Start ups – Business on a budget
When I decided to change career and try my luck at starting my own freelance business, I had to work to a budget. Well, truth be told, I had no budget to speak of and wanted to get set up and trained as cheaply as possible (for free, if I could).
I discovered that technology was on my side. There’s a veritable goldmine of freeware and free online training out there for anyone willing to invest a little time and energy on learning. If you aren’t familiar with term freeware it’s simply software that’s free to use. You probably have a number of freeware accounts and didn’t even realise that’s what they were.
For example, you’re probably using:
- Your free Internet browser (Firefox, Google Chrome or Safari)
- Free video-calling services, such as Skype and Google Hangout
- Free anti-virus software to protect your online security
- Free PDF readers, like Adobe Acrobat,
- Email providers (like Yahoo, Google, Zoho, Outlook),
- free blog and website software, such as WordPress,
- Various free word processing suites (such as Open Office, WPS Office Free, Google Docs to name just a few).
They’re all freeware. Then there are free software packages that you can use with limited tools, which can be upgraded for a monthly or yearly cost to unlock new features and benefits, if you have the funds and inclination.
Make friends with your favourite search engine
You only have to do a quick online search to discover the wealth of knowledge at your fingertips.
The hard part is:
- Choosing which freeware (free software) suits your business needs;
- Taking the time to learn these programs and all the shortcuts and tricks;
- Focusing on the best free online training courses in a sea of options.
Do some more research, read online reviews and blogs, join local business networks, and take note of any free courses that have received particular recognition, acknowledgement or accolades by reputable industry leaders. There are some great free resources out there that make it possible to retrain and change career, even when you’re on a tight budget.
Let’s start with the basics
I’ve found a multitude of great freeware programs that also have apps that enable you to update your work wherever you are, in real-time.
I was already familiar with Google, so decided to stick with that rather than learn a new system on top of my study and research, but there are many great options out there so find the one that best suits your needs. Once you choose your freeware package it can become the backbone of your business – and the bonus is that it won’t cost you a penny. Once your business is established, you will most likely move to a paid service, but I just wanted to highlight what you can do if you’re starting out on a limited budget.
Your freeware will include a word processing suite, a cloud storage service (Dropbox, iCloud, Microsoft OneDrive, and Google Drive, to name a few) and an email account, all neatly packaged and rolled into one. Cloud storage is the storage of data (documents, photo, video etc.) online in the cloud. Basically it means your files are backed up and accessible from anywhere that has internet access. If your laptop or PC were to breakdown, provided you had backed up all your important documents in the cloud, you can still access them from another computer. It’s a great safety net and also means you don’t have to used up loads of your computer’s memory with storing on your hard drive.
So you can set up an email, cloud storage and you are on your way to having a whole business system. I set these up first, once I’d decided on my business name and found—woot!—the email address was available. I’d used cloud storage for organising my personal documents and photos for years, so it seemed daft to deviate from a tried and tested package. I knew and liked it, and moving to a new package would mean another system to learn on top of my studies and family commitments.
Next step was to set up a Facebook business page. It’s another free and essential part of any small business marketing strategy. I’m still making my way through a thick doorstop of a book on Facebook marketing strategy and advertising, and there’s a lot still to learn. The great thing is that many others have trodden this path before and have been kind enough to share their insights and tips, so do seek out some blogs and tips via your online search engine of choice.
There is, of course, more to it than simply setting up a Facebook page; it’s not a case of “If you build it, they will come”, as Kevin Costner said in Field of Dreams. (Goodness, that shows my age.) You need to seek out your target audience/customers, promote in a gently-gently manner, and be genuine in your persona.
So what next? You have your email and Facebook page, the next box to tick is Twitter. Another interesting and free way to get the word out about your business. However, it’s important to be mindful that social media is not a one-way channel to broadcast your message to the universe; it is a means to start a dialogue with your customers or fans and a place to encourage conversation and like-minded discussion.
Social media will form an important part of your marketing and online presence. Platforms with the greatest impact will depend on what you want to achieve, but think Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Google+, LinkedIn etc. Signing up to these is free and easy but getting the most out of your accounts is a little more involved. I’ll walk you through the strengths and weakness of the major social media platforms and the apps to manage your accounts easily in a future blog.
I have a website now and a blog, but I had the luxury of time as I’m predominantly a stay-at- home mum, using the time my daughter is at nursery to retrain and establish the career that I hope will blossom once she starts school later this year (crosses fingers and makes a wish).
Things that didn’t work for me
This is a hard one as I don’t want to poo-poo things that others might find a perfect fit. I guess if you try out an app or freeware and find you can’t get your head around it or there’s something about it that really irks you, don’t waste time and energy on it.
As I said, there’s an absolute smorgasbord of options to choose from, try another and find the one that fits your business. Think of it like shopping for jeans, you wouldn’t just buy the first pair you tried if they made you feel fat and dumpy. You’d shop around and find the pair that made the best of your assets and gave you confidence. An example is my experience with some of the free image libraries of stock photos. Some offer free trials and lovely images, but their brand watermarks are so large as to make the images unusable unless you pay for the premium version. These so-called freebies are a dime a dozen, not only in the stock images market, and I tend to give a wide berth.
Where to next
There’s still a long road ahead, but it’s full of promise. The worst thing is I know my limitations and the amount I still have to learn. I have high expectations of myself and find being new to something, and not a seasoned traveller, can be a challenge for me. That said, if I am learning, then I’m keeping fresh, pushing myself and feeling alive, rather than just going through the motions.
In my next few blogs, I’ll talk about how to harness technology to make your business work smarter and your processes more streamlined. No, my head isn’t stuck in a cloud, but I will be discussing the Cloud, and realising its potential. I will also go a little more into some of the other apps and freeware I have found useful.