It’s all the rage these days to put together a list of cloud services or online subscriptions to make you more productive. However, after running a home-based business for several years, I have found that there are many basic (ie. “physical”) office tools that can make as much or more difference as any online productivity suite. Here are just a few.
A better shredder
A business is going to generate at least as much sensitive paper trash as a family, probably more. So, if you’re a home business you’ve got to shred both your business documents as well as your normal family stuff. A light-duty 4 page shredder for occasional family bills just won’t cut it. It will jam up, overheat, and fill up the bin after only a few pages. The end result will be a pile of documents next to the shredder, growing ever larger.
A medium or heavy duty 10+ page machine will literally shred this problem in seconds. The end result will be quicker shred sessions and increased identity security since you won’t have documents lying around waiting to be destroyed.
What I use: Ativa MD1250 purchased at Office Depot
Printable mailing labels
As much as people hate the USPS, they’re very handy for small businesses. I’m actually pretty amazed at how cheap and reliable it is to send snail mail. Likewise, I find USPS Priority Mail Click-n-Ship to be indispensable for mailing larger packages.
The irritating part for me was always printing the shipping label and then finding tape to affix it to the package and worrying what would happen if I didn’t use enough tape. Once I found pre-sized adhesive shipping labels from Avery, the problem was solved. They are sized to fit the Click-n-Ship PDFs you get from the USPS and they just plain work. They’re about $0.20 each, but when rolled into the cost of “shipping and handling” it’s pretty minimal. Print, peel, stick, and ship. It doesn’t get much easier.
What I use: Avery 8126 shipping labels from Office Depot
Network Print Server
If you’ve got a printer hooked up via USB, drop the $40 to get a print server that will put your printer on your home network. I underestimated how much more convenient it is to be able to print from anywhere in the house. Sure, I still have to walk to the printer to grab the output, but somehow it’s much less onerous than having to plug in the USB cable to my laptop and wait for it to show up in the printer options.
What I use: Iogear GPSU21 from Amazon.com
A decent headset/microphone combo
If you’re working from home, you’re going to spend a lot of time Skyping with people. Make it easy on your listeners by getting a good audio setup. A USB headset/mic combo is relatively inexpensive and will provide a huge increase in audio quality over your computer’s built-in microphone. Plus, having a headset will prevent echo and feedback issues that are incredibly annoying. One other thing to look for is a physical mute button on the microphone. It’s nice to quickly punch a button when your dogs start barking in the background or a big truck goes by your open window. Or, you can get a push-to-talk app and only transmit when you’re pushing the button.
What I use: Logitech ClearChat Pro from Amazon.com In truth, I actually went a little overboard and turned my work desk into a mini recording studio. I’ve got a Blue Yeti microphone mounted on a boom arm, and I use the headset just for output.
If you run a business out of your home, and I’m missing something from this list, please leave a comment! I have found that even very simple things like the mailing labels can make a huge difference in terms of a job being a simple task or a frustrating chore. So, even if you just want to suggest a certain brand of paperclips, I’m listening!