There has never been a better time to set up a home-based business. Computer and communications products that were once out of reach for most consumers are now both affordable and readily available. But before you go on a spending spree, ask yourself a few questions about the kind of home office technology you need now, and in the future. Is the equipment essential for your business? Will you use it often enough to justify the cost?

If your answers are “yes,” shop around, compare product reviews, and seek guidance from experts and other users. And keep in mind that in order to be claimed as business expenses, this equipment must be used solely for your business.

Here are some guidelines for making decisions about home office technology tools:

Computers. While the rule of thumb — buy as much as you can afford — still applies, don’t make your decision on price alone. In this era when features and capabilities change on a seemingly daily basis, even the “top of the line” computers may be inadequate for your needs by next year. Consider the type of work you do, your communication and networking needs, and any peripherals (e.g., printers, scanners, Zip drives). Look for equipment that has sufficient processing speed and memory for your immediate and midrange needs, and can serve as a foundation for future upgrades and add-ons.

Laptops. These devices are handy for taking your “office” to client meetings, presentations or even on vacation. For some home-based entrepreneurs, the laptop doubles as their “main” computer. Remember, however, that many laptops’ screens, keyboards and processing speeds are not always suitable or comfortable for extended use. Weight and ruggedness are also important. And be sure your laptop’s software is compatible with your main system.


Santa Barbara SCORE meets every Wednesday, from 8:30-11:30 a.m., at 402 E. Gutierrez St., Santa Barbara. No appointment is necessary. For more information, call 805.563.0084, visit SCORE online or click here to register for counseling.

In addition, the Santa Barbara SCORE Chapter publishes a great tool for aspiring entrepreneurs, How to Start a Business in Santa Barbara County.


Faxes. Although we’re well on the way to becoming a paperless society, you’ll still need to exchange documents via fax. A variety of compact, affordable fax machines double as copiers and scanners. Many computers have built-in fax capabilities, but be careful about tying too much of your home office to one system. What could be worse than to have your computer “crash” while receiving an important, time-sensitive fax!

Telephone. A cordless phone is particularly handy for the home office; it enables you stay on the line with your clients while you retrieve files, or check on orders. The new 900 MHz models provide excellent coverage, and can be used next to your computer without interference. An answering machine and/or voice mail is also a must for catching calls while you’re away. Your message should be brief, cheerful and professional. And sign up for call waiting and call forwarding; nobody likes to hear a busy signal or an endless series of rings.

Cell phones. We’ve almost reached the point where you can’t afford not to have one. Depending on the service plans available in your area, you can also use your cell phone to access the Internet and send quick e-mails. It may also be possible to use your cell phone exclusively for most business calls from home, freeing your regular line for personal calls or Internet access. But please use your cell phone sparingly while driving, and only with “hands-free” equipment.

If cost is a concern or you don’t expect to require certain types of equipment for a while, explore alternatives. It may be possible to efficiently share certain pieces of office technology with other home office entrepreneurs. Many apartment/condominium complexes and planned communities are incorporating business centers into their public facilities; others allow occasional use of their office faxes and copiers for little or no charge.

You can plug into a wealth of business know-how by contacting your Santa Barbara chapter of the Service Corps of Retired Executives. SCORE counselors offer free, confidential advice about every aspect of starting, running and growing a successful business, even mentoring.