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Setting up a home office: Communications essentials

A PC is essential for all homeworkers. What are your options?

A new computer may well be the largest single investment that you have to make as a startup business. Prices are tumbling as manufacturers bring in new model after new model.

Again the key to success is thinking ahead. When I bought my first word processor, the internet was not even a gleam in any whizzkid’s eye, but it was almost at the peak of technology.

As a one man band, it can be tempting to buy the very latest in technology but do you really need it? If you are working in design, then the graphics and the speed of operation will be vital. But if you are really using the machine as a glorified word processor, would last month’s new model be sufficient?

It is probably not worth buying old technology when it is obvious that to buy at the top of the market now will save a purchase for, maybe, another two years.

But, without doubt, you will be changing or at least modifying your computer fairly regularly. It is possible to rent computers, much as we used to do with our televisions, from the high street – simply switching over to a new machine when technology demands it.

Whatever system you buy, check the service and helpline details very carefully. There is nothing worse than the system “crashing” just as you were about to save that all important document, particularly if it is the middle of the night and you don’t know where to turn for help.

Office workers often have the luxury of 24-hour helpdesks but, as a self-employed person, you are often at the mercy of the expensive help systems that you bought along with your computer.

The other aspect of service to consider is what type of repair service is available. Some manufacturers, for example, offer a choice of a man fixing the machine at your base or sending the machine back to them. The first option is often costly but can mean that you are back in business quickly. The second may mean at least two weeks waiting for the courier to return your box. I recently bought a new fax machine on the basis that it was quicker and cheaper than getting the other machine repaired.

Software purchases can be as complicated as choosing the hardware. Again the trick is to think carefully about your needs, make sure your system is compatible and shop around.

Having a virus scanner – and updating it regularly – is probably a good idea. The LoveBug highlighted the risks to everybody of the dangers of rogue emails but the system can be penetrated by a rogue disk just as easily.

Most high street-bought computers arrive with a software package. The games are probably more time wasters than a benefit so it is worth asking if you can change the bundle in anyway – one good office programme may be worth sacrificing several games for.

As a one man band, it can be tempting to buy the very latest in technology but do you really need it?

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