How FOSS Might Benefit Your Small Business
Starting a small business or working from home takes time and costs money. After you have done all the groundwork, such as a business plan, marketing strategy and finances, you will probably start thinking about the cost of PCs and software licenses.
At this stage, you might have just quit your day job, have no customers, no income, and a whopping-great bank loan to keep you awake at nights.
Buy the right computer at the right price
Before rushing out to your local computer store, it’s worth making a checklist of tasks you are likely to need a new PC or notebook to perform. This requires no technical knowledge whatsoever. Any decent computer sales person will be able to translate your needs into features and functionality. The Internet provides a wealth of opportunities to compare prices, brands, delivery schedules, special offers and freebies. And don’t be afraid to haggle, even online. The PC market is highly volatile and extremely competitive. Everyone wants to make a sale. Of course, if you just want a bog-standard, cheap PC then visit Dell.com online or give them a call.
The Software Dilemma
Having wrestled your PC out of its cardboard and polystyrene cocoon, assembled it and switched it on, you now have to consider what software applications and utilities you might need. In an ideal world your software choices would be determined by your business needs rather than the depth of your pockets. However, the reality is that most small businesses simply cannot afford everything they need. Instead, they tend to purchase ‘point solution’ products that meet specific needs; buy cheap alternatives to familiar brand names; or use illegal, pirated copies of popular applications such as Microsoft Office Suite (a path we strongly recommend you avoid). But there is an alternative.
What All the FOSS is About
As your monitor flickers into life, it will be immediately clear what operating system your computer uses. My Dell, for instance, came loaded with Microsoft Windows XP Home Edition. Having established what operating system your computer uses, you can now go in search of Freeware and Open Source Software (FOSS). Freeware is proprietary software offered for free by the vendor, usually under certain terms, conditions or restrictions. Open Source is a community or movement of not-for-profit programmers, developers and users dedicated to sharing, developing and improving the code or DNA of an application for everyone’s benefit. To learn more about FOSS visit the Free Software Foundation website at www.fsf.org or the Open Source Initiative: www.opensource.org.
Assuming your using a Windows operating system, your computer will need to protect itself from viruses, hackers, spyware and adware. Your computer might have come bundled with any number of applications including free firewalls and anti-virus software, which is great. If not, then before you do anything, especially venture onto the Internet, you will need to get some protection.
Free Safeguards The Internet is teeming with a whole multitude of nasties, such as destructive, self-replicating viruses, vicious migrating worms and deceitful, back-stabbing Trojans. You will also have to contend with insidious, sneaky spyware and adware.
Adware, as the name suggests, infiltrates your computer and displays annoying pop-up advertisements without your consent or control. Spyware is designed to collect and send your personal information to third parties without your knowledge. These applications can be after anything from data on your purchasing habits to stealing your credit card and bank details.
Before you use the Internet it’s advisable to protect yourself and your computer from attack. Of course, you won’t have to worry about viruses if you have already plumped for a Linux operating system. ZoneAlarm stops intruders from accessing your PC; makes your PC invisible to hackers; and blocks spyware and Trojans from communicating with the Internet.
Microsoft Windows Defender (Beta 2) is a free anti-spyware program. It’s quick and easy to install, and allows you to scan your system manually and automatically for contagion. The software then isolates suspect programs allowing you to quarantine or remove them.
Microsoft Windows Defender (Beta 2): www.microsoft.com
Lavasoft Ad-Aware and Spybot Search & Destroy offer genuinely free downloads of their popular and effective anti-adware and anti-spyware products plus regular updates. One word of warning, only install anti-spyware from a recommended, legitimate provider. Some spyware is packaged and peddled as the cure rather than the cause, so be on your guard.
Free Internet Window Washer 1.2 sponges away the tracks you create every time you use your PC and venture onto the Internet. Free Internet Window Washer 1.2 erases Window’s temp folders, run history, your browser’s cache, cookies, visited URLs, and much more besides. An added benefit is that Free Internet Window Washer 1.2 also releases valuable disk space.
Also see my article: Making SOHO a safer place of business.
Free Office Tools Having made your computer safe from potential threats, it’s time to get your hands on all those everyday office applications a business needs, such as a word processor/desktop publisher, spreadsheets, multimedia presentation, graphics and database packages. OpenOffice.org 2.0.2 is an excellent freely available productivity suite that can do just about anything a small business or home office user wants.
Free Email Well, having a Windows operating system you should have Microsoft Outlook Express email client already on your computer. An alternative is Mozilla’s Thunderbird 1.5 email, which is safe, fast and easy to use with intelligent spam filters, quick message search, and customizable views. Best of all, it’s completely free.
Of course, the moment you have a business email address you’ll be inundated with spam. That’s e-junk mail. Not the canned luncheon meat stuff. As already mentioned, you will find that Thunderbird 1.5 offers good anti-spam and anti-phishing protection. Phishing is a term used to describe those scam emails that try to con you out of your bank details and PayPal passwords. However, if you happen to be one of those paranoid types or prefer to use another email client then you can always try MailWasher Free 5.1 anti-spam software.
Free Contact Management If deciding when to emerge from the duvet each morning is your idea of time management then your new venture might be in trouble. Working from home requires discipline and routine, as well as motivation. Always be at your computer by 9am, for example, and dedicate 2 hours everyday to making sales calls. Plan and organise your calendar of activities. To help you, try ClickTray Calendar. It’s a handy desktop calendar/diary and reminder program in one.
As your contact and time management needs change and grow, you will need something a little more comprehensive than a desktop calendar and reminder. Essential PIM Free is an award-winning, absolutely free personal information manager. It’s supported by a large community of users, and has been widely acknowledged as one of the best desktop contact managers available.
Free CRM Historically, small businesses have viewed CRM software as unnecessary and expensive. By their very nature, small businesses tend to serve local markets and so are closer to their customers. However, the Internet has changed all that. Nowadays small businesses have to compete globally as well as locally. Technology has also had a profound affect on business communications. You can telephone, fax, email, post direct mail, publish immediate response landing pages, and send SMS text messages. If not properly equipped, even a small company with a limited customer base can easily lose control of its business communications. In fact, Royal Mail research shows that UK small and medium-size businesses (SMEs) are losing over 3bn a year as a result of poor business communications.
CRM offers the opportunity to capture customer information and understand the impact of marketing and sales activity on your customers’ purchase decisions. This valuable customer insight and campaign tracking ability enables you to continually refine your marketing and sales offer to different customer segments, and quickly identify new sales opportunities. CRM can also benefit small and medium-size businesses by streamlining workflow, reducing paperwork, saving time, improving efficiency, and reducing operating costs.
A final note of caution: remember that successful CRM take-up is based on a coherent, shared and understood CRM strategy before you start looking for software.
CRMLogix is a free customer relationship management system (CRM) that automates the workflow of customer-facing organisations, as well as ensuring a uniform approach to sending correspondence.
CRMLogix is supplied in two versions, both of which can exist simultaneously on your network. The first is a standalone Windows Administrator and operational program, and the other is a Microsoft.NET Web server application. The latter allows customer service agents, salespeople and call centre personnel to access CRMLogix via their web browser, which greatly reduces your administrative overhead.
Hipergate is a completely free Open Source web based CRM application suite. Hipergate offers an extremely rich choice of functional modules.
Open For Business (OFBiz) is a suite of enterprise applications better suited to larger businesses built on a common architecture using common data, logic and process components. The loosely coupled nature of the applications makes these components easy to understand, extend and customize. OFBiz offers an incredible array of features and functionality including content management, marketing, contact management, product and service catalogues, order processing, shipping, workflow, accounting, human resources and much more besides.
Having protected your computer from cyber-attacks, set-up a productivity suite, organised email communications, installed a calendar or contact manager, and chosen the right CRM package to maximise sales, here are just a few more useful FOSS desktop applications.
PrimoPDF 2.0 converts documents to PDF (portable document format) from any application. Simply install and send to print to perform the conversion. You can even encrypt documents for added security. Primo PDF 2.0 is an excellent free application. You can also pick up the latest PDF Adobe Reader free from www.adobe.com
The GIMP graphics package is probably the best known of all free Open Source applications. It is a freely distributed piece of software for tasks such as photo retouching, image composition and image authoring. It works on many operating systems, in many languages. The official GIMP website has plenty of information and resources. Of course, if you have Windows XP Home Edition then you already have a graphics manipulation package called Paint available. Just click Start, Main Menu, select All Programs, select Accessories and scroll down to Paint. The Microsoft website all offers an extensive free library of clipart and photographs. Visit: http://office.microsoft.com/clipart
Free News & Information
Streaming Stats is a free news application that will keep you up to date with headlines, sports scores, statistics and stories as they happen. This unique software application can sit at the bottom of your desktop and stream information to you all day. It’s a handy way to keep informed, however the free version does require you receive advertisements. Alternatively you can buy the ad-free version for just $5.00.
About Charlie-the-Copywriter Charlie Trumpess is a marketing communications copywriter with over a decade’s corporate experience. Today, as Charlie-the-Copywriter, he provides copywriting and marketing services to small and medium size businesses across the globe.