I remember when I started working for myself many years ago that I went into it thinking I was going to need the same office supplies that I had in my office at the job. I purchased, in volume, things such as pens and pencils, staples, notepads, and paper clips, along with a lot of other junk.

Portrait by Jonathan Worth 1, credit Jonathan Worth, link to http://jonathanworth.com
Creative Commons License Cory Doctorow via Compfight

Years later I still had almost all of that stuff because, it turned out, very few small or independent businesses need things like that. It might make sense to buy one of each of those things just in case but buying in bulk as I did… stupid move.

One of the problems in doing things like that is that it creates debt that doesn’t serve you all that well. Even though those things didn’t cost all that much, I still have most of that stuff, and there’s nothing I can do with it other than thinking about throwing it away, and that’s not happening.

Every business does have to spend a bit of money before they get going, and be ready to spend other money once things start to take off. This means there will be some debt that has to be incurred, but it doesn’t have to be all bad. These five tips offer business debt advice that’s beneficial and necessary that will do you great good, no matter what your business happens to be.

1. Computers.

These days the word “computer” takes on so many more meanings than it did years ago, but whatever you call it (tablet, notebook, laptop, etc), you need something to work with, whether most of what you do is based on using your computer or not. You need something to help you with your bookkeeping, writing email, creating flyers or sales presentations, save files, etc.

Luckily, the cost of computers these days isn’t overwhelming, and if you’re like most people, you probably already have one of these (after all, you’re reading this on something). The major decisions you need to make are:

* speed vs capacity
* cost
* are you a power user
* does it need to be light and portable

Oh yeah; keep your software up to date to protect yourself from viruses, spyware, malware and the sort!

2. Cell or smartphone.

You need a way to communicate with your clients because sometimes email just isn’t going to get it done. I didn’t mention a regular office phone because studies show that 40% of the American population doesn’t own a regular phone anymore, and that number is growing.

Being able to contact your clients or staff while not being in the office as well as being able to be reached if you’re on the road, enhances your business greatly. Having a smartphone with the right applications on it can allow you to connect your schedules, files, and other things with the “cloud” or even with your computers and laptops.

There are both free and paid applications to help you with all of the above. My recommendation is to always test apps before you buy them unless you’re familiar with them already.

3. Printer/scanner.

No business can get anything done without one of these. True, you can keep running to a place that can do this for you but what happens if you need something in the middle of the night?

In the past one had to purchase each of these separately but it’s smarter to spend a few extra dollars and get a printer and scanner combined, and the cost isn’t all that exorbitant. Truthfully, the biggest expense comes when having to replace the ink cartridges, but we have to deal with the same thing if we have to shave.

These days printers can hold more paper, and the cartridges are larger, so you’re not running to the store every couple of weeks (if you print that much). You can scan things and turn them into electronic files (pdf), which makes them easier to store, so that will save you a little bit of money by not having to print everything out when it’s not necessary.

4. Networking/educational group.

No matter whether you work local or travel for work, and no matter how good or bad a marketer you are, you’re going to need support and people to talk to who are a lot like you.

Being in a educational group that caters to things you do in your industry not only helps you keep up to date with what’s going on, but allows you to network with others who either do what you do or might be missing a piece they need you for. I’m a member of a local consulting group called the Professional Consultant’s Association of Central New York, and I’ve learned a lot from them over the past 14 years that has helped me market my business.

Being in a networking group gives you the chance to share with other what you do while learning what they do, with the possibility that each of you can help spread the message about each other down the road. I’m a member of a local chamber of commerce these days, but I’ve been a member of a few national groups also, both for networking and education.

My recommendation here is to find one group and only pay for that one initially so you can get a feel as to whether you’re going to get what you need out of it. I’ve found that the cost for joining local groups is usually less than $100 a year, whereas joining national groups can run you as much as $500. If you need certifications to do your profession then that’s critical. If not, test the waters slowly because it’s probable that the first group you hook up with may not give you what you need.

5. Helpful services.

This one you don’t have to do right away but at some point very early on you need to think about allowing someone else to handle some of the things you do. In my case I started out by hiring someone to take care of my yard, which is pretty big and often took 3 hours out of my day.

Later on I hired an accountant because I realized that even though I could do it, the time it took was overwhelming and I had my own business to concentrate on. I’ve also hired someone to teach me now to organize my space and someone to give me tips on using Powerpoint better. I’m on the cusp of possibly hiring someone to do some virtual assistance work for me… once I define what my needs are.

All of these will save you a lot of time that you can spend trying to make money and still having time to be with your family and friends. You also get to write them all off on your business taxes; nothing wrong with that. 😉

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