Traditionally, starting a business has been a daunting affair requiring large investment of capital and time. Already having large liabilities can put a new business on a shaky footing right from the start. Online services, paid for per user, by monthly subscription, offer an easier route with the capacity and flexibility to expand in future. And for many businesses, starting equipment can be as simple as a computer, telephone and internet access. These are the ideas we will explore in this article.
First, a couple of caveats - I won't be dealing here with whether you should start a business. Suffice to say, make sure you do your research and establish the viability of your idea well before you attempt to begin trading. Secondly, this article relates more to service type businesses than retail (although not solely). Retail businesses will generally require premises, stock and equipment, more so than a service business, however there is still a role for new technologies to play.
Traditionally the model for starting a business has been largely about securing premises, employing staff and investing in equipment. Almost a 'if you build it, they will come' mentality. And an expensive one - a lot of capital can be tied up right at the beginning putting financial strain on a new business right from the off.
So, what do you actually need? At it's most basic, a service based business requires you, a computer and a telephone in terms of initial investment. You can work from home or even stay completely mobile. A retail business will usually require fixed premises, but not if it is solely e-commerce based. Both types of businesses require email, office software, some sort of customer database, and accounts and invoicing software. Additionally a retail business would require stock control and EPOS software, and an e-commerce website.
Rather than invest heavily in equipment and processes early on, I would suggest any new business should now take advantage of online based, paid for by monthly subscription services. Being web-delivered your data is always backed up, always accessible and you can easily scale up when your business grows. Your subscriptions will be counted as operational expenditure rather than capital liabilities.
These days email really is too important to regard as something to do cheaply. Get a registered domain name for your business, look professional and ensure your email is properly managed and backed up. Hosted email solutions allow you to view synchronised email across numerous devices.
By virtue of the fact everyone is using it, Microsoft Office with Word and Excel is probably most people's choice although several viable free alternatives exist. However, integration with other software and the rest of business world is important. With hosted, subscription based software you can now pay for this monthly, access documents across several devices and edit online.
You need to keep track of your customers - at the very least it means you can contact them easily! Most online systems integrate with marketing tools such as MailChimp and being able to easily access historical data about customers is massively useful.
There are lots of online packages available now and having some form of up to date records at year end will save you significantly on accountants bills. Knowing what state your business finance is in daily might even save your business. At it's most basic, making it easy to actually charge your customers is not something that should not be overlooked.
We'll bundle these two together as I would suggest most retail businesses should be engaging in e-commerce these days. There are lots of proprietary solutions which should allow you to edit item descriptions easily and automate your stock control. The better systems will integrate easily into the 'big boys' of the retail world - eBay, Amazon, etc.
Online based, web-delivered software offers new businesses a chance to launch without heavy (crippling) capital investment. They have the advantage of accessing business data anywhere, and that data is kept secure and backed up. As the business grows these systems are easily scaled up as they are based on a per user model. They offer a great deal of flexibility to a new business whilst providing stability to meet new challenges.