Cheap Home Office Setup
Starting an office in your home can be a good thing, or it could be a bad thing. If you start one with a minimal budget like I did, you'll need to read this article on the basics you'll need and where to get them.
I had no furniture when I moved into my new apartment, and sadly the first thing I got was a desk. I didn't even buy a couch or a bed frame yet because I wanted to get working. I was able to shop around on Amazon and Google Shopping until I found an L shaped desk for under $40 with free shipping. It is important to ensure you buy a sturdy option with the quality desired to last. Mine sufficed, that's for sure.
Depending on how badly you value your chair, you might want to consider spending some time shopping around for this item. I was able to buy mine for $30 with free shipping from Staples. It's the basic low back, no arms, swivel chair, but it is good enough for me. It provides back support and it is adjustable in height. Some people with chronic back issues may need to look into ergonomic chairs instead of what I got because mine is comfortable enough that I can sit for a few hours, but definitely not 8 in a row.
If you don't already have a computer, and you need one, you'll want to find a sale or buy a refurbished computer. Depending on your industry, you may want to look at laptops so you take up less room and you can use the same files in a coffee shop or in meetings away from home. Some good places to find deals on computers are tigerdirect.com, newegg.com and buy.com. I wouldn't recommend retail stores because their markup is much higher for the same product meaning you get less value for your dollar. The sales are also not as good as online sales.
If you need a phone for work, don't rely on your cell phone.Nothing is worse than a client having the ability to call you at all hours. If you have clients that are good with boundaries, that's great, but it's hard to predict which clients will be good and which won't. My solution to the phone was Skype. I was able to get a local phone number, call forwarding and calling minutes for about $12 a month. I forward the calls to my cell phone, so even while I'm out, I never miss a call. The callers are also able to leave a voicemail on my cell phone this way.
I found the cheapest I could get a website was a free one through a host company. I choose HostGator, which has a free builder called BaseKit. You can also use Wordpress, Joomla or any of the other assorted website content management systems. The cost comes out to about $10/month for the hosting and $10/year for the domain name.
On top of my website, I get an unlimited number of email addresses with unlimited storage. This way, I am able to have customized email addresses for my business.
Don't buy too many at first because you don't know how many you'll need. I bought 250 business cards from Vistaprint with a 25% off code I got from prior orders with them. You can also get free business cards from Vistaprint, but they have the Vistaprint logo on the back of them. That takes away from your brand, so I wouldn't recommend it. I ended up paying around $9 for 250 business cards, printed on one side. My next batch will be two sided with the products I offer on the back of them. This will be an increased cost, but has the benefit of reminding people what I specifically do when they look at my card months down the road.
Recently, I found an easy way to make your own with Microsoft Publisher (if you already own it) and business card sheets from Staples; however, this is not cheaper than Vistaprint and requires more work on your part.
Business Address (if desired)
There are lots of companies out there that offer business addresses. Regus is one of those companies. For around $99 per month, you can get a business address and mail forwarding options that allow you to have packages and parcels delivered to a real office building and forwarded or held for pickup at their office. This is good because it gives your clients the belief that you work out of a nice office building, and if you ever choose to move into an office, you can get cheap rates on offices as you need them through all the providers of this business address service.
The most important thing about a business address is the idea that you don't change it often, if at all. Part of your advertising is comprised of giving out your physical location, and if that keeps moving around, clients won't be able to find you or know where to mail things back to. There can be a large cost associated with letting your clients and prospective clients know that you've moved.
This is a case by case basis, but accounting software can be very important if you don't hire a separate CPA to handle your finances. I personally created my own accounting software using PHP and MySQL, and it works very well. You can also use Excel or Access (or their opensource equivalents) if you're more comfortable with those. Beyond those, there are dozens of free accounting programs out there, but I have never used any and therefore cannot give my recommendation.
Client Management Software
Again, I created my own, but it is important to keep track of your clients somehow. I've seen a lot of people use Excel and even more using Access to do this and those work great because you can input any number of fields about a person like phone number, address, order history, etc and then sort by those fields.
With these, the most important thing is shopping around. I bought my paper and binders at BJ's Wholesale, folders at Staples, and various other products online or in other stores. I know there are "clubs" you can join that provide discounts for office supplies, and if you are a part of Regus, you are automatically part of one of these clubs. It's something to research before buying, especially if you have plenty of time and less money.
For a fax company, I went with MyFax, an internet fax company. The price was cheaper than a separate fax line for my apartment, so it was a good deal. The faxes I receive get sent to my dedicated email address and I can upload pdf's, documents, etc to the server to fax them out. I've tested it out, and it works well. It costs $10/month for 100 sent pages and 200 received pages per month, but there are other options beyond that.
I'm always striving to find more efficient ways to do things in my home office, so if you have any comments on ways to save money for things that you might need.