Episode 7:

How to run a “rent-free” virtual business.

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Working from home on the occasional day or in a part-time capacity is great, but what if you want to run a business, full-time, from your home office? What and who are you going to need make it work and how can tech help make it possible? For the purposes of this article, we’re going to assume you’re a new start-up who’s disinclined or unable to take on the steep costs of leasing a commercial or office space. But at the same time, you need to look credible, be productive and have the flexibility to grow.
Here are 10 things you’re going to need to run a rent-free virtual business:

1. A brand to believe in
Branding is a big subject, but in a nutshell your goal is to develop a unique and distinctive name and associated web domain that you can bring to life through a logo and across all marketing and communication materials, such as a website. Your brand should make a promise that no one else makes and that you can keep. To be credible, you’ll need to put forward a professional, polished image. So consider working with an ad agency, design firm or freelance graphic designer to create your brand.

2. Basic marketing assets
With a brand in place, most start-ups find they need basic communication tools to operate. You’ll probably need a website, business cards, social media landing pages, an email signature, digital letterhead and a “credentials” presentation that you can send to prospects, potential partners, staff and investors. That’s quite the list, but you can work with creative pros to make it happen. Or you can do it yourself if you have the creative skills and the right tools. GoDaddy.ca is a quick and very cost-effective solution for entrepreneurs who want to secure a web domain and design their own website.

3. Productivity tools
Speaking of great tools, we’d be remiss not to mention how Office 365 will give you hugely useful apps to run your business. A monthly subscription to Office 365 Business Premium, for example, will give you full installs of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, OneNote, Project and Skype for Business on up to five PCs or Macs, Android or iOS devices. And you’ll also get business-class email, 1 TB of storage per user in the cloud through OneDrive, customer support and a lot more. That’s a steal for just $15.20 per month!

4. Video conferencing
We mentioned Skype for Business a moment ago and it is a true friend of the virtual business. The ability to instant message and HD video conference reliably at any time, on different devices with partners, clients and prospects is hugely useful. The Office 365 Business Premium plan includes unlimited online meetings with up to 250 participants via Skype, which is a great way to avoid the hassle of driving to meetings or the costs of pricey teleconferencing services and business trips.

5. Business-class email
Let’s face it: a free webmail account does not look professional or work reliably enough for most businesses. The good news is that business-class email and calendars are cheaper than ever. Exchange Online starts at less than five dollars per user monthly. It gives you a 50 GB email mailbox per user, you can send attachments up to 150 megabytes and you’re guaranteed state-of-the-art security and 99.9% uptime, thanks to Microsoft’s modern datacenters.

6. Project management
Great project management is indispensable in most businesses and modern project management apps and platforms easily allow teams to work together, even in a totally virtual setting. Microsoft Project, for example, provides a very robust set of tools for teams to plan and manage project tasks, timelines, budgets, timesheets, expenses, communication and project measurement/analytics. It’s set up to work perfectly with Outlook and to empower team members to work from anywhere, across devices.

7. Great devices
Computers, tablets, smartphones – these are the devices that make businesses tick and geeks drool. If you want to avoid the cost of both a laptop and tablet, consider a sweet device like Microsoft Surface, the Lenovo Miix 700 or the Dell XP13. They’re not just sleek and portable, but come packed with the processing power and battery life to take on your toughest work day. And they all run Windows 10, the newest, most secure and best version of Windows ever. It’s easy to use and easy on the eyes.

8. Mobility bundles
As much as we love our smartphones, Canadians pay a lot for usage and data, so keeping these costs manageable is a must. If you’re the sole proprietor of your virtual business, you can just use a consumer plan to get by. As soon as you bring on additional team members, however, you’ll want to talk to your mobility carrier of choice about a smart business bundle that will help you get the most bang for your buck by way of hardware and usage plans.

9. A network of pros
We mentioned working with marketers earlier in this article and they are probably not the only pros you may need to call on. A bookkeeper and/or accountant can help you manage money. An IT pro, such as a Microsoft Certified Partner, will help you plan, deploy and manage your tech. A local courier is sometimes useful and a business coach can be worth their weight in gold. You may even be able to find a “virtual office” provider, who will rent you a boardroom to conduct the occasional in-person meeting.

10. A great attitude
Above all else, you’re going to need a positive attitude. Running any small business can feel like an emotional rollercoaster and working in a virtual environment can get lonely. Tenacity, hard work, self-belief and optimism are all required in equal measures. Try to surround yourself with positive people. And make sure you take the time to pursue interests outside of your home. Working where you live can sometimes feel like you’re always working, so make sure you have some fun, too!