Seven Tech Tools for Launching a Small Business
So, you’re about to launch a business. Or perhaps you’re a solutions provider that’s helping an entrepreneur to get a business off the ground. Here are seven IT tools The VAR Guy would recommend for that fledgling business.
First, The VAR Guy has to tip his hat. This post is actually a response to a thought-provoking blog entry at Benjamingolub.com, in which he describes specific tools he’d use to launch a business.
So, here’s The VAR Guy’s list along with some of the original thoughts from Benjamingolub.com.
1. Communication: Benjamingolub points to Google Apps as a great way to get started, since it provides Webmail, pop3 and IMAP at a low or no cost. For chat, he points to IRC server and Google Chat. And he’d likely skip traditional phone lines and instead provide employees with simple cell phones.
The VAR Guy Says: Yes, The VAR Guy loves Google Apps for document sharing and collaboration. But he plans to move his business email systems and Web hosting systems to a single provider. For chat, The VAR Guy leverages Skype because so many people in Europe, the Middle East and Asia also leverage it. And yes, The VAR Guy uses a traditional phone line because he hosts Web conferences — and he can’t expose his participants to poor voice or data quality.
2. Organization: Here, Benjamingolub recommends Google Calendar, Basecamp, Highrise and Backpack. The VAR Guy Says: Frankly, The VAR Guy needs a tool like Basecamp. But he’s been a bit of a slacker on that one.
3. Servers: Benjamingolub is leaning toward Amazon EC2. The VAR Guy Says: That’s a great idea for some small businesses, but The VAR Guy can’t go that route. Our resident blogger works with a hosting provider that understands the intricacies of our content management system. Decide what apps you want first, then choose a hosting provider based on their expertise with those apps.
4. Employee Computers: Benjamingolub says he’d splurge and allow employees to choose between PCs (Windows or Linux) and Mac laptops. The VAR Guy Says: That sounds a little dangerous for newbie employees. Choice and freedom are nice. But your goal is to have low support costs and high productivity.
If you’re permitting Mac OS as an option, standardize on Apple hardware then choose which OS you want. By sticking with a single hardware platform, you can likely lower your IT support costs. And Macs, The VAR Guy believes, are generally more reliable than PCs.
If you’re not tech savvy, stick with Mac OS X on Apple hardware — assuming all of your software is supported on Mac OS X. For power users who know how to troubleshoot their own systems, permit virtualization of Windows, Mac OS X and Linux on Mac hardware.
Oh, and another great point from Benjamingolub: Get a decent sized LCD for every employee. Big screens do, indeed, make employees more productive, according to recent research. (That explains the 62-inch LCD in The VAR Guy’s living room…)
5. Office Space: Benjamingolub is a bit ahead of the curve here. He talks about avoiding closed doors, and says the more services you provide in the office (a cafeteria, haircuts, dry cleaning, child care, etc.) the more productive your employees will become.
The VAR Guy Says: Slooow down. It’s nice to have long-term vision. But what about keeping your costs low and doing a “garage” or “home office” start-up for the first year or two? Don’t rush into any leases, folks. Focus on your products, services and potential customers first. Live out of your car. Meet in Starbucks, hotel lobbies, airports and other neutral grounds that cost you nothing. As you grow, find a local office that offers time-share space, where you can hold executive and customer meetings for an hourly fee based on your random schedule.
5. HR and Payroll: Benjamingolub isn’t sure where to start with this one. The VAR Guy Says: Assuming The VAR Guy eventually makes some dough from his business, the check will be cut by QuickBooks. There’s also some positive buzz about Bill.com, a software as a service (SaaS) system, according to our sister site, MSPmentor.
6. Productivity Apps: Benjamingolub skipped this item. The VAR Guy uses OpenOffice on his Ubuntu Linux desktop; but he doesn’t think the open source suite is ready for prime time on Mac OS X. So he’s switched to Microsoft Office on both Mac OS X and Windows. Save some money by licensing Microsoft Office Student and Teacher Edition (we’re all learners, aren’t we?), or keep testing OpenOffice and Google Apps to see if they meet your needs.
7. Network and Internet Access: This is key. Benjamingolub skipped this item as well. Go with WiFi — everywhere. That means WiFi in the home office or small office. And get a monthly subscription for WiFi Internet service when you’re on the road. This will help to cut down on those $9.95-per-day Internet fees you pay in lobbies and airports.
The best $30 The VAR Guy spends every month is for T-Mobile WiFi service, which is available in many airports, Starbucks and thousands of other retail locations. Unfortunately, Starbuck is soon switching to AT&T WiFi service, but the chain continues to honor T-Mobile accounts — at least for the short term.
So, what did The VAR Guy forget on his list — other than a shameless plug for his trusty iPhone?