Identify your needs
Once you have a clear idea of how much you rely on technology, it becomes easier to identify what you need. Even so, merely jotting down a grocery list won't cut it. You also need to determine what functions you want and/or need in each piece of equipment. Here are some basics:
Telephones. Buying a phone isn't half as easy as dialing one. Depending on what features you want, the price tag will follow, so before you spend any extra on that speed dial feature, make sure it's something you'll use. Similarly, consider features such as caller identification, conference calling, transferring, and multiple lines. Of course, if you get a good deal because of a sale or special offer, don't shy away from such features, either.
Close cousins to telephones are the lines that give them life. Thanks to faxes and the Internet, multiple phone lines are necessary to stay ahead of the game. Use the same principles when shopping for a phone company: Find the best deal but don't compromise on quality.
Answering system. Depending on how large your office is, you'll want to choose an answering system accordingly. Voice mail can get pricey, so tread carefully. If you're a small shop, you may just want to get everyone individual voice mail accounts. Larger outfits will probably want to consider more sophisticated package systems. Such systems let companies add multiple voice mailboxes and provide features such as internal voice mail exchange and message forwarding.
PCs. There's no shortage of computers out there, so make sure you're making a wise decision and not just being taken in by what looks good. If you're starting up a small office with multiple employees, consider whether all workstations need to operate in the same manner, feature the same software, and so forth. In many cases, if a company's PCs are all configured the same way, it saves time and money and allows users more flexibility.
If you or your employees will be traveling quite a bit, consider keeping a laptop handy. Depending on your budget, you may want to have a few laptops that people can "check out" when traveling or working from home, or you may want to provide frequent travelers with their own laptops.
Copy machines, fax machines, and printers. These pieces are fairly standardized as far as available features. Just be sure to assess how many employees will be sharing each one and make sure the equipment you choose can handle the load.
You should use the same common sense approach to evaluate and buy any piece of equipment, whether it's a fax machine or a coffee maker. If you're not confident of your own knowledge of the technology and equipment options, and your business isn't large enough to have a technical person on staff, consider hiring a consultant (or even asking a tech-savvy friend) to help you get started. Spending a little money now can save you a lot of stress in the future