Starting up your IT for free

By: Ciaran Kenny

Date: 3 February 2011

Green keyboard key saying Free

One of the more irritating aspects of setting up a business is that there are a few indispensible professional services that really just have to be paid for.

Leaving aside the fact that you can get some (sometimes) very good quality advice from a variety of online and publicly funded support services, it really is important to talk to an accountant pretty early in the evolution of any new business.

A quick session with a lawyer can be worthwhile too. And there can be a few other professionals who get a slice of your increasingly meagre start-up funds.

Do you have to pay for IT?

So, should IT be included as one of those professional services you just have to pay for right from the start? A lot of start-ups like to look a bit bigger and better established than they actually are.

Even though the consistent advice is that this is unnecessary, it is hard to shake the view that, “even though it may be just me, somehow I need to look like a real business: I need to justify that Global Enterprises (UK) Ltd company name that set me back the better part of £100”.

Well, IT is one way you can do that: spend a couple of grand on a server, set up half a dozen email addresses, sync your mobile device, and maybe add some online file sharing and so on. Now you’re starting to look like a ‘real’ business.

But this all has a pretty high cost – and then you need to pay an IT company to look after that server and all your other equipment. This is starting to cost some serious money.

So could there be a way to use IT to add a little weight and gravitas to your start-up business without having to mortgage your house or sell your car?

Well, in short: yes there is!

All you need is a PC and internet access

It is a reasonable assumption that every business will have some kind of computer and some kind of internet connection. Armed with these weapons, there are three key online resources you can access to add a corporate sheen to your start-up. Two are free, and the third is almost free.

Given their (undeserved) penny pinching reputation it might be a surprise to learn that all three are from Microsoft. (Disclosure: Macnamara, my company, sells Microsoft-based IT solutions.)

  1. Have a look at Microsoft Windows Live Essentials for a wealth of free tools including photo and video editing, blog editing, email (designed for personal, not business use), plus some online storage space that allows you to share files.
  2. Next, check out Office Live and Office Web Apps for a free website and absolutely free access to basic featured versions of familiar Microsoft Office applications including Word, Excel and PowerPoint.
  3. Ready to dig a bit deeper? For £6.71 per month you can access the Microsoft Online Business Productivity Suite (soon to be renamed ‘Office 365’). This gives you IT capabilities similar to those of much bigger companies. You’ll get Exchange, Microsoft’s email and shared calendar system, and SharePoint, a collaboration tool which helps with file sharing and version control. There’s also Office Communications Server, which helps you hold online meetings, plus some other bits and bobs.

So there you have it. You can make a big corporate style splash for nothing, or next to nothing. Let us know how you get on.

This post is by Ciaran Kenny, owner of Macnamara.

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