Essential Tools for the Solo Entrepreneur
In last year's Future of Small Business study commissioned by Intuit, the phrase 'personal business' was used to describe the increasing number of one-person businesses, making up roughly 70 percent of the nation's businesses. Many individuals started these businesses to have more control of what they do, how they do it, when they do it, and where they do it from. Mompreneurs, mothers who start their own home-based businesses to have a better work-life balance, are great examples of professionals opting to 'go it alone' instead of climbing the corporate ladder.
In the past, a good number of people were forced into entrepreneurship, or in this case solopreneurship, due to layoffs and downsizings. But now more than ever people are gladly stepping out on their own -- and not just to do business with those in their local communities. These entrepreneurs can conduct business half way around the world. With cheap, high speed Internet access, not only can you reach a greater number of people, you can do so in a more meaningful way. Just as important, you can make it easy for them to reach you.
With the infrastructure in place for cheap broadband access, software-as-a-service (SaaS) is making it possible for solopreneurs to utilize tools and services that would have been unavailable to them just a few short years ago. Marketing, ecommerce, Web conferencing, and other applications are now easier to use than ever before. Plus these tools are also inexpensive, easy to pay for on a monthly basis, and in many cases come with no long term contractual commitments. So everything is in place for solopreneurs to reach a worldwide audience. Here are a few tools the aspiring international solopreneur can use to build up their Web credibility.
Tools to build your Web presence
This may seem a bit obvious, but you need a location on the Web that is yours. However even in 2008 upwards of 50 percent of all small businesses still don't have a website. If you're planning on being a successful solopreneur, you'll have to have a either a website, blog, or possibly both. For those with basic website needs, check out Microsoft Office Live or Google Apps for Domains. For those with more complex needs like selling products online or working with affiliate partners, companies like Homestead and Web.com have made it pretty simple to set up a fully functional website quickly. And if the website templates provided by them don't do it for you, stop by Template Monster and pick out one. Or use a service like Elance.com and place your web design project up for bid, at your price and timeframe. You'll be surprised at how many people are willing to meet your price.
If you're looking to build a platform in order to be viewed as an industry expert, it takes all of five minutes to get a blog set up, allowing you to syndicate your knowledge to a worldwide audience. Blogger is a free tool from Google you can use to get started. However, if you don't mind kicking out a few bucks for a more professional looking blog, you may want to consider Six Apart's TypePad service, used by many popular bloggers. And if you have a little more tech savvy and are looking for even more control over how your blog looks and functions, you can step up to Wordpress or MoveableType. And don't forget to check out WidgetBox.com and pick up a little free 'bling' to your blog to add style and functionality with just a few clicks.
Tools to create interesting content
Whether you choose to start with a blog or a full blown website, the content you create needs to attract the kind of people you're looking to do business with. And people expect great content to be delivered in multiple formats, allowing them to consume it on their terms. That means in addition to the traditional whitepapers and slide decks, you'll need to use a tool like Adobe's Captivate to create compelling interactive demos and puzzles. The popularity of podcasting is making it important to create audio content for people on the go. Audio recording software Audacity or Apple's GarageBand, along with a USB microphone, can quickly turn you into an industry commentator. Or you can use a nice webcam like the Logitech QuickCam Pro 9000, with a tool like Adobe's Visual Communicator to create full-fledged professional looking video presentations. And then add that video to your site, blog and YouTube as well.
Tools to build your presence on the Web
As important as it is to build your own Web presence, it's equally as important to interact with people on their turf -- meaning the rest of the Web. Especially if you want all that great content you create to reach a lot of people. According to Alexa.com, six of the top ten sites are social sites like YouTube, MySpace and Facebook. According to Internet research firm Comscore, almost two-thirds of all iIternet users visit MySpace at least once a month. And over half of these folks are older than 35. Facebook has over 100,000 users older than 64. And these sites are doubling in population at ridiculous speeds.
Social sites have made it easier for us to leverage our relationships and connect with people on a much deeper level than we could have imagined a few years ago. All because it's very easy to collaborate and share information. And this can be as simple as answering a question on LinkedIn Answers, Digg-ing someone's blog entry, or writing a book review that everyone in your Facebook network can see. Even share your Powerpoint slide decks with the world by uploading them to SlideShare.net.
These are just a few of the tools and services you can use to build your reputation and become a world-renown, international solopreneur. Find the ones that let you create the kind of content that help those needing your services to find you anywhere on the Web.
Brent Leary is a small business technology analyst, advisor, speaker and award winning blogger. He's the host of 'Technology… for Business $ake', a weekly radio program on BusinessTechnologyRadio.com. His popular blog can be found at www.brentleary.com.