It’s fun to set up a brand new office as a freelancer, but if you want to turn a profit your first year, it’s best to keep your digs simple. You can always treat yourself to extras like an iPad once you’ve got some steady clients.
Here’s the $200K Freelancer guide to the stuff you’ll really need in your first few months in business.
1. A reliable computer. Even if you work mostly from a home office, you may occasionally want to bring your own computer to a client’s office, a co-working space or your favorite coffee shop, so we recommend a laptop.
Mac vs. PC? We’ll leave it to the tech gurus out there to guide you. For what it’s worth, Elizabeth loves her (pricey) Macbook Pro; I’ve used an inexpensive Compaq Presario CQ60-210US (it cost me about $550 on sale) for the past few years with no major problems.
While you don’t need the highest end computer on the market, bear in mind that any day your computer is in the shop, you’ll be sidelined from earning a living.
We’d suggest getting a three-year insurance plan that covers accidents if you buy a new machine. My plan at Staples ($149, to cover the laptop and screen) came in handy when I accidentally spilled coffee on my keyboard and the whole keyboard had to be replaced and in a couple of other minor incidents. Elizabeth has used AppleCare protection plans ($300 for three years) more than a dozen times in the eight years she’s had Mac computers, for hardware issues (a bad monitor) and software questions. Apple offers phone support with its plan, which comes in handy when you don’t have an IT department.
2. A software package that gives you access to Microsoft Word. If you’re a writer, most clients will expect you to be able to create and open Word docs and sometimes Excel spreadsheets.
If you want to go relatively paperless, you’ll need a program from Adobe or an alternative provider like Nitro that lets you create and edit PDFs.
3. An anti-virus program. Get it your first day, so you never have to tell a client, “A virus ate my assignment.” Norton Internet Security ($64.19) has been easy to use on my PC. Elizabeth has been happy with the anti-virus protection built into her Mac.
4. A back up system. At a bare minimum, you should use an offsite system like Mozy or Carbonite or a hard drive, so you can quickly retrieve your files if you have a computer problem. Some freelancers are using Dropbox, a free service, to store all of their files in the “cloud.” We’d love to hear from those of you who are doing this to find out if you’ve ever had problems retrieving a file and how you dealt with it.
5. A smart phone. You can use this in lieu of a land line, and it’ll make it much easier to stay available to clients when they need you. Having a single voice mail box — instead of one on a land line and one on a smart phone — will save you time. I use a Blackberry Curve (about $185), which works fine, aside from a battery that requires more frequent charging than my last Blackberry. Elizabeth uses a Motorola DROID phone.
6. All-in-one machine that scans, prints, faxes and copies. This isn’t mandatory right away, but having one will save you a lot of running around to stores that offer these services. The HP Office Jet Pro 8600 ($229.99 at Staples currently) works like a dream so far.
7. High-speed internet service. If you work from home, wireless access will allow you to seek refuge in another room when, say, your neighbor’s tree guy is taking down a Sugar Maple outside your office window. Comcast has served me well so far but, for the best advice, ask other small business people in your local area. They’ll have a good sense of how reliable the options in your area are. If service from your local providers is spotty, you may be able to justify buying that tablet after all, so you’ll have access to another cable network.
Did we miss any crucial pieces of equipment? Please tell us in the comment area.