One of the most popular questions asked by members of my VA Handbookers Facebook group is which laptop they should buy. Because I thought it would be easier to have a source to point people to when they asked this question, below is a comprehensive list of all the things you should consider when choosing a laptop for your VA business.
Laptop, desktop or tablet?
It’s entirely up to you whether you decide to have a portable laptop or a static desktop computer but you can’t run your VA business from just a tablet or a phone.
Well, I guess you could if you really had to but it would be incredibly fiddly, annoyingly inefficient, spectacularly unprofessional and you’d definitely need a separate monitor and keyboard so you could see what you were doing!
If you don’t intend to work whilst travelling, go to a client’s office/home, or work from a coffee shop, then go with a static desktop – but if you became a VA for the flexible working life then you’ll need something portable.
Personally, because of the word ‘virtual’ in your job title, I’d go with a laptop!
Mac or PC?
It doesn’t matter.
You’ll need Microsoft Office for much of your work but you can get MS Office 365 for Mac. Macs are more expensive and are probably the better option if you’re already familiar with them or you do a lot of design work, but if you’re a ‘regular VA’ and you’ve never used one before then just stick with what you know.
It’s just down to preference really.
Things to consider when buying a laptop
People will say to you “oh I bought this one and I love it” or “I wouldn’t use anything else but my insertbrandnamehere, but you should always choose a laptop based on the things that YOU need because what may be the perfect laptop for someone else may not suit you at all.
I’m sure you wouldn’t buy the same car as a friend just because they said they liked it – and it’s the same with your laptop. So decide what you need it to do and then consult other people if you want to but only when you’ve narrowed down the ones that you are interested in.
These are the things you should look at when choosing your laptop:
Size and weight
If you’re taking your laptop out of the house then you need something light. Obviously, a smaller laptop is going to be lighter than one with a larger screen, but you also need to be able to see what you’re typing without squinting!
I started having all sorts of back problems when I moved to a 13.3″ screen so I enlarged the font in the settings and I usually connect it to a large monitor. Back and shoulder pain from bad posture is rampant in freelancers and the cost of physio and the long-term damage to your body and career just isn’t worth it.
So make sure you’re not putting your back and neck out of alignment by jutting your head forward to peer at a small screen like I was!
Again, if you’re taking the laptop out of the house then you need good battery life. For me, anything over 8 hours is good and although I can take my charger with me, it’s often a bit of a hassle to carry it around and to find a good spot to plug it in.
Cost is going to be a huge factor when it comes to choosing your laptop, especially if you’re just setting up your business. Well, I’m pleased to tell you that as long as your laptop is fast and has good storage, a cheap one will do the job just fine.
My Asus Aspire UX305F ZenBook was just over £500 (I bought it in 2015) but is considered one of the best budget Ultrabooks around and Chromebooks are even cheaper.
(this post on whether you can run a VA business from a Chromebook is useful if you’re exploring that avenue.)
Get as much space as you can afford and never buy a laptop with less than 4GB. My Asus has 8GB and it’s enough to happily run my business from. Therefore I recommend you go for anything that has 8GB or above.
SSD or HDD?
Hard disk drives (HDDs) store information on a spinning disc whereas Solid State Drives (SSDs) store information on microchips. Older laptops usually came with HDDs so were bulkier and heavier, but SSDs are more the norm nowadays especially with thinner laptops.
SSDs are a bit more expensive but the laptop boots up more quickly, runs faster, is more reliable and they use less power. So I would choose SSD if you can.
Do you want a touch screen or not? I personally don’t care about this feature so I know I can eliminate these from my search, but you might particularly want this feature.
If you plan to use your laptop outside a lot then you might want to get an anti-glare screen. It may seem like a small thing, but it will bother you when you’re using it and you can’t see anything. My Chromebook wasn’t advertised as having an anti-glare screen but it’s actually great outdoors whereas my Asus isn’t so good.
Again, a small thing but do you care if the keyboard is backlit or not? Most people won’t but you might want one if you work a lot in the evenings for example.
Some laptops come with screens that you can either remove or bend over so you can use it as both a laptop and a tablet. You don’t need one of these, but if you want one then that’s another consideration.
Don’t listen to other VAs
When I’m looking to buy something my first port of call is always Google. There are tons of tech websites out there and I recommend you refer to these first rather than asking another VA in the Facebook group (or your Mum) what they suggest.
These guys are experts in technology whereas most VAs are not!
Decide what features you need, narrow down your choices and then read as many user reviews and comparison articles as you can. You could then ask the VA Handbookers Facebook group if they have any experience of these laptops, but you’ll get better information from people whose job it is to review tech!
Once you’ve narrowed it down, go to Google and type in something like “(name of laptop you’re considering) versus (name of the other laptop you’re considering)” to get comparison reviews. A VA can only go their personal experience and tell you if they like using a particular laptop but, as with most things, it’s all down to opinion.
A VA once wrote she would never buy an Asus and yet I have one and I’m delighted with it. I bought it after doing extensive research and (see link above), the model is considered to be a good choice.
Laptop models vary so sweeping generalisations aren’t going to help you. Also, the VA may have had a glitchy one, simply not liked the features, or are basing their opinion on out of date information or products.
So get your technical advice from someone who knows what they’re talking about.
Read as many reviews as you can
Ideally, you want to go to the store and see the laptop you’re considering because you can feel how heavy it is and see whether the keys are too close together etc. However, that isn’t always possible so the next best thing is to read as many online reviews and comments you can.
Check out the laptop on Amazon and see what people are saying about it. It may be that buyers have given fewer stars because the delivery was late or for something personal to them that doesn’t matter to you. But these reviews may also highlight something that the online tech reviews aren’t aware of – such as the hinges getting looser over time for example.
You can always upgrade later
I started with a Dell Inspiron because it was cheap and I just wanted to get started. It was heavy, noisy and the battery life was only around three hours, but it was affordable and it was an absolute workhorse.
More importantly, it meant that I could just get on and do some work.
That laptop served me well for many years until I decided to upgrade to a smaller, lighter laptop with the longest battery life I could find. I moved on to an Acer Aspire and I now have a 13.3″ Asus Zenbook.
I also have a 13′ Chromebook which I used to take on holiday, kept as an emergency backup, and sometimes lent to friends when their laptop gave up the ghost suddenly. But because I now work solely in the cloud, I use it alongside the Aspire as one of my two main machines.
So although I’ve had large, cheap laptops in the past, I’ve learned that I personally need something light with a good battery life that doesn’t cost the earth.
A word on Chromebooks
As you’ve just read, I now work solely in the cloud and a lot of my work is done on a Chromebook. It used to be that Chromebooks weren’t suitable for all the work that a VA needed to do, but they’ve progressed a lot in a very short space of time and I can’t actually think of any tasks that a VA can’t do on one now.
They do have some quirks however and so I’m in the process of writing a separate blog post on whether a VA can use a Chromebook as their main computer.
- Back up your data to the cloud. An external hard drive is great but they will fail at some point. I use Mozy (£5 a month) to back up my entire laptop and I store my files and pics in Google Drive as well.
- Remember to put the cost of your laptop and any cables, monitor, mouse and keyboard on your business expenses.
- If you have a separate laptop for work, you can claim all of it on your expenses but if it’s for personal use as well, you can only claim half. Read more about how much you can claim on laptop purchases here.
- I use the same laptop for work and business. Some people like to keep them separate but I don’t really see the point myself.
- Definitely buy a spare charger though because if yours broke tomorrow, you’d be stuffed.
- Watch your back. I have a YoYo Mini adjustable desk (it sits on a table top) and a separate monitor, mouse and keyboard. I have these because I completely messed my back up and ended up paying a load of money for physio. So preempt the cost by investing in your health now!
As you can see, aside from the storage space and price, most of the choices you need to make are based on personal preference. In my opinion, the most important thing is to just decide on something, don’t overthink it too much and never use it as an excuse to not get going with your business.