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Tech tips for newbies

The recent recession has impacted the workforce in different ways. For some, tough economic times have made it all the more important to aim for excellence and work diligently at their current jobs. For others, the economic downturn has inspired and, in some cases, even forced them to venture out and start their own businesses.

Recently, Microsoft conducted a survey of today's entrepreneurs and found that technology has been a driving force behind many startups. In fact, one-third of respondents report that they would not have started their own businesses without the help of today's technology.

While technology can be a tremendous asset to entrepreneurs, it's not always easy to determine which solutions are essential, which can wait, and what tools are specially tailored to new businesses.

Here is some specific guidance to help budding entrepreneurs use technology to their advantage.

Hardware and software decisions

Even if you're starting your business from your kitchen table, make sure the PC you're using is dedicated for work and won't be used by anyone else in the home during work hours. If you plan to be mobile, invest in a laptop. Also, businesses can outgrow computers quickly; investing in more capabilities than you need today, including more memory, extra hard drive space, a faster processor, etc. will pay off in the long run.

Your PC's operating system may be the most important piece of software you own because it makes all other functions on your computer possible. Operating systems designed for business use make sense for startups because they provide greater functionality, making it easier to connect to networks, back-up and security solutions as those IT needs become increasingly necessary with business growth.

Tools to maintain and protect your computer

It might be a while before your startup has the luxury of in-house IT support, but that doesn't mean you have to pay big bucks every time you have a technical question. Many free, easy-to-use online IT support tools exist to help users identify and resolve issues quickly. Microsoft's free Fix it solutions, which are one-click, automated troubleshooters that help customers diagnose and fix PC problems, often can eliminate the need for paid for support. Also, you can ask questions and look for answers to commonly asked IT questions on online Q&A forums like Microsoft Answers.

You don't need to break the bank, either, when it comes to protecting your computer from security threats. Many security programs are built into the latest operating systems or are available for free. For example, Microsoft Security Essentials is free, downloadable over the Internet and provides real-time protection against viruses, spyware, trojans and other forms of malware.

Choosing business applications

As an entrepreneur, the vast majority of your day will often be spent at the computer, as you use software programs to communicate, collaborate and organize your schedule and data. Choose business applications that work well together and across multiple devices and platforms. A package like the Microsoft Office system, for example, can help you with a range of tasks, including the creation and management of documents, accounting, marketing, customer relationships and more. A beta version of Microsoft's next Office System, Office 2010, is available for free on the Internet.

With the right technology tools in place, the process of starting your own business will likely become less daunting and maybe even more fun. When used to its potential, technology can be a catalyst for growth and help propel your business forward in today's new economy.

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Benny Madrid

Benny Madrid is a regional market development director in Microsoft's Small and Mid-market Solutions and Partners (SMS&P) group. For more free technology tips and other valuable information visit http://www.microsoft.com/midsizebusiness/default.mspx.

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