NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- It's 2011. Do you still need a fax machine in your office at home or in the back of your store?
One of the first instincts for small-business owners should be to maximize efficiency and productivity in their office. Reducing clutter on desktops and having the proper filing and organizational tools are imperative.
"Clutter impacts their productivity," says John Michael, vice president and general manager of Business Interiors by Staples (Stock Quote: SPLS), the chain's business furniture and interior design division. "The ability to stay organized is important."
Although small businesses probably won't even want to do away with all of their equipment needs, they can minimize their need for buying a couple of ways:
Leasing office equipment and other supplies can reduce initial outgoing cash, bring maintenance and support, provide appealing financing terms and offer tax advantages, according to the Business Owner's Toolkit, a subsidiary of publishing and information services company Wolters Kluwer. (Small-business owners who lease generally pay more over the life of the asset than if they were just to buy outright, the site notes, and generally must commit to an entire lease term.)Going virtual via companies such as Regus and Intelligent Office minimizes the need for equipment.
Regus says a low-cost, home-based business owners can "create a big-business image by getting a professional telephone number and address," since virtual office services often include a welcoming receptionist to route calls to an appropriate number (whether it be your home or cellphone) and act as a message-handling service.
Taking the virtual route can alleviate business owners -- especially startups -- from the hassle of long-term contracts and hefty overhead expenses.
Still, not all small businesses lend themselves to a virtual environment or for leasing. For those that don't, here are five essentials to today's small-business office setting:
1. Wireless all-in-one fax, copier, scanner and printer
Today's all-in-one machines are cheap (anywhere from $200 to $400), take up little space in the office and even allow someone to conduct business while out on the road -- some receive emailed documents and print them, for instance.
Having an all-in-one machine will be less expensive and can be more reliable than having one device for each function, says home-office expert and SCORE consultant Lisa Kanarek, whose website Working Naked offers tips to home-office workers.Whereas in the past small-business owners may have had to buy separate paper and ink cartridges for each type of machine, now "it's all the same," she says. "It saves money and it saves space."
And if something does happen three, four or five years down the road, buying a new machine won't break the bank, Kanarek says.