The Complete Idiot's Guide to Running Your Small Office
with Microsoft Office

Reviewed by: Howard Carson, send e-mail
Published by: QUE, go to the web site
Requires: N/A
MSRP: US$16.99, Cdn$24.95, UK15.49

The "Idiot's" guides are QUE's answer to the "Dummies" series by IDG Books. QUE is a division of Macmillan Computer Publishing. The Idiot's and Dummies books have been hugely popular, no doubt because of the simpler, straightforward language used to introduce and describe the subject matter. This entry in the Idiot's series is a brand new title. It addresses a need for some comprehensive guidance for SOHO and small business owners who are just stepping into serious decisions about computer hardware and software. The book also provides advice about managing a small enterprise with the latest, commonly available technologies.

Divided into four main parts, the book organizes decision making about technology purchases and usage - everything from modems and printers, to financial software, office software and computer hardware - into bite-sized chapters.

The title indicates that the contents of the book only relate to using Microsoft Office(R). But there's more here than just Microsoft Office advice. Part 1 of the book deals mainly with the general decision making process which occurs when starting and managing a small business.

Part 2, Mastering Business Communication, is a wellspring of good, thorough advice on everything from proper writing techniques, faxing, creating reports, doing research, using e-mail, and using the Internet. There are loads of useful examples to get you moving in the right direction. Heed the warnings about relying solely on the spelling and grammar checking in Microsoft Office. Always proofread your work (or better still, have someone else do it), before you use it.

Part 3 is a love-in with Microsoft Office. While it's true that Microsoft Office is a terrifically versatile performer, there are some things (such as desktop publishing) which it doesn't do too well at all. In any event, the book is supposed to be about Microsoft Office and Part 3 is a storehouse of good advice.

Part 4 deals with time and project management using the excellent tools supplied with Microsoft Office. As with all those who've started and succeeded in SOHO or small business, the author has absolutely no qualms about emphasizing the need to use proven time and project management methods. You'll find tried and true techniques as well as solid advice which caters directly to those who have wrapped their office environments around computers and software.

There are some pieces of advice offered which should be observed with some caution. I disagree with these items, but others (Laurie Ulrich included obviously) believe they're OK. You be the judge: 1 - Advice about using a shredder on financial and other confidential documents is interesting, but it doesn't address the fact that less paper in a small office is better. Why print sensitive stuff in the first place?

2 - The recommendation to have fax, voice mail, pager, cell phone, e-mail, and regular phone all ready at hand doesn't deal with the fact that most small business people cannot handle the load of sorting through information coming from too many lines of communication. You only have one mouth to speak out of, and one pair of hands to type with. If you're on your cell phone, how do you answer your office phone? Use a fax machine for contract drafts, not regular communications. Use a cell phone to stay in touch with your office or your voice mail, not to conduct regular business. Cell phone rates are still too expensive. Don't split long distance rates over too many phone numbers; it dilutes your discounts. Give people your office phone number, your fax number, and your e-mail. If you are constantly on the road visiting clients, use a pager rather than a cell phone and use your clients' office phone to call your own office or the next customer. If you have to call long distance, use a calling card which is tied to your main number in order to take advantage of discounts. Work smart. Work economically.

3 - The book suggests a 600 dpi laser printer for the production of camera-ready and photocopy-ready printed output. But the same thing can be achieved with 720dpi and higher color inkjet and bubblejet printers. The output is better than a laser and you get good color in the bargain.

4 - The book suggests that leasing your computer hardware is a viable option. Every consumer watchdog in North America and Europe says leasing is a poor deal. At tax time, you can't deduct the depreciation of your hardware and you can't deduct the original capitalized cost as an office expense.

5 - The book suggests there are a range of legitimate uses for laptop computers. Stay away from laptops unless you travel a lot. Laptops are as much as four times more costly to upgrade than desktop computers, and they're a target for thieves. Many IS/IT professionals refer to laptops as disposable computers, which is a frightening way to refer to such initially expensive machines.

6 - The book suggests renting software from public libraries in order to 'test drive' the stuff. The book also suggests the use of shareware products. If you're a bit of a software novice don't do it - you don't yet really know what you're supposed to be testing. Stick with the proven packages: Microsoft Office, Corel WordPerfect Suite, Star Office, or the Microsoft Works software bundled with your new computer. Stay away from shareware and freeware until you're no longer a novice.

Cons: There's no critical comparison between Microsoft Office and Corel WordPerfect Office. Many programmers will take exception to Laurie Ulrich's definition for Shareware in the glossary at the back of the book. Some of the other glossary definitions are either incomplete, or complete non-sequiturs (have at look at the definition of RAM for instance).

Pros: Part 4, which deals with time and project management, is particularly good. The book is well organized and easy to read. Despite some criticisms, it's a good buy, a worthwhile read, and a good guide to using Microsoft Office in your SOHO or small business. If you're new to computers, software, SOHO, or small business this book should go on your "must-read" list. Check it out.

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