Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Look Before You Sign: Learning What You Need Takes Time

Starting your business always costs more than you think, so holding onto your cash is typically going to be your primary objective when you first start out.
Many startups are founded by people who have left large firms where most, if not all, of their technology was provided for them.  So, if that’s you, you’ll have to make all of these decisions yourself.  And, if you find yourself  unprepared, you’re not alone.
If I can offer any advice, it would be these two things:
1.        Retain the right to cancel services, and pay as you go if you can.
2.       Customize your systems to suit your needs.
Sure, it’s possible to go out and buy all of the technology products and services you think you’ll need:  computer, software, phones (desk and mobile), email, Web sites, scanners, and all the other gadgets Fortune 500s take for granted. But paying a service for just what you need is a great way to try out a solution beforehand, and it helps you decide if you need to make the larger financial and contractual commitment.
By using a service that you can modify or cancel, you’re assured of keeping your initial capital outlay as low as possible while you try out services that are appropriate to your new business. For example, do you need a desktop computer and/or a laptop computer and with a myriad of options out there, which ones are right for you?  Don’t go out and buy the entire Apple store (and the 2 year contract that their mobile devices usually require) if you spend the day in your home office and only need a computer for email and word processing.  An inexpensive desktop might be all you really need.  Or, if you’ve got a lot of international clients, don’t commit to a long international phone plan without trying out cheaper web-based options, like Skype.
More than likely, you’ll need a technology environment that’s quite different than you had before you started your firm.  Rely on people who focus on small business successes (I can recommend at least one good firm) before plunking down your valuable cash on something you may have to “make do” with for three to five years.
When you do decide whether to buy or license your technology, you’ll know it works for you.
Mark Mathias is the Chief Technology Officer (CTO) of NexFirm.  He has more than 30 years of experience with large and small company technology matters.

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