Here’s version .1 (there will be regular updates and expansions of this core document) of my list of areas where anyone running an ultralite business needs sudden, concise expertise, listed (at least for now) in no particular order:
1. Web infrastructure. Specifically, you need a Web site and it very probably needs to do more than serve as a one-page advertisement for the gizmo you are selling, unless you’re in fact selling a gizmo and you can describe it in one page. If that just happens to be the case, then take a close look at Xara Web Designer. It’s not without a rough edge or two, but it’s simply super for the money when it comes to this sort of thing (I should mention that I have no financial or other ties to Xara or any other company mentioned here, except that for most of them I’m a customer). Xara Web Designer will enable you to toss a handful of very attractive pages online in short order.
But if it’s not a simple one-pager you’re after, then you need a Web site that knows, just for starters, how to manage a lot of content. Lots of blog entries, to take just one obvious example. And it needs things you may well be taking for granted, like search functionality. And as you’re needs get more complex or your ideas for what your web site needs get more complex, so too does your Web site. On the flip side of this coin, you’re not necessarily trying to become a web software developer. Or a database administrator. Which is what makes this whole thing a bit more complex. You’re not going to become a specialist, but you’re going to have to learn some things, get good with some tools.
In the case of your Web site, there’s a good chance that the answer lies in using one of three web site frameworks, either Drupal, Joomla, or Rails. It doesn’t matter if you don’t know what these are just yet. We’ll get to that. For the moment, note that the likely answer is Drupal.
2. Payment systems / Accounting. The point is to accept money for goods delivered or services rendered. Money that you can do great things with. Money you can donate to great causes. Money that is probably given to you via a credit card transaction, administered, in the first instance, by a web shopping cart. In Drupal (see point number 1), you can add a shopping cart module. Alternatively… well, there are a number of alternatives, all of which get hairy for a few tense minutes when your merchant account isn’t cooperating and each submitted transaction is summarily rejected as if you were some sort of con artist and they were on to you.
Once you’ve got the money, you’ve got books that need to be kept. You can farm it out, of course, but you also have some good options for doing it yourself. And if the business can be structured appropriately, there can be fairly little bookkeeping required.
3. eMarketing & Design. This is not as simple as having a nice logo, though you probably are going to get one of those and there are various ways of getting it done on the cheap, possibly even using the Xara Web Designer that you may have decided back in the first domain would do the trick for you.
On the marketing side of the coin, the Internet seems to be choc-a-bloc with articles that will list out dozens of steps, lots of them Free!, that you can do to market yourself or your product. Most of these articles (and Webinars) can offer some fairly compelling statistics about how successful these approaches are. The thing is, these statistics are generally based on the performance of businesses that have already generated a following.
If you’re launching something more or less from scratch, you have to be brutally honest with yourself about how much attention you can generate, particularly when you’re thinking about and making projections for how the community will convert to revenues. You’ve got to be brutal about not expecting social media miracles and you’ve got to be brutally disciplined about not doing things unless you think they’ll show you a meaningful return on your efforts and investment.
4. Light Gear. By which I do not mean gear that throws light, though actually there may well be some of that if you’re involved with shooting video, as I very much am these days. What I mean is that it’s all well and good for Tim Ferriss to run his business via trusted gophers and a weekly cell phone check in for a couple of weeks. But if he wants to live somewhere else for a year or two, he’s going to need to bring the operation with him. Which means he needs stuff that fits in a bag, possibly including video equipment, backup drives, tiny audio mixers, a computer or two, a boat load of plug adapters (hateful things), and so on. One bag. Maybe two if it’s for a year.
5. Agile Productivity Software. You need answers to the eternal questions of whether you can really survive in business without using Microsoft Office? That’s something I’m still experimenting with. Gmail seems like a completely adequate (and in some ways superior) alternative to Outlook. There are good options for word processing, including a few in the cloud. If you’re a heavy-duty spreadsheet user, you’re probably going to want Excel. If you want more-than-basic presentation slides (and you may not), then you may well favor PowerPoint. I don’t mean this to sound like nobody should want to use Office. It’s a really capable set of tools. But it’s a fairly significant outlay just to write blog entries and tend to email. Plus, if you use multiple PCs or use other people’s systems when traveling, it won’t be there on the system you’re using when you need it.
So there are the basic application pieces you’ll need, but then there’s also a gigantic world of useful small apps and utilities. Finding good ones and determining whether they’re worth using over time is inherently a time-consuming business. ModeNomad aims to shortcircuit your search.
6. Video Tools. Video can be a very effective tool online and I know many ModeNomad folks are doing a lot of video. But getting it properly done requires a fair heap of software utilities. There are expensive versions of these things, affordable ones, and then there are very low cost or free ones, most of them not capable of delivering professional results. Generally speaking, I’ve found that’s usually one clearly best-choice option for each task. Best editor for the money that I’ve seen to date is Sony Vegas, for example. If you’re using nothing else for video, that’s the choice (unless you’re on a Macintosh, in which case I’m a lot less help, but I’m told that the express version of Final Cut is the answer there).
7. Security in All Things. Unless you are aching to just get utterly and royally screwed one of these days, you’d better have a plan B for that bag of light gear (yep, the gear from point 4). It’s going to break, possibly several bits of it all at once because they were tossed off a loading dock. Or it’s going to get stolen. Or, to my way of thinking considerably worse, some out-and-out jackass is going to hack into your computer accounts and steal from you, possibly in tricky ways that it will take you a while to figure out. I don’t want to be an alarmist. And, in fact, even though I’ve served as Director of the well-respected Computer Security Institute, I think there’s generally too much panic and fearmongering about cybercrime. But, all the same, it’s out there and some of it is just mind-bogglingly miserable stuff.
So that's my summary of key areas for light, agile businesses. What do you think also needs to be here?