The right tools always make any job easier. I’ve found that this is especially true when it comes to equipping your work at home office.
You can start your company in a home office with some used furnitures, a computer or a laptop, a scanner, printer, fax and copier which all can be found in one machine. At the beginning, you don’t have to spend too much money on your office. A home office can even be started with a laptop and a kitchen table. So first look at your budget. You will always have time to buy good office appliances. You can do it after you started making reasonable money.
However, here is some tips if you want to start with buying some home office machines and equipments.
Let’s start with your computers:
Unless you’re a professional game tester, audiophile or digital photographer, you probably don’t need the fastest, latest and greatest whiz-bang PC or Mac. Yes, I hear you saying, “But I could use the tax deduction afforded by an equipment purchase.”
Save your money. Every home business is cyclical. Purchase enough of a computer that gets the job done until the business gets off the ground. And even when it does, you probably still don’t really need (versus want) the best computer available. (As my Daddy always told me, “Keep at least six months of operating capital in the bank to weather a possible storm.”)
Once you have more than two computers in your office, it’s time for a network. Basically, you’ll want to connect everybody to everything. That will save time, and ultimately you’ll save money on equipment. All machines can share data, printers, scanners and whatever else you have in your office. I won’t go into the details of networking here — please see my earlier column.
Next, multifunction machines:
One way to save money on equipment is with a multi-function machine. These “four-in-one” machines typically include a printer, fax, scanner and copier. The whole device will run a few hundred dollars. Furthermore, it works pretty well.
If you go this route, get a laser printer, if possible. Lasers are faster than ink jets. Most of these machines have color capabilities. However, I have found that I rarely need color in the office.
Speaking of saving money, you should be able to set your printer’s default to “black only.” Then, when you need color, you can change it temporarily. Otherwise, you will accidentally print things like Web references in color. That slows the printing and adds cost.
You will need only one printer. Simply network it with your computers.
When you check out the multi-function machines, be sure the features meet your needs. You may find that the copier doesn’t have an automatic feed, for instance. Or the scanner lacks advanced features. If that’s the case, consider buying individual pieces of equipment. They will total more, but will be more flexible.
When to spend more to save more
On the other hand, you may want stand-alone equipment if it will be used heavily. Wear and tear is likely to be greater on a multi-function machine.
It is possible to use your computer as a fax (for more info, see this story). I use Symantec’s Winfax, although I think it has too many features, making it too complicated. Furthermore, if you have a paper document, you have to scan it into the computer before you can fax it. In all, I believe a regular fax machine is more convenient.
Copiers can be heavily used in an office setting. We are a long way from doing away with paper! Personal stand-alone copiers are more convenient than those included in multi-function devices. They may also last longer. If the copier is likely get a heavy-duty workout, consider biting the bullet and buying an industrial-strength machine. You’ll probably save money in the long run.
If you do buy a multi-function device or a personal copier, make sure that it has the features you need. Again, automatic feed will probably be important. Single feed will work, but it can be very tedious.
Avoid dial-up if possible
Most businesses need access to the Internet. Dial-up connections will work, but they are slow. Productivity is going to suffer if you and your employees are using 56 KBps modems. A 56K modem also will tie up a phone line.
Your calls will be important, so get an extra line for the modem. You can use voice mail to catch calls while you’re online, but your customers may not like that. There are other software solutions to alert you to calls, but none can substitute for having a person answer the phone.
If broadband is available in your area, I recommend it. DSL (digital subscriber line) and cable run at similar speeds in real life (for a comparison of the two, see this story). Satellite is more expensive and slower, but it beats 56K.
Satellite probably is available, if DSL and cable are not. It is especially useful in rural areas. You’ll need an unobstructed view of the southern sky.
When I moved into my current building, the interior lighting was fluorescent. I quickly found I didn’t like it, because it washed out the monitors. I replaced the fluorescent lights with halogens. They’re hotter, but they work well with computers. If you’re moving or building, be sure to check the lights.
Back up your data!
While you’re buying equipment, don’t forget your backups. You don’t want to lose your data, especially your client data and proposals! There are several ways to go.
Traditionally, tape drives have been used. These are fairly expensive, as are the tapes. Ideally, you would use a different tape each day, and store them off-site. Otherwise, if you had a fire, you could lose the backup along with your computers.
Some people use Zip drives, which are made by Iomega. They also have removable media, which can be kept off-premises. But they are relatively small. If you have a ton of data to back up, a Zip may not be satisfactory.
Consider using an external hard drive or making a CD for backups. Both are relatively inexpensive and fast.
I found the biggest challenge of having a home or small office is the sense of bigness that clients respect. Many years ago, I was on the phone with a major potential client. Just as I was about to close the deal, the gardener fired up his air blower to clear the leaves right outside my open window.
The noise was overwhelming! When the client asked what was going on, I didn’t lie. I explained that I couldn’t afford an office, yet. He said, “I’ve been there. Let me help. Send over the contract and let’s do this deal.”