Take It Outside!

...or to your living room, your kitchen, or wherever you need to be. A wireless network not only boosts productivity, but also makes life as a homebased entrepreneur a whole lot easier.

It's a sunny 72 degrees outside, and that bench on your back patio looks mighty inviting. This would be a great time to pick up your laptop and step out of your home office for a little while. What's that you say? You're expecting an important e-mail, and you have some research to conduct online? If you had a wireless network, you wouldn't have to think twice about it. There are good reasons why wireless technologies are booming in home offices across the nation.

Your home-office wireless possibilities go beyond just a Wi-Fi network. There's a 99.9 percent chance that you already have a mobile phone you're married to, but we'll start with Wi-Fi. A wireless network can turn your whole house (and patio and porch) into an extension of your home office. This isn't just about technology for technology's sake, but about increasing your productivity and making your workday a more flexible and enjoyable experience.

Karen Oosterhous, 32, publisher of Firebrand Books, has been running her business from a home office in Ann Arbor, Michigan, for a year and a half. She installed an 802.11b wireless network with a little help, bringing in outside technical experts to assess her needs, recommend equipment and set up the system. "I do think it's important to have someone come out and look at your setup and recommend what's best for you. A little investment on the front end pays dividends on the back end," says Oosterhous. It cost her $300 for the experts' time, plus the cost of hardware. For entrepreneurs who don't feel comfortable installing Wi-Fi, bringing in outside help removes the headaches and gets the job done right.

One of the benefits Oosterhous enjoys is having her laser printer wirelessly networked so either of her desktop Macs or her IBM laptop can print directly to it. On occasion, she brings in an administrative assistant who works on the laptop in a separate working area. The wireless network lets the assistant have easy file and printing access. Entrepreneurs who bring in temporary or permanent outside help will find a wireless network invaluable.

When it came to buying the hardware for her wireless network, Oosterhous went with D-Link Systemsproducts on the advice of her technical advisors. Peter Phillips, vice president of marketing at connectivity device manufacturer Socket Communications, says, "Often you get what you pay for in the wireless arena in terms of reliability, ease of use and setup. A lot of times, going with a fairly well-known brand is important." While a tight budget is a big consideration, a good warranty and solid, 24-hour tech support can be critical, especially if you're setting up the system yourself. Though installation and ease of use have improved, entrepreneurs dealing with older hardware and operating systems stand a good chance of needing technical support at some point in the process.

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This article was originally published in the May 2004 print edition of Entrepreneur's StartUps with the headline: Take It Outside!.

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