The other day I pondered what I would do different if starting out again with a new business? What would I do different and how would I keep the costs and risks of a new venture to a minimum? I then started to formulate and work out how much it would cost and what would my risks be.
I have come across many people who have been made redundant, or received a large bonus and decided to head out on their own and create their own business. The majority of them I am afraid to say have failed for one reason or another and they have returned to their normal jobs.
If you have an idea or are thinking about starting up your own business and you are still in full time employment, then I would recommend that you keep your job in the short term. It is easier to take the first initial steps knowing that you do not have to worry about financial problems, or where the next mortgage payment comes from. Once you get your website or application up and running and you have verified that your business will be sustainable, then you can look at taking the plunge. Even if your idea does not take off, or that there is already a crowded marketplace, at least you still have your job and you have learnt some valuable lessons in setting up and running your own business.
Lets imagine that one night after a few drinks, you come up with a great idea and get some reassurance from your friends and family to take it further. What should you do? I am lucky in the fact I come from a technical back ground, so I am able to make the most of free services, along with cheap monthly paid for solutions.
Before I can do any of the usual things like register domain names and create a website, I actually need a computer to do all of this on. You could go on ebay and source a cheap laptop and the install Ubuntu on it for less than £100, or you could go for something slim and sleek like the Acer 720 Chromebook. For £199 for a powerful light weight notebook/laptop that comes with Google Chrome, it offers great value for money. For those of you who would like an alternative operating system, you can download and install a magic little program called Crouton. This will then allow you to install and run Ubuntu as a full screen desktop, without affecting the Google operating system. Here is a guide on how to install. You now have a laptop running Chrome, or Chrome and Ubuntu running Unity. With Ubuntu installed, you can download and install all the usual free programs like Open Office, Thunderbird, Firefox, Filezilla, Skype.
Next, I would think of a company domain name. This is fairly hard, as all the good .com’s and .co.uk’s are already gone. Nevertheless, with the roll out of extra top level domain names from ICANN, you more than likely will be able to find something that you like. There are many domain name registrars out there that will let you register a new domain name with them for next to nothing. Shop around and if you register with an American based company, you will benefit from the current favourable exchange rate.
So you have your domain name for less than £10, what next? Lets sort out the email, calendar, contacts and document storage, which will allow you to work from any device, anywhere at any time. For value for money and all the bells and whistles that come with it, you really have to choose Google Premier Apps. This is going to set you back the princely sum of £3.30 per month and give you 30 gigs of email and document storage. Furthermore, you can create numerous group email addresses and aliases to give the impression that your start-up is actually bigger than you are.
So I now have a laptop, email and a domain name for my website. What should I do next for hosting? Amazon AWS offer a great deal that allows you to run a small server and make use of its other cloud hosting modules, free of charge for a whole year. If you are prepared to get your hands dirty and follow a few simple Youtube videos and online tutorials, then you can get a Linux server up and running. To make life a little bit easier, you can install a web interface like AlternC, Baifox, DTC, Cube Panel or Cwipanel.
Next I need to get my website up and running, so what will it look like and how will I manage it? Yet again there is massive array of Open Source content management and e-commerce systems to choose from. You can choose from systems such as WordPress, Drupal, Joomla and Concrete5 just to name a few. If you visit the SourceForge website, you can see all the projects that are available free to download.
If you are looking for an ecommerce store that is free, then you can choose from the likes of OsCommerce, Magento, Zencart, Prestashop, Opencart, WP E-commerce for WordPress or WooCommerce to name a few. If you require an SSL certificate, you can shop around and find one for in the region of £50 that will be valid for 1 year.
So you have installed and configure your content management system for your website, so next you need to look at the design and fill it with content or products.
Depending on what content management system you have opted for, there are a number of free templates, or reasonably priced templates that you can obtain from sites such as Template Monster. Using the free program such as Gimp to make a few modifications to the free templates that are on offer, you can create a site that is bespoke for you.
Now that your site is up and running, you will need to make sure that it does not fall over and that if there are any problems, that you are notified. The guys at New Relic offer a free version of their enterprise based monitoring system that will do just that. In addition to the email alerts, you can download their free monitoring/notification app for iPhone or Android.
Now that you have your website up and running, you need to let people know about it and see how they interact with your site. Again there is a free service from the guys at Mail Chimp, where you can send 12,000 emails per month completely free of charge.
With your Google Premier apps account, you can activate the Analytics module, which will help you to analyse your traffic and help to understand your audience.
Hopefully you will find that your start-up is starting to gain traction and you are thinking about becoming a limited company and sorting out a business bank account?
Fortunately, it is really simple to set-up a Limited company and you can do everything through the official Government website. This cost £15 and will take you about 10-15 minutes to complete, depending on whether you have all the information to hand.
Now that you are a Director of a limited company, you will need to sort out your business banking so that you can start paying in revenue from selling items or services online, advertising or affiliate fees. HSBC and many of the other banks offer free banking for the first 12-18 months and are very helpful.
If I am working from home, or using Google Campus or a coffee shop, then I don’t need to pay for a rented desk space, which means I have very little or no overheads.
So I would have spent £200 on a laptop, £10 on a domain name and £15 on setting up my Limited company. Using the free hosting from Amazon AWS, along with all the other free services currently available, I have a website up and running and I am paying £3.30 per month to Google for my email and mobile office tools, which is my only monthly cost. I guess that would leave me £1.70 per month to spend on a small coffee ;o).