When most people get their first home job, they are so excited at all the possibilities opening up with their new career. That excitement continues as we purchase those much-needed computer upgrades, the new monitor, and install another phone line. Of course, we need a more comfortable chair, maybe a new cordless phone… before we know it, we’ve spent our first month’s pay… and we haven’t even started working yet!
Well, from several years of experience, there are 5 services that I highly recommend for any serious home-worker. You may not need all of these right now, but if you are serious about your home-career, you’ll probably eventually need each of these.
1. Google Applications. Free.
Have you seen everything that Google offers these days? This has become an extremely beneficial and crucial service for the home-worker on a budget. First, there’s Gmail, a powerful email program that allows you to manage your email online at your computer, on your cell phone or blackberry, or on your laptop… all with seamless integration!
Then there are Google Documents, an entirely online suite of programs that allow you to create, maintain, save and even share word-processing documents and spreadsheets.
Plus Google Calendar is a terrifically user-friendly online calendar system that allows you to create repeating appointments, share calendars with others, publish parts of your calendar to the web… you can even view/manage your calendar with your cell-phone.
All of this is free… and now you can even manage your own domain, providing all these services to your own users! We’ll talk about that in another post, another day.
2. Vonage. $24.95 /month plus equipment costs.
This service is a no-brainer for anyone concerned with long-distance fees involved in maintaining your own home office. If you have high-speed internet, you can get one or more Vonage phone lines with unlimited long distance, voicemail, call waiting, call forwarding, and many more useful features for about twenty-five dollars a month. I was amazed when we converted our two home office lines about three years ago. Our old phone bill was always around $250 per month. After we started using the Vonage lines, our phone bill was around $60 per month (we had a couple of extra features like a fax line and additional local numbers in other towns.)
Their customer service is not the best, so if you think you’re going to need help on how to set up your new equipment, you might try purchasing from a Best Buy store, where you can ask the clerk to talk you through the process. You will need to purchase a router, which can cost around $50, but they usually run some sort of rebate.. I got mine free, and most of the time they offer a basic router at no cost. You can plug in a regular phone to the router, so if you have already bought that perfect phone for your desk, don’t worry!
3. Accessing. $8.95 – $59.95 / month.
There are a few services that the Access line provides. Over the years I have had reason to use each of these services for their various uses.
Their basic service is their SmartMessage, which costs $8.95 a month. You get a personal phone number in the area code of your choice that will take messages or receive faxes for you. It’s a great option if you want a simple phone system to take messages for all incoming calls.
If you need more functionality, take a look at their FollowMe number for just under twenty dollars per month. You still get your own standard phone number, but you can have the calls connect to you where ever you are. Have calls go to your home phone, your office phone, your cell… and change the answering rules either online or over the phone. This is a must-have for anyone who is always on the go… give out just one phone number, and your important calls will find you wherever you go.
Finally, when you need a true virtual office presence, you’ll want their SmartOffice system which runs just under sixty dollars per month. With the SmartOffice, you get a fully customizable auto attendant system at a fraction of the cost. Setup extensions with different answering rules, leave recorded messages and set up different menus all online. We use the SmartOffice for our business because when our customers call, they hear a professional system that routes them to the appropriate person using our voice-prompts, or by entering the extension number of the person they wish to reach.
If you are a Costco customer, make sure to order from within Costco’s Services website. As a member, you’ll get huge savings on your startup costs and monthly rate!
4. VistaPrint. Free.
If you decide to become a Virtual Assistant or operate any other home business, you’ll probably need printing services at some point. VistaPrint is one of the best deals on the internet today. You can get high-quality business cards free… just pay a small shipping fee. You can order the free cards as often as you wish, full color and printed on quality card stock. Of course, they are hoping you’ll use them for all your printing needs, from postcards to stationery, from checks to post-it notes, from T-shirts to magnets… all personalized by you online.
VistaPrint has taken the bite out of printing costs.
5. USPS Click-n-Ship. $ Regular postal rates.
This isn’t as big of a money-saver as a time-saver. However, when you are juggling your home-career with your home-life, time is money!
That’s why I think that the postal service’s website is one of today’s best technological advances! First, you can order stamps online. And you can order the stamps you want. Whether you want the rolls of flag stamps or the newest Disney stamps, you can order them all, and within 2-3 days they’ll arrive with your mail for just $1 shipping.
Plus, you can use their Click-n-ship to print other postage, like Priority or Express mail. I’d advise against buying the labels they recommend, you can pick up labels that work from your local office supply store for a fraction of the cost. Order your shipping supplies online too, get free envelopes for your Express mail delivered right to you.
All of this means never having to stand in line at the Post Office again!