Want to be an entrepreneur on the side?

The tools are out there for you to set up another business. BRENDAN LEWIS  


Apparently she is able to travel around as much as she likes, but still has a vice-like grip on her businesses. Using webcams, a web integrated accounting system and Skype, she’s able to monitor almost every aspect of her salons in real time from her home, or from a hotel room from another country. How cool is that?


Which got me thinking about how virtual I could make a business, and here’s what I came up with – a business set up for under $1000, that can be created without leaving the house, and run from anywhere that I have an internet connection.


The product

My products will be the books that I am currently writing on business development. If my products were soft toys or say specialised lamps, I would change the warehousing arrangements.


The marketing

First, I am going to buy a domain name to develop my own brand and make it easy for people to find my products, something like www.brendans-brilliant-business-books.com.au (maybe not that one actually).

I can buy the domain name on the cheap at Intaserv or a bit more expensively at Melbourne IT.


Intaserv is the cheapest for com.au domain names, but its domain name management tools are no where near as easy to use as Melbourne IT. You get what you pay for, no surprises there.


The products will be advertised online using campaigns purchased from Google AdWords and via the Sensis site. Of course my online shop will be search engine optimised so it can be found easily.


I will keep a record of what’s happening and run email campaigns using a web based CRM (customer relationship management) system. The one I have chosen is SugarCRM. Check this link, as it’s open source, which for me means its more robust and free. The trade-off though is that the documentation can be crappy. SugarCRM requires the same supporting technical environment as my shop.


For the online shop, I am going to use OSCommerce. This is another open source product. Again it’s powerful, robust and free. It also uses the LAMP stack (Linux operating system, Apache webserver, Mysql database and Php language) as its operating environment. I will connect the shop to my bank account using a merchant account I will setup at PayPal.


Administration and logistics

I’m going to create the company online at a company registration site such as Incorporate. Sites such as this have a web-based wizard that walks you through all the steps required, then sends you the company register as a PDF document once the bill is paid. The end result is a not big, sexy, leather-look binder, but I’m not looking for that anyway.


The shop and CRM system need to be hosted somewhere. I’m going to choose someone like Quadrahosting, which has customer control panels to make life easier. For around $150 a year I can get around 20 websites hosted and my email chucked in as well.


Since I have purchased some web hosting that comes with email, I can use the control panel at Quadrahosting to setup a whole lot of email addresses that forward email to my gmail account. I can then get my email, anywhere in the world, that is sent to addresses such as accounts@brendans-brilliant-business-books.com.au and sales@brendans-brilliant-business-books.com.au


Now since I want to be as virtual as possible, I don’t particularly want to hold stock. I’ve decided to use an online book sales site called Lulu to layout and print my book on demand. I simply (warning, loose use of the term simple) upload a word file, and select the design and title. I believe a 100 page hardback will cost about $US16 to produce for a print run of one. Lulu will effectively become my on-demand warehouse, printing and sending out books as I want.


My banking is of course easy to setup online. Many companies now have the internet only account. It’s normally an interest paying, zero fees account that you can tack on to another fee paying account you have. I tend to use the CBA as my other accounts are there and I like using the one net banking interface to manage my affairs. And as mentioned before, I will also setup a PayPal account that will be the gateway between my bank account and my shop.


Since I want to have a local landline number (rather than giving out my mobile) I am going to use SkypeIn. I can have a local landline number that I can forward to my mobile, or simply leave it as an internet-based voice mail system.


Now I can simply have my home as the postal address or the traditional Post Office box. However there is now a large number of virtual office suppliers in the market. I can have a Collins St address for as little as $10 per week. Companies such as Silent Partner offer you the ability to have that address and rent meeting rooms on as-needed basis.


To keep track of what’s going on I need a good accounting system that I can create GST compliant invoices with. A quick search reveals a number of open source (free and configurable) web based (accessible anywhere) solutions, including Open Accounting or SQL Ledger. There are also some interesting paid solutions for nominal amounts such as SAASU at around $250 per year.


Finally since things are now working well and my overheads are minimal, I am profitable. Therefore I need to be paying tax (both income and my GST).

Just as well that the tax office allows me to do everything online.


My estimate is that I have invested about $800 (before marketing) to get the virtual business up and running and worked for maybe two days in total over an elapsed time of two weeks.




There are lots of other options for doing all of this. For instance if I was selling art or t-shirts I would probably use RedBubble as my shop and warehouse. If I was selling services I probably wouldn’t use a shop, maybe I would use a free online content management system such as Joomla to run the website.


The principle is the same though, there is now no reason (investment, physical space or time available) why every technically literate Australian can’t be an entrepreneur on the side.





Brendan Lewis is a serial technology entrepreneur having founded : Ideas Lighting, Carradale Media, Edion, Verve IT, The Churchill Club, Flinders Pacific and L2i Technology Advisory. He has set up businesses for others in Romania, Indonesia and Vietnam. Qualified in IT and Accounting, he has also spent time running an Advertising agency and as a Cavalry Officer with the Australian Army Reserve.

To read more Brendan Lewis blogs, click here.


About once a month I go to the movies with a mate of mine, a kind of very tame boys’ night out. Anyway, while we were having a beer after the movie he mentioned to me that he had run into a women who owns a couple of hairdressing salons in Britain.


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