I started writing this in early July...and just now finished it. So some of the temporal references are a bit off.
I've built most of the operational plumbing for a small business over the past few weeks...and I've done it all without installing a single piece of software or building a single MS Office document. (OK - except for an overly-MBA'ed financial model in Excel.)
Here's the playbook for launching a lightweight company in the cloud:
I showed my friend Tristan an early (and hideous) mock-up of Argyle's website one afternoon in the Kenan-Flagler cafe. After a quick look, he replied with three very wise questions:
- What are you doing?
- Don't you know the best time to change directions in an IT implementation is at the beginning of the project?
- Will you please let me show you Squarespace?
I was on the cusp of a custom-built disaster...and Tristan intervened just in time to introduce me to the best web app I've used in a long time.
Except for the images I bought from iStockPhoto and a few blurbs of custom CSS and HTML, Squarespace elegantly powers every pixel of ArgyleMail.com. Point and click, drag and drop, save and close - it could not have been easier to put together a polished, professional website. All for ~$30/month.
I can't say enough good things about the service.
(Note - Tristan works there now.)
CRM - Salesforce.com
Admittedly, Salesforce.com is waaaay more than I need at this point. However, it is very helpful for getting out of spreadsheets, formalizing processes, and taking baby steps towards becoming a data-driven company.
I paid $99 for a year's worth of Group Edition - which includes a handful of users, several helpful Google integrations, and more than enough functionality to keep me going for a long time.
I haven't done it yet - but it is (kinda) easy to integrate a web form to dump contact data directly from my site to my CRM.
Accounting/Billing - Quickbooks Online
While it isn't the prettiest application, Quickbooks gets the job done. As far as I know, the online edition offers the same functionality as the installed edition. There are some other apps that offer similar services - Freshbooks is probably the most popular - but QB is the most comprehensive.
They also offer a merchant account service that is a little pricey, but integrates nicely with the service. It is a little clunky billing customers, but I don't really have the volume to warrant an upgrade.
Operations - Google Apps
I run my email, my calendar, and (most of) my documents through Google. Extremely easy and beautifully functional.
I can't imagine why any small business would deal with the hassle of hosting their own productivity services when - after some easy DNS changes and a quick set-up - they can run it all through Google for free (in most cases) or cheap.
The Salesforce.com integration makes it an even bigger no-brainer.