Welcome to the golden age of small business technology. If the grueling Great Recession has a silver lining, it's this: Tech vendors are innovating and discounting. From furnishings to computers to mobile devices, consumer electronics have never offered the start-up enterprise more for less. What it used to cost for a computer, printer and some software will now get the savvy entrepreneur an entire office. So if you're ready to start that business, you owe it to yourself to check out these 12 essentials, all for about two grand.
Humanscale Diffrient World Mesh Back Task Chair (starting at $600)
New York-based Humanscale, a high-end maker of office products, has worked hard to bring some of its best chairs within reach of small budgets. For our money--and yours, considering how much time you will spend in that command position-- the Diffrient World line (named for designer Nils Diffrient) is the right balance of ergonomics, good looks and value. At this price, it's a bargain. And your back will thank us.
Dell Vostro 1015 Notebook PC ($450)
Fear not, Mac heads: You will get your Steve Jobs style points when we get to smart phones; but the fact is, burning three quarters of your budget on a MacBook makes no sense, when a mere $450 buys an awesome notebook from Dell--a basic black, 15-inch Dell Vostro running Windows 7 Home Premium. Skip the Microsoft Office software and instead get a free Google Apps account (more on that later). And stay away from fancy memory upgrades, beefier processors or extended service plans. Eventually, you will need to upgrade to a better PC and Microsoft Office as you grow. But for now keep it cheap, fast and simple.
Google Apps and OpenOffice productivity software suites (free)
Google Apps and OpenOffice do not come anywhere near Microsoft Office in terms of features--Excel devotees, in particular, will lose their minds on Google Docs Spreadsheets. But when combined, these two programs have many virtues. They offer powerful collaboration tools and get your shop working on the Internet cloud. Be sure to allow some training time: Some things, like document collaboration, are better done with Google; others, like document layout and tricky calculations, are more suited on OpenOffice. There is no better deal in small business tech right now.
Acer X203H 20 Inch Wide Monitor ($120)
Why pay a lot for idiot-proof stuff like monitors? No need. For a measly $120 you get a legit 20-inch imaging device that plugs right into your new Dell. Your new big screen eases eye strain, improves posture and, alas, lengthens your work day.
Epson WorkForce 610 All-In-One Printer ($199)
For the full on, max sense of the absurd value in today's tech dollar, look no further than desktop imaging. Makers like HP, Brother and Samsung all offer great, low cost products, but for the startup, we give the nod to Epson. Not only fast and cheap, Epson excels in image quality on the printed page. For about the price of taking the family out for a ballgame, you get a near-professional-quality printing, scanning, faxing and copying device. And with a bit of trial and error you really can create business-quality cards, envelopes and brochures. Ridiculously powerful. Caveat: Watch your ink consumption. Replacement cartridges will kill you.
Microsoft Arc Keyboard ($60) and Gyration Air Mouse ($80)
Your spiffy office would not be complete without a quality keyboard/mouse combo that reduces hand strain, increases productivity and lets you wow 'em come presentation time. Though it gets no street cred, Microsoft is doing sterling work with its comfy Arc keyboards. And Gyration is the leader in air mouses that need no desk (just point it at the screen). You'll grow to love it.
Apple iPhone 3G ($99) or BlackBerry Bold 9700 Refurb (free)
If your business life is all about the app-based product, by all means Go iPhone. Nobody, not Android or Windows 7, can touch that. But if yours is a text-oriented, keyboard shop, you want BlackBerry--specifically, the Bold 9700. It's big, fast and works with everything. The great part is, you can make this call at one store: AT&T. The old Ma Bell sells both the iPhone and is offering a great small-biz deal: refurbished 9700's for the price of a contract. Try them both. See what feels best and go with it.
Verizon MiFi 2200 Intelligent Mobile Hotspot ($50)
Staying connected to the Web on the road can be obscenely expensive: Expect to part with north of $700 for year-long data access fees. But relying on third-party hotspots and hotel WiFi is a recipe for disaster. So bite the bullet and get a mobile data plan. But instead of going with an old-school USB or modem card to get online, use this slick portable hotspot from Verizon. The MiFi takes cellular access and makes it into a local WiFi hotspot you can share. Though other carriers like Sprint have similar mobile offerings, Verizon can sell you mobile data by the week or month, which really takes out the sting of access fees. TIP: Look for promising contacts in airports and be generous: offer to share your access.
Ultimate Ears MetroFi 170vi headphones ($60)
No matter what mobile phone you get, first-quality, old-school wired ear buds and a mic are the single best thing you can get to improve voice quality, hear your tunes as they were recorded and otherwise do your best to avoid brain cancer. The pick right now for in-ear headphones is the Ultimate Ears MetroFi 170svi. The most rewarding $60 you'll probably ever spend.
Clickfree C2 Portable BackUp 250 GB ($120)
Fail to back up your data at your own peril. Considering how idiot-proof hardware like Clickfree makes backing up your stuff, there is just no excuse for going unprotected. Simply plug in this small portable device to your computer, do what it tells you to do and repeat every week or so. Trust us, you'll save yourself a world of hurt.
WowWee Cinemin Swivel Pico Projector ($260)
Every dreamer needs a great way to sell that dream. This is it. Turn it on, jack it into the output of your new laptop, iPhone or BlackBerry, and project your Powerpoint, video presentation or stills on any wall. Yup, that means the office wall, bar wall or elevator wall become your own private sales zone. And how cool to show up for the big pitch without having to mess with that clunky, old projector. Pulling this out of your pocket--it's about the size of a cigarette pack--is a stylish and effective way to get your message across.