Collaboration

Cheap services for your new business

A few days ago, I wrote a posting here talking about whether or not the economic downturn was a time to hunker down or whether you should innovate instead. An astute TechRepublic reader contacted me suggesting that now might be the best time ever to start your own business and provided a few suggestions for doing so on the cheap. Even though the proposition might be really scary to some, starting a small business today can be a pretty inexpensive thing to do.

Once you start your own business, you immediately become your own CIO.  With the Internet and "the cloud" becoming ubiquitous, your new business can rely on all kinds of cheap - sometimes free - services to help you keep costs low while you get off the ground.  The suggestions below aren't just pertinent for those starting a new business, though; you might find value in considering their use even if you're working in a well established organization.

It's assumed that you already have a reasonably high speed connection to the Internet so that some of these solutions will actually work.  Whether it's an Internet connection in your home, in an office you establish in your home or elsewhere, look for high-speed, low latency - i.e. DSL or a cable modem.

Phone Service

Phone service is available from just about everyone these days.  Look for bundled solutions from your DSL or cable modem provider.  Make sure the solution includes unlimited nationwide service, voicemail and, if you need it, cheap international calls.

Sometimes, bundled deals aren't the best, aren't available, don't offer what you need, or are simply too expensive.  For just these purposes, there are a whole lot of other options you can consider for phone service.

  • Vongage (http://www.vonage.com ): At $24.99 per month for regular service, Vonage is probably the best known Internet phone service out there. Vonage also has a number of other plans, including a $14.99/500 minute plan and a $34.99/month plan with a calling area that includes the U.S., Canada, Puerto Rico, Italy, France, Spain, UK, and Ireland. These two plans are listed in Vonage's site as being for residential use, but the company also offers business plans. At $39.99 per month, Vonage provides 1,500 minutes of calling to the U.S., Canada and Puerto Rico. At the $49.99/month level, there are no calling limits, the calling area expands to include Italy, France, Spain, UK, and Ireland and a fax line is thrown in.
  • Skype (http://www.skype.com): When it comes to Internet phone service from a computer, Skype is the leader. It's been around for a while and doesn't cost a whole lot. While best known for computer-to-computer calling, by purchasing a phone number and paying 2.1 cents per minute, you can call land lines from your Skype account and receive business calls from anyone. For a complete list of international rates on Skype, visit http://www.skype.com/prices/callrates. For an additional fee, you can also purchase a Skype voicemail box.
  • BroadVoice (http://www.broadvoice.com): BroadVoice's services costs a little less than Vonage and phone numbers available through their service seems to have a broader reach when it comes to local number availability.

Small business phone system

If you're just getting off the ground, you may find that buying a phone system is cost-prohibited and complex.  And, you might want to simply focus on your business and not on all of the underpinnings of operations.  Instead of trying to build your own PBX from scratch and hire and assistant to manage calls, let someone else do it for you on the cheap!

  • SmartOffice (http://www.businessphonesolutions.com): Starting at $59.95, SmartOffice is your virtual assistant. Base packages include up to five extensions and 400 or 3000 local minutes depending on whether or not you want to use a toll-free number. Under the $79.95 rate plan, unlimited local plans are included. Long distance calls are billed at $0.05 per minute. The SmartOffice feature set also includes faxing and automated attendants.
  • OneBox (http://www.onebox.com): OneBox provides a similar service as the one provided by SmartOffice and has plans ranging in price from $49.95 (4 lines) to $79.95 (10 lines).

Virtual remote assistant

Sometimes, it's the little things that can make or break your business.  Do you want to focus on your newborn business or do you want to handle invoices, perform data entry tasks and other non-critical activities?  For relatively little money, you can hire someone with the exact skills you need to help you handle these kinds of tasks.  Freelance services are available out there from which you can choose from a wide variety of potential candidates.  Use the services of these professionals for as little time as you need to as much.

  • oDesk (http://www.odesk.com): oDesk is an online staffing marketplace dedicated to helping people get the right person for your needs. The providers that make their services available on oDesk charge an hourly rate and oDesk takes 10% off the top as their service charge.
  • YourRemoteAssistant (http://www.yourremoteassistant.com): YourRemoteAssistant is similar to oDesk in that the purpose is the same. However, unlike oDesk, which uses staff from all over the country and world, YourRemoteAssistant uses staff based in the Philippines.

There are a whole lot of these kinds of services out there.  A Google search can point you quickly in the right direction.

Email & Web Hosting

I'm not going to get into too many specifics with regard to web hosting since there are a ton of resources out there to help you find hosting services for these items.  Basic web hosting with unlimited email accounts can be had for $7 per month and less if you need just simple send/receive of email messages.  There are also individual and business-focused Exchange hosting services out there.  A hosted Exchange account gives you all of the benefits of running an in-house Exchange server, but without the huge infrastructure startup costs that go along with it.

  • Intermedia (http://www.intermedia.net): Intermedia provides hosted Exchange services for individuals, small business and large organizations. In addition to a hosted mailbox & calendar, Intermedia also offers synchronization between your hosted Exchange account and your handheld device, such as a BlackBerry or Treo. Intermedia's smallest plan starts at $35.85 per month for 3 accounts. While Exchange hosting is not the least expensive option out there, it can be the most versatile.
  • 1 & 1 (http://www.1and1.com): 1 & 1 provides single user hosting for Exchange accounts so you can buy exactly the number of accounts you need. Like Intermedia, 1 & 1 provides additional services, including mobile device synchronization. 1 & 1 charges $6.99 per month per user for Exchange hosting.

Other services

The items above are just the big ones  There are dozens and dozens of things you can do to help grow your small business without having to break the bank.

Web Conferencing
  • GoToMeeting (http://www.gotomeeting.com): The owner of a brand new small business probably can't afford a whole lot of business travel, but with the world as a market, you might want to "meet" with potential clients to show presentations, explain proposals, etc. With monthly unlimited plans allowing up to 15 participants each costing $49.95, you can bring the world's clients to your desktop.
  • WebEx (http://www.webex.com): WebEx is the grand poobah of the web conferencing industry and has been around for a long time. WebEx offers plans starting at $59.95 per month for individuals, small business and large business.
Backup Service
  • Mozy (http://mozy.com): Loss of data due to failed hard drives, disasters or sabotage help close the doors to businesses all the time. Keeping your business data safe from loss is important to the success of your business. Mozy provides personal unlimited backup at $4.95 per month. For business, Mozy offers a full suite of services as well, including the ability to back up SQL, Exchange, Macintosh & Windows computers and more. MozyPro has desktop pricing of $3.95 + $0.50/GB per month with server licenses running $6.95 + $0.50/GB per month.
  • IDrive (http://www.idrive.com): Do you have less than 2GB of data that needs to be backed up? Go free! IDrive provides backup space for 2GB at no cost with business plans offering up to 500GB of space for $49.95 per month. IDrive also supports both Macintosh and Windows computers.

About

Since 1994, Scott Lowe has been providing technology solutions to a variety of organizations. After spending 10 years in multiple CIO roles, Scott is now an independent consultant, blogger, author, owner of The 1610 Group, and a Senior IT Executive w...

8 comments
don
don

Not that many people need fax service now, but if you do, I've been overcharged by eFax. I did find Packetel to be a blessing. http://www.packetel.com With monthly service starting at $3.95 US, and discounts for 1 and 2 years subscription... you get a local number with unlimited inbound faxing. Nothing outbound, which may be a problem...but I don't really fax out. Another service I've been using is RingCentral.com. I have my toll-free number there, and it's another option for a virtual phone system. I agree that 4 hour work week is a great read. Here are some other resources: Books Starting a Business or Understanding Business How to make Big Money in your Small Business ? Jeffrey Fox (or anything else by him) The E-Myth ? Michael Gerber The 4-Hour Work Week ? Timothy Ferriss The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century - Thomas L. Friedman - A complete understanding of economy and the world impact, but easy to read. Getting Things Done ? David Allen (Organization and Filing) Marketing Guerrilla Marketing ? Jay C. Levinson Startup Guide to Guerrilla Marketing ? Jay C. Levinson Guerrilla Marketing in 30 Days ? Jay C. Levinson Guerrilla Marketing for FREE ? Jay C. Levinson Never Eat Alone ? Keith Ferrazzi {Great Book ? Must Read} ?networking/relationships Other Resources www.OvernightPrints.com ? Inexpensive quality business cards and printing. www.lulu.com ? Self Publishing and not expensive. www.Dell.com/smb - Dell?s small business site. www.dell.com/outlet - Dell?s discount outlet site. Good luck!! Don

rebeccca
rebeccca

I recommend that people take a look at Yugma for web conferencing. (www.yugma.com) Yugma provides a free basic service and paid accounts start at only $14.95 a month. Also, during the first 15 days after signing up for a free, you will be able test drive the Professional version of Yugma and if you like the Professional features, we have monthly plans that start at just $14.95/month. Setting Yugma up only a few moments and you will not be asked for card card information in order to have a free account. If you have any comments or suggestions, we?d love to hear from you (email to: info@yugma.com). Many thanks!

ron weasley
ron weasley

Choosing between Mozy & iDrive for your business data backup is sometimes a toss-up. Both services are reliable, but Mozy is often more expensive when you're paying per GB. Answering just 5 questions at http://www.onlinebackupsreview.com/wizard.php can tell you which is best for your business.

CodeRipper
CodeRipper

I would like to suggest the use of open source applications. Every business, regardless of industry, requires some form of business applications for their daily operational activities -- from spreadsheet and word processing to accounting and product and customer management. There are abundance of open source applications for businesses out there, either web based or desktop based. Most of them runs comfortably on either Linux or Windows platform, with some even run on a Mac. I started my office last 3 years (after operating from a home office) and realised perpetual software licenses are my biggest office startup cost -- at least 80% of my total cost. I resort to open source business applications, and it saved my day, and I'm able to allocate the budget to other part of my startup cost. Today, I'm still using open source applications to run my business, without worries on security and file format compatibility issues. Here are a couple of good web site I always refer to for open source business applications: - http://www.damicon.com/resources/opensoftware.html - http://www.osalt.com/ Hope this helps, cheers! Marshal Yung

TechRepublic
TechRepublic

For email, I just set up a domain using Google Apps, follow a few easy, well documented setup steps, and I am done. Free for the basic service up to 50 mailboxes and ~7GB/box. A lot of people don't like the idea of having your email in the cloud - I get that. For me, this service works great. http://www.google.com/apps/intl/en/business/index.html As for hosting, I have just started using DailyRazor and find them to be very satisfactory. They offer both Linux and Windoze and hosting at affordable rates (I use Windoze hosting). I like the Plesk control panel and their technical service is very, very responsive and writes emails in impeccable English. Usually you get what you pay for - I think with these guys, you get more than what you pay for. http://www.dailyrazor.com/ Cheers, Chris

PMPsicle
PMPsicle

One thing I noticed about this list is that it picked all the services that are at the high end of the price continuum (at least for all the services I use). In many ways it is more suited to the established business who can trade $$ for time. Use Google and do some searching before picking any SMB outsourcing service. I just did a Google search on virtual phone service and got a return of 14,800,000 listings. And I know that the services in the list can be beat as I'm paying nowhere near the prices quoted in the list. And while the GoTo..... group (Webex is also part of the group) provides a good service you can get free and almost free services from several other services. For a startup these services can provide a much more appropriate service. In short do some shopping. But before doing that do some designing of your business. What are the parts of your new business? What are their duties? Which parts do you want to do? Which parts do you want someone else to do? Which parts do you need someone else to do (phone for example)? You'll find after doing it a few times, that you can literally outsource the entire business if that's what you want. Glen Ford, PMP http://www.trainingnow.ca

pparks_2000
pparks_2000

There are so many resources out there the consumer business owner can pit each vendor against each other to get the best deal possible. Don't forget that there are some great freelance sites to assist with some of the more mundane tasks - getafreelancer.com is just one such site. Web hosting (and email hosting) have come a long way. There really is no reason you should be using an address space that isnt your own domain. While 1 to 1 is good for inexpensive hosting, I have found that Hostmonster is superior. Their customer service is second to none. For web conferencing an additional possibility is Talking Communities, tcConference offering. Very low cost. For project management - to keep resources properly managed as you start up your business - you may want to use an decent online project management site. Projjex.com is a great, low cost alternative. And last but not least, if you need storage in the cloud, try Amazon's S3. You only pay for what you use and it is very low cost.

PMPsicle
PMPsicle

http://www.doteasy.com Free webhosting without ads. I've hosted several sites here and get great service. Is it free? Not really, you have to renew your domain through them and they do have paid services. But the basic free service is cheap and more than sufficient to handle most basic sites. How cheap? I've bought domain names for $4.95 U.S. - but .com normally is $25/year. http://www.voicemailtel.com Virtual phone system starter package (5 extensions) is $14.99 CDN plus $3.50 for a local number with a 30 day free trial. http://www.dimdim.com Open source web conferencing service. It has a free level with (almost) all the services (I don't think it has video conferencing) for up to 20 attendees. Finally, read "The 4-Hour Work Week" by Timothy Ferris. Bring a case lot of salt but he does have a point and is important for startups to understand. He also has a good list of resources. His site is at http://fourhourworkweek.com/ Glen Ford, PMP http://www.trainingnow.ca

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