contact books and seek out new employment opportunities quickly and easily.
Increasingly, clients and agencies advertise freelance roles over the internet. This means that if you haven’t got a working computer and access to the web, you could end up missing out on many of the best opportunities. Clients may look to establish contact via email, chat or Skype, and if so, you need to be ready.
Before you get to this stage, it’s important to think about the computing hardware you’ll use to get online. In 2014, there are a variety of technology options, ranging from traditional desktop PCs to web-enabled mobile handsets. Do you know which will suit you best?
The increasing functionality of computers – aligned with ever-expanding 3G, 4G and Wi-Fi connectivity – means there are few constraints your ability to work online. The service you are looking to provide and the nature of your specialism should help determine your choice of hardware. Let’s take a look at some of the options:
Many freelancers work almost exclusively from home, making only rare trips to meet prospective or existing clients. If you’re an established home-worker, you may find that a desktop PC or Mac is the best hardware option.
What you sacrifice in terms flexibility and mobility, you can potentially gain in other areas. Desktops are typically more powerful and feature-rich than laptops, and it is possible to work on a larger monitor. This can be useful if you need to have more than one program running at the same time. Rather than switching between windows or browsers, it’s possible to have everything on the screen, side by side.
A large monitor can be beneficial if you find yourself spending many hours sat at your computer over the course of the week. Since there is more space, you can work in larger fonts or with a reduced zoom setting – something which can alleviate eye strain and stress. Ultimately, this can allow you to work at a higher level for longer, and potentially boost your performance and productivity.
The ability to customise the keyboard, mouse and other accessories is another benefit – it means you can maximise comfort and usability. From a practical perspective, desktops typically cost less to repair than other types of computers, and there’s less danger of them being stolen or lost.
Macs offer many of the same benefits of Windows-based PCs, with the main difference being the operating system and software of choice. Many users prefer to use Apple’s systems and programs as opposed to Microsoft’s – particularly since you can sync your computer up with other mobile devices designed by the firm.
Apple advocates claim that Macs offer greater durability, a simpler operating system, faster speeds and easier customisation than PCs, but ultimately it comes down to personal preference.
If you spend time working across different locations – or find yourself on extended placements at clients’ premises – then the portability of technology will no doubt be a higher priority. Rather than opting for a computer that, due to its size and weight, can’t ever leave your home study or office, you need to invest in a laptop or notebook.
Portable computers have come a long way in the last decade or so, meaning functionality is little different to what you would expect from a high-end desktop computer. There are some constraints of course – unless you’re connected to a mains power supply, your battery will eventually run out. And there’s little you can do in terms of customising the hardware, so it’s important to ensure you are happy with a particular model at the point of purchase.
But in the digital age, you shouldn’t have any difficulty getting online, which may be the crucial point for freelancers. Wherever you are working, it should be possible to access broadband via a fixed-line or wireless connection, or failing that, connect to a 3G or 4G mobile network using a dongle or mobile Wi-Fi device. With access to the cloud, freelancers should be able to access all essential programs, applications, files, documents and data online, as and when they need them. This means you are free to work from virtually any location, accepting work placements as and when they arise.
Of course, laptops and notebooks are not the only mobile technology option. Millions of touch-screen tablets are now being shipped every year, as consumers and businesspeople embrace smaller form factors. Devices such as the iPad have become hugely popular in the past few years, as they provide instant access to the internet and all manner of useful apps, anywhere there is an internet connection.
If much of your work involves typing, then a tablet probably isn’t going to be appropriate as your main computing device. But for other duties – such as responding to emails and running apps – it could be ideal. The streamlined, lightweight nature of these devices mean they are highly portable and can easily be carried around in a briefcase or bag .
A tablet might be a suitable complementary option for freelancers who expect to spend the bulk of their time on a PC or Mac. For those rare occasions when work takes you away from home, a tablet – rather than a larger, heavier laptop – might well do the job.
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