The equipment choices for any business these days is enormous - answering machines, cell phones, videoconferencing, telephones with multiple services built in, fax machines, digital cameras, folding machines, xerox machines, and more.
Do you need all of these? Each business differs in answering that question. Tools I vowed I would never buy are now a powerful part of my everyday work process. For me, the primary consideration is how much time is the tool going to take to learn to use well as compared to time lost to finding other solutions to replace that function.
A simple example is a fax machine. Not having a fax machine can mean lost business opportunities, but the addition of machine means learning to use the machine, maintaining it, keeping supplies on hand, and deciding whether it warrants an additional phone line. There are now multipurpose machines on the market that can handle more than one of these functions.
The downside of multifunction machines is that if it is broken, you lose not only your fax capabilities, but also your copy capabilities and perhaps even your printing capabilities. Whereas if you had both a fax machine and a copy machine, you could always make copies on the fax machine should the copier be broken. Making backup plans for down time on all your equipment is critical because it will happen no matter how well you take care of your equipment.
Making the right choices for your business means you need to think through some typical transactions for your business and what you will need to make them happen. Most importantly, set a budget and live within it. Decide on the minimum you can live with to start. List the others you would like to keep as "bonuses" to buy as a celebration when you make a great sale or close a critical deal. It is good in any business to have a reward system for yourself. Why not make the reward be something new that helps the business?
As much as you think you have thought of everything and know exactly what is needed for your business, you will find that changes over time both because new items are introduced and/or new features are added to equipment or because your business takes a different direction and what seemed critical is no longer so. Limit your buying, but don't strap your business either. It is a tough line to walk, but well worth taking time to think through and do well.
No matter what equipment you choose, once it becomes part of your daily life, its loss can be a major blow in getting your work accomplished. How many productive days have been lost to needing to get a vital piece of equipment repaired? Or even more devastating, what if that equipment is stolen and you don't have the cash flow to replace it immediately? Having a regular maintenance schedule is critical for every piece of equipment used in your business. Fortunately, computer software exists to help with that process, although a good paper system that flags maintenance dates can be perfectly effective.
Start a file of all the papers that came with each piece of equipment for warranty service, including copies of invoices. Set up a calendar of maintenance for all the equipment. For a small office, it may be one day every six months that you give a thorough cleaning to each item. Include vehicles in this list. This is time that needs to be programmed that is not for business production, but for taking care of what you have.
For larger items, insurance may be critical - and these maintenance files will be good documentation for obtaining the insurance. Appropriate surge protection for all electrical items also fits under maintenance. Look for other hazards like cords running across an open space or possible fire hazards.
Be aware of opportunities for theft. Are important pieces of equipment secured well? Take time to step back and look at potential hazards. Put procedures in place in make the environment safe with minimal downtime for broken equipment. In this, your mom was right, taking care of what you have can make your life much more pleasant.
Finally, we get to go shopping. This is the fun part so take the time to really look, compare and make the right choice for you. The critical component at this stage is to think through the purchases carefully. Control the urges to race out and buy whatever is the cheapest. Take you time. Make each purchase a gift to your business.
Think through the long term consequences of each choice. While it may seem imperative to have a certain piece of equipment immediately, taking your time will make for better decisions and fewer choices that you regret later.
Get advice from other business owners. Invest in equipment you can trade-in or upgrade when you are ready. Try to keep your options open by leasing before buying so you can see if the equipment is right for you before you make the leap.
Enjoy making the decision and enjoy using the new equipment in your business. If you have followed all the steps above, you deserve it!