I will be writing a series of posts about the various office furniture, IT hardware and software, and online services a virtual assistant or freelancer offering secretarial services may find useful. You may find the IT section slightly biased towards the Apple Mac — this is because I use one and have been doing so for many years. However, I will include Windows-based alternatives if necessary.
Minimum hardware set up for a Virtual Assistant’s Office
Step 1: Find yourself a quiet space (you may love your kids or pet, but a potential client may find the noise off-putting), somewhere as simple as a spare room in your house or something with a little more panache (Read more at ‘20 Creatively Hacked Urban Shed Offices‘), set up your desk/working space and invest in a comfortable, ergonomic office chair. Install a phone line if there isn’t one there already. Sign up for a reliable, hi-speed broadband service.
Step 2:. Buy yourself a computer with the latest operating system (OS). I prefer the Apple OS and suggest something along the lines of the 20″ iMac. You can pick one of these up for £949 (inc VAT) from the Apple Store, or you can check out Apple Resellers such as MacWarehouse, Cancom, Misco, PC World. You might pick up a bargain on eBay, but do all the background checks to make sure you don’t regret trying to save money only to lose it in the long run. If you prefer a laptop, then I can highly recommend the MacBook Pro 17″, although because of its size it’s perhaps not quite as portable as the smaller 13″-15″ laptops.
I will add one point here: it’s a PC Windows World out there, so you may find one day that a client asks whether you use such-and-such a program and you’ll find there’s no Mac alternative. Otherwise, you can run Microsoft Word, Excel, Powerpoint, and Entourage (Microsoft’s version of Outlook for the Mac, only better!) just as well as a Windows machine. You’re also free (or fairly free) from worries of malicious attacks on your Mac — although you could unknowingly pass them on (New virus uses Acrobat PDF for transmission). [EDIT: 16.4.09 – Some information regarding Macs, viruses, malware]
Step 3: Buy an external back-up hard drive. One with enough space for all those files you’ll be dealing with. Leopard, the latest Apple OS, has a built-in system called ‘Time Machine’. It backs up your files every hour to the hard drive you stipulate in the system preferences (equivalent to the control panel for Windows users). You can also do a manual back up if you prefer — just remember to do it regularly! I use the Western Digital My Book with 500mb of space (the Western Digital My Book Studio Edition 500GB Desktop Hard Drive is available from Misco for £84.92 inc VAT). If you want to stick with Apple, then their Time Capsule is the one for you. There are many makes and models available, just make sure it will be compatible with your OS system.
Step 4: Buy an ADSL (or cable) modem router with at least four RJ45 ports and one USB port if your printer doesn’t have ethernet networking capabilities. These vary in price depending on what you’re looking for. It’s worth buying a 4-port modem-router with wireless n capabilities so you can go wireless if you prefer (but read up on security issues if you’re going wireless). Check out the modem/routers at Dabs, although there are many places online to buy networking equipment. [I’m accepting donations for a Draytek in the Freelancealot office 😉 Ed-in-Chief] [Update: See the review on our DrayTek router!]
Step 5: Buy a good all-in-one printer. We use a Canon Pixma MP610 which has a 9600 x 4800dpi scanner/copier and the capability to print directly on CD/DVD discs. Although this has now been superseded by various models including an A3 version (the Canon Pixma PRO9000 [another thing on my IT wish list. Ed-in-Chief]).
That’s the basic home office set up and IT hardware dealt with. In the next post I’ll list a few bits of extra hardware for the virtual assistant and, indeed, most freelancers working from home.