Tools and Equipment for Consulting
Even the simplest consulting business requires tools and equipment. These can include office furniture, office supplies, a telephone system, a computer system, and probably an Internet connection. Many consulting services also require specialty equipment for activity (exercise equipment) or testing (diagnostic equipment).
Whether you establish your office in a professional office building or in a spare bedroom, you'll need office furniture. If you will meet with clients in your office, you'll want office furniture that impresses them. Some professional office buildings rent fully furnished offices and even include shared secretarial and receptionist service. Alternately, you can lease office furniture and equipment as needed.
Home offices without client visitors are easier to furnish. A desk can be as simple as a pair of two-drawer file cabinets with a plywood top. Shelving and seating don't have to be fancy, just functional. Before you start your consulting service, you'll need to decide where your office will be and how to best furnish it.
The Internal Revenue Service allows you to deduct legitimate expenses for your home office. For more information, read Tax Topic 509 on its website. To calculate deductions, you will file Form 8829 (Expenses for Business Use of Your Home) with your federal taxes.
Office supplies include pens, pencils, paper, file folders, paper clips, and stationery. Most businesses use them. Fortunately, you can easily select office supplies at a local stationery store, office supply franchise store (Staples, OfficeDepot) or online (Quill.com, Reliable Office Supplies, etc.). You also can pick them up at a general merchandise store (Walmart, Costco). For now, know that you will need them and estimate how much you will use in a typical month so you can budget for the ongoing expense.
Your consulting service will require a telephone system. Its complexity and cost depend on what you will be doing, how you will interact with clients, and how large your budget is. Many new consultants start with a single cell phone that they take everywhere. If they are office-bound, consultants may prefer a wired or wireless telephone.
Technology has made telephone systems with more features at lower costs. For about $100, you can have a wireless two-line, two-phone system with call waiting, call forwarding, intercom, and a digital answering system. In addition, long-distance service is competitive, so you can keep the costs down for toll-free inbound calls, high-volume outbound calls, and international calls.
Don't forget faxes. Though many consulting businesses have replaced fax machines with e-mail attachments, many clients may still require communication via fax. You may need a dedicated telephone for faxes; sometimes you can share it with a backup voice line. In addition, DSL (digital subscriber line) phone service can often be used for both voice and fax on the same line.
Most consulting services could not survive in the modern world without computers and software. Computers have revolutionized business by processing and sharing data at phenomenal speeds. Old businesses shoveled data; new businesses use computers as data bulldozers.
When selecting your consulting business's computer system, answer these questions:
What software do I need to do my job most efficiently?
What computer hardware (computer, monitor, printer) does this software require?
How large a computer system do I need?
This book cannot tell you all of the software programs you will need. However, most businesses require a word processor, spreadsheet program, presentation program, and database program. These common software programs often are bundled together and can interact with each other. You can easily import a spreadsheet or presentation into the word processor to produce a client proposal.
Microsoft Office is a suite of computer software commonly used in business. It includes Word (word processor), Excel (spreadsheet), PowerPoint (presentation) and other programs. In addition, you can use OpenOffice, a suite of similar and compatible programs: Writer (word processor), Calc (spreadsheet), Impress (presentation) and others. Best of all, OpenOffice is free! Visit its website for specifics.
Consultants rely on the latest information in their field. That means using the Internet for the latest news, statistics, opportunities, and instantaneous communication with clients.
Electronic connection to the Internet is available in a variety of ways. Many businesses use a connection through their telephone company with high-speed (called broadband) connections such as DSL or T1. Others access the Internet through a cable company service, the same people that deliver cable TV. In areas where DSL/T1 or cable connections are not available, businesses use satellite Internet service.
There are benefits and limitations to each. Depending on what services you need (fast or unlimited uploading of files, for example), you may choose one over another. In all cases, sign the shortest commitment contract you can so that you can upgrade or reduce costs as your business grows.