Your startup can act big on a small budget

Your startup can act big on a small budget

Brad Patten

BitWits

Brad Patten owns BitWits LLC, a Phoenix computer consulting firm
specializing in small business. He can be reached at 602-674-0840 or by
e-mail at bpatten@bitwits.com

I had lunch recently with a friend who is starting a new business with a partner. He worked 20 years for big companies.

He wanted an address on Camelback Avenue, a cool Web site, a
voice-mail system with a virtual receptionist, laptops, unified
messaging, and the illusion that he was a big company, not a startup.

"We’re operating under the principle of `fake it until we make it,’" he said.

He was pleased when I told him he could "fake it" for $10,000
in start-up capital and as a little as a few hundred dollars a month
for services.

"You gotta love technology," he said.

If you’re a starting a new business, you certainly do love it. Technology lets you act big on a small budget.

Here’s some of the advice I gave him and would give any entrepreneur starting a new business:

  • Think virtual. With Internet telephony and remote
    access via the Internet, renting office space is virtually a thing of
    the past. My friend is going to start working out of his house and rent
    a mailbox with that swank Camelback Avenue address in Phoenix. In a few
    months – and hopefully some cash coming in – he might consider an
    executive office suite where they rent conference rooms and offices
    with shared receptionists, copiers and secretaries for small businesses
    with big office needs.
  • Go mobile. A good cell phone with
    e-mail and Internet service will keep you connected to the office, even
    when you’re not there. Efficient communication is critical in any
    business.
  • Buy your Internet domain name. Yourname@yourbusiness.com is much more
    professional than yourname@yahoo.com, mailto:yourname@aol.com or
    yourname@msn.com. Plus, you can swap Internet providers without
    reprinting business cards. It costs a couple hundred dollars per year
    to register and host a domain.
  • Rent, don’t buy.
    Outsourcing makes great financial sense for small businesses. We
    outsource our e-mail, voice mail, fax lines, remote service,
    spam-filtering, Web-hosting, anything we can. With outsourcing, you
    lower capital costs, increase quality, and have the flexibility to
    switch when better technology comes along. Just be sure to read the
    small print and avoid long-term contracts.
  • Get a really
    fast Internet connection. Whether you have one employee or 100, speedy
    broadband pays a dozen efficiency dividends daily.
  • Use
    Web services. I order all products online, bank, buy office supplies,
    read e-mail, pay bills and employees, check invoices, monitor service
    calls, send text messages, and track shipments. You can access Web
    services anytime, anywhere. Even better, someone else is writing and
    maintaining your software.
  • Centralize documents and data.
    Duplicated data is a pet peeve of mine, and a tremendous cost to you.
    Make sure employees are accessing the same customer lists and
    documents. It’s expensive – and often disastrous – when everyone in the
    office has a private information store. For my friend, we used an
    online service that allows the two partners, in different locations, to
    map a network drive on the Internet to share files for only $20 per
    month.
  • Hire a tech pro. I can’t tell you how often we’re
    called in to clean up after amateur engineers. Often, we find no
    security, backup, or virus protection. Reliable computers and networks
    free you to focus on your business, not mine.
  • Buy quality
    hardware. Trust me, Conrad’s clone computers are not as good as those
    built by Dell, Hewlett-Packard or Gateway. Not only are they less
    reliable, clones are more expensive to support and often lack
    warranties or basic software like Microsoft Office.
  • Backup daily. I’ll tell my clients this all the time: backing up is the
    cheapest insurance policy you’ll ever buy, and the one you’re most
    likely to use. Get two backups – such as a tape drive and a portable
    hard drive – and check them daily.
  • Simplify. Computers
    run more reliably if not overloaded with software and gadgets. Your
    goal should be to run simple, stock systems with three or four key
    applications.
  • Standardize. For the same reason that
    Southwest Airlines flies only 737s and United Parcel Service drives
    only those funny brown trucks, you should standardize your computer
    system. It saves money. Standardize brands, models, memory, monitors,
    operating systems, printers, configurations, and software and software
    versions.
  • Protect. From spam and spyware to viruses and
    home page hi-jackers, the Internet is filled with evil doers. A good
    hardware firewall and up-to-date antivirus/anti-spyware software on all
    computers will keep bad actors at bay.

My friend is right. Technology certainly can help you "fake it
until you make it." With good technology – and a good business model –
you shouldn’t have to fake it for long.

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