How to set up your first office with little money and no technical expertise

I get a few people ask me (usually in social situations where I'm trying to think about anything other than work!), "What is the cheapest office set-up I can do?" for their new small business. runPCrun are many things, and while we believe we are the best solution considering time,cost and quality, we happily admit we're not necessarily the cheapest solution and this can be important when starting a cash-starved first business. After all, engineer time costs money, and custom solutions can take plenty of time and work, especially when having to consider existing infrastructure, user ability, the budget for the coming year and so forth.

However, if you don't have an existing solution, you have the opportunity to start afresh without having to worry about legacy issues or other issues about moving and migrating your data. This is the viewpoint I will be addressing this article from. (as migrations are a whole different ball game). That, or you just do it yourself and get your hands dirty!

The solutions I am presenting are cheap, and they can all be set up with little or no technical expertise.

 

Broadband

There are many cheap broadband solutions these days. Just remember that a lot of these cheap or free broadband offers are great when they work, but can cause grief when they don't. If price is your main criteria then great, but don't expect A1 service if/when there is a problem. We believe since broadband is important these days it's worth going with a quality supplier,and you can find them here at ISPreview.co.uk. (We personally recommend Andrews and Arnold* for a good service and reliability and BeThere* for fast, unmetered and cheap)

Broadband is very easy to install these days, a supplier will simply send you a pre-configured router which you just plug in. If you need to migrate suppliers remember to ask for a "MAC code" (a migration code that helps the move become quicker and easier)

Phones

Services like Skype and Gizmo give you the ability to send and receive calls from your PC, including extra features such as voicemail. VoIP providers like VoIPTalk or A&A will do the same service, and will allow you to use VoIP phones which sit like regular phones on your desks. Lastly there is the Voxhub service which can give even more options in line with expensive PBX systems when you have more than one employee or multiple phones and wish to have IVR menus and much, much more.
Something else we've found useful about all of these services is that small businesses often move several times in their early stages (they start in their house, then get a small office, then move to a bigger office etc). VoIP technologies prevent your phone number being tied to your physical location, thereby making such office moves much simpler.
Lastly, there are the normal phone suppliers and the dial-through comparison service - the International Call Checker for those using existing technology and trying keeping costs down.

Fax 

There are plenty of Fax to Email services for that odd occasion you may need to send or receive one of these "pre-email era messages". Don't buy a fax machine, buy a scanner! If you just want fax to email, you can request a FREE UK fax number courtesy of Andrews and Arnold.

Email, calendar, website

Buy your domain name through Google via Google Apps for Your Domain, and you can instantly have a domain name, calendar and simple website creator. This solution will fit most non-IT based small businesses extremely well. Also included is Google Docs and Spreadsheets, with which you can keep your documents with Google, negating the need for your own infrastructure for storing, backing up and accessing your documents on-site or remotely. All you need is a web browser and a broadband connection! (Recently I've also noticed Zoho appear on the scene, and seems well worth a look.)

Office and other software

OpenOffice icon

Using Open Office instead of Microsoft Office can literally save you hundreds of pounds/dollars per PC. Just make sure you save in the Word Document format (or PDF) if you are sending documents to other people. Here are some training videos if you want to see how easy it is to use, and it's pretty similar to Microsoft Office in my opinion. Or use the aforementioned Google Docs and Spreadsheets which will ask which format you'd like when you send the document. For everything else there's usually an open source or free alternative.

  • Google Docs - Create and share documents on-line and access them from anywhere
  • Basecamp - Project management and collaboration. Collaborate with your team and clients. Schedules, tasks, files, messages, and more.
  • Highrise - On-line contact manager and simple CRM. Keep track of who your business talks to, what was said, and what to do next.
  • Backpack - Information organizer and calendar. Gather your ideas, to-dos, notes, photos & files on-line. Set email and mobile reminders.
  • Google Maps - View maps and directions

Backup

You must not forget to backup - period. If you can't trust yourself to backup your vital data to CD or USB Flash, then subscribe to one of the many data backup services. Mozy/MozyPro seem to be a good company, as well as BackupDirect* and Data Deposit Box.

Conclusion 

Get into the wise computing mindset as well as setting up your office well at the start (with guidelines such as these) and you will be enjoying productive computing for many years to come. Good luck!

* means there is some referral or partnership with these suppliers via the links given. Check out our stance on reviews and recommendations.

Comments

I'm glad you're encouraging people to use OpenOffice.org!

"Just make sure you save in the Word Document format (or PDF) if you are sending documents to other people via email. "

I just want to emphasize the very easy way to do this: In OpenOffice.org, choose File > Send > Document as Word, or File > Send > Document as PDF.

Solveig
OpenOffice.org Training, Tips, and Ideas

Absolutely we do, and thanks for the useful tip. Internally we are gradually migrating to the OpenDocument format, and we use OpenOffice on all machines bar one. (Which needs Excel for our finance package) Although there are still situations where we use Word and Excel (mostly for replicating support issues) we do not wish to be locked into the Microsoft Office format in the long term. However it is a sad fact that if you send someone a document, they expect Microsoft Office document or Adobe Acrobat PDF. If we could send ODF's around life would be nicer. So we send PDF's as you mention. Even though we are in the position to push Openoffice/ODF to our customers (and we do mention it as a solution) we cannot do so easily. We would receive the backlash if they had any problems opening or saving Microsoft formatted documents along with any training issues (usually where people use applications by rote rather than understanding the concepts), so all we can do is educate them to OpenOffices existence and let the customer go into it with their eyes open. Because of this most would rather pay the Microsoft tax to ensure they had none of these problems than to go with OpenOffice.