Getting your startup business off the ground - 15th Apr 2009

We were intrigued to read in the 8-4-09 issue of the D-Scene that the Otago Chamber of Commerce is fielding on average four calls each day regarding new startups and getting those people on the right track.  This has been accelerated by the number of large companies who employ staff locally who are cutting back in order to survive the recession.

Here's some clever ways of thinking to ensure that your startup (or current business) minimises it's overheads, and works smarter than your traditional business.

Computer Hardware

If you go down to your local electronics retailer and look for a new PC, chances are that you'll walk away having spent at least $1,000 on a new computer.  Unless you have specific requirements, there's no need to invest so much.  Ex-lease PC's are available and are a viable alternative.  Average price for an ex-lease PC (without screen) is between $200 and $300, and in most cases are only a few years old.

When looking for an ex-lease PC, get the supplier to pop the lid off the machine and check that it's not clogged up with dust.  Some of them will be, but in general ex-lease PC's have been in clean office environments.  Go for one that's not dusty.

An ex-lease PC will generally include:

  • A desktop PC
  • A mouse
  • A keyboard
  • A power cable
Although they will come with a license for Windows XP Home (or XP Pro if you're lucky) you may not get installation CD's for them.  It is perfectly legal to borrow or copy someone's Windows installation CD's so long as you use the Windows license key provided with your computer.  You will find this number on a greeny-white sticker on the side of your computer case.

As for a screen, if you don't mind using a CRT monitor then you can probably pick a decent one up for free if you ask around.  Schools are good places to ask at, and if they don't have one they can put you in touch with someone who will know where they can get them from.

Choose your phone provider

There's no reason to be locked into using Telecom as your phone provider, or even using their service resold through one of the other providers.  With number portability (introduced 1st April 2007) you can switch providers and keep your existing phone number.

At Turboweb (and also in our homes) we have switched completely away from Telecom and are using a VoIP (voice over internet protocol) system called 2talk.  Depending on the best plan for your business, you can pay as you go, or choose a higher level plan.

2talk also supports fax reception which means we don't have to have a fax machine in our office.  If someone sends us a fax it gets converted to a PDF and emailed to us.  The downside of not having a fax machine is that you can't send one, but if this is not a requirement for you then it will save you quite a bit.

Useful resources:

Microsoft Windows - software options

Did you know that there's an alternative to paying Microsoft for a copy of Microsoft Windows and then Microsoft Office?  Linux is a free open source operating system that will provide you with a wide range of productivity applications and make sure that you're not left in the red when it comes to your bank balance.

For most businesses, you will need the following applications. Here's a table showing the commercial options, and the free software options.

Application Commercial Options Free Options
Operating System Windows XP, Windows Vista, Windows 7 (released later this year) Many variants of Linux: Ubuntu, Debian, Suse, OpenSolaris.  We use and recommend Ubuntu Linux.
Email, Calendar and Task List Microsoft Outlook Mozilla Thunderbird (with free plugins)
Word Processing, Spreadsheet, Presentation, Database Microsoft Office (Word, Excel, Powerpoint, Access) Open Office (Writer, Spreadsheet, Impress, Base)
Web Browser Internet Explorer (free, but only when you buy Windows) Mozilla Firefox (see our news item from last year about this)

In addition to the above desktop applications there is a wide range of robust server applications that will do everything for you such as handle your email in a shared environment (Courier IMAP vs. Microsoft Exchange Server), provide you with networked access to your files (Samba vs. a Windows Server) and provide security via Firewalls and Proxy Servers (iptables & squid).

Be smart with your advertising budget

As tempting as it may be, resist the urge to throw a couple of thousand dollars at the Yellow Pages for an advert, unless there is proven information that shows that your type of business is best to spend it there.  Instead, consider splitting your advertising spend and getting a website together.  Not convinced?  Here's five reasons why your website should get the lions share of your advertising budget vs. Yellow Pages (a rather unfair comparison, but food for thought nonetheless):
  1. Your website is not fixed in stone, whereas printed material is.
  2. Your website is a complete website, and it can have contact forms, testimonials, pictures, downloads, news items (like this one), video etc.  Your Yellow Pages advert does not scale so well for that kind of thing.
  3. Your website is at the fingertips of everyone with a computer, and chances are that the Yellow Pages is sitting under their computer monitor to make it higher (thanks Telecom).
  4. Your website is a powerful marketing tool and you can actively communicate with your clients through it by sending email broadcasts.  Yellow Pages doesn't do that.
  5. You can't control your position in the Yellow Pages (unless you spend more than your competition to get a bigger advert), but you can control the position (on Google and other search engines) of your website simply by adding relevant content to it.

Websites can be expensive

Don't get a website from the first place you come to - at the very least shop around and ask other companies what they have in mind for your type of business.  Make a checklist of questions or requirements so that you can get a consistent response from across the board.

There are generally two kinds of website:
  • Custom website with upfront payment and ongoing hosting fees, powered by software like Joomla, Drupal, SilverStripe etc.
  • Subscription services with ongoing monthly payments, normally powered by a custom content management system that the web company have developed (ours is called the Simple Content Manager)
Which one to choose is very much dependent on what you need for your website.  The best thing to do is to ask to speak to some of the web company's clients and ask them what questions and problems they had when setting up their website.  People are generally happy to give information freely and you should not be afraid to ask.

This should hopefully give you a good starting point when considering your startup venture.  If you have any questions or comments, feel free to get in touch with us via our contact form.

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