About once a month I go to the movies with a mate of mine, a kind of very tame boys night out. Anyway, whilst we were having a beer after the movie he mentioned to me that he had run into a women who owns a couple of hair dressing salons in the UK. Apparently she is able to travel around as much as she likes, but still has a vice like grip on her businesses. Using webcams, a web integrated accounting system and Skype, she’s able to monitor almost every aspect of her salons in real time from her home, or from a hotel room from another country. How cool is that?
Which got me thinking about how virtual I could make a business, and here’s what I came up with. A business setup for under $1,000 , that can be created without leaving the house, and run from anywhere I have an internet connection.
My products will be the books that I am currently writing on business development. If my product was soft toys or say specialized lamps, I would change the warehousing arrangements.
Firstly I am going to buy a domain name to develop my own brand and make it easy for people to find my products, something like www.brendans-brilliant-business-books.com.au (maybe not that one actually). I can buy the domain name on the cheap at Intaserv or a bit more expensively at Melbourne IT . Intaserv, is the cheapest for com.au domain names but their domain name management tools are no where near as easy to use as Melbourne IT. You get what you pay for, no surprises there.
The products will be advertised online using campaigns purchased from Google Adwords and via the Sensis site . Of course my online shop will be Search Engine Optimised so it can be found easily.
I will keep a record of what’s happing and run email campaigns using a web based CRM (Customer Relationship Management) system. The one I have chosen in SugarCRM as; Its Open Source, which for me means its more robust and free. The trade-off though is that the documentation can be crappy. SugarCRM requires the same supporting technical environment as my shop.
For the online shop, I am going to use OSCommerce. This is another Open Source product available at Source Forge or at www.oscommerce.com Again its powerful, robust and free. It also uses the LAMP stack (Linux operating system, Apache webserver, Mysql database & Php language) as its operating environment. I will connect the shop to my bank account using a merchant account I will setup at paypal
ADMINISTRATION AND LOGISTICS
I going to create the company online at a company registration site such as www.incorporate.com.au Sites such as this have a web based wizard that walks you through all the steps required then sends you the company register as a pdf document once the bill is paid. The end result is a not big sexy leather look binder, but I’m not looking for that anyway.
The shop and CRM system need to be hosted somewhere. I’m going to choose someone like Quadrahosting Which have customer control panels to make life easier. For around $150 a year I can get around 20 websites hosted and my email chucked in as well.
Since I have purchased some web hosting that comes with email, I can use the control panel at Quadrahosting to setup a whole lot of email addresses that forward email to my gmail account. I can then get my email, anywhere in the world, that is sent to addresses such as firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com
Now since I want to be as virtual as possible, I don’t particularly want to hold stock. I’ve decide to use an online book sales site called www.lulu.com to layout and print my book on demand. I simply (warning : loose use of the word simple) upload a word file, and select the design and title. I believe a 100 page hardback will cost about US$16 to produce for a
print run of one. Lulu will effectively become my on-demand warehouse, printing and sending out books as I want.
My banking is of course easy to setup online. Many companies now have the internet only account. Its normally an interest paying, zero fees account that you can tack onto another fee paying account you have. I tend to use The CBA as my other accounts are there and I like suing the one net banking interface to manage my affairs. And as mentioned before I will also setup a paypal account that will be the gateway between my bank account and my shop.
Since I want to have a local landline number (rather than giving out my mobile) I am going to use skypeIn . I can have a local landline number that I can forward to my mobile, or simply leave it as an internet based voice mail system.
Now I can simply have my home as the postal address or the traditional Post Office Box. However there is now a large number of virtual office suppliers in the market. I can have a Collins St address for as little as $10 per week. Companies such as Silent Partner offer you the ability to have that address and rent meeting rooms on as ad needed basis.
To keep track of what’s going on I need a good Accounting System that I can create GST compliant invoices with. A quick search reveals a number of Open Source (free and configurable) web based (accessible anywhere) solutions, including SQL Ledger . There are also some interesting paid solutions for nominal amounts such as SAASU at around $250 per year.
Finally since things are now working well and my overheads are minimal, I am profitable. Therefore I need to be paying tax (both income and my GST). Just as well that he ATO allows me to do everything online at www.ato.gov.au
My estimate is that I have invested about $800 (before marketing) to get the virtual business up and running and worked for maybe 2 days in total over an elapsed time of 2 weeks.
There are lots of other options for doing all of this. For instance if I was selling art or t-shirts I would probably use Red Bubble as my shop and warehouse, if I was selling services I probably wouldn’t use a shop, maybe I would use a free online content management system such as Joomla to run the website. The principle is the same though, there is now no reason (investment, physical space or time available) why every technically literate Australian can’t be an entrepreneur on the side.