Starting your own business used to be a huge investment. Depending on your chosen field, you might have to rent office space, purchase supplies, hire an accountant, produce mailers and all sorts of other details. It could be months or years before you see a profit, which is why many small businesses went under.
These days it is far easier to start a business. With the power of a personal computer, a home office and a few dedicated pieces of software, you can hit the ground running. Almost any function you would need a dedicated machine or hired employee for can be done with one of these or similar tools.
Keeping your budget used to require enough work to make up a full time job. Keeping the books, filing the paperwork, keeping track of all the money your business handles and all the rest quickly eats up a lot of time. Financial software made it easier, but you still need to purchase it, and most of the time if you’re not trained in using it already, you have a lot of learning to do. Thankfully, all of that has begun to change.
Xero Accounting has you covered on this front. With a free trial to learn the ropes, reasonable pricing and a robust list of features, you won’t need to worry about hiring an accountant or an entire financial department. You can create invoices, record bank transactions, share financial information and monitor every bit of your budget along the way. The program scales as your business grows, allowing you to upgrade and customise it to do everything you need it to do. Xero even supports a dozen different add-ons to customize your experience further. Xero allows you to export reports not only to excel but to Google Docs too.
Collaboration and File Sharing
Do you produce media? Of course you do, or if you don’t, you should. Whether it’s as simple as a promotional image or as complicated as a product pitch, you’ll eventually find you need to transfer a file to someone else. You don’t have to print out a flyer to mail. You don’t need to record it on physical media and ship it. You don’t need to worry about file size limitations for e-mail attachments. Just use Dropbox.
Dropbox is incredibly simple. It acts just like a folder on your computer. The data you put in the folder, however, can be shared with anyone. You can quickly and easily create a link to any file in your Dropbox folder. You can then share the link with anyone you want to give the file to. They even have a special business tier with bank level security and a ton of storage. You won’t have to worry about someone getting into your files or sensitive documents. Only the people you want to share with will ever see your files. You can use 2GB of space with Dropbox for free, you can get additional space free by getting friends to sign-up, or there are monthly plans available starting at $9.99/month for 100GB.
If you run the type of business that requires an office, you have probably encountered the expense of a business license for office software. Word processing, spreadsheets and basic databases shouldn’t be expensive, and Google has you covered. Google Drive, which was formerly a number of different services including Google Docs, combines a number of great Google features into one convenient package.
You can use Google Drive for free, which is a huge boon for new businesses. It has some cloud storage features similar to Dropbox, allowing you to keep your important documents shared with your entire team. Google is always handy with support, they have a reputation for unparalleled uptime and you’ll never lose your files.
Scheduling and Task Management
Whether you’re running your business solo or you’re managing a team, you’ll quickly learn the importance of task management. There’s simply so much going on that has to get done. Letting any task, however trivial, slip through the cracks is just asking for trouble. Producteev is a task management application that allows you to organize tasks and projects for yourself and your staff. It incorporates a programming language of its own to turn notes and messages into tasks easily. It works with various e-mail clients and instant messaging programs. Best of all, it’s very cheap. You can use it for a solo business for free, or use it with your entire business team for a low fee.
Harnessing the Cloud
Cloud computing is something a few other entries on this list have touched on. Google services and Dropbox both use the idea of the cloud for storage, allowing your data to be accessed anywhere. Salesforce takes the cloud one step beyond. What they do is known as Software as a Service. Many enterprise software applications are bulky and expensive. You need computers to run them, you need servers to hold your data and you need people to use them. For many small businesses, these enterprise solutions simply aren’t cost-effective.
Software as a Service through Salesforce allows your business access to these pieces of software without all of the hassle. Salesforce holds the servers and runs the software. Your business simply makes use of the service they provide, for a moderate fee. Full enterprise solutions are available, but for many small businesses, the cheapest tiers are perfectly serviceable.
If you need a basic contact management solution, you can get this from Salesforce for just £3/month, check out the full features here.
Businesses have phone numbers. More importantly, businesses have reliable phone numbers. If someone wants to contact your business, do you give them your mobile number? If you do, then you have to deal with issues when your phone is off, or when you’re out of your service area, or when the battery is dead. What happens if they want to fax something to your office? You would need a fax machine and a landline just for that. Having a Geographic number for your UK area code will give the perfect impression.
Soho66 is a unique Voice Over IP (or VOIP) service that can quickly prove indispensable to your business. You don’t need to shell out the cash for a landline or a fax machine. All you need is an Internet connection and an inexpensive subscription to their service. They offer lines for one or for many, depending on the size of your business. They support conference calls and all the phone services you would need. How does that take care of faxing? They offer an additional feature that converts incoming faxes into e-mails for you. No bulky fax machine, no landline and no wasted paper. Soho66 also allows you to transfer an existing phone number or register a local line for their service.
Acrobits is one of another type of application you might find useful, especially if your business is mobile. It and other apps are called softphones. They hook up to your VOIP connections and channel them to your smartphone. With versions for both iPhones and Android devices, you’ll be able to tap into your business phone network without needing anything else. Hold your conference calls and video conferencing over VOIP. If you want, you can even record your calls.
Of course, if you have a business small enough to consist mainly of yourself and your computer, you can always opt for Skype. One of the first major VOIP companies to produce a popular client, Skype offers a wide range of functionality. You can call other Skype lines or landlines, link it to an office phone system or use it for video conferencing. Skype has the benefit of working wherever you have an Internet connection, even if you’re out of range of a cellular network or not in your office. The only possible downside to using Skype for your business is it doesn’t allow emergency phone calls.
Sometimes, you simply can’t do everything online. Maybe you need to have products mailed to or from your business. Maybe you need a physical address to register for some product or service. Maybe you need to send and receive communications with customers or businesses who don’t like using the Internet for everything. For these occasions, you need a physical address.
If you’re running your business out of your home, do you really want to list your home address as your business location? You run several risks, including a volume of mail your carrier simply won’t handle. Your personal mail may get lost in the flood. There are even times when you’re not home, not present to take a delivery.
Thankfully, it’s easy to rent a mailing address. Companies such as Regus offer mailing address facilities as well as extra virtual office services. It can be a bit harder to find a mailing address if you’re outside of London, it is possible though and MBE seem to be available in most major towns. Royal Mail offers PO Box addresses which are cheaper and allows you to collect letters and parcels at a time and place that’s convenient for you.
Total Business Functionality
Starting a business seems intimidating. Even with the wide range of tools available, it still takes a lot of work and a lot of resources to succeed. With the use of many of these tools, a little creativity and a lot of hard work, you can create and run a business out of your home much more easily than ever before. With Internet-based software services, online storage and communications, VOIP phone services and a post office mailing address, you have everything you need.