Must-have Technology for a Home Office
Apr 13, 2010 1:59 PM EDT
The Web was one of the first technologies to enable a certain level of parity between small and large businesses. By paying careful attention to the design of their websites, small businesses could appear as large as they wished.
Today, small business owners can take advantage of new technologies to gain many of the same capabilities that large businesses have without incurring the same costs.
"All of us come from a corporate background," said Sally Pedley, CEO of Pedley Richard, an executive search firm that specializes in emerging technology companies. (http://www.pedley-richard.com/) "We know that there's one way to perform a task when you have an entire corporate infrastructure at your disposal, but that that's not the only way. We look for technologies that allow us to perform the same tasks without the head count and expensive hardware."
According to Pedley, working with technology firms gives her business a bit of an advantage because the firms are happy to share information about new technologies. "But we keep an eye out when we visit prospective clients or talk to our vendors and suppliers too," said Pedley.
Though her business does have an office, Pedley says that the same technologies that work for her home-based employees are a natural fit at the office as well. "We'll take a money-saving technology wherever we find it, as long as the ramp time for learning to use it is manageable."
USB flash drives
Sharing files through email is fast and efficient, but many e-mail services limit the size of the files you can send. In a large business, you might be able to share large files by placing them on a network. But if your business hasn't set up a network yet, you can use a USB flash drive, sometimes referred to as a memory stick or a memory key, to share very large files.
Wendy Lopez, President of WCI Entertainment, an event management firm specializing in live music, says USB flash drives have helped her cut costs. "We record many of the events that we stage, and the recordings are huge," said Lopez. Since many of the video files her business produced were too large to fit on a CD, they burned them to DVDs, but DVDs are costly. "With a flash drive, you load up the file to give to the client, then just delete the file after the transfer. We don't have to buy and burn new DVDs every time we want to give someone a recording."
Flash drives plug into an open USB port on your computer. Your computer recognizes the flash drive as a type of external hard drive. You can then copy files onto the drive, then simply unplug the drive and hand it to someone else. Once they plug the flash into their computer, they'll have access to the files you placed on it, and can copy them from the flash drive to their computer.
USB flash drives have fixed storage capacity, some storing a few megabytes of data, and some as much as 64 gigabytes. Prices vary widely, with 2 GB flash drives commonly available for under ten dollars. (http://tinyurl.com/yclwnwm)
According to Symantec's recent survey, "SMB Disaster Preparedness Survey - Global: September 2009," (http://www.symantec.com/content/en/us/about/media/SMB_Disaster_Recovery_Survey_Report_Global_2009.pdf) most small business owners believe they could quickly recover after losing all their business's data. However, the survey also shows that their confidence may be misplaced. The average small business only backs up 60 percent of its company and customer data.
Large businesses may have system administrators who regularly create backup copies of important information and store the copies off site. But small businesses can get the same benefit by using on online backup service.
These services automatically create backup copies of the files you choose by connecting to your computer and copying the files to a remote server for storage. When you need the files, you can log into the remote server and retrieve the backup copies. These services cost as little as four to five dollars per month.
Although Internet phone services only recently began reaching the small business mainstream, the technology has already begun to prove itself useful.
You use an Internet phone service much as you would a phone provided by the phone company. The difference is that an Internet phone uses your high-speed Internet connection to place and receive calls rather than a phone line. Since you already pay for high-speed Internet, you can eliminate the cost of a separate phone line altogether.
Depending on the provider you choose, an Internet phone may offer some or all of the same features as a traditional phone line, including voice mail and call waiting and forwarding. High-profile vendors such as Vonage make it particularly easy to switch to Internet phone service by providing a simple adaptor. You connect the adapter to your high-speed Internet line, and then plug your phone into the adapter just as you would a wall outlet.
Internet phone services range in price, but you can expect to pay about $25 per month for a service with unlimited long distance. (http://tinyurl.com/lbxstq)