Of course it depends on what sort of business you want to run – a big sales operation might need call centre dialer capability for lead generation and complex monthly accountancy, while a sole trader can survive with Skype and a spreadsheet, but nearly everything needed to run a successful business is now available online.
Successful online service providers have learnt that a scaled pricing model is the best way to go, with a limited package offered for very little – sometimes for free – allowing private individuals all they really need, and potential clients the chance to test out the product before they scale up to a paid-for version.
Online document creation & sharing
Google and Microsoft, along with several less familiar names, provide online word-processing, spreadsheets, presentation creation and even drawing tools. Perhaps the most useful aspect of these, apart from being able to run them without downloading software, is that the documents can be shared with, accessed by and even edited by other people.
The software automatically keeps a record of changes made and different versions of the document, and there’s usually an area where comments can be made, and collaborators can discuss the project with all notes and thoughts saved and easily referred back to.
Shared project management
Extending the usefulness of sharing documents online, project management tools facilitate easy collaboration on a grander scale. Create groups of participants, umbrella projects, individual items, and use the project manager’s tools to assign jobs and create milestones that mark progress towards the final goal. Relevant documents can be uploaded by one collaborator and downloaded to work on (some services offer online editing) by someone else, in a different country or timezone – all they need is a web connection. Progress can be flagged so that everyone can see what’s getting done – and what must be focused on – and discussions can be held online in a mutual virtual “whiteboard” space so that everyone is, as they say, on the same page.
Perhaps you only need to make a few calls, in which case Skype or another VoIP facility – most instant messaging services have them these days – will do the trick. PC-to-PC phonecalls are free, apart from the cost of the data connection, and there’s video calling thrown into the bargain.
For a larger operation, however – call centres or anyone who needs call centre capability – online is still the way forward. It’s now possible to rent web hosted calling and call management capacity, meaning there’s no need to fork out for equipment, software, or servicing contracts. You can even rent on PAYG basis, and with what amounts to infinite capacity, you can scale up as far as you need to, when you need to, or streamline in response to a dip in demand.
High street accountants have premises to pay for, whereas an online solution like Clearbooks or Freeagent often works out far more affordably for a small business owner. Even complex accounting can be undertaken using software accessed via a secure portal, with tax calculations performed automatically. It’s a huge timesaver, with the basic packages for sole traders and charities starting at very low monthly prices.