Whether your office is a well-designed, converted closet at home or a shiny new space with a business address, you need to fill it with more than your innovative ideas. The tools of the trade include essential technology and someplace to sit. But, if you plan to look and act like a professional, stock up on the basics — technology, furniture, machinery and supplies — to handle communications, marketing outreach, presentations and the day-to-day tasks of growing a good idea.
1. Announce Yourself
Your business card is a powerful handshake and a reminder of your services and contact information. That tiny piece of paper carries a lot of weight. Get it right and keep it current with high quality, clean-edge cards that meet your needs now and change as your business does. Designing and printing your own cards in-house lets you tweak information to update a website, email or phone number, add or subtract services, or target your mini-message to specific clients. White or ivory cards are generally easier to read. Printable cards come with matte, linen and glossy finish, photo-friendly surfaces, and decorative backgrounds, such as blue skies or "ghosted" American flags.
Your office needs letterhead, second sheets and envelopes, and nothing says "established" like cleanly designed, printed stationery. Depending on your business communications, you may also need notes or stiff cards and matching envelopes, brochures, pocket folders and large mailers. Letterhead paper comes in a variety of weights — 20 lbs. is light; 24 lbs. feels more substantial; 32 lbs. is heavy and luxurious — a definite step up from ordinary printer paper. Play it safe by choosing white or ivory, and stick to a single color and either a linen or smooth finish for all your stationery. Do consider a parchment or specialty paper for promotions, but use plain letterhead for everyday communications. Keep a supply of ink stamps handy for "Paid" paper invoices and "Draft," "File Copy," "Confidential" and other frequent notations.
You spend a lot of hours sitting in front of a screen. Make yourself and your employees comfortable and safe with proper lighting, a good desk and a supportive chair. Office furniture includes file cabinets, bookcases, work tables and a raft of necessities and niceties. Focus on key pieces to begin furnishing your space. You can find a desk of any configuration, from a mini rolling laptop cart to an impressive corner office, cherry wood, or reproduction antique. An office chair could save your legs and back; consider an ergonomic chair as an investment in personal fitness. Adjustable task lamps illuminate the thorniest work challenges. Evaluate all of your furnishing needs and look for designs that let you add on matching pieces as your business grows.
Smart software saves you time, money and stress. You'll need Microsoft Word-compatible systems to interface with most corporate offices. However, keep in mind that graphics programs, accounting software, virus protection, inventory management and payment processing, desktop publishing programs and other business-specific applications also are part of any digital-age efficient office model. Consider adding some or most of these software programs on your to-buy list. Make a list of every task each employee performs, check for software that raises the performance bar from adequate to excellent, and determine what your best return-on-investment will be. If you're a solo entrepreneur, the right software could act as your virtual assistant, freeing you to tackle the jobs only you can do.
Not all payments are paperless mobile one-clicks; sometimes you need a good, old-fashioned, paper check. Custom checks for businesses come in three-to-a-page binders; each check has an individual stub to simplify record-keeping. The checks are printed on high-security paper with your business name and logo. You can also order checks for convenient printing on either inkjet or laser printers. You can scan multipurpose voucher checks and feed information directly into your accounting software, fusing old and new technology.
Entrepreneurs on the go need powerful, lightweight laptops and tablets to keep a finger on the pulse, make client presentations and take the office along on business trips. In-office technology may require multi-monitor desktop systems and all the bells and whistles, but a versatile laptop can perform most business tasks. A few hybrids even feature detachable screens that work as tablets when not connected to the keyboards. Invest in a padded travel case with room for portable office necessities, travel Wi-Fi routers, a convertible charger kit, lift "feet" to keep a hardworking laptop or tablet cool, detachable wireless keyboards and even a lap-size air pillow with a cooling fan for working on long flights. A solo business whiz with the right portable gear can work a million-dollar empire from almost anywhere.
Wireless printers are pretty much standard and printer-scanner-copiers are compact work stations that accommodate a broad spectrum of needs. Decide whether you need the slick speed of a laser printer, the convenience of full-color printing, high resolution scanning or a printer that includes a fax machine, before you shop. Modest printing needs require no more than a single all-purpose printer. Multiple users may mean a separate printer per work unit. Serious printing and scanning calls for a high-resolution professional machine, perhaps supplemented by one or more smaller printers scattered throughout the office. Look for greater efficiency when re-supplying ink and toner by buying in bulk and taking advantage of discounts for recycling used cartridges.
Eco-conscious recycled printer paper is a widely available, greener choice for your office, especially if the office culture is "use both sides." Conserve your own resources by buying a case of ten 500-sheet reams at a time, so you save money and never run out. Most printer paper is 24-lb. weight, but 32-lb. paper is a better choice for formal reports and for proposals and presentations that use color charts and graphs. Color and specialty papers can be reserved for certain projects and promotions; pre-printed, decorative event papers — for office party invitations, and store opening or sale announcements — have a framed design and fill-in blank space for text. Photo paper comes in various sizes, including rolls, matte and glossy finishes.
Your digital day planner rings and flashes your to-do list on the hour, but there's nothing like a big fill-in-the-blanks calendar to remind you of your goals and appointments. A paper day-planner won't crash on you or run out of battery power in the middle of a work marathon. An office white board keeps priorities in front of all eyes. A handy pocket-size day planner divides your days, weeks or months into appointments, tasks and goals, with sections for phone numbers and addresses — critical when you're running late — as well as birthday and anniversary reminders. A binder-size planner lets an assistant keep track of events for you, and a decorated day planner is a stylish way to express your personality in an over-scheduled life.
Benna Crawford has been a journalist and New York-based writer since 1997. Her work has appeared in "USA Today," the "San Francisco Chronicle," "The New York Times," and in professional journals and trade publications. Crawford has worked in executive management for global advertising and marketing firms, in finance industry regulation, as an educator, and as head of her own successful small business for 15 years.
All content provided herein is for educational purposes only. It is provided “as is” and neither the author nor Office Depot, Inc. warrant the accuracy of the information provided, nor do they assume any responsibility for errors, omissions or contrary interpretation of the subject matter herein.
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