101 Top Tech Solutions

Topics 77-91

Buying for Your Homebased Office

77. 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.

78. 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.

79. Get Connected
If you have a Web site 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.

80. 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.

81. Balancing the Budget
How much should you expect to pay to equip a home office? Here's a sample budget:

  • Computer: For roughly $1,000, you can get an IBM-compatible computer with a Pentium 4 processor, 512MB of memory, a 60GB hard drive, a 17-inch CRT monitor, a CD-ROM drive, a 56K modem and an Ethernet connection from Dell, Compaq, Gateway and other leading suppliers.

  • Multifunction machine: For $200 to $500, you can buy a machine that acts as a fax machine, copier and printer, which includes the ability to print out digital photos in color.

  • Two-line cordless phone: Today's top-of-the-line cordless phones start at less than $200, offering home offices the same full-duplex clarity as a corporate boardroom with a microphone optimized for hands-free conversations.

  • Phone service: All-inclusive packages from providers like AT&T, MCI and Verizon provide unlimited local, regional and long-distance calls for less than $60 a month.

  • Internet access: High-speed Internet access-broadband or DSL-is generally available for $40 to $100 per month.

Out With the Old: Ridding Your Office of Old Technology

82. 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.

83. 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. You also can look up prices for individual PCs online at $3.99 per shot.

84. 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.

85. 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.

86. 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.

Beef Up Your eBay Biz With Tech!

87. Auction Management Software
While it's possible to have a profitable business selling on eBay without using any additional software, good auction management software will save you time and money, make you more efficient, and improve the level of customer service you offer.

You can purchase software or subscribe to an online service that will help you create your listings, launch them manually or automatically at the time you determine, manage your photographs, count how often your listing is viewed, send e-mails to buyers, manage inventory, print shipping labels, post feedback and more. Some auction management service providers also offer payment processing. Auction management software will also provide you with reports that will help you manage your business more efficiently.

88. Postage 101
A postage scale is a valuable investment for eBay sellers. An accurate scale takes the guesswork out of postage and will quickly pay for itself. It's a good idea to weigh every piece of mail--both envelopes and packages--to eliminate the risk of items being returned for insufficient postage or overpaying if you're unsure of the weight. Mechanical scales typically range from $10 to $25 and will be sufficient as you are getting started. As your sales volume increases, you'll want a digital scale, which is somewhat more expensive--generally from $50 to $200--but significantly more accurate than a mechanical unit. Or you may want to invest in an electronic computing scale that weighs the item and then calculates the rate via the carrier of your choice, making it easy for you to make price and service comparisons. Programmable electronic scales range in price from $80 to $250.

Postage meters allow you to pay for postage in advance and print the exact amount on the mailing piece when it is used. Meters also provide a "big company" a professional image, are more convenient than stamps, and can save you money in a number of ways. Postage meters are leased, not sold, with rates starting at about $30 per month. They require a license, which is available from your local post office. Only four manufacturers are licensed by the U.S. Postal Service to manufacture and lease postage meters; your local post office can provide you with the contact information. Smaller eBay sellers find that buying postage online is an affordable and convenient alternative to leasing a postage meter.

89. Say "Cheese"!
Besides your computer, the most important piece of equipment for an eBay seller is a digital camera. Yes, you can use a traditional film camera but that means you spend time and money on processing, and then you have to scan the picture before you can put up an auction. And if your pictures don't turn out well, you'll waste even more time and money re-shooting your items. Be sure to get a good-quality digital camera, one that will show the detail of your products. There are many digital cameras on the market, and new technologies are being introduced regularly. If you don't know much about digital cameras, use the discussion board feature in eBay's "Community" section to get input from other users about which camera brands and models work well and which ones don't.

90. Getting a Good Deal
Whether you're buying items for your inventory, a major piece of office equipment or a toner cartridge for your laser printer, you should evaluate each vendor on quality, service and price. Look at the product itself, as well as the supplemental services and support the company provides. And always check eBay before you make a final buying decision. "We always check eBay first, and we find some pretty good deals there," says Gotham City Online's Jonathan Garriss.

91. The Basics
Getting started on eBay doesn't require a supercomputer, but some smart hardware decisions can give you a leg up in establishing an eBay business. The basics include a computer, a monitor, a digital camera and an Internet connection.

Chances are, you don't really need the latest and greatest PC. "I would recommend folks have a PC with at least 60GB of storage and at least 512MB of RAM and a CD-RW drive," says Gold PowerSeller Christopher Spencer (eBay User ID: borntodeal). Going with a trusted name brand is wise. An external tape backup or hard drive is a must that is often overlooked. You can't afford to lose all your data if your computer goes down. And since you'll be spending a lot of time at your machine, a comfortable monitor is also important. "Flat screens are so much easier to deal with, and the prices are so close to what CRTs used to be that I recommend sticking with a flat screen," says Spencer. Plus, they're easier on your eyes and won't hog up all of your desk space.

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