You Can Now Go Your Own Way (thanks to the web and some very accessible technology)

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We live in opportune times. When I started up my own business four years ago, I had a contemporary advantage over those who took the same leap in the years and decades before me: a maturing internet, affordable (wireless) broadband, and cheap online data storage. It meant I could set up shop with less capital, fewer overheads and lower overall risk.

For the younger freelancers and entrepreneurs of today, there’s nothing worthy of note here – it’s all part of the mode du jour (so pervasive it’s rendered invisible). For the rest of us it’s a big set of changes to comprehend – so big in fact that many would-be DIY business types, as well as plenty of established businesses, are struggling to adapt. Phil Simon summarises these trends and opportunities in his latest book, The New Small: How a New Breed of Small Businesses Is Harnessing the Power of Emerging Technologies

How many smart, industrious, insightful people are toiling away within their salaried jobs who want to do their own thing – but don’t – because they’ve overestimated the set-up and running costs? There’s a danger in using outdated reference points to calculate your chances of future success.

Anybody establishing or running a service level business today can pull from a deep bag of new business tools: technological driven mobility, variable cost services, cloud based business applications, scalability (up and down), social media and networking, online search, and outsourcing.

Here are a few of the tools, platforms and processes that modern business folk are taking advantage of (and their approximate costs):


A Business website:  $2000 – $3000-ish. You have to have one of these, and don’t skimp on time or money to get it right. Hire a WordPress coder with good design sense, and get a professional web presence happening. Getting a website built on WordPress is super cost effective: it’s robust, open-source software that any decent programmer can cut code for; it comes with a powerful inbuilt content management system (CMS), giving you full control over your website content; it’s a blog if you want go there (and you should); and it can incorporate more third-party plugins than you can poke a cat at.

A domain name: $25 for 2 years. Cheap as chips.

Hosting: $300-ish pa. Use anyone except ‘Melbourne IT‘ (nothing personal guys, you’re just insanely expensive).

Website search engine optimisation for lead generation : Free. Although a NET:101 workshop will steer you in the right direction, costing  around $650 (hey, gotta love the way I managed to slip that one in); or buy a decent online search book for $20.

Logo design: $300-ish. Try 99 Designs (I’m going to cop serious stick from my locally based graphic design friends for suggesting this).

Business cards: $0. Why bother? Grab other people’s business cards and connect with them on LinkedIn.

Laptop: $759 – adequate… or $1799 for something with a few street smarts.  Add $200 for MS Office if you need to.

VOIP number: $72 pa. Rent a ‘local landline’ Skype number and have it redirected through to your laptop, mobile phone or any landline in the world you happen to be sitting next to at the time.

Social media platforms: Blogs, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn, Facebook, Google+. Free, excepting the cost of your time to make them hum. You’ll need a strategy and a long-term commitment to make these business tools work properly.

Communal office space: $600-ish/month. Popping up in capital cities such as Sydney or Melbourne, and probably coming to a city/ town near you soon. The ‘kitchen table office’ wears thin quickly.

Wireless broadband: $60-ish/month. Your mobile connection to everybody and everything, everywhere.

Smart phone/ office phone: $50/month. Android, iPhone or Blackberry, take your pick. Browser capability and business apps in your hand and on the go is an extraordinary business development.

Online contact management system: $20-ish/ month. I use Highrise, but there are plenty of others.

Online accounting system: $25-ish/month. I use Saasu.

Online business apps: Free/ freemium. Too many to list, but I use Google apps, Gmail, and Google Sites as a wiki (yikes, I sound like a Google fanboy!).

Outsourcing: $10-25 hour. I use an Australian virtual PA, and a Ukrainian graphic designer. All made possible by utilising many of the tools listed above.

Many of the more traditional (fixed) costs of running a business can now be shifted across to variable costs. I could even relocate my business to another part of the world with very little disruption and expense, as so little of my business infrastructure is physically anchored anywhere.

But putting the technology to one side, you’ll still need a good product/ service at a value driven price point, a solid professional network, and a positive business reputation worthy of word-of-mouth referral. The importance of these few things is timeless.

 

Image by Irit & Ophir Maor

 



6 Cloud Based Apps that Rock my Business

Highrise – our contact management system. My virtual PA also routes all customer email communications through it.

Dropbox – Great for moving synchronised files between my 3 desktop and laptop computers.

Google Sites – We use Google Sites as a private wiki. My virtual PA dumps all of my interstate travel info here: client research, hotel and flight booking attachments, Google Map embeds showing routes to and from various meeting points, etc.  Like all wikis it has a full revision history.

Google Docs – I upload all of the docs, mostly Excel files, that I want to share with others, e.g my virtual service providers, bookkeeper, accountant, etc.

Gmail – Always on, always there. I never delete anything sent or received, including attachments, because the storage allowance is huge; it’s sort of become a de facto file back-up.

Google Calendar – I share different calendar layers with half a dozen people; I have layers for flight and accomodation bookings, tax dates, meetings, workshops, home, etc . The multiple email/ SMS reminder function is a lifesaver.

Photo by tashland