Software Start Up on a Tight Budget

Part 3 of 5

Getting to Work

Once you have your idea mapped out, a rough idea of your business model and know who is going to help you start up and run your business, it is time to get to work producing your products and/or services.

You will need to identify what will need to be done exactly. Do you need sales staff? People who can build the products for you? Support staff?

Regardless of the skill sets, you will probably start by looking for people who are versatile and can wear many hats in your business. Start ups usually need to run lean and mean and when your budget is low you cannot afford to hire a different person for every little job. These jack-of-many trade individuals may not be the best at everything they do for you but will be able to juggle many things and keep you moving ahead.

When looking for the right people early on, you will probably be best served by looking at a few different places. Freelancers can be a wonderful source of help here. Because they are their business, they already have to do all the things found in a business: accounting, marketing and sales, operations, etc. They can usually offer it at a lower price as well because they lack the overhead found in bigger companies.

Another good source of help are people who are willing to work for you as employees but at a lower wage than what larger companies can offer. Really good, talented people may be happy to work for you for less money as long as you can offer them something they don't get at a higher paying job. The ability to work from home, the ability to set their own hours, working with people they like and control to define their job rather than be told what to do are all things small businesses can offer that are hard to come by in the big corporate environment. Another big bonus is the smallness of your business. There is a lot more comradery in a small business and many people prefer this small, more personal environment as opposed to the sterile and cold big business world. Remember, not everyone is looking for money when they are looking for a job. If you can offer other benefits then it can save you a bundle.

If you require a very specialized skill set or a highly trained individual to perform some of the tasks in your business, it may be best for you to seek out a vendor that can provide these specialty services. The advantage here is that, when the task starts to require a very high level of skill and experience, the right vendor can provide people to you one demand. Yes, they will probably cost more, but they will cost more whether you hire an employee or a vendor. You can more easily hold a vendor accountable for the work you require them to do than an employee. You can halt the work and start it back up again at any time while employees require a steady flow of work and pay whether you are ready for them to work on something or not. Also, a vendor focuses on what they do best and hones the skills, procedures, standards and work habits of their employees on things you may not be able to.

Also consider looking at pre-built products and services. Don't reinvent the wheel unless your business revolves around creating a better wheel. Even then, build off what is already there if you can. This is another great place to seek out quality vendors.

Remember that the success of your business depends upon the people who work for you. I have always found that it is more important to have great people than a great product. The reason for this is simple, great people can turn a mediocre product into a great product. However, if you have mediocre people, you will have a very difficult time creating a great product.

Once your team is in place, make sure you articulate your needs to them well. Communication is a critical skill for any leader or manager. As a business owner you have to be both so need even greater communication skills. Personally, I often proof read my communications to my team, including short emails. This minute or two of review can save hours of lost time due to confusion and improper interpretation of what was requested.

Keep good documentation. Most people interpret this to mean you need to spend hours, days or weeks drawing up detailed documents that lay out every detail of the business - IT DOES NOT. It can, and should, be really simple. I like to start up a simple Word document and share it out with others on the team using a free service like Dropbox. You can also use a wiki or Google Docs. As I communicate with the team, I take important things from email communications, conversations or other discourse and incorporate it into the core documentation. This way your company knowledge base grows slowly, organically, with small amounts of incremental effort and it represents what you know needs to be communicated. Take an opportunity to, every now and then, review the documentation and consolidate it and remove redundancy or contradictions. The more concise your documentation, the easier it will be for others to keep up with it and adhere to your vision.

Communication is also important when developing new ideas or products and services. Simple drawings on a white board are where we usually start and if you have a cell phone with a camera handy, you can easily record your drawings and then share them out after your design sessions.

To take it a step further, you can build a prototype of your product or simulate your service. This can be as simple as drawing up, on paper, what something will look like (great for computer programs). If you need to simulate something like a shop floor lay out or production area, you can use card board boxes or other props you find laying about to get a real feel for how traffic flows, whether you use the space well and if work will flow efficiently. Keep this documented (take pictures if you have to) so you can build on it later.

Before we build anything for our clients, we always start with at least simple wire frame drawings of the screens. This helps ensure that our vision of what we are building for them matches what they are thinking. It also enables our development staff to build it to specification faster. This little extra time spent up front in the design of the application leads to many more hours removed from the build / implementation and saves our customers quite a bit of money in the long run.

There is a lot to do as you get your operations under way but keep in mind that your business will slowly evolve. Don't try to make it perfect. Do the best you can while being watchful of your time. It may help to work toward perfection but give yourself time limits and move on once you hit them. This will help you avoid being caught up in a single task which sucks up valuable time you need to spend on other parts of your business. Get to a point where it is good enough for now and know you will, on a regular basis, come back and improve upon it later.

Finally, remember that what you think will be important today may actually become irrelevant tomorrow. Think about what could be but don't dwell on it. The world around us is changing constantly. If you spend too much time preparing for what might happen, you may spend too much time on something that doesn't come to pass and miss out on other opportunities. Of course, you have to prepare for things you know will happen - like if you are in a highly regulated industry you will need to be ready to prove compliance once you are audited. But where it isn't necessary, leave your future items on your idea board, let them float around and see which ones start to become a priority and let those that become unimportant fade away. A great entrepreneur ends up with most of their good ideas never leaving the idea list because they are focusing on the great ones when the time is right.