Equipping Your Workspace
Equipping your home workspace with the furniture, equipment, technology, communications, and supplies that you will need to operate your business requires considering three main factors--business needs, personal comfort, and budget.
The need for office equipment, furniture, technology, and communications varies with the type of business planned. But every business will need at least a few items from each of the five main home workspace categories: furniture, equipment, technology, communications, and supplies. Each of these categories is discussed in greater detail later in the chapter.
The second issue will be comfort, which is of particular concern for home business operators who will be putting in long hours at their desks in front of a computer or on the telephone. You cannot cut corners on comfort. In order to be productive over the long term, you have to be comfortable. In recent years, many new physical ailments, such as carpal tunnel syndrome, have been linked to long hours spent doing repetitive tasks, such as typing at a keyboard.
Therefore, you need to focus on the long-term physical effects of improper furniture and lighting. Ergonomics, the study of the correct positioning of your body while at rest or work, can play a major role in ensuring comfort and maintaining good physical health over the long term. When setting up and equipping your home workspace, you will want to ensure that it is ergonomically correct. To help you plan, you can purchase a book on ergonomics or visit Ergonomics Online, ergonomics.org, which provides in-depth information, links, and resources related to ergonomics.
The third main factor when equipping your home workspace is your budget. Here are five ways a financially challenged entrepreneur can substantially reduce the cost of home office furniture, equipment, computers, and communication products or minimize the amount of money needed upfront:
- Barter. You can barter and trade for office furniture and equipment. For instance, if you operate a painting service, ask local office suppliers if they would be interested in trading office furniture for a paint job. You can also join a local barter club and trade whatever products or services you sell with members who sell office furniture and equipment. BarterNews is an online magazine dedicated to the world of business barter clubs, organizations, and industry information. There are many barter clubs on the web. To locate a bartering exchange group, check out Bartermax , or the International Reciprocal Trade Association. Or simply network with other local business owners and see what you can do for each other.
- Borrow. Create a list of all needed office furniture, equipment, and supplies that you need and then distribute copies to friends and family members. You will be amazed at how many of the things that you need to start and run your business are stored away in basements, garages, and attics, just waiting to be borrowed. Most of your friends and family members won't mind if you borrow these items. In fact, many will probably be happy just to get rid of them and free up some space for more clutter.
- Buy seconds or floor models. Call around to your local office outfitters and inquire about factory seconds and the floor models they have available. Often you can save as much as 25 percent of the retail price by purchasing seconds with slight blemishes or floor models with nothing wrong other than a few fingerprints and smudges.
- Purchase secondhand. Buy used office equipment and furniture and save as much as 75 percent or even more off the retail price. Good places to begin your search for used office equipment include auctions, business closeouts, newspaper classifieds, garage sales, and retailers that sell secondhand office furniture, equipment, and computers. Also look for businesses that are moving or closing; if you find what you want, you can get great discounts.
- Lease. Take the no-money-down route and lease new office furniture, equipment, and computers. You will have to pay for these items monthly, but you will not be spending capital to buy them, capital that can be used for marketing. Lease payments can be written off taxes and you will have the use of new equipment with full warranties. The downside of leasing is that you cannot count things you lease as assets. You can also rent furniture and equipment. Definitely rent specialized equipment for select jobs as you need it, so that you do not have to spend as much as to purchase it. Be careful when leasing and renting that you do not end up paying more for an item than if you bought it and financed it.
Getting the Office Furniture and Equipment You Need
Every business has different needs for office furniture and equipment. If clients will be visiting your home office, your furniture and equipment will need to reflect this use, both in appearance and function. If you do not have clients visiting your home office, you will have a little more leeway in your equipment and furniture choices. It won't really matter if the colors are mismatched, if you purchased your desk secondhand at your neighbor's garage sale, or even if you choose to build a few of the items yourself. All that really matters is that your furniture and equipment do what you need them to do and are reliable and comfortable. So what are the basics that every home workspace needs, regardless of business type?
Desk or Work Station
Depending on the percentage of time you will spend at a desk not working with a computer, you will decide whether you want a traditional desk with a computer on it or a computer table with some desk space. Often, a used desk can serve the purpose. The same holds true with secondhand computer tables, which are often good, low-cost alternatives to new. Either way, the reason you should look for specific computer furniture is because it is designed to be at the right height for computer chairs plus strong and roomy enough to hold computer equipment. Computers have gotten lighter and most chairs are adjustable, making alternatives to computer furniture more feasible than in previous years.
If you need drawers to hold plenty of things at your disposal, but out of site, then by all means find a desk with drawers. If you are comfortable with rolling a couple of filing cabinets under your computer table, than perhaps drawers are unnecessary. Consider that rearranging your workspace is more difficult with older, heavier traditional desks, especially with large drawers that tend to accumulate plenty of junk. Yet some people just don't feel like they are working if they aren't sitting at a big desk. Wooden desks often appear more impressive to clients, which may score points for your business.
When buying a desk, check that the drawers have adequate space for your needs and open and close smoothly. Metal suspension rollers last longer than plastic or other alternatives. The wood and the construction will indicate the quality of the desk. Look underneath and see if the quality of the materials is consistent throughout and not just on the surface. For example, if staples underneath are holding drawers together, it is not a sign of quality. Heavier woods are used in the better desks and the construction is more solid. Also, if a wooden desk has rounded corners, it's more likely a higher-end model. Most office furniture suppliers today sell wooden desks with a laminate finish, which can help the wood resist scratches and dents.
Measure your office space before shopping for furniture, so you will know exactly what will fit. Then, when shopping, measure the height of desks, tables, and standing furniture so you know how much room they allow underneath for filing cabinets or any other type of storage.
Computer desks are created to position the computer at a comfortable height, assuming that the monitor is on a stand. For this reason, desktop computers are preferred for computer desks, since laptops or notebooks can cause back pain if the user is constantly leaning toward the screen. Some people like movable keyboard trays; others don't care. Again, your preference is what matters. Also, keep in mind that unless you are doing computer programming or similar work exclusively, there will be a need for space to do tasks away from the computer. Many people focus all their attention on the position of the computer and tend to forget that there will be a need for reference books, papers, and a desk lamp. Make sure you leave adequate room for whatever you anticipate needing on the desk--including some open space.
Lastly, take computer wiring into consideration before you make your purchase. Modern desks and computer tables are typically designed for computer wiring. Older desks, however, are not. You will want to position the desk in such a way as to minimize the length of the wires between the desk and the wall. Don't cut into any older desk that has potential value. It's easier to hide wiring in some manner, such as taping it to the bottom of the desk.
If your home office is part of another room, you might opt for creating desk space out of an armoire, a piece of furniture with doors that hide drawers or other storage space. Created specifically for home office use, many armoires allow you to have a workspace with shelves, storage, and even a sliding computer keyboard tray in one unit with doors that can be closed when company comes over. Built as work centers, armoires are often equipped with file drawers, adjustable shelves, and nooks and crannies for storing supplies. You also want to look for accommodations for computer wiring, which are included in the newest models.
Countertops or other such flat areas are not usually roomy or sturdy enough to be considered as workstations. Some home offices have counters built around part or all of the perimeter, extending far enough to hold a computer and/or a printer, but needing extra reinforcement to support technological equipment. Cutouts in the back can accommodate wiring and drawers can be built. If you have such counters or workstations extending from a wall, measure carefully for both depth and height from the floor. Sit comfortably and see at what height you would like to be working with your feet on the floor.
If you can splurge on only one piece of office furniture, a comfortable and ergonomically correct chair should be that luxury item, especially if your business keeps you in front of the computer or on the telephone for long periods. I endured many uncomfortable chairs until I decided a few years ago to splurge on a comfortable and high-quality chair for my office. All I can say is that I should have done it 10 years earlier. Sitting in an uncomfortable chair all day is like running a marathon in sneakers that are two sizes too small; both will leave you in physical agony.
Key things to check are distance from the seat to floor (or adjustable heights), adjustable armrests, and adjustable seating positions. Try chairs out to find one that feels comfortable. You will likely buy a computer chair on wheels, so you can roll it over to a filing cabinet if necessary.
There are plenty of choices when buying filing cabinets, most of which are inexpensive, particularly secondhand. The portable two-drawer cabinets for hanging files are very popular, since you can slide one under a computer table or tuck one in a corner and move it when necessary. In fact, some people roll them into their closets when not using them, as they also fit under hanging clothes.
Three- and four-drawer tower files can obviously accommodate more and usually come with options, such as drawers designed to accommodate CD/DVDs. Lateral filing cabinets will work only if you have enough wall space. The disadvantage is that they are heavier to move and require bending to access the files. An advantage is that if they are a good height you can set fax machine and/or printer on top.
If money is tight, you do not have to invest in a file cabinet for client files immediately. Instead, for about five dollars you can purchase an accordion-style file storage box that can hold up to about 100 documents. That is enough file storage space to get you going, especially if you purchase one for business records and a second for client files. Obviously, as your business grows, you will want to invest in quality cabinets with locking mechanisms.
Bookshelves are also indispensable for the home workspace. In addition to the obvious use of holding books, they can also be used for office supplies, in and out boxes, mail, a radio or CD player, CDs, DVDs, and just about anything else that you need to be easily accessible. There are numerous office supply websites as well as office supply stores in any major shopping area. Ikea is one place to check for shelving if you don't mind assembling the shelves yourself.
As the years roll on, things may get just a little more out of focus. Natural lighting from windows and skylights is terrific, but you will also need quality electrical lighting, which can make a huge difference in reducing eyestrain and increasing productivity. In addition to bright overhead lighting, also invest a few dollars in a good desk or a clamp-on work lamp that can be positioned to illuminate specific tasks.
Office Furniture and Equipment Costs
Figure 7.2, Office Furniture and Equipment Costs Worksheet, will help you calculate the costs of obtaining furniture and equipment for your workspace. Once again, ignore items that are not relevant to your business and add items that are specific to it.
Figure 7-2. Office Furniture and Equipment Costs Worksheet
Quantity $ Unit Cost $ Total Cost
- Desk ______ $_________ $_________
- Office chair ______ $_________ $_________
- Client seating ______ $_________ $_________
- File cabinets ______ $_________ $_________
- Bookcases ______ $_________ $_________
- Worktable(s) ______ $_________ $_________
- Work lighting ______ $_________ $_________
- Fireproof safe ______ $_________ $_________
- Storage boxes ______ $_________ $_________
- Photocopier ______ $_________ $_________
- Postage meter ______ $_________ $_________
- Radio or CD Player ______ $_________ $_________
- Paper shredder ______ $_________ $_________
- Recycling bin ______ $_________ $_________
- Labeling machine ______ $_________ $_________
- Wastebasket ______ $_________ $_________
- Other _________________ ______ $_________ $_________
- Other _________________ ______ $_________ $_________
Getting the Technology You Need
There is basic technology that every business needs: a computer, a monitor, an operating system, software, a modem, a printer, and a digital camera.
Assuming you know how to use a computer (if not, sign up for computer training at your local community college), the main considerations will be processing speed and data storage capabilities.
Whether you are planning to buy a desktop computer or intend to use one you already have, you should look for the following:
- At least 1 gigabyte (GB) of RAM
- At least 200, if not 250 or more, gigabytes (GB) of hard drive (the more the better)
- At least 2.3 or 2.8 gigahertz (GHz) processing speed
- At least four USB (universal serial bus) connections for peripherals, typically including a printer and perhaps a scanner
- A DVD drive/burner
- A CD burner
- Windows XP operating system (Vista has thus far not been as "amazing" as billed, which means you can get XP for less money and interface with the many other people who are also not yet taking a chance with Vista.)
- An internal modem
- A 3D graphics card, which will allow you to use the latest software programs
- 5.1 Surround Sound (not essential for your purposes, but always a plus for quality sound, such as background music while you're working)
- A firewall and antivirus software (The firewall should be part of your purchasing deal; for antivirus programs, consider PC-cillin, Norton 2008, or another leading anti-virus program.)
The main part of your computer, the processor (aka central processing unit, CPU), is the component that runs the programs. A CPU typically costs between $400 and $1,000 and is usually packaged (or bundled) with a keyboard, a monitor, speakers, and a mouse, providing a discount against buying them all separately.
For years the typical home computer monitor has been the familiar bulky kind with the big back, resembling a television. It has that look because it uses a cathode-ray tube (CRT) like the televisions we've watched for years, with numerous tiny phosphor dots inside the glass tube, each forming a line, with all the lines together creating an image.
The latest trend in monitors is the flat-panel LCD (liquid crystal display) monitor, which uses plasma and light-emitting diodes. While LCD monitors are more technical to explain, they offer a sleeker look than their CRT counterparts. The flat-panel monitors take up less room and are lighter, often weighing less than 20 pounds, far less than CRT monitors, generally weighing 35 to 45 pounds. Here are some basic differences to make shopping for a monitor less confusing:
- LCD monitors cost a little more than CRTs.
- LCD monitors typically have sharper pictures than CRTs, although not sharper colors.
- LCD monitors don't have that occasional flicker that you may sometimes experience on a CRT monitor.
To see an LCD monitor clearly, you need to be in front of it; otherwise, the image on screen can look distorted. A CRT monitor, however, can be seen clearly from various angles.
LCD monitors are more energy-efficient than CRT monitors.
Monitors range anywhere from $170 to $2,000, depending primarily on size and clarity. Most people purchase good-quality monitors in the $300 to $700 range. Again, look for a deal or work a deal with the CPU.
Keyboard and Mouse
Studies have shown that ergonomics should play a major role in your decision about what keyboard and mouse to purchase for your computer. The reason is that hand, wrist, arm, and shoulder positions are affected by your mouse and keyboard. Each has to be in balance to reduce the potential for injury. You may also want to consider purchasing a wireless keyboard-and-mouse set because it frees space on your desk and eliminates those pesky wires that seem to get wrapped around everything. Plan to spend about $50 to $70 on a keyboard, $20 to $60 on a mouse, or $70 to $130 on both. These are very often worked into the cost of the package--CPU, monitor, keyboard, and mouse--since it is worthwhile to the seller to get you to buy a slightly better monitor by practically throwing in the keyboard and mouse. Look at package deals, but don't be afraid to ask that one item be changed if you prefer another.
Most computers now come with a standard 56K modem, which is needed to connect to the internet. You can also opt for a more expensive modem, giving you the ability to connect to high-speed cable internet, which allows you to download files up to 20 times faster than with a dial-up internet connection, which is now becoming a thing of the past.
You can opt to go the wireless route with a wireless router. These routers are rather small and include an antenna. They can be set up in any location in the house, so that you can use your computer in any room. It's almost like having your own personal radio station signal tower, only much, much smaller. From this "hot spot," the wireless connections will go in all directions. Therefore, you may want to select a location that is not only central for your current computer, but also good for a laptop, should you decide to work in other parts of the home. You can also use the router for the computers of family members, although beyond that, I would not opt for networking between a business computer and one being used for computer games. Depending on the speed and distance you need, you can buy a wireless router for anywhere from $25 to $250.
Laptops and Notebooks
If you like working in different places around your office ... or around the house ... or in the backyard, there are many laptop and notebook computers available. Many weigh less than four pounds and are powerful enough to handle the same functions as a desktop, if not more.
The biggest disadvantages of laptop and notebook computers are the smaller screen and keyboard. While this may take getting used to while on the road, in your home office you can use a docking station, which magically turns your laptop into a desktop. No, this has nothing to do with the Starship Enterprise. A docking station is actually a platform into which you can install your portable computer so that you can use a full-size monitor, a full-size keyboard, your printer, and other peripheral devices.
When you are shopping for a laptop, the same rules apply as for a desktop. The feel of the keys, the size of the screen, and the feel of the trackball, TrackPointT, or touchpad will all be a matter of comfort. How does it look or feel to you? Last, remember: the smaller the components, the higher the prices, so you can expect to pay a little more for a notebook. Popular laptops and notebooks are available from Dell, Hewlett-Packard, Compaq, Toshiba, IBM, Sony, Gateway, Fujitsu, Acer, eMachines, and, of course, Apple. You can walk away with a good quality model for around $800.
There are two types of printers, laser and inkjet. Which one you need will depend on the type of business you are running and your primary need for a printer.
Laser printers are fast, some printing as much as 30 pages per minute. These are strong workhorse printers for someone who has a higher volume of material and needs printed words more than high-quality graphics and photos. Laser printers typically cost between $200 and $700, but cartridges, although not inexpensive, cost less than those for inkjet printers.
Inkjet printers are slower than their laser counterparts, but they can produce a higher level of color than color laser models and are priced lower. The cost of ink, however, will make them higher in the long run. These are printers for businesses that need a higher level of graphic and photographic materials and do not have as high a volume of printed matter. You'll find inkjets for $300 to $500.
Yes, some business owners have both to meet their various needs.
Once you have zeroed in on your printer needs, try a few models in stores and ask friends and neighbors which printers they have bought. It's easy to compare prices online and salespeople will tell you all the positives. However, since printers can be very frustrating when they stop working properly, you'll wan to get some good reviews and recommendations from people you know and trust.
Popular printer models manufacturers are Canon, Epson, Oki Data, Brother, Lexmark, and Hewlett-Packard.
Computer Data Storage
You'll want to stock up on CDs for your computer to store your data and back up all important material. It can't be stressed often enough that you need to back up your files frequently so that you do not suddenly lose valuable customer, vendor, and personal data if your computer crashes or you have a power outage. You can also use a USB flash drive, which is a small, lightweight, removable, and rewritable device used to save computer data, much like disks were used in the past, only sturdier, since disks could get bent or accidentally erased more easily.
Digital cameras are indispensable to home business owners. You can take pictures of products, clients, completed jobs, or your trip to Florida, and then transfer them easily to your website, e-mails, or desktop publishing programs. You can easily create brochures, presentations, catalogs, and fliers using your own photographs. Good-quality digital cameras cost in the range of $200 to $500. Nikon, Canon, Sony, Panasonic, and Olympus USA are among the leading companies making digital cameras.
High-Tech Shopping Tips
When shopping for your high-tech business equipment, it's advantageous to buy from well-known reputable companies that have been in business for some time and will likely still be there should you need them if you have problems with your business equipment. Here are some other general high-tech shopping tips:
- Look for good deals. Don't be afraid to walk away if you are not getting what you need.
- Don't buy into the wealth of features offered on top models, whether it's computers or digital cameras. Look for the functions that you need.
- Don't jump at the latest innovations. You can often buy the previously "hottest" items for a better price when the latest models come out. Unless the newest model has a feature you absolutely need, go with last year's model.
- Shop for a good warranty.
- Make sure you get all paperwork that comes with any technical equipment and keep it in a safe place.
- Buy from companies and businesses that provide excellent tech support.
Computer Hardware, Accessories and Software Costs
The following Computer Hardware, Accessories, and Software Costs Worksheet (Figure 7.3) can help you calculate the costs of equipping your new home workspace with common technology. Ignore items that are not relevant to your business and add items that are specific to your business, as required.
Figure 7-3. Computer Hardware, Accessories, and Software Costs Worksheet
Quantity $ Unit Cost $ Total Cost
- Desk ______ $_________ $_________
- Desktop computer ______ $_________ $_________
- Desktop monitor ______ $_________ $_________
- Keyboard and mouse ______ $_________ $_________
- Modem ______ $_________ $_________
- Notebook or laptop computer ______ $_________ $_________
- Printer ______ $_________ $_________
- PowerPoint projector ______ $_________ $_________
- Palm organizer ______ $_________ $_________
- Scanner ______ $_________ $_________
- Digital camera ______ $_________ $_________
- Surge protection ______ $_________ $_________
- UPS (uninterruptible/universal power supply)
______ $_______ $ ______
- Word processing program ______ $_________ $_________
- Accounting software ______ $_________ $_________
- Contact management software______ $_________ $_________
- Database management software ______ $_________ $_________
- Website building software ______ $_________ $_________
- Website maintenance software ______ $_________ $_________
- E-commerce software ______ $_________ $_________
- Payment processing software ______ $_________ $_________
- Inventory management software ______ $_________ $_________
- Desktop publishing software ______ $_________ $_________
- Multimedia software ______ $_________ $_________
- Antivirus software ______ $_________ $_________
- Other ________________ ______ $_________ $_________
- Other ________________ ______ $_________ $_________
Getting the Communication DevicesYou Need
The proliferation of high-tech communication devices in recent years makes it very easy to spend a whole lot of money in a very short time. But, once again, if you can get by with just the basic communication devices at first, you can always upgrade to new and better communication devices when your business is generating profits. For basic communication, you will need all or some of the following.
If you are going to have a workspace, you'll want to install a separate telephone line or multiline system, depending on the volume of calls you anticipate. Ideally this phone will have business features and functions such as conferencing, redial, speakerphone, call waiting, caller ID, and so on. Get what you need if it's not included. The payments can be added to your telephone bill.
Although fax transmissions have greatly declined in popularity in the last few years as e-mail use has increased, many businesses will still need a fax machine. Most contracts and agreements that must be signed are legal when faxed if both parties agree and it is so stipulated in the contract. If you do not want to purchase a separate fax machine, you can get fax software for your computer.
It seems that everyone has a cell phone now. They're convenient for anyone who wants to stay in touch and necessary for anyone who needs to do business while away from home.
Shop around for a good rate. Although the newer models have more features, you will primarily need only the basics for communication purposes. You may, however, consider purchasing a cell phone with internet features, as it is very convenient to be able to check e-mail when you are away from your computer. In fact, cell phones have become so popular and the services and features so varied that many home business owners are also using simple and inexpensive cell phones as their main phone. It's always advisable to have a landline, however, since cell phones drop calls and cell phone batteries tend to need recharging when you need your phone the most. Therefore, have both.
A telephone headset will be a definite need if your business keeps you working at a computer all day or if you use a phone in your car. It enables you to use your phone and leaves your hands free to work on the computer or, when you are out of the office and on your cell phone, to drive your car, walk down the street, or work in your garden. Headsets, both wired and wireless, are available for both desktop phones and cellular phones. Count on spending $30 to $90 for either type.
You will need an internet connection. A good internet service provider is a must for anyone in business today. Most internet service providers (ISPs) charge about $20 to $30 per month for broadband, meaning cable or DSL hookup, and give you unlimited web and e-mail access. Dial-up access will cost less, but tie up a phone line, so it can end up costing you more--as well as being too slow for business purposes. Therefore, you need to sign up for cable or DSL.
The Communications Costs Worksheet (Figure 7.4) will help you calculate the costs of equipping your home workspace with common communication devices. Ignore items that are not relevant to your business and add items that are specific to your business.
Figure 7-4. Communications Costs Worksheet
Quantity $ Unit Cost $ Total Cost
- Specialty wiring and networking ______ $_________ $_________
- Telephone with business functions ______ $_________ $_________
- Install dedicated telephone line ______ $_________ $_________
- Install dedicated fax line ______ $_________ $_________
- Toll-free line/number ______ $_________ $_________
- Internet connection ______ $_________ $_________
- Cordless telephone ______ $_________ $_________
- Cell phone (perhaps with internet features)
______ $_________ $_________
- Headset ______ $_________ $_________
- Answering machine or service ______ $_________ $_________
- Fax machine (or fax software) ______ $_________ $_________
- Pager ______ $_________ $_________
- Other ____________________ ______ $_________ $_________
- Other ____________________ ______ $_________ $_________
Home Office Library
All successful entrepreneurs share a common trait--they never stop searching for ways to become better businesspeople through education. And because time is always in high demand but short supply, the best way to educate themselves and find information that will make them better businesspeople is by purchasing and reading books, reports, magazines, directories, and journals. In fact, most successful businesspeople take pride in their business libraries.
For these reasons, you should start purchasing business-related publications so that you can build your own valuable business library. Even with the internet as a powerful research and educational tool, books are handy: you can take them on the plane or read them in bed. They help you check facts quickly, without having to log onto the Net and conduct searches for the information. The internet is an invaluable business tool, but the combination of a well-stocked and varied business library and key websites gives businesspeople access to all the information they need.
You will also want to subscribe to journals that are aimed at your specific business or industry. When you come across ideas in print that will work for your business, cut the article out and place it in an idea folder for later use. Prime topics that you should include in your business library include:
- Small business accounting, bookkeeping, and taxation
- Sales and marketing
- Business and marketing planning
- Administration and management
- Internet, website building, and e-commerce
- Advertising and public relations
- Personal and business goal setting
- Customer service
- Industry, product, service, and manufacturers' directories and source books
- Time management and organization
A good source for used books is AbeBooks which boasts in excess of 45 million used books for sale in every imaginable category. Amazon is also a good source for new and used books. PubList.com is an online directory listing in excess of 150,000 domestic and international print and electronic publications, including magazines, journals, e-journals, and newsletters. Also check with your local library about book sales; most sell titles for a fraction of what they cost new.