Setting up a small business is a significant undertaking, but one that can be done with a little legwork and the appropriate technology. I am not going to talk about the business side of things (Tax ID, Federal employment rules, DBAs, etc.), but will focus on how I got the tech side of our business set up.
For background, my wife decided that she wanted to run her own business as an internet retailer in a market she worked in for a few years. We knew that there was potential in the market and wanted to get started as quickly as possible as we needed to generate some selling history before the Christmas rush, which can make or break any retailer.
The first step was establishing our brand, something that is most visible in the domain name people use to get to our business. We looked at a number of names and, after registering one name that we did not end up using, found the one that we felt was best. Then, I used Google as a base for many of our other initial operations through their Google Apps offering. I registered the domain name through them ($10 for the initial setup) and within an hour or so had GApps up and running with email, Google Docs, and even the ability to create a basic informational web page as well as portal pages for our employees.
Once the GApps site was set up, we were able to use the Google Docs feature to create a business plan complete with spreadsheets for sales targets and cost breakdowns. All of our principals had access to shared documents containing this information from day one, so our investors could see that we were serious about making the business a success. We were also able to use the e-mail accounts to begin to make contact with our potential vendors without looking like individuals using our free e-mail accounts.
Once we secured funding, the heavy lifting began as we built our web presence. I hired a graphic artist to generate the visual elements of our site as well as a basic template that the rest of our site plugged into. I generated the HTML for the major pages using Dreamweaver and created a PHP page that uses the MySQL database provided by Yahoo (our web store hoting provider) for the individual product description pages. I am certain that there's an easier, more elegant way to put together our site, but a time crunch required that I put it up quickly and accurately using techniques that I already knew.
Starting a small business can definitely be a daunting task, but one whose rewards go far beyond the money to be made. There are a host of different strategies that you can use to get started, but for time savings, technical expertise (or lack thereof), and cost, Google Apps can be a lifesaver. Even if you decide to move to another hosting company (like we did), you can use the initial Google tools to get the ball rolling.