Cheap But Effective Digital Office Solutions for Starting Your Small Business

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Oh, where to begin? The cost of starting your small business can be expensive. Everything from office space, to business card printing, to a website all have to be purchased during the beginning years of your startup.

One of the expenses that you’ll deal with is computers and software purchases. These costs can go into the six figure range if you have as few as 25 employees. Even for solo professionals it represents a major investment that has little to no resale value.

This article discusses some alternatives to common software solutions that are free and offers premium solutions for when you are ready to upgrade.

Computer Hardware

Fortunately we have seen a dramatic decrease in the cost of hardware, composed of the actual computer, monitor, mouse, keyboard, and other peripherals. Unless you have a business that needs a large amount of computer processing power, very basic hardware is all you need.

To cut back on the cost of laptops, consider getting a small version and adding a secondary monitor for office use.

Many firms are transitioning to laptops (and a laptop is a freelancers best friend), which are more expensive but give the employees the ability to work from home or travel without being constrained. To cut back on the cost of laptops, consider getting a small version and adding a secondary monitor for office use.

Another laptop alternative is to go with the new line of Chromebooks that offer extremely fast boot times and web-based operating systems that are much less expensive to maintain.

If you want to stick with traditional desktops, you can drive prices down even further by buying used. Many online hardware sellers have recertified programs where they take in used equipment and rebuild or check it for issues. These are far less expensive than brand new and work great for basic computing.

Software — Operating System

You might think you need the latest version of Windows or Mac operating systems, but more companies are switching to Linux operating systems. If you are not familiar with this option, don’t be worried. The differences are far less than most realize, but the price differences are HUGE. Most Linux operating systems are free and you can even order computers from major suppliers like Dell and NewEgg with Linux instead of Windows operating systems installed.

Now you won’t be able to run common Windows applications on Linux computers without additional software, but the cost savings are worth it. If you are on a tight budget and don’t want to invest large sums of your investment capital into computers, then Linux is a great alternative to consider. Besides, as the next section explains, you don’t need Windows to run most of your office productivity software.

Software — Office Productivity

You have two commonly accepted approaches to building a free office productivity suite for your business: Open Office and Google Docs. Depending upon which you prefer and what your needs dictate, both are easy to use and compatible with all Microsoft Office products. From email, to presentations, to spreadsheets, Open Office and Google Docs both have you covered. The main difference is how they work: Open Office is installed on your computer, while Google Docs is 100% cloud-based.

From email, to presentations, to spreadsheets, Open Office and Google Docs both have you covered.

Open Office is free and has all the basics covered with a Word-like word processing package, a solid spreadsheet tool, and easy-to-use presentation piece that functions like PowerPoint. Open Office usually comes pre-installed on any Linux operating system, but you can run Open Office on any Windows or Mac operating system, too.

Google Docs is a web-based set of applications that require you to have an internet connection to work with them. All of the basics are covered with word processing, spreadsheets, presentation, as well as other tools. The big benefit here is that employees can log in, keep working, and your data is always backed up on Google servers.

Cautionary Note

Whichever route you go, stick with it until you are ready to update ALL hardware and software at your business. What you do not want is 10 different configurations on 10 different computers. If you want Windows 7 Professional, put it on all the computers so that all data is compatible. Your costs will sky rocket if you need hardware/software support for multiple configurations, especially as your business grows and you add more employees. If all the computers have the same software installed, it is much easier to manage and support.



  • NCIX (Canadian) – offers recertified computers as well as custom.
  • NewEgg (USA) – recertified computers and will ship with Linux installed upon request.
  • TigerDirect (USA) – recertified computers and Linux available upon request.

Linux Operating Systems

  • Debian– a common and widely supported version of Linux.
  • Fedora– another easy to use version with lots of support available.
  • Ubuntu – arguably the easiest to install and use right away.
  • Further Reading – Wikipedia has a nice summary of the history of Linux and its applications.

Office Productivity

  • Google Docs – requires a Gmail address to work (free).
  • Open Office – lots of great information and downloads for whichever operating system you need.

Photo credit: Some rights reserved by aleksandr-mansurov-ru.

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