In the first two parts of this post we have looked at what you will need by way of furniture for your office and also what communications equipment you will need to consider.

In this part we will now look at office equipment: what you are likely to need, what your options are, and how to get the best deal. Remember that the time you will save by having the right equipment in your office will more than justify the cost.

Computer system

Most start-ups find that a computer system more than pays for itself within the first year, even if it is only used for word processing, some spreadsheet work and storing a simple contacts database.

The actual computer

You have the choice of a “desktop” system (though the processor may well be a mini tower at the side of or underneath your desk these are still referred to as desktops, or a laptop system. Its years since I’ve ever seen anyone use one of these on their lap and I suspect that if they did they’d end up with burnt knees given the heat that laptops generate.

In general pound for pound you will get a better specification with a desktop than a laptop. This is really only because the components in a laptop are smaller and cost more to manufacture. So it really comes down to your own preference and of course whether or not you need to take a computer out to clients or, if you have a separate office, to take work home.

I have a desktop in my main office and a laptop in my home office which works well for me though there are times that I find I don’t have a file I need in one place or another. However this is seldom a problem and it is easy enough to copy files onto memory sticks or CDs to move between computers. From time to time I bring the laptop into the office and synchronise the files (Windows can do this quite simply).

You can get new desktops from about £250 and reasonable new laptops start at around £300-£350. That said you can pay a lot more but if all you want is a machine to do word processing, spreadsheets, email, internet access and perhaps use an accounting package then you don’t need anything too heavy. Only if you want to use graphic design packages or play graphic intensive games on your machine are you likely to need a very expensive system.


As far as software goes there will be a later post dealing specifically with business software but for the time being note the following:

As far as software goes there will be a later post dealing specifically with business software but for the time being note the following:
Application Software Name Price
Email Windows Live Mail None: included in Windows
Internet Browser Internet Explorer None: included in Windows
Accounts Microsoft Accounts None for basic edition
Office Package inc: Open Office None; Open source software
  Word Processor   equivalent of MS Office and
  Spreadsheet   fully compatible.


There are two main choices here. You either need to go for a Laser printer or an inkjet printer. In general inkjets are cheaper to buy but more expensive to run. However if you need to use colour for presentations or to print your own letterheads etc then an inkjet may be your best option as whilst there are cheap colour lasers they can be more costly to run.

The fact is that manufacturers make their real money on selling “consumables” (ink or toner)  and so the hardware is sold at a loss. Indeed you can sometimes find deals where you will be given a printer completely free so long as you buy a certain number of sets of ink or toner. These can be good deals but they can also be costly if you are not careful.

I use a black and white laser printer for letters and long docs which don’t have to be in colour and a cheap Epson inkjet printer (it is also a scanner and copier, but see below) for colour use. I used to have a Hewlett Packard colour inkjet but this was quite costly to run. Basically HP printers have only two ink cartridges one for black and the other for red, blue and yellow. This means if you run out of one colour, perhaps because you use blue a lot, you have to replace the whole 3-colour cartridge. To get round that I used to refill the cartridges myself at a fraction of the price but you can’t do that forever as the print head – which is part of the throwaway print cartridge isn’t designed to last too long.

So when my printer died (as they do from time to time) I switched to an Epson machine which had four cartridges – one for each colour. Much more sensible. In addition the printer had a built in long-life print head so all you bought was a “tank” of ink. You can refill these but I found a supplier who sells new ones for 99p (Epson price is £5.99) so it is cheap enough not to have to bother with refilling them myself. These are not Epson originals but they are totally compatible. Very occasionally I get one which is faulty but at that price who cares – chuck it away. The Epson cartridges are “chipped” so that they stop working after a certain number of copies even if there is still ink in the tank, but you can buy a small tool in most stationery shops that resets the chips.

The choice is yours. Have a look around and check out the Viking catalogue (link on the right of this post) for price comparison etc.


If you need a photocopier, choose one to suit the expected copying workload. Many small businesses can use a fax or a multi-function printer/copier (see below)  for everyday copying, and then use photocopy shops for large numbers of cheap copies (usually 4p to 8p per A4 copy).

  • Basic copier prices start at around £200, though more sophisticated machines are often leased, rather than bought.
  • Maintenance charges are around 2p a copy all in (including toner and servicing) for smaller machines and up to 2,000 copies a month, falling to 1p per copy for volumes of over 5,000 copies a month.
  • Watch out for expensive maintenance commitments, buyout clauses and minimum usage contracts.
  • Check the number of copies a minute the machine can make. This is shown in the manufacturer’s brochure. Ask for written confirmation of the number of copies a month it is designed to handle, and of its expected lifespan.
  • Features you may want include reduction and enlargement, the ability to use A3 paper, and automatic paper handling for multiple sheets.


A scanner with optical character recognition (OCR) software can save hours of work, if you routinely need to re-type large volumes of text into your computer. OCR allows the scanner to read text off a page and capture it in a computer file suitable for word processing or other uses.

You can buy dedicated scanners from about £50 upwards into the hundreds for ones which deal with high quality graphic images at high speeds. For most general office uses you only need a basic one. In point of fact every copier is also a scanner because all the copier does is scan a document and print it out so a multi-function machine (below) also does this job.

Multi Function Machine (MFM)

You can get both Laser and inkjet MFMs which act as printers, copiers, scanners and even as fax machines. Both my laser and inkjet printers have scanning tables so I can use them as a copier or scanner as well as for printing. I could also have similar models which have a fax modem built in but this would mean I needed an extra fax line. Instead see the “Virtual Fax Machine” section below.

Dictating Machine

A dictating machine can be a cheap and efficient way of recording information on the move or for someone else to type up on your behalf. A dictating machine costs £25 to £150. A transcription kit, to help transcribe your tapes, will cost from £100. Again you can often pick these up cheaply second-hand. Personally I’ve never used one but some people swear by them.

Virtual Fax Machine

Instead of a separate machine or a multi function machine I use what I call a “virtual fax machine”. This is a piece of software from eFax which allows me to send a fax by scanning the document as an image file which I then email to their server which translates it into a fax and sends it for me. I can also receive faxes sent to a “virtual” telephone number. The software receives it and then transfers it to an image file and emails it to me. This way I don’t need a phone line and can send and receive faxes from any computer in the world!

Most types of equipment can be bought, rented or leased. Suppliers can be found in the Yellow Pages. Shop around, especially for second-hand bargains but only for larger or more expensive equipment. For example a friend of mine recently bought a large Ricoh colour copier from a second hand dealer for £800. It had cost £12,000 just eight months earlier. The original purchaser had gone bust and he picked it up – with a service contract – from a dealer who bought it from the company liquidator.

However, before buying any item of office equipment you should consider whether you would be better off using an outside service. Some business centres provide office equipment for a higher licence fee.

6 Responses to “Setting Up an Office: Part 3 – Office Equipment”

  1. Phil Ireland says:

    Now that Microsoft Accounts is no more what would you suggest as an alternative free accounts package?

  2. scrivner09 says:

    Most interesting – thank you for your comments. Do you know of any auction house list?

  3. Great article . Will definitely copy it to my site.Thanks.

  4. Gerard says:

    WOW! Free software.

  5. David Irwin says:

    I agree Danielle.

  6. Danielle says:

    First rate advice and information. All that software for nothing! Thanks a lot.

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