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The small-business shopping cart

From furniture to hardware and software, to printers and routers, the marketplace is filled with all kinds of fun stuff to keep a company running smooth, often at affordable prices.

When it comes to outfitting a small business, options abound. From furniture to hardware and software, to printers and routers, the marketplace is filled with all kinds of fun stuff to keep a company running smooth, often at affordable prices. For your next shopping trip, we offer some choices for turning your business from spare to smashing.

Support

Geeks on Call

When your screen goes blank, or the hard drive starts that gut-wrenching chug, chug, chug sound, the first inclination is a natural one: a moment of panic. Once that passes, it’s time to get proper tech support. Most small businesses don’t have in-house IT gurus, yet they suffer the same type of issues as larger companies when it comes to implementation, repair, and purchasing. That’s where firms like Geeks On Call come in. GoC offers friendly and very knowledgeable techies who come to your office or home, rescuing clients from a variety of post-panic situations. Cost: Geeks franchises set their own rates, but they tend to range around $75 for service call plus around $20 per quarter-hour.

Furniture

Aeron chair

Known best for its widespread adoption by high-flying dot-com companies, the Aeron chair from Herman Miller doesn’t deserve to be thrown out with all the Pets.com letterhead and Flooz cups. In fact, this agile and adjustable desk chair should regain some of its former glory, especially because the death of dot-coms made the chairs much more affordable. With a webbed back panel that will make you look slightly like Morticia in “The Addams Family” (in a good way), the chair offers a bevy of great features like ergonomic support, wide armrests, and a “waterfall front edge” that reduces pressure under the thighs to aid circulation. This chair just might be the best thing that ever came out of the Internet revolution. Cost: The Aeron starts at around $800.

Software

Microsoft Office Small Business Edition

If, like 85 percent of computer users, you use a Windows operating system, then it’s pretty likely that you’ve grown accustomed to Office and its nuances. Since the application is already somewhat familiar, it makes sense for a small business to take the leap into the next level, with the SMB Edition. The company designed the suite to be easy to use for business owners who want to manage customers and sales opportunities, create sales and marketing materials in-house, handle e-mail, and share information among customers and employees. The suite includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook 2003 with Business Contact Manager, and Publisher 2003. This edition has many improved features over past applications, including catalog creation, a better junk e-mail filter, and free access to the company’s online template gallery, design gallery, and marketplace. Cost: $449 new, $279 upgrade.

Palo Alto Software’s Business Plan Pro

Maybe that blockbuster business idea is still rattling around in your head somewhere. A good step toward making it a reality is Palo Alto Software’s Business Plan Pro 2004. It has everything you need to produce an attractive business plan, including more than 400 sample business plans that you can use to inspire an irresistable business plan of your own. An array of wizards guides you through virtually every page of your plan, making your questions about sales forecasts, market analysis, cash flow, and business terminology a snap. And anything you create in Business Plan Pro can be imported from (or exported to) a Word document. At $100 retail, it’s a cheap first step on your entrepreneurial journey. Cost: $99.95.

Web services

Intranets.com

Intranets.com’s motto is “Zero Software, Zero Hardware, and Zero Investment.” If that sounds like a good recipe for you, it might be worth checking out the intranet applications the company offers: document manager, online calendar, database manager, reports, contact directories, expense reports, administration tools, discussion forums and more can be tailored for your company and administered offsite. Cost: Intranets.com’s service starts at $50 per month (cheaper for nonprofits), and they offer a no-strings 30-day trial to help convince you.

LiveOffice’s IMConferencing

You want to call an impromptu meeting with a client across the country, and during the meeting you want to go over a spreadsheet that was just revised 30 minutes ago. Before, that tall order would have called for a Web conferencing solution, but things are getting simpler. LiveOffice’s IMConferencing lets you launch impromptu or scheduled meetings from an IM window, initiate teleconferences, share files and applications, display slide presentations, co-browse Web sites and more. Cost: Starting at less than $1,000 for setup (and with a free 30-day trial available).

Kurant’s StoreSense

Want to sell online, but you’re jittery about jumping in feet-first? Dip a toe in the e-tailing water with StoreSense, Kurant’s e-commerce platform for beginners. It lets you easily add commerce to an existing Web site or create a Web store that includes inventory management, supplier communication, and integration with QuickBooks. It comes with a set-up wizard, shopping-cart capability, a store administration console depicting real-time shopping activity, real-time secure credit processing, and lots more.Cost: The StoreSense Starter Edition is $9.95 per month.

Web site

SBA’s business advisor site

Even the most experienced business owner runs into sticky issues surrounding employment law, financial planning, general strategy, or tax changes. When enmeshed in such concerns, it’s a good idea to check out the Small Business Administration’s site. The simple layout of the homepage is deceptive, given how much information is actually available. The section on financing alone could provide enough reading material for a week. There’s also advice on starting a business as well as managing it, and resources on disaster recovery, training, and regulatory issues. Cost: Just your tax dollars.

Consulting

SCORE

You’re adrift in a sea of business troubles, and don’t know where to turn. Ahoy! Rescue is always at hand with the Service Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE). True to its name, the organization boasts an impressive list of high-level executives who have eschewed the usual retirement activities in favor of being mentors to small business owners. An SMB doesn’t have to be in trouble to use the service, however. The mentors are available to help business owners craft strategies for future success and take their companies in new directions. One protégé said that working with SCORE was like having Bill Gates or Warren Buffet knock on the door and ask if you’d like some help growing the business. So go ahead, answer the door. Cost: none.

Hardware

Netgear wireless products

So, you’ve decided to go wireless. Those of us who surf the Web from the porch swing salute you. The first step in reducing your wired world is to get some good wireless products to trick out your small office. One of the most dependable brands is Netgear, which has an array of spiffy products that will get you unhooked quickly. Although your employees may not have access to a porch swing, they can at least bring their laptops to the conference room. Check out the FM114P 802.11b cable/DSL Prosafe wireless router, which does pretty much everything you’d want except wash the dishes. In a single unit, it boasts a router, switch, printer server, Wi-Fi certified wireless access point, and firewall. As an added bonus, there’s also a complete anti-virus software bundle included. Happy surfing. Cost: You can start with a wireless router for less than $100.

Xerox Phaser 4500 printer

Xerox says the Phaser 4500 is the fastest laser printer in its class, offering 36 pages per minute, true 1,200dpi at rated speed, an eight second first-page-out time and edge-to-edge printing. A 400MHz processor lets most file types and sizes to be tray-bound in practically no time. Throw in genuine Adobe PostScript 3 compatibility, and the 4500 earns its keep quickly. Cost: $950 street.

Promise Technology UltraTrak SX4000 network server

If you’re shopping for your first server and you don’t want to break the bank, try this baseline offering from UltraTrak. The four-channel SX4000 uses your choice of Ultra ATA drives for performance, capacity, and value. 66MHz PCI bus support, up to 256MB cache memory, and rapid RAID 5 parity calculations–all of which adds up to seamless data transfers. Cost: around $1,200 street.

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