Setting Up a Great Home Office

The following are the essentials of the well-equipped home office:

  • Your desk: Generally, the bigger the better, with lots of room for a computer monitor, keyboard, and telephone, and plenty of space to spread out your work.

  • Your chair: Although you may be able to get by with used desks and shelves, second-hand file cabinets, and cheap tables, do purchase a new, high-quality chair. Chair padding breaks down over time, so avoid buying a used work chair.

  • File cabinets: To keep your home office organized, you need lots of filing cabinets for all the paper you and your customers and clients are going to generate. File your paperwork early, and file it often!

  • Bookshelves: Bookshelves are a great way to store all kinds of work materials — not just books.

  • Work tables: If you have the space, a work table or two can provide a much-needed work area for those times when your desk just isn't big enough to accommodate a project.

  • Storage: Closets, garages, attics, and the like all make great places to store or archive your product inventory, paperwork, or other work-related materials. Don't forget: You can write storage space off of your taxes, too, if you take the home-office deduction.

  • Lots of office supplies! Stock up for several months' worth of supplies at a time if you have the space. Or stock items on a just-in-time basis by ordering via the Internet or by phone.

In addition, consider how you can use new technologies to your advantage. Tapping into the latest technology is as important for Home-based businesses as it is for the big kids. Keep up to date with the latest technology news and do whatever you can to be sure that you don't get left behind as the speed of business continues to accelerate. The following sections give you a rundown on the essentials for your Home-based business.

Computers

Whether you get a fully equipped desktop computer, a notebook computer, or a sleek palmtop, your Home-based business can use a computer.

  • Desktops: Desktop computers (as opposed to portable laptops or handheld palmtops) are the workhorses of the technologically up-to-date home office — they have the most powerful microprocessors (to make them fast), the most memory (to be able to store lots of data), the largest monitors (to see your work more clearly), and the latest technical innovations (like faster modems for connecting to the Internet). Set a budget for your computer purchase, and buy the best one you can afford.

  • Notebooks: If you're on the road a lot, and you need many of the capabilities of your desktop computer but in a package that's portable, choose a notebook computer.

  • Personal digital assistants (PDAs): PDAs, such as the units produced by Palm Computing, have captured the most interest among business-people — some even have keyboards and small, built-in color monitors. Often called palmtops, PDAs are used primarily to track appointments, to-do lists, and phone numbers.

  • Printer and scanner: To print anything — proposals, letters, invoices, and so on — you're going to need a printer. Printers come in two main flavors: laser printers to print text and color ink-jet printers for graphics and photos. You may want a scanner to input photos or graphics.

Internet access

Whether you go with a service such as America Online, CompuServe, the Microsoft Network, AT&T WorldNet, or Earthlink, the Internet is where you (and your business) need to be. Here are four popular ways to connect to the Internet:

  • Phone modems: Phone modems are still the most common way to connect your computer to the Internet.

  • DSL: Digital subscriber lines (DSL) are cost effective and becoming more common in the marketplace.

  • Cable modems: Cable modems bring the promise of high-speed access — generally more than 20 times faster than a standard phone modem — over your existing cable television lines (if available in your area). If you do a lot of your work on the Internet, it's definitely worth the extra cost. Don't forget — you may be able to write the expense off of your taxes.

  • Satellite: For a Home-based business that requires high-speed access to the Internet but is located in a rural area, simply stick a small dish antenna on your home, hook it up to your computer, and you're off and running!

Telephones

Your office phone is the most basic and essential of all business tools. Standard phones today come with all kinds of features, including programmable speed-dial numbers, multiple-line capability, speakerphone operation, conference call capability, and headset jacks. Many local phone companies also offer a menu of all kinds of phone services, including call forwarding, priority ringing, last call dialed, conferencing, and more.

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Buy a phone that doesn't require an external power source to operate. You'll know why the first time your power goes out. Phones that rely on an external power source will die an immediate death, while phones that don't will live on.

You probably also want to consider the following:

  • Wireless phones include cellular telephones, digital phones, and portable phones that you carry around your home and home office. Cell phones are popular for Home-based businesspeople whenever you need to conduct business away from your office.

  • Internet phones — which turn your computer into a telephone — are still in their infancy but promise to enable anyone with a computer to call someone on another computer (using the same software, of course) for free.

  • Voice mail is quickly taking over from answering machines. You can get voice mail on a regular or wireless phone, a pager, or on your computer — often for little or no additional charge.

Fax machines and copiers

When a document absolutely, positively has to get there right now, a fax machine is a cost-effective option:

  • A stand-alone fax unit only sends and receives fax messages.

  • An all-in-one printer/fax/scanner/copier can save you money and space by taking on the functions of many other office machines.

  • A computer as a fax machine can be used when the item to be faxed resides within the computer's hard drive.

Every home office needs a copier of some sort. If you have an all-in-one printer/fax/scanner/copier, use it to make copies. You can also use your scanner and printer as a copier. Or you can buy a small desktop copier from warehouse stores and office supply superstores. If your needs are greater than that, you can lease a full-service office copier.

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