This is part two of Neil Shorney’s series with tips and advice for getting out of full-time employment and “going it alone”.
In this second instalment, we’ll focus on some practicalities for getting started and setting up your own home office on a budget. I’ve put a number of links here to help you out – I’m not paid to provide any of these and they also don’t constitute a recommendation. Do check out your own suppliers properly before buying.
Now I’m quite a risk-averse chap, and always prefer to play things safe when it concerns investment. My brother-in-law once set up a business abroad and invested heavily in office space, equipment, staff, etc. Unfortunately, the business didn’t take off as he’d hoped and he’d wasted a lot of money in the process. So my advice is to start with the essentials.
Do you need the latest iMac to run a small business in the first few months? No, not at all – there are some very cheap options to get started, including reconditioned equipment on eBay and other websites. I spent £140 on a Dell E6230 which had an upgraded processor, 500GB hard drive, 12GB memory and Windows 10 Professional – it’s a couple of years old and has a small dent, but it’s quick, reliable, small and light and didn’t break the bank. Take a look at Laptops Direct for some ideas.
Just as you don’t need to spend a lot on hardware, the same goes for software. Don’t feel the need to get the latest version of Microsoft Office if all you’re doing is a few finance spreadsheets and letters – there are free options available. For quite a while, I used the excellent free LibreOffice package, although I have now upgraded to Office 365 due to the presentation software losing images. If you go for Microsoft Office, make sure you get a business version to use it legally for business. At time of writing, the cheapest business version with actual software (rather than web apps) is just £7.90 per month and you can install it on five devices.
For email, I strongly advise against using the Windows 8 or Windows 10 email apps for business – they’re not designed for that and are just too clunky. If you’re buying Office, the Outlook is very good. I use Thunderbird – completely free and, in my opinion, better than Outlook. Its calendar feature links to your Google calendar so that you can send calendar invites from your business email address rather than Gmail.
For a huge selection of free (and legal!) software, check out Portable Apps – KeePass Portable is your lifeline when it comes to remembering passwords securely.
To be honest, that covers most of what you’ll need to set up a home office. However, there’s one other service worth investing in: Dropbox … or Google Drive, or OneDrive, etc. If you don’t know, it allows you to sync all your files between multiple devices, but it’s much more than that. Every file you create is instantly backed up to the cloud and all previous versions are stored there for three months. If you mess up or corrupt an important file you’ve put a lot of effort into you don’t need to re-start from the beginning – just select any of the previously-saved versions from Dropbox. It’s also great for emailing large files to people as you can send a download link rather than the actual file. I use the full version for £79 per year and it’s saved me hours when I’ve made silly mistakes. You can also keep all your Portable Apps (including LibreOffice and Thunderbird) in there and use any computer as your own.
So there you go – a home office set-up for maximum £500 which is perfectly suitable for a new small business. No high up-front costs and easy to upgrade later if you like.
In the next instalment, we’ll look at Finance, which will include decisions about company structure and choosing an accountant.
*Neil Shorney is Principal Training Consultant, Navanter Ltd.