As you start your business, you've probably put a lot of thought into each aspect of the launch. You'll also have to put a lot of thought into setting up your work area. Having a present and future plan for fulfilling your tech needs is just as important as a business plan. You want your office to be as comfortable and efficient as possible, and you want to make sure your technology is a good investment. The good news is, there are great deals on the technology tools and office solutions you need.
Make your office as warm and inviting as possible-especially if future clients will be stopping by. Throw paint on the walls, add artwork, and bring in a plant or two.
When it comes to furnishing your space, keep in mind the likely pieces of office equipment you'll be using-a computer, a monitor, a printer-as well as any extras, such as a photo printer, external hard drives and so on. Choose a desk that will fit your computer, monitor and a peripheral or two, and that provides plenty of extra work space.
Two-drawer filing cabinets are just high enough to double as extra counter space, and they're great for piling on office peripherals. Another low-cost trick is creating a credenza to add to your desk by placing a piece of Formica or finished wood on top of two filing cabinets placed a few feet apart.
You can find office furniture everywhere-shop online at eBay, or hit brick-and-mortar locations of IKEA, Kmart, Office Depot, OfficeMax, Staples and Target. Great sources for cheaper office furniture are office surplus and secondhand office furniture stores.
Once you find a desk that works in your space, invest in a comfortable chair. Chairs and monitors are the two pieces of office equipment most likely to cause physical discomfort, so don't skimp on either. Always try before you buy-go to your nearest office supply store, and test out your options. Costs for chairs range from $50 to pretty much as high as you're willing to spend. Brand names to look for include Global, Hon, Raynor and Situations. On the high end is the fabulous Herman Miller Aeron chair, which can cost upwards of $600.
You may have noticed that the cost of computers has come down a lot in the past few years. At press time, an eMachinesT2882 with an Intel Celeron 2.8GHz processor, 256MB SDRAM, an 80GB hard drive and a CD-RW and DVD drive costs just $479 (all prices street). It comes bundled with Windows XP Home Edition-fine if you work with basic text documents, and you can easily upgrade to Windows XP Professional Edition if needed. It also comes with a keyboard, speakers and a scroll mouse, so you won't need to make an additional investment there.
When it comes to choosing a monitor, it really depends on your needs and your budget. These days, CRTs are dirt cheap, and you can expect to pay as little as $150 for a 19-inch monitor. KDSUSA's XF-9i uses "flat" technology to avoid curvatures of the monitor and is coated with an anti-reflective, antistatic coating that's easy on the eyes-an important consideration if you work long hours. It features 1,600 x 1,200 resolution, and is backed by a three-year limited parts and labor warranty.
While not as cheap as CRTs, LCDs have come down in price and take up less desk space. You can get a 17-inch flat panel, like the AG NeovoF-417, for as little as $399. It features 1,280 x 1,024 resolution; an anti-glare, antistatic coating; and a thin bezel. If a flat-panel monitor still doesn't free up enough desk real estate, use an LCD display arm or wall-mounting kit.
The next essential piece of equipment is a multifunction unit to handle printing, copying, faxing and scanning. This not only saves valuable office space, but also provides reliability and simplicity since there's only one cartridge to replace, one cord to plug in and one fax line to connect. The SamsungSCX-4216F is a good choice because it combines print, copy, scan and fax functions, yet still has a compact footprint and provides speedy, 600 dpi printing at 17 ppm. It comes standard with a 250-sheet tray and a 30-sheet automatic document feeder for quick copying. Its scanner has a maximum resolution of 4,800 dpi, and you get it all for just $499. Installation is a cinch, especially if you have Windows XP and you plug it into your computer via USB cables-the drivers will literally install themselves.
What's the best way for your clients to always be able to get ahold of you? Use your wireless phone as your business line. That way, you'll never miss an important call. Clients will be able to contact you wherever you are, and you won't have to be tied to your office.
The Motorola MPx200 is available through AT&Tfor $299 and offers more than just simple wireless service. It makes it easy for you to run your business from your cell phone because it comes bundled with Windows Mobile software, allowing you to access e-mail, open and modify word documents, and surf the Internet while on the go. And you can do it all on AT&T's high-speed GSM/GPRS data network.
Don't forget your hands-free headset. Plantronicsoffers the M220 for $29.95; it features a flexible ear loop and a noise-canceling microphone for safe talking while driving or to free up your hands for typing or note-taking.
For those who still want a regular landline, the PanasonicKX-TSC14W is a good choice. For $59.95, it offers a corded phone with two-line operation, call waiting and caller ID. It's a basic phone at a good price.
Fax and phone lines will connect you to the outside world, but what about Internet connections? If you're running a business from home and just need to check e-mail or search the Web, you can get by without broadband. But dial-up doesn't provide the speed you need to run a business if you need to download files or conduct Web research. Also, dial-up ties up your phone line.
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.
For broadband deals near you, check out BroadBandBuyer.com. The site offers an informative chart of features and benefits, and will help you find the broadband options available in your part of the country. 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.
Another advantage of a broadband Internet connection is that it can be shared across a network of several computers. Lately, more and more entrepreneurs are expanding office networks and adding home-office networks using 802.11x or Wi-Fi technology.
A good choice for a wireless router is Linksys' Wireless-G VPN Broadband Router, which sells for $229. It offers a built-in firewall with 128-bit WEP encryption and a VPN tunnel so you can access your network safely from an Internet connection on the road. Add Linksys' Wireless-G PCI Adapter (for desktops) for $79 or its Wireless-G Notebook adapter for the same price.
For more on setting up a wireless office, see "Take It Outside!".
If your business requires a higher-quality photo printer, consider the Stylus Photo RX500. It's an all-in-one with photo printing, scanning and copying capabilities with a maximum resolution of 5,760 x 1,440 dpi. A built-in memory card slot also allows you to print without a computer. Print a variety of sizes and formats, including 8-by-10s and panoramics. Black text prints out at 17 ppm, and a regular 4-by-6-inch photograph prints out in about 37 seconds.
Model: Stylus Photo RX500
Phone: (800) GO-EPSON
Retail price: $249
Take It With You
For entrepreneurs on the go, Toshiba offers a great solution with its Satellite series of notebooks, particularly the A40-S270, which offers a 2.8GHz Pentium 4 processor, 512MB SDRAM and a 60GB hard drive-a speedy system at a bargain price. Its 15-inch display is middle of the road in viewing area, but that does help keep the weight and the price down.
Model: Satellite A40-S270
Phone: (800) 316-0920
Street price: $1,429
Keep yourself organized, fashionably. Dell's Axim X3i PDA features a color display with QVGA resolution, a 400MHz processor and built-in 802.11b connectivity. It weighs in at 5 ounces and comes equipped with 64MB SDRAM, expandable via SDIO and memory card slots. Running Windows Mobile 2003 for Pocket PC, it comes bundled with PocketWord and PocketExcel so you can keep important documents in the palm of your hand.
Model: Axim X3i
Phone: (800) 449-3355
Street price: $349