As most of my readers know, my wife Andrea Jarrell and I are both “solopreneurs” — she has been at it a lot longer than me, but we are both quite accustomed to this way of working. Andrea is preparing for a panel where she will be talking about the trials, tribulations, and rewards of starting one’s own enterprise, and she asked me if I would be interested in pulling together a list of resources for folks who are starting their own effort.
As I thought about it, the exercise became quite fun — and I hope useful. Since 2003 I’ve been working in a home office and all this time I have been an early adopter of tools and techniques. I’ve got some setups that really work well for me. Maybe they will be useful for you too.
I’ve divided the list up into Infrastructure (things you need to physically or administratively set up), Tools (items you need to do your work, within the infrastructure), and Software and Services.
Infrastructure: Your entrepreneurial operating system
- Internet Provider — This is perhaps the single most important piece of “infrastructure” you can set up. Make sure you have the fastest and most reliable Internet connection you can afford. If you have a choice between fast and reliable, go with the latter. We use a Verizon DSL line that is rock solid. I have experiment with Comcast, which in theory would have given me faster speeds, but it was abysmally erratic. Sometimes fast, sometimes slow.
- Network — You will need a wireless router in your home. There is no need to use a “wired” system, wireless is fast enough and secure enough. Netgear is good. Make sure you change the password on the router so it is not “admin” or “password” which is what the default often is. And make sure you give it a unique name, too.
- Wireless Phones — Again, my chief concern here is reliability. The network is more important than which phone you use. For all-across-the-nation coverage, Verizon is superior to all others. If you don’t travel a lot, and another carrier is better for you in your area, go with it. For instance, westerners may want to go with Sprint. Avoid T-Mobile.
- Phones — Do not waste money or time installing a “new phone line” wires. Use a Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP) phone number like those available from Vonage (which I have used since they began, and very happily) or from your current phone provider. The advantage of having a VOIP line is that you have far more control over it. Vonage has a service where it will transcribe your voicemails and email them to you, and it is usually very accurate.
- Web Site — Yes you need a web site. No it does not have to be fancy if that is not required for your business. But something is necessary. You are best served paying the money and buying a domain name (yourname.com) and setting up whatever you want there. I use GoDaddy, which is very easy to set up and has lots of free add-ons. For your web site, you can just create a blog with some key entries. WordPress and Blogger will let you do this, for free. Create a main entry, an “about” entry, a “products” or “services” entry, and a “contact” entry.
- E-mail — This is probably the most used piece of infrastructure you will have. If you get a domain name, it will probably some with a number of email addresses. Go ahead and set one up. Now you have some choices. You can just go ahead and use Outlook or another email program to check your email, or you can do what I do which is use the far superior interface of Gmail for your email. (Gmail is Google’s mail product). You will need to create an account in Gmail, and then you can have your Gmail account check the “yourname.com” account on a regular basis. (Bonus for the tech-savvy: use Google Apps to do this for better branding.)
Tools: The things you use to get work done
- Fax — As with phones, there is no need to set up a special fax landline. Use eFax, which will give you a fax number you can give out for a nominal monthly fee. When people fax to the number, you get a pdf emailed to you. Cool!!
- Cell Phone — Of course you have one. It might be useful, since you’re solo and may need to be able to get more done remotely and without backup, for you to have a smartphone. That’s like the iPhone, the Blackberry, the Palm Pre, or the like. It is very frequent that I need web access while I am on the move. I could not work without a smartphone.
- Laptop — I am an outlier on this. A lot of my friends love their MacBooks. I think it’s crazy to get a laptop so large. I am very happy with the Lenovo 3000 V200 series, which is a nice combination of size, power, and price. Make sure whatever
- MiFi — This is a relatively new product that is great. It allows you to connect to the Internet using wifi, even where there isn’t any. You set it up through your cell service provider (we use Verizon’s and love it).
- Backup — Make sure, make sure, make sure you have a backup system for your laptop. We use a “network connected storage” device by Iomega. It is basically a 1TB disk drive attached to our router. (A terabyte is 1,000 gigabytes.) The key is to remember to backup regularly. The single best solution I have yet found for this is to use a program called ViceVersa Pro. It runs in the background and continually checks my “My Documents” folder. If it changes, it updates the Iomega disk. This piece of software is a little tricky to set up but it is so worth the time that you are a fool if you do not do it. This piece of software is the chief reason I do not use a Mac — it only exists in Windows.
Software and Services: What you work on, and with
- Accounting — If you are in business, you need to manage your money. That means you probably need Quickbooks. Even if you have an accountant, she or he will probably still tell you to get Quickbooks. So get it. There is a definite learning curve so set aside a weekend to figure it out. You do not have to go hog wild — just set up the bare minimum you need. But do it. It’s like Quicken . . . only better.
- Office Programs — Yes, you can get free office software, all of which is highly compatible with Microsoft Office. If you do not share documents too frequently with colleagues, this can work very well. The product is Open Office. But most people get Microsoft Office. You probably should, too.
- Calendar — If you get Microsoft Office, you will have a calendar and email program (Outlook). This is fine. But I travel a lot and I sometimes travel without my computer. This is the main reason I have migrated just about everything I can over to Google tools: Gmail, calendar, tasks, contacts. They are free. If you use Google Apps (see above, and it’s not free) it is more secure.
- Collaboration — To collaborate with clients and colleagues, I routinely use Google’s collaboration tools — especially Google Docs. These are essentially documents you create online. You can give other people access to them on a password basis, and they can make changes to the document too. A record is kept of all changes so you can roll back mistakes. It is a great way to work on any number of things.
- Notes — As a solopreneur, you will spend a lot of time working on your computer. A note taking program is very useful. I use Evernote, which automatically syncs up with the web, so I can actually access my notes from anywhere.
- Virtual Assistant — A lot of people are nervous about leaving an employer, in part because they have gotten used to having backup for administrative tasks. There are a number of people who are jumping in to fill this need.
- Twitter and Facebook — This may seem funny to have as a “business tool,” but I firmly believe Facebook and Twitter belong here. I am not thinking of them as marketing tools — though they can be, and reams have been written about how best to do and not do that. But I am thinking of them as supports for your solopreneur efforts. If you cultivate decent networks on these services, you will have a group of people you can turn to for help, advice, and troubleshooting on a moment’s notice. For instance, need a virtual assistant? Ask your Twitter network whom they recommend!
There, I hope that’s helpful. Once I hit “publish” I am sure I will think of some more ideas. Maybe I will do an “intermediate” post sometime in the future!