Starting a business is an incredibly exciting time for any entrepreneur; however it can also be stressful with so much to do in so little time. The start-up phase is also characterized by significant expenditures against a backdrop of uncertain income. However, there are a number of products and services that can help you maximize your chances of success while also saving you considerable time and money. This article aims to introduce you to some of the less obvious ones that are available via the Internet. These products and services can help you set your business on the right path from Day One. While these recommendations will not be appropriate for all, those who need to bootstrap and build their business the hard way will benefit the most.
1. Create a website
Regardless of whether you intend to sell online or not, all new start-up businesses should secure a domain name and create a website as soon as they can. Thankfully, the cost of getting a site set up has fallen significantly over time and there are now a host of different packages and providers to choose from.
Where: Uni-Trader from www.unitechnology.co.uk Cost: RRP from only £99.99
2. Download a profile of your industry
The factsheets, reports and guides from Scavenger are essential reading material for anyone starting up a business in the UK. The Business Opportunity Profiles are downloadable reports on specific UK industries. With over 800 reports in total, the range includes everything from ‘Children’s Day Nursery’ profiles to ‘Coffee Shop’ profiles to a profile on ‘Wedding Planners’.
Where: www.scavenger.net Cost: Individual reports cost around £5.
3. Set up your company accounts
One of the big challenges start-up companies face is managing cash flow. Insolvency is one of the main causes of failure for entrepreneurs in the UK. However, with some careful and appropriate financial planning, cash crunches can be avoided. While this in itself is an important reason for buying a bookkeeping package, there are countless other reasons ranging from the ability to manage invoices through to managing payroll. The two main recommended introductory packages are QuickBooks® Simple Start from Intuit® and Sage® Instant Accounts. View online demos before you purchase.
4. Download business planning software
When you start up it is important to write a business plan to ensure you adequately plan the future of your business. The very process of creating a plan is beneficial, not least because it forces you to take a holistic view of your company. Business Plan Pro is the best-selling business-planning software available. It is easy to use, saves time, and has over 500 sample plans to get you started. It is also available via download so you can get instant access to it and hence pay no postage and packing.
Where: Business Plan Pro is available from www.paloalto.co.uk Cost: RRP is only £79.99 for the Standard version and £129.99 for the Premier.
5. Save costs on your phone
Using applications such as Skype together with a headset, it is now possible to make telephone calls from your computer at a very low cost. There is no need to commit to a monthly phone contract with line rental. Instead you can just pay as you go. You can also obtain a Skype number so people can call you back. However it is recommended that all start-up businesses do have at least one fixed line number they can be contacted on. Finally, you should also consider getting a portable number that is easy to transfer if you move offices.
Where: www.skype.co.uk Cost: Free
6. Protect your computer
Once you connect to the Internet, it is important to ensure you have adequate protection in the form of anti-virus software. Many computers these days come with anti-virus software installed already. If not, you should consider downloading Ad-Aware from Lavasoft and AVG anti-virus from GRISOFT. These products are either free or reasonably priced, and are very effective. Finally, it is also recommended that you backup your data to an external hard drive such as those manufactured by Maxtor.
7. Explore Google
Google is famous for being the world’s favourite search engine. Additionally, there are a growing number of online applications owned or developed by Google that are ideal aids when setting up a new business. Google AdWords are the little adverts you see alongside search returns when you search in Google. These are a great way to attract customers at a low cost. Google Desktop enables you to search all the files and folders on your computer so you can track down any stored information at the click of a button. Both are very useful applications in helping you to market your business and to manage your internal data. Where: www.google.co.uk Cost: Free (AdWord prices vary)
8. Open an instant messaging account
Along with email, Instant Messaging has proven to be one of the most used online applications for Internet users. By opening a messaging account, you are adding an extra communication tool to your portfolio and it ensures you can communicate effectively with colleagues and customers. If you want to offer an IM service to your customers, you can add applications such as LivePerson to your website.
9. Open an account with an online fax company
Harnessing the power of the Internet means you do not have to invest in hardware, such as a fax machine, that you may use infrequently. Instead, you can open an account with an online fax service so you can send and receive faxes directly from your computer.
Where: www.j2.com Cost: From £8.50 per month and 12p a fax
10. Try online word processing
Everyone is familiar with Microsoft Office®. However, if you need MS Office but can’t afford it, then there are a number of alternatives to consider. Star Office™ from Sun Microsystems is available for a fraction of the cost of MS Office but is just as powerful. Google Docs & Spreadsheets is a web-based word processing and spreadsheet programme that keeps documents current and lets the people you choose update files from their own computers. Finally Zoho Virtual Office provides an integrated online suite of collaboration tools including Email, Calendars, Documents, Tasks, Notes, Contacts and Groups.
Summary and Conclusion Starting up a business is never easy given the wide range of ‘things’ that need to get done and the costs that have to be paid out before you start. However, the Internet has helped bring down the cost of starting up and has also made it easier to set up, thereby providing the entrepreneur with access to a wide range of different products, services and market research from the comfort of their desks.