Budding business owners should go virtual wherever and whenever possible. In a fledgling startup, the last thing you need to worry about is excessive infrastructure or expensive overhead. It’s already a difficult enough task to generate income and garner clients. Why spend that precious revenue on something as useless as an office space?
Your ego might try to get the best of you, telling you that your business needs that fancy schmancy corner office with a city view. But unless your ego has a few hundred thousand dollars to cough up for rent and amenities, kindly tell it to shut up.
Plain and simple: The vast majority of startups — and more established businesses for that matter — don’t need a whole lot. In the last several years there have been a multitude of virtual business services that have become essential to millions of business owners. But in a world of apps and redundant SaaS, which programs and services are best for your business? I asked a panel of successful young entrepreneurs what virtual tools they use to stay lean, effective and productive.
1. Cloud Computing is Essential
As someone who has built a completely virtual company with 25 employees, I can honestly tell you that reliable cloud computing is essential. And, the more you can consolidate web services, the better. One can use Google Apps Premiere which, aside from being an excellent substitute for an exchange server, also includes the ability to store and share documents, create groups, and share a calendar.
2. “Virtual” Doesn’t Mean “Alone”
Whether you work in an office, at home, at a coffee shop, or on a beach, people are your most valuable asset. Elance.com can be a virtual entrepreneur’s human resources department for hiring and managing people who can offset your strengths. Use it to find your logo designer, website developer, virtual assistant, and other people who can help you build a successful virtual business.
3. Project Management is Essential
People love BaseCamp. It has made us nearly 100% virtual! It has every possible feature for project management, and other products from 37signals’ can suite add whatever else you fancy! It’s inexpensive and easy to use because once you’ve subscribed, anyone, e.g. your clients, vendors, and employees, can simply join in via web without … downloading or signing up
4. Know the “Must-Haves”
One have a completely virtual business at this point and the services that are an absolute must for me are Gmail for e-mail, dropbox.com for online storage, skype.com for international calling and IM, Google Voice for calling into the U.S. when I am abroad, Google Docs to share Documents in real time and — yes — Facebook, which allows me to stay connected to my business and personal contacts no matter where I am in the world.
5. Take Advantage of Subscription Services
It’s cheaper and easier to create a virtual office than ever before. Start off by getting a mailbox at a local UPS or FedEx Kinko’s, get setup with a toll-free phone number through Grasshopper.com, register a professional domain name at NameCheap.com, and get business cards and marketing material from VistaPrint or PrintingForLess.com.
6. Keep Your Systems Simple
I currently run one of my businesses virtually and I believe it’s increased efficiency and substantially lowered costs. Some web services I suggest are GotomyPC for international access to one base hard drive, and Evernote for paperless document and image management. More features are not always better. Remember, keep your systems simple.
7. Utilize an Online Fax Service
Faxing is still a huge part of running a business, but if you do this activity online it can save you a bit of money. You don’t need a printer, toner, or ink and it makes it easy to transfer if you move rather than setting up a new line every time. I recommend Grasshopper or eVoice to help your small business stay mobile and on the go. Both services are awesome and help you with everything you need.
8. Make Use of Virtual Offices
After a year and a half in business, I moved into my first office at Stark Office Suites. It was the best decision I ever made. I was able to move in and start working immediately without worrying about Internet or phones, and I even have a receptionist answering calls for me. If you are on a shoestring budget, utilize services like Stark Office Suites or Regus, which will keep your overhead to a minimum.
9. Outsource Your Engineering to oDesk — For Cheap!
If you’re building a web-based business, I highly recommend that you go to oDesk.com to hire low-cost engineering talent. oDesk is a directory of international contractors. Take some time to interview and vet the engineers with high ratings and lots of logged contract hours — it’s a good filter for finding good talent initially.
10. Reduce, Reuse & Recycle
Before buying anything, make the best use of what you already have at your disposal. For instance, your current software, e-mail provider, phone service, and office equipment may be most — if not all — of what you need to start. Also, you can begin with free web services like ZOHO CRM and upgrade after your business has earned the cash to pay for new purchases.