76 Smart Tech Solutions

Tips #50 - #76

Buying Used & Refurbished Equipment
50. Online Bargains
Refurbished hardware can be a smart way to save money. Many online manufacturers and retailers have sections of their web sites devoted to clearance outlets. You may have to poke around the site to find them, but it's worth checking into when you're on a tight budget.

Refurbished items are usually returns that have been looked over and checked for functionality. As with auctions, check to see if all documentation and software is included. Compare prices to what is normally charged to see if the savings is worthwhile.

Often warranties are shortened. What might have originally come with a one-year warranty may only include a 90-day warranty when it's sold as refurbished. If you're comfortable with that, go ahead and save some money.

51. Software Beware
Used software can be tempting, but you should proceed with caution. Some software is not legally transferable to other computers. Watch out for bootlegs or pirated software and stay on guard for disreputable sellers. It's usually better in the long run to just purchase new copies.

52. Sitting Pretty
When it comes to buying used equipment, furniture is one of your safer bets. Chances are, you'll buy local and have the opportunity to examine the pieces before you pay up. Used desks, dividers and file cabinets can help you furnish or expand your office at substantial savings.

Use more caution when it comes to chairs. Your long-term comfort is more important than saving a few dollars. Some higher end ergonomic chairs come in different sizes, so be sure to get the one that fits.

53. All About Warranties
One of the biggest sacrifices you can make when buying used equipment is lack of a warranty. That's not always the case, though. If there is still warranty time remaining, check to see if the warranty is transferable. Otherwise, you might want to think twice, particularly when it comes to business critical hardware.

Laptops, for example, are more prone to problems than desktops and you might want at least a partial warranty in case anything goes wrong. For less critical items, like a mouse or keyboard, the savings may be worthwhile.

54. Up for Bids
Auction sites like eBay are popular hunting grounds for technology bargains. The up side is that you can often find great deals on equipment. The down side is that you need to proceed with a healthy dose of buyer beware, especially when it comes to used equipment.

Take a moment to look into the background of the seller. Do they have a lot of poor feedback or have their previous customers been happy? Is all documentation and software included? What is their return policy? Is shipping refundable? Be sure to calculate shipping costs before you bid. Some sellers charge handling fees that can add up to more trouble than it's worth.

Keeping Up on the Road

55. Take Advantage of Hotspots
The internet is your ticket for staying in touch. Whether you need to check email, check up on your web site or do some research, a Wi-Fi hotspot is the place to go. The easiest way to find a hotspot is to book your room at a Wi-Fi equipped hotel. Some hotels include it as a free service for guests. Others charge a small fee.

Before you hit the road, take a moment to find some hotspots at your destination. There are several hotspot conglomerators that let you access the internet through their nationwide networks for a daily or monthly fee. Just be sure to use a VPN if you need to protect your business data.

You don't have to be traveling far from the office to take advantage of hotspots. Local cafes, coffeehouse or public buildings can be convenient stopovers when you're out at lunch or just need to step away from the desk for a while.

56. Travel Light With a PDA
Some entrepreneurs leave their laptops back at the office and opt to travel with just a PDA. Many PDAs these days come stocked with the kind of processing power and memory you would have seen in a full-fledged notebook a few years ago. Throw in a smartphone features for making phone calls and accessing the web, or add in Wi-Fi, and you have a well-connected device that can easily tide you over until your get back to your desk.

57. Choosing a Laptop
The most powerful way to stay connected to your business while on the road is with a laptop. Two popular classes of laptops are desktop replacements and ultraportables. Which you choose depends on your needs.

Desktop replacements pack all the punch of a regular desktop with large displays, plenty of processing power and useful extras like DVD-rewritable drives. The downside is their hefty weight. If you place a premium on power or are looking to get rid of your desktop altogether, this is the way to go.

Ultraportables are just like they sound: svelte, lightweight traveling machines. While they're easy on your shoulder, you often make sacrifices in peripherals, screen size and sometimes power. Still, mobile warriors that are constantly running through airports may find the compromises very worthwhile.

E-Mail Safety and Security
58. Watch What You Write
While you're formulating an e-mail security policy, give some thought to e-mail content. Unlike a phone conversation, e-mail doesn't just disappear into the ether after it's sent. A record remains--one that can come back to haunt your business.

Discuss with your employees what is considered appropriate content. You may want to minimize personal use of business e-mail. Even sending seemingly innocuous jokes around the office can be risky. Tie e-mail usage in with your sexual harassment policy. Make sure that the e-mail usage guidelines are clear for your employees.

59. Educating Your Employees
One of the best ways to ward off e-mail security issues is to educate your employees. Have an e-mail security policy and make sure they are familiar with it and adhere to it. Some spam will inevitably get through. The best ways to keep the problem from increasing is to simply not reply and not click on any links it contains. Just delete the messages.

Also, make sure employees aren't giving out their e-mail addresses online. For example, if they post to message boards or blogs, they shouldn't leave their e-mail addresses out for spammers to harvest. Keep them up to date on new threats like phishing attacks. A proactive policy for e-mail security is better than dealing with breaches later.

60. Don't Get Hooked
Phishing isn't a strictly business-related problem, but it can have serious consequences for unsuspecting entrepreneurs. Phishing is when a deceptive e-mail arrives that often asks you to visit a web site and verify personal information like pin numbers, usernames, passwords or account numbers.

Some phishing attacks are blatantly obvious and loaded with misspellings and bad grammar. Some are very sophisticated and look like they could be a real communication from a credit card company, bank or online auction site.

What's the best way to deal with it? Delete it. Any e-mail that asks for personal information to be given out through the web or through a form embedded in the e-mail is likely a phishing attack. If you're still not convinced, take a moment to check in with the company that supposedly sent it. A few minutes can save you a lot of grief.

61. Fighting Spam
Spam is more than just a nuisance; it's a drain on your time and resources. It's impossible to avoid, so you have to deal with it. If you don't have spam protection through your email service provider, put anti-spam software on your shopping list right after anti-virus. Some vendors bundle it all together in a security suite package.

62. Keeping Viruses Away
When it comes to email security, anti-virus software is one of the first items that come to mind. Whether you purchase an off-the-shelf software package or choose to go with an online service solution, it's a must-have. Users of some free services, like Hotmail, may already have this area covered. Check to see what your email provider has to say about it.

You'll want to make sure all your employees' desktops and laptops are protected. The cost of anti-virus is minimal compared to the potential damage a virus or worm outbreak could cause your business. They can not only get at your computer systems, but also send emails out to your address book. That's not something your customers will want to receive.

Here are a couple of tips for keeping an eye on your anti-virus measures. Double check that you're getting the latest virus updates. Most programs will update themselves automatically, but it doesn't hurt to do a manual update on occasion to make sure the process is working. Also, when your software subscription time period is up, be sure to renew. Don't let it lapse.

Buying for Your Homebased Office
63. Shopping Online
Bargain hunting over the Internet doesn't have to be time-consuming. Web sites such as PriceGrabber.com, PriceSCAN.com and MySimon.com are hubs for price comparisons. They're especially handy if you already know what you want and are just looking for the lowest price. Don't be blinded by what seem to be incredible bargains. Always check into an online retailer's reputation if you're not already familiar with it. You probably know this already, but always use a credit card for your purchases in case you have to dispute charges later.

Another great resource for home office hardware is eBay. You can pick up a wide array of products-from extra cell phone batteries to monitors and ink cartridges-at prices that would make some retailers blush. But eBay is no utopia. You still have to check into the seller's reputation. Also check to see if the product you're buying is refurbished, if it comes with an original warranty or tech support, and if all documentation and pieces are included. Some entrepreneurs may decide that the savings are worth living without some or all of those things. It's not good or bad, it's just a matter of deciding what you feel comfortable with.

64. Brick-and-Mortar Buying
If you're the type of person who likes to "handle the merchandise" before you buy, find a local retailer you can visit in person. Prices may be a little higher when you just walk into a store, but you also have the security of having a physical location to return the product to in case of a problem. The Sunday ads are a good place to compare prices, and you should keep an eye out for specials and rebates at your local stores. You can also take advantage of price-matching policies or even visit warehouse-style retailers like Costco or Sam's Club to look for business equipment savings.

65. Get Connected
If you have a website and plan on hosting your site with your Internet provider, and if you'll need more bandwidth and e-mail addresses than what a standard consumer Internet account offers, you need to look into business services. Your options for Internet connections from home are satellite, DSL and cable, which are available in a variety of downstream and upstream speeds ranging from 400Kbps to 2Mbps. Monthly fees vary accordingly; they usually range between $40 and $100 per month, but can reach a few hundred dollars for higher speeds. If you travel quite a bit, you may want to look into some of the wireless Internet connection options, which provide an Internet connection wherever you go.

66. Loving the Laptop
Just because you have a desk doesn't mean you must have a desktop computer. A pricier but more flexible laptop may be the ticket. If you'll be doing a lot of business traveling or will need to take your computing power with you on sales calls, then a laptop is something to consider. They're also nice for getting out of your office for a while, even if it's just to sit on the back porch. And if you decide a laptop's the way to go, you might want to consider purchasing a monitor to view your laptop through when you're at your desk to save on eye strain.

Out With the Old: Ridding Your Office of Old Technology
67. Give It Away
Most old PCs have years of utility left in them--just not for you. There are tons of schools, community groups, senior homes and other needy institutions that would be happy to take them off your hands. Unfortunately, donation is another of the more costly disposal options. By the time you get done with moving, temporarily storing, shipping, tax record-keeping, making contractual arrangements with the beneficiary, possible testing and repair, and, of course, facing the ever-present legal exposure, IDC figures it will cost you $344 for each PC donated.

And the legal exposure is real. You could get sued for donating a defective or virus-infected computer, or you may be asked to defend the tax deduction. Share the Technologyoutlines some of the pitfalls for givers and receivers on its site. On the upside, the infrastructure for charitable donations is well-advanced, making this option less time-consuming.

Regardless of the option you choose, you can click on over to eBay's Rethink Initiativeto explore your options.

68. The Resale Option
One popular option for PC disposal is selling them. IDC says your net out-of-pocket per PC is $272 if you can sell it to an employee for $100, and $119 if you sell it to a third-party broker for $200. (Remember, costs vary among disposal options and you'll still need to scrub the machines of company information.) The good news is, the PC is gone. But in both cases, you have to sell the PC before its value reaches zero. And those three years for a mid-range PC and four years for a high-end box go by quickly.

Of course, brands vary. You can look up the residual value of your PC in the Orion Computer Blue Book. You can purchase the latest version of the Blue Book with the most recent prices from the Orion Research website, or look up prices for individual PCs online at $3.99 per shot.

69. What Will It Cost?
In general, a lot of PC disposal costs are realized in soft dollars, and a certain amount of those are fixed. IDC says it will cost companies at least $150 for every PC taken out of service. First, there's the labor involved in physically removing a system and its network components, disconnecting peripherals and scrubbing the hard drive of software, passwords and sensitive company files. Then there's the downtime for employees during the move. After that, your costs will vary depending on how you choose to dispose of the old PC and may include payment for things like testing and repair or, in many cases, contractual or other legal costs.

70. Why the Dump Isn't the Answer
According to Gartner Research, more than 400 million computers will be replaced by individuals and businesses from 2004 to 2006. But according to ACNielsen International Research, only 15 percent of those polled realized they could recycle electronics in their local area.

Old PCs have chlorinated and brominated substances, Poly Chlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs) and Poly Vinyl Chloride (PVC), heavy metals, gases, acids and plastic additives--and that's just for starters. (For a complete list, see the SVTC website.) All those chemicals have incredibly long half-lives. You want your new house sitting on top of this stuff? Not to mention, the EPA will be all over you if you're discovered throwing PCs in the trash.

71. Exit Strategies for Computers
Old PCs don't die, and they don't fade away, either. The average PC will run almost forever, and the harmful chemicals inside it will survive in your local landfill for even longer. How many long-lived-but-obsolete computers is your company moving around among staffers? There's definitely a point of diminishing returns in holding on to PCs past their prime, as well as hidden costs in just about any disposal method you choose. Recycling, selling them to employees or giving them to charity are all viable options, but they all have costs attached--many of which may surprise you. It's a good idea to have an exit strategy for your old hardware--and it should be in place long before the intrinsic value of your PCs hits zero.

Complete depreciation is often here before you know it, but there's good news in that respect: After years of decline, PC life expectancies are in an upturn, says IDC analyst Alan Promisel. The average middle-of-the-road PC now has a useful life of about three years; a high-end desktop, about four years. But be careful: Nurse an old PC along for too long, and productivity suffers--for low-level staffers as well as managers. Worker efficiency declines along with equipment efficiency, so when software takes longer to load, screens take longer to redraw and incompatibilities start to occur, memory upgrades need to be deployed.

Smart Tech Shopping
72. Setting Up a Tech Savings System
A recent study of IT purchasing by New York City consulting firm McKinsey & Co. says timely purchases, clever negotiation and internal controls can help businesses save megabucks. The McKinsey team estimated that savings of 10 to 20 percent on IT outlays were possible using the following recipe:

1. Renegotiate existing contracts for services such as network support and consulting. Telecom is especially ripe for bargains. Start by setting standards for rates and auditing bills to make sure you're not overpaying. And instead of buying all long-distance, local phone and other telecom services from one vendor, dual-source it. Vendors will treat you better and charge you less.

2. Make sure you need whatever new technology you do buy. Inventory all PCs, printers and software. Look for opportunities to consolidate purchases, standardize configurations and root out duplication.

3. Set up a system to keep on top of things. Pick a team of people from your tech and other departments, and meet with them regularly to discuss what they need and how to save on it. That can save as much as 3 to 7 percent on IT outlays alone.

73. Warranty Warnings
You can't afford to have a key business hardware component go down without protection-a warranty will give you peace of mind. Most products come with some sort of manufacturer's warranty, and you'll frequently be offered an extended warranty when you're checking out. But think hard before you purchase that extra coverage: Many products won't earn back the cost of that extended protection. For example, you don't need a $50 extended warranty on a $200 PDA. But for some items, you may prefer to have the peace of mind. Laptops, for example, often come standard with a paltry one-year warranty. Extending that to three years can get you safely through until the next upgrade cycle.

74. Buying Online
When shopping for tech products, why not try that great bastion of bargains: the Internet. EBay can be a gold mine, but "buyer beware" still applies. EBay is useful if you know what you want, especially if you can narrow down a model number. A few things to watch out for are whether the original documentation is included and whether the warranty is still in effect and transferable. If in doubt, e-mail the seller first.

For some purchases, you can narrow down the seller's location to find someone nearby. That way, you can pick up the product in person and take a look. EBay is a place you probably don't want to go to for your primary computer, but the discounts may outweigh the risks for secondary machines. Items like cords, monitors and peripherals can be had at great savings and little risk if you do your homework first.

You can also try the online outlet stores of technology manufacturers-these stores carry discontinued and refurbished merchandise. Chances are, the prices will be good, but the warranties will be lacking. Refurbs are typically only under warranty for a few months at the most. After that, you're on your own. Still, refurbished can be an affordable option for adding a second or third computer to your business.

75. Bargain-Hunting Sources
Discount clubs like Costco and Sam's Club have decent-size technology sections and can net you good value on everything from laptops to printer cartridges. What you won't get is a lot of one-on-one service. If you're sure of what you want, go ahead and look out for good deals. If you need to ask questions, go somewhere else. You can always check prices on their Web sites before you join the club.

Speaking of shopping locally, you can also save money by working closely with a value-added reseller (VAR). This is a good route to explore for large purchases where you want the reseller to also be the installer. The reseller will be up on the latest special offers and promotions that fit your needs. Selecting the right VAR is also important. See how long they have been in business and whether they have experience serving your particular market. The technology needs of a graphic design business can be very different from those of a personal chef service.

76. Knowing What You Want
When it comes to buying technology products and services, part of the process of getting a bargain is knowing what you're looking for. Before you shop, you should have a pretty solid idea of how much power you need in whatever it is you're buying. For example, suppose you're scouting out a stock notebook with 512MB RAM but you know you'll be running intensive graphics programs and will need more memory than that. The time to buy that extra memory is right away. You'll get a better deal customizing it online to boost it up to 1GB than trying to buy RAM later and upgrading. The same often goes for adding items like a DVD-RW drive. Make a shopping list that includes your bare minimum requirements-plus the extras you'd like to have-before you start shopping around.

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