Save money with the 80/20 rule

Hello, and welcome to this new section on ITworld. I promise to be unbiased and unboring in every post.

Let me explain one of the rules I apply to every facet of small business technology: the 80/20 rule. Many variations of this rule exist, and I twist it to my benefit whenever necessary. Yet no matter how mutated it gets, it always offer guidance. Think you need new software? Maybe not.

The rule says that 80 percent of users only touch 20 percent of their software features. This works particularly well with standard office productivity applications. Maybe you just need to spend 80 minutes figuring out ways to get 20 times more benefit from what you already own.

Think your new computers must be state of the art? 20 percent of small business users may be working with audio or video files that need lots of horsepower, or designing electronic documents or something else that chews up CPU cycles. If that's you, then you do need the FireBreather 3000 rather than the Acme SlimLine.

Get the fastest processor, most memory, and fastest hard disk you can, and do your work faster. However, 80 percent of users never do more than e-mail, Web browsing, small spreadsheets, and basic text documents.

I've been writing on computers a long time, and my Apple ][ back in 1981 put characters on the screen just as fast I typed them. I type fairly fast, but I couldn't outrun that Apple. I haven't gotten any faster, and I certainly can't outrun a Pentium 4 running at 2.0GHz, much less a quad core box with a dedicated graphic processor.

So is the idea to go back to Apple ][? Except for the nostalgia rush, and the interesting conversations everyone will start when they see it, no, leave the Apple in the closet. But the idea that will save you money is to buy the right tool for the right user.

Big company IT people constantly tell us executives with no clue beyond the basics on how to use their computer demand the fastest, newest, and most expensive desktops and especially laptops. Nothing says "executive compensation" like a Mac Air plopped on the table during a meeting. Not used, really, just laid out for everyone to see.

Luckily, small business owners are too busy working to worry about ego trips and bragging rights. Smart ones know saving money on expenses leaves more money for customer service and improvements.

They spend 80 percent of their time worrying about getting more business, and 20 percent of the time trying to save money. And I'll spend 100 percent of time helping them do both.

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