business technology

Cheap hardware? That’s expensive!

About every two months one of the computer magazines – be it ComputerShopper, PC Magazine, PC Wworld or any other publication – comes out with this flashy and attractive idea of “cheap computer”. Whether it’s a cheap laptop or cheap desktop – it’s always a good thing, you should save a bunch of money and feel good. Right? Right?

Not so fast. The cost of your computer is not only that number on the receipt or a credit card statement. At least – not for a small business owner. While it is widely perceived that small businesses should live on a shoestring budget and (widely used example) reuse old home computer for their businesses, the idea isn’t quite perfect.

The reason in a so-called “cost of ownership” that most starting up business people have no idea of. If you know what that is – skip to the next paragraph. In layman terms the “cost of ownership” is how much you spend (or loose) by owning that specific tool or service. For example, if you have an old car that you use to deliver widgets to your customers, the cost of ownership would be all the money spent on repairs and parts to make sure your car will be running tomorrow.

But what’s the cost of ownership for an old PC? There aren’t that many parts to replace and no oil or gas to refill. However, what that old PC would probably hit the most is your time – because it’s old and slow. Sure you can upgrade it – add memory and new hard drive, but the old thing would still be a bit sluggish. So instead of booting up in less then 45 seconds it will boot up in three minutes. Add another minute to start your inventory app – be it something proprietory or plain old Excel. Add some more time on number crunching and some more to process your accounting sheets. A minute here, a minute there, just a little slower saving or loading – and you’re looking at an extra hour or two for a day. That’s about 6 working hours wasted for a week – if you have Sunday off. Bad news – now you have to work on that Sunday, since you are loosing 6 hours of productive time from Monday to Saturday.

So what now, does every small business enrepreneur should rush off and buy a shiny new laptop or speedy new desktop? Perhaps, but only if you feel like your system could be more responsive. It’s hard to give any kind of specific advice here. My guess is that even if you bought your PC (desktop or laptop) only two years ago – you didn’t purchase the latest and greatest piece that was out there. Most likely even then it was a low or medium level PC with only enough RAM and hard drive space to make it worth purchasing. Upgrading it won’t really improve your situation – so maybe a little research on the internet and extra couple of hundred dollars will buy you a much better rig that will save you more then just money – your precious time.

annoyances business services

Ranting At The Post Office

This morning I had to spend some time at the local post office – someone sent me a registered mail with return receipt that I have missed, so I just had to go. Every time I go to a post office – whether small and local or large and central – it always feels a bit like time travel. A travel to the past, of course.

First thing that came to my mind when I have entered the premises (I never visited this location even though I lived in that zip code for a year) why does the post office needs five windows, when only one clerk is on duty? There must be some serious flaw in design or management, since it takes about 20 minutes (or more) to get from the start of the line to that clerk’s window. Obviously, since the clerk has got almost 15 years before retirement, she’s not in the hurry. However, most of the people who (im)patiently wait in line – are, their time costs money – just like mine. With proliferation of electronic means of communications I can see more and more sense in avoiding post office like a plague. After all, my time is better spent elsewhere.

Second thing is that about 80% of people who wait patiently are older generation, well over 60 years old. The younger the person, the less patient he or she gets. I often found myself to be the youngest person for the whole time I was in the post office.

Next – even thought the cost of postal mailing is usually noticeably less then FedEx, UPS or DHL, people still prefer to use the latter. My guess is that it not only matters how much it costs to get a package from point A to point B, but also – how much effort does it takes. If sending a package costs me just two dollars more but doesn’t include humiliation of 20 minute line in front of 15 empty clerk’s windows – maybe I would agree to pay 2 dollars more.

Last, but not least is the track record. The moniker “United States Lost Office” didn’t come out of nowhere.