The Best Printers for Small Businesses

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The following is an excerpt from our newest ebook “How To Start A Lucrative Virtual Bookkeeping Business” which we are launching on June 30th, 2010 and are currently pre-selling for 50% off. While the advice is intended for small bookkeeping business owners, in my opinion, it works for anyone who runs a small business.  I would love to get your feedback and hear any comments on printers you love.  So, if you have any feedback, please leave a comment below.

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  1. Get a Multi-Function Printer.  You want to look for a Multi-Function Printer versus a regular printer because like I said before, you will have limited space.  You want it to have a “Flatbed” because you will be scanning paperwork.  You also want it to be able to “Feed” a lot of papers through the scanner at once because you will be faxing a lot of paperwork. In fact, the feed is one of the most important features to look at… don’t skimp here.  A wimpy feed will mean lots of paper jams, lots of frustration, a few choice curse words, a whole lot of equipment violence, and eventually, a whole lot of time wasted manually feeding your pages one at a time.  (Which sucks, believe me!)  Save yourself the headache and pony up the extra $10-$50 for a better feeding option.
    1. a. Features to Look for in a Multifunction Printer:
      1. i.      Laser Printers versus Inkjet Printers:
  • Laser printers mean toner cartridges.  That is a lot more expensive then Inkjet cartridges, and usually larger in size, but they print faster, and they print more copies before they have to be replaced.  In addition, the printer costs more money, especially if you go for the Color Laser printer, but the print quality is excellent, and if you don’t mind pony-ing up $100 every time you have to buy replacement cartridges, then a laser printer is a great option.
  • Inkjet Printers:  Both the printer and the cartridges cost less….period.  The quality can be really good, but you will buy cartridges more often (although the prices can be as low as $5 each).  You will probably also have to do a “head cleaning” more often on an Inkjet Printer, but this is the more affordable choice when starting any new business.

  1. ii.      Replacement Cartridges:  Before you buy any printer, always pop over to the cartridge aisle and see how much the replacement cartridges are.  You may also want to check a website like www.123Inkjets.com where you can save as much as 80% on the generic versions.  Just the cost of the cartridges alone could be a reason NOT to buy whatever printer you’re looking at, no matter how cheap the printer is.  For example, Lexmarks are generally the cheapest printers you can find, but they’re cartridges cost just a little less than the printer itself.  On top of that, the cartridges don’t print a whole lot of documents before the cartridge has to be replaced – so these are only good deals for people who don’t print a lot.  You…as a VIRTUAL bookkeeper… ARE going to print – a lot.  So take the price of the cartridges seriously.
  2. iii.      A Good Feeder:  This is a must-have for a bookkeeper.  You are going to be faxing, scanning and copying a lot of documents at once.  If you have a wimpy feeder, then you can expect paper jams or an early death to your MFC printer.  Therefore, make sure you look at how many papers you can feed at once.  This information will be listed in the printer’s details or on the box itself.

  1. iv.      A Flatbed Scanner:  A lot of Business Owners think that having a machine with only a feeder (like a fax machine) is a great low-cost option, but the truth is, it’s a bad option for bookkeeping.  Bookkeepers need to make copies of checks, bills, tax forms, books, and all sorts of odd-shaped papers.  It’s a whole heck of a lot easier to have a flatbed that can handle odd shapes and sizes so you can scan portions, if necessary, and put the scans back together on a computer.  Therefore, get both the feeder and the scanner model.

  1. v.      A Fax Machine:  You’d be amazed how many multi-function printers are still made without a fax machine.  But the truth is, a fax machine is a Virtual Bookkeeper’s best friend.  You will be sending a lot of paperwork to your clients via email or fax, and having a fax machine lets you do both.  Be smart and check for this feature right from the beginning.

  1. vi.      All in all, we prefer the Brother printers.  The cartridges are cheap (at least in comparison to other toner and inkjet cartridges), it feeds paper fairly quickly, and it prints an excellent quality at a good speed.  However, keep in mind that not all Brother Printers are created equally.  The cheap ones don’t feed a lot of paper at once.  So, look for something that looks like these (notice the feeds are angled upward to hold more pages):

But avoid ones that look these because these feeds aren’t that great (notice the feeds are flat, and thus usually fit and/or feed fewer pages).

A Good Rule-of-Thumb is:  The more pages they feed at once, the better.

Laptop Features to Consider For Small Businesses

The following is an excerpt from our eBook, “How to Start a Lucrative Virtual Bookkeeping Business.”

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One of the things I see a lot of when it comes to bookkeeping is laptops…lots of laptops.  Some work incredibly well (whether for bookkeeping or anything else) while others work horribly.  Thus, I have compiled a list of features to consider when shopping for any laptop, whether for bookkeeping alone, or for business in general.

(If you have any further recommendations, please leave them in the comments so that other readers will know what to consider.)

  1. Must-Have Features For Your Bookkeeping Laptop:
    • A DVD Burner:  Don’t be cheap and skip the DVD burner in lieu of a CD Burner; they are not the same thing.  CD’s can only burn a fraction of the information a DVD can burn, and you will want to give your clients DVDs when you back up their work.
    • An SD Card Slot:  This will come in handy whenever you need to transfer digital files from a camera to your computer.  Although it may not make much sense now, you’ll be glad you have it later.
    • Bluetooth Access:  It just comes in handy.
    • Wireless Access: You will want to be able to get on the Internet anywhere, especially coffee shops.  In fact, you may even consider signing up for a monthly service from AT&T or Sprint so that you can get Internet access from the middle of a field, if you so chose.
  2. Optional Features For Your Laptop To Consider:
    • A 10-Key Keyboard:  The reason I have NOT made this a “Must-Have” feature is because this is actually a “Preference” choice more than anything.  Yes, it can be incredibly handy to have your 10-Key right on your keyboard when you open your laptop, but the problem is, a Laptop with a 10-Key Keyboard is a very heavy laptop.  It can add an extra 5 to 10 pounds of weight, and it can add a couple hundred dollars to the price tag.  If you buy this kind of laptop, you will also probably end up investing in a bag with wheels just to tote the thing around.  So now, you have a heavy laptop with a heavy AND bulky bag that you have to schlep from house to car to office and back.  On the other hand, you can buy a 10-Key Keypad that plugs directly into your laptop for a cost of $10 to $20, or a Bluetooth 10-Key Keypad for $30 to $40.  These are compact, lightweight, and can fit right in the pocket of any computer bag.  On top of that, you can buy a computer that weighs as little as five pounds, and now taking your computer with you is no longer a hassle.  So, make the decision for yourself on how important that 10-Key is before you buy a laptop.  (Notice, the Kensington keypad-with-calculator to the left has a calculator screen on it as well, which allows you to quickly tally numbers without having to access your computer.)
    • LightScribe Burner:  If you’ve never seen a Burnt LightScribe CD or DVD, you are missing out.  This feature allows you to burn any picture or text on the top of a certain type of CD and DVD, and can really give you (and your business) a very professional image.  Imagine giving your clients a Backup Disc with their Company Name, Logo and date on it.  You will convince your Clients you spend a lot of time and money to produce high-quality products, even when you don’t.  This feature does not come standard on all laptops, but is usually only $25 more if you’re buying a “custom computer.”  So, if you want to give an appearance of being Professional and “Tech-Savvy,” add this feature…you won’t regret it.  (Because quite frankly, if you’re not doing it now, your competitors will be doing it soon.)
  3. My Laptop Recommendations:

 

  1. AVOID AT ALL COSTS:  One of the benefits about being an Independent Bookkeeper is that you see a LOT of computers.  As such, I would NEVER recommend a Compaq (even though it’s made by HP) or a Gateway.  I’ve seen major issues with Compaqs, and I’ve heard Gateway has the worst customer service when a problem arises (this from a very computer savvy person).  Acers are super-cheap options, but there’s a reason for that…they won’t work well with a whole lot of business programs.  The IBMs I’ve seen have been heavy, awkward and incredibly expensive, but aren’t really any fancier than a Toshiba.  Dells are great because they’re inexpensive, you can customize them, and they have decent customer service, but I’ve seen more Dells freeze up than not and then you have to do a “hard reboot.”  But again, your laptop choice is always a preference thing.
  2. ALSO AVOID: Mini Netbooks.  While Netbooks are a fabulous deal price-wise, they are not good choices for a business.  For one thing, the keyboards are small, which makes it hard to type (and EXTREMELY curse-worthy if you type a lot).  For another, there are usually NO DVD/CD Burners, only USB ports.  And for a third, without a DVD drive, it is nearly impossible to get many computer programs on the laptop – including QuickBooks.  I have tried to download QuickBooks onto computers from the internet before, but even with the QuickBooks key code, you really need the disks to install the program.  So skip the Netbooks for your business and go with something larger.
  3. To find the best price on a laptop: If I don’t buy my laptop from the manufacturer’s website, then I like to go Best Buy or Office Depot.  They often have incredible sales and decent financing.  On top of that, you can usually take your computer to Best Buy if you need to get something fixed, and Office Depot now offers free computer check-ups whether you buy from them or not.  Check their catalogs regularly and you will be amazed at the deals.

BOOKKEEPING MONEY-SAVING TIP # 13: Make Money With Your Website (Part 1)

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Believe it or not, when I first decided to start my own business seven years ago, I did not want to do bookkeeping.  I may be good at it, but I’ve never LOVED it (not like my Mom does).  Instead, I wanted to make “just enough money” so that I could stay home with my newborn daughter, and maybe do a bit of romance-writing on the side.  If that meant busting my behind and selling Mary Kay products to support my family, I was going to do it (even if I am a bit of a Tom Boy).

But then I thought, why sell only one product line?  Why not sign up at as many consultant companies as I can so that I could sell more products at “in-home shows” then just one line?  Logically, I could make more money because I would have more products to offer.  So I looked into Weekenders, Party Lite, Pampered Chef, Tastefully Simple, Avon, and a few others who I can’t recall at the moment.  I was bound and determined to join them all, and then start my own website to sell all those products and make even more money.  Who cared if selling the products from a personal website was strictly forbidden by all of these companies.  There were legal ways around that (like not actually naming the products on the website, but having the catalogs available to download).  And with Yahoo!’s SiteBuilder program, building my own website turned out to be no challenge at all.

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Instead, life took me down another road.  Someone referred a new client to me, and I ended up running my own company doing bookkeeping, research, and office administration.  But even though life took me down another road…I still had my website…and I was supplementing my income with that website.  It didn’t take much to realize that anyone can make money with their website – the key is just knowing how to do it.
Since there are a lot of ways to do this, and since I have way too much information in my head, I’m going to turn this into a mini-series.  I will post at least two methods per week you can use with your site to make even more income.

Here are the First Two Things I did to Supplement My Business Income:

  1. Affiliate Income: I first started with Affiliate Income.  Affiliate Income is basically putting other company’s ads on your website and then making a commission every time one of your customers or readers buys a product through that ad.  That other company basically writes it off as marketing dollars or sales commissions, and then sends you a 1099 at the end of the year so you can report it as income.  They don’t pay unless someone buys, BUT…you can make a fairly decent-sized commission on whatever is purchased – anywhere from 1% to 30% or even a flat fee.  The best part is, you also make money on every order YOU MAKE through your website.  While this may not be income, to get an extra 30% discount on products you buy through your website can obviously increase your profits quite a bit. 
    1. a. My Recommendation: I like Commission Junction.  The account is free, and there are thousands of companies you can choose from, as well as individual products you can display.  It’s a nice way to expand whatever your inventory without actually carrying an inventory…and you can choose products that complement instead of compete with your company’s products (like products you might not want to carry because they are too expensive).  Just think about the things your customers ask you for that you don’t carry, and then join those programs.  That way, you can direct them to your website, and then make money just for recommending where they find what they’re looking for.
  2. Blogging – The New Door-to-Door Salesman: A few years and a few thousand dollars later, I was really wanting to see what else I could do to make money online.  After all, my website was up 24 hours a day and could make money for me even when I was asleep.  I began reading about “blogging,” and I thought, “How Stupid…who would want to read someone else’s online diary? BORING!!!”  (I know…the irony…because on THIS blog, I write “Diary of a Bad, Bad Bookkeeper.”)  But as time ticked on, I began to see that everyone has a blog – including businesses.  Not only does everyone have a blog, but there are tons of professional bloggers out there making six figures a year from just having conversations with their readers.  To top it off, it’s a great way for your readers and customers to get to know you on a personal level, which will make them more likely to purchase from you later.  In other words, it’s the newest way to do door-to-door sales without actually leaving your office.  So, I added a blog to my website, and began looking for advice on how-to write and what-to write.  Soon, I was making an additional income that has a bit of a “Snowball Effect.”  The income starts out small, but over time, those blogs keep working for you, and eventually, you end up making quite a bit of money from each blog.  So, if you would like to know more about blogging, start here: 
    1. a. What to Blog About: No matter what you do, you have a special knowledge base.  Maybe it’s bookkeeping; maybe it’s scrapbooking.  Maybe it’s even operating a forklift on a steep hill or how to screw your ex in court.  Whatever it is, you have knowledge to share.  The key is to figure out what excites you, and then write about that.  Because the more excited you can get, the more excited your readers will be.  (If you’re still stumped, write about the things you tell your customers – the “Must-Know Information” you impart when they come to you…) 
      1. i.      To get blog-post ideas, start surfing the forums on LinkedIn, Facebook and even Yahoo! Answers.  The questions you find there should be enough to inspire you.
    2. b. How to Blog: If you want to be a blogger, I recommend you start reading Darren Rowse’s blog, ProBlogger.net.  He is my guru, and his book “31 Days to a Better Blog” is extremely helpful. 
    3. c. Where to Blog: If you want to start making money on your blogs right away, and getting people to actually come to your blog, there are a few places you can go.  I recommend the following sites.  (You may only make a few cents per month when you first start, but the more controversial or instructional your articles, the more money you will begin to make.) 
      1. GoFreelance.com
      2. Elance.com
      3. Triond.com
      4. Helium.com

Not only is blogging great for supplementing your income, but it also helps bring traffic and customers to your site.  So, if you don’t like to blog or want to blog, you can always get other people to blog for your site at places like EzineArticles.com.

So, there are my first two ways.  Come back next week for the next two.

BOOKKEEPING MONEY-SAVING TIP # 13: Turn Your Website into a Money Maker (Part 1)

Believe it or not, when I first decided to start my own business seven years ago, I did not want to do bookkeeping. I may be good at it, but I’ve never LOVED it (not like my Mom does). Instead, I wanted to make “just enough money” so that I could stay home with my newborn daughter, and maybe do a bit of romance-writing on the side. If that meant busting my behind and selling Mary Kay products to support my family, I was going to do it (even if I am a bit of a Tom Boy).

But then I thought, why sell only one product line? Why not sign up at as many consultant companies as I can so that I could sell more products at “in-home shows” then just one line? Logically, I could make more money because I would have more products to offer. So I looked into Weekenders, Party Lite, Pampered Chef, Tastefully Simple, Avon, and a few others who I can’t recall at the moment. I was bound and determined to join them all, and then start my own website to sell all those products and make even more money. Who cared if selling the products from a personal website was strictly forbidden by all of these companies. There were legal ways around that (like not actually naming the products on the website, but having the catalogs available to download). And with Yahoo!’s SiteBuilder program, building my own website turned out to be no challenge at all.

Instead, life took me down another road. Someone referred a new client to me, and I ended up running my own company doing bookkeeping, research, and office administration. But even though life took me down another road…I still had my website…and I was supplementing my income with that website. It didn’t take much to realize that anyone can make money with their website – the key is just knowing how to do it.

Since there are a lot of ways to do this, and since I have way too much information in my head, I’m going to turn this into a mini-series. I will post at least two methods per week you can use with your site to make even more income.

Here are the First Two Things I did to Supplement My Business Income:

1. Affiliate Income: I first started with Affiliate Income. Affiliate Income is basically putting other company’s ads on your website and then making a commission every time one of your customers or readers buys a product through that ad. That other company basically writes it off as marketing dollars or sales commissions, and then sends you a 1099 at the end of the year so you can report it as income. They don’t pay unless someone buys, BUT…you can make a fairly decent-sized commission on whatever is purchased – anywhere from 1% to 30% or even a flat fee. The best part is, you also make money on every order YOU MAKE through your website. While this may not be income, to get an extra 30% discount on products you buy through your website can obviously increase your profits quite a bit.

a. My Recommendation: I like Commission Junction. The account is free, and there are thousands of companies you can choose from, as well as individual products you can display. It’s a nice way to expand whatever your inventory without actually carrying an inventory…and you can choose products that complement instead of compete with your company’s products (like products you might not want to carry because they are too expensive). Just think about the things your customers ask you for that you don’t carry, and then join those programs. That way, you can direct them to your website, and then make money just for recommending where they find what they’re looking for.

2. Blogging – The New Door-to-Door Salesman: A few years and a few thousand dollars later, I was really wanting to see what else I could do to make money online. After all, my website was up 24 hours a day and could make money for me even when I was asleep. I began reading about “blogging,” and I thought, “How Stupid…who would want to read someone else’s online diary? BORING!!!” (I know…the irony…because on THIS blog, I write “Diary of a Bad, Bad Bookkeeper.”) But as time ticked on, I began to see that everyone has a blog – including businesses. Not only does everyone have a blog, but there are tons of professional bloggers out there making six figures a year from just having conversations with their readers. To top it off, it’s a great way for your readers and customers to get to know you on a personal level, which will make them more likely to purchase from you later. In other words, it’s the newest way to do door-to-door sales without actually leaving your office. So, I added a blog to my website, and began looking for advice on how-to write and what-to write. Soon, I was making an additional income that has a bit of a “Snowball Effect.” The income starts out small, but over time, those blogs keep working for you, and eventually, you end up making quite a bit of money from each blog. So, if you would like to know more about blogging, start here:

a. What to Blog About: No matter what you do, you have a special knowledge base. Maybe it’s bookkeeping; maybe it’s scrapbooking. Maybe it’s even operating a forklift on a steep hill or how to screw your ex in court. Whatever it is, you have knowledge to share. The key is to figure out what excites you, and then write about that. Because the more excited you can get, the more excited your readers will be. (If you’re still stumped, write about the things you tell your customers – the “Must-Know Information” you impart when they come to you…)

i. To get blog-post ideas, start surfing the forums on LinkedIn, Facebook and even Yahoo! Answers. The questions you find there should be enough to inspire you.

b. How to Blog: If you want to be a blogger, I recommend you start reading Darren Rowse’s blog, ProBlogger.net. He is my guru, and his book “31 Days to a Better Blog” is extremely helpful.

c. Where to Blog: If you want to start making money on your blogs right away, and getting people to actually come to your blog, there are a few places you can go. I recommend the following sites. (You may only make a few cents per month when you first start, but the more controversial or instructional your articles, the more money you will begin to make.)

i. GoFreelance.com

ii. Elance.com

iii. Triond.com

iv. Helium.com

Not only is blogging great for supplementing your income, but it also helps bring traffic and customers to your site. So, if you don’t like to blog or want to blog, you can always get other people to blog for your site at places like EzineArticles.com.

So, there are my first two ways. Come back next week for the next two.

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How to Send an Email Blast Without Getting Spam’d

Many times, when businesses try to send out multiple emails at once, they end up getting put into the receiver’s Spam box.  It isn’t because the receiver doesn’t know the sender.  It’s usually because the sender has chosen more then 5 people (or some number just as disturbingly small).  It can be really frustrating when you have to send out an email blast to a multitude of people, and then never hear from them because the message ended up in their Spam folder, and they never check their Spam folder.   To bypass this, you simply need to send out an email blast, which is a creative way of saying “the same email message customized for each recipient but sent one at a time.”

Below is an excerpt from our newest ebook, “How To Start A Lucrative Virtual Bookkeeping Business” that will guide you step-by-step through the Email Blast process.  You can use these steps any time you want to update a large number of people about a single event, and the process usually takes less than 15 minutes – depending on your computer.

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To Send an Email Blast:

1)      You must first begin by creating a email list in Excel.

  • With Outlook, you simply open the Contacts, then click on File – Import & Export –  Export to a File (and Next) – Microsoft Excel (1997-2003) and Next – select Contacts and Next – choose where you want to save it by selecting “Browse”, the location (I like the Desktop because it’s easy to find later), and rename it  then OK to get back to the save screen – Next – then Finish.
  • Once you have created the list, you will want to open it and remove any names of people and companies that you don’t want to get your email blasts.  This could be names like United Airlines, any credit card company contacts, people you think are jerks, etc.  Also, remove any names that don’t have emails.

2)      Open up a Word Document and type up your email message exactly how you would like it to look.  That means add your signature line.

3)      When you’re done, go to the Mailings Wizard and click on “Start Mail Merge”.  For 2007 Office it will look like this:

  • For older versions, you want to find the Mail Merge Wizard.  You may have to search the “Help” topics to know which menu item it’s under.

4)      From the Start Mail Merge menu, click on “Step by Step Mail Merge Wizard” (usually the last choice in the drop-down menu.

5)      A sidebar will pop up that will walk you through the steps.  It will look something like this:

6)      From this menu, just click “Email Messages” and click the “Next” step at the bottom.  Go through each of the steps until you get to the final screen.  As you can see, it’s only 6 Steps.

7)      At Step 3, you will be prompted to select your Excel Email list.  You will “Browse” for it, then find it – hopefully on your Desktop.  Once you open it, the Mail Merge Wizard will prompt you to choose a Worksheet Tab – and usually show you two.  Pick the worksheet that has your contacts in it.

8)      Next, you will be taken to a “Mail Merge Recipients List” where you will match up the headings from your Email List to your Word List.  Most of the headings will be filled in correctly already.  Just double check that there are actually emails where emails belong and names and companies where they belong before you press OK and continue onto the Next Step.

9)      At Step 4, you will be able to add your address blocks and greeting lines.  Make sure you choose at least the Greeting Line feature so that each email will be customized to the person receiving the email.

10)  After you’ve completed “Step 6 – Complete the Merge”, the emails will be ready to go, but they will not be sent. You have to actually click on “Finish and Merge” in the toolbar at the top.  It will look like:

  • Then click “Send E-Mail Messages.”
  • Once you click “Send,” your computer will attempt to send it through your Microsoft Outlook Outbox.  That means, if you have not set up your Outlook outbox before, you will need to set that up.

That’s it – You’re Done.