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Three new customers call your business and hang up after getting busy signals. A proposal is late getting back from the printer because you didn't invest in a high-quality laser printer. A client sends you a computer file, but you can't open it because you have an ancient version of the program.
Sound too familiar? Cutting corners on office equipment is one of the most common mistakes homebased business owners make, says Alice Bredin, author of the nationally syndicated newspaper column "Working At Home." If you want to play in the big leagues, invest in the same high-quality office equipment you'd expect to find in small businesses based outside the home. A sampling:
A computer is typically your first important equipment consideration. Unless your needs are minimal, stay away from bargain PCs under $1,000 and consumer-oriented models. Most home offices require business PCs loaded with plenty of processing power and hard-drive space, plus the latest business productivity software.
Quantex, for instance, offers the QP6/400 SB-2 ($1,399 street; www.quantex.com). It comes with a 400 MHz Pentium II processor, 64MB RAM, an 8.4GB hard drive and Microsoft Office97 Small Business Edition--exactly what you'll need to efficiently run productivity programs and perform typical business tasks.
Keep current software versions installed on your PC as well. Not having the latest word processing, presentation, desktop publishing, calendaring and project management programs simply isn't professional, Bredin says. Other useful programs: data compression software, like PKZIP for Windows 95/98 ($39 street; www.pkware.com) for compressing and decompressing large files, as well as antivirus and invoicing programs.
The Internet is your direct line to the outside world--so it goes without saying your Internet connection better be speedy. Average Internet users will find a 56K modem works just fine. If you need to upgrade, a variety of v.90 modems, typically for under $75, are available from 3Com (http://www.3com.com), Diamond Multimedia (http://www.diamondmm.com) and Practical Peripherals (http://www.practical.com).
If Internet usage is extremely critical, consider the latest ISDN, cable or xDSL services, depending on availability. At a minimum, these solutions will double your access speeds compared to a 56K modem. Call your local phone and cable companies about availability, pricing and the need for additional lines and equipment.
Bredin also recommends seriously considering a domain name for your business, so your e-mail address isn't with some generic ISP. An e-mail identity with your company name, like Steve@XYZcompany.com, lends an extra level of credibility. You can get one from Network Solutions (http://www.networksolutions.com).
At a minimum, you'll need two separate phone lines for phone and fax/data needs. Ideally, three phone lines work best if you can afford them. That way, two lines are dedicated to voice communications for use by an extra employee and to avoid missing incoming calls. "Basically, get enough lines to avoid stopping the momentum among your fax, e-mail and phone interactions," Bredin says.
You also should give some extra thought to the type of local and long-distance plans you'll choose as well. Sprint Sense Home Office (http://www.sprint.com/homeoffice), for instance, combines several telecommunications services into a single bill for easier administration. The complete communications package includes a toll-free 800 number, long-distance service and calling card service--all at 10 cents per minute.
Additional telecommunications services that may be worth the extra cost include call waiting, voice mail, call forwarding and three-way calling.
Because of their small size, low price and myriad features, many homebased businesses find multifunction machines invaluable. An affordable, all-in-one solution, Canon's CFX-L3500IF laser multifunction system ($1,095 street; http://www.usa.canon.com) offers 6 pages per minute (ppm) laser printing, 14.4K plain paper faxing, PC faxing, scanning, convenience copying and full telephone functionality.
If you often create presentations and professional documents, a color laser printer may be worth the extra investment. The Phaser 740 color laser printer from Tektronix ($1,995 street; http://www.tek.com:80/Color-Printers) boasts true 1,200 x 1,200 dpi resolution for superior print quality and fast printing (16 ppm black-and-white, 5 ppm color).
Small office environments and specialized work conditions may require additional equipment. If you're short on desk space or spend lots of hours in front of the computer, consider an LCD monitor like the sleek, affordable 13.3-inch SyncMaster 330 TFT from Samsung Electronics America ($799 street; http://www.sosimple.com). An ergonomic mouse or keyboard may also be appropriate; the Microsoft Natural Elite keyboard ($64.95 street; http://www.microsoft.com) is gently sloped for a more natural typing position.
Finally, notebook computers, cell phones, pagers and personal digital assistants are excellent productivity tools when away from home. A color scanner and digital camera are excellent extras to round out your homebased equipment repertoire.