Stretch Your Tech Buck
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New startups can get creative about cutting expenses, but there are some tools you just can't work without. Here are 10 technology essentials for any new business and tips for not busting your budget when you're out shopping.
High-end muscle computers look cool and pack enough power to run a small country, but a $1,500 desktop is overkill for most startups. Around $400 will get you a capable desktop with a monitor thrown in. If you have extra cash floating around, consider tossing it at a second matching monitor to boost your productivity. Exceptions to the low-cost desktop: If you need to run heavy-duty multimedia software, process HD video and crunch massive databases, spend more for a higher-end computer.
Get It: The Dell Vostro line starts at around $280 and is geared specifically for small businesses.
We don't need to tell you how important broadband internet is--but we're telling you anyway. Either DSL or cable should work for you, but look beyond the slowest and cheapest speeds. A few bucks more a month for faster broadband will pay for itself as your web apps zing along and streaming media doesn't stutter. A decent home-office-level broadband connection starts at around $40 a month.
Get It: If it's available in your area, you can get Qwest Fiber Optic Service with speeds of up to 0 Mbps for less than $50 per month.
All the cool startups tote laptops. When you want one computer that can be both an office mainstay and a home machine, a desktop-replacement laptop will net you plenty of screen space. If you don't mind the heft, you can pick up one of these big boys for around $600. On the other end of the spectrum, a netbook for $400 or less is a savvy choice for startups that need a portable supplemental computer. Entrepreneurs who run their business primarily on web apps are particularly good netbook candidates.
Get It: The Asus 1000HE netbook gives you a hefty 160 GB hard drive, Windows XP and a 10-inch screen for about $375.
These days, you have to make an effort to find a cell phone that isn't smart. But some phones make the honor roll while others are sporting straight Bs. Apple's iPhone (now going for as little as $99) has become a real business contender, thanks to the App Store and all the business-friendly software now available for it. Make your smartphone purchase even smarter by pairing it with an all-you-can-talk voice and data plan. Sprint's $99 per month unlimited voice and data plan is the cheapest of its kind.
Get It: For BlackBerry lovers, the $149 (with contract and mail-in rebate) RIM BlackBerry Curve 8900packs in Wi-Fi and GPS on T-Mobile.
Yes, your customers are judging you by your website. If there's no room in the budget for a professional web designer, you can still get a clean and simple website from providers like Yahoo and Microsoft. Microsoft Office Live Small Business offers a completely free website with hosting, templates and e-mail. Even a domain name is initially free, with a $14.95 annual fee after your first year. Yahoo Web Hosting comes in at around $10 per month with customizable site templates.
Get It: The basic do-it-yourself website and hosting plan from Dotster is an inexpensive $5.75 per month.
6. Accounting Software
Few entrepreneurs get really excited about accounting software. But your heart might beat a little faster when you learn that the price for QuickBooks Simple Start and Microsoft Office Accounting Express is free. Either program can handle all the basic accounting needs of a startup.
Get It: For simple invoicing needs, Intuit Billing Manager is a free online service.
7. Office Suite
You need something to handle your nuts-and-bolts word processing, spreadsheets and presentations. Think of an ideal price tag. If your number is close to $0, then OpenOffice, Zoho or Google Apps could be a good fit for your startup. Zoho and Google Apps are great if you're comfortable with running your applications online. If you're more in the market for a desktop-dwelling alternative to the Microsoft Office suite, check out OpenOffice.
Get It: Sun's $34.95 StarOffice is closely related to OpenOffice, but with additional features like technical support.
Step away from the inkjets. Save space and money with an all-in-one laser printer. The usual suspects like Hewlett-Packard, Brother and Canon make laser multifunction printers to handle your faxing, scanning, copying and printing needs. About $500 will get you color capabilities, and $250 to $300 is a good bargain point for monochrome. You can even get Ethernet and wireless network capabilities thrown in for that price tag.
Get It: It's been out for a while, but the Brother MFC-7840w is a deservedly popular all-in-one laser with Wi-Fi for under $300.
9. Data Backup
We're all for saving money on technology, but don't skimp too much when it comes to data backup. External hard drives that connect to your computer or network are a good start. But off-site backup is even better for protection against natural disasters, damage or theft. For inexpensive, automatic online backup of a single system, look into a $50-per-year service like Carbonite.
Get It: Netgear's ReadyNAS Vault service is an online backup solution that works with its ReadyNAS on-site systems. Pricing starts at $20 per month.
10. Internet Marketing
All your other technology purchases won't matter much if you don't get the word out about your startup. Google AdWords is a smart place to test the search-engine-advertising waters. You create ads, choose keywords and, best of all, set your own budget.
Get It: Manage your e-mail marketing online with Constant Contact's SpeakUp service, starting at $15 per month.
Amanda C. Kooser is a freelance writer in Albuquerque, New Mexico, with 10 years experience covering business and technology.