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 There’s a danger in using outdated reference points to calculate your chances of future success.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.
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.
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