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10 Online Tools and Tips for the Budding Entrepreneur

Scott Gerber is a serial entrepreneur, syndicated columnist, public speaker and author of Never Get a “Real” Job. The content of this post was sourced from the Young Entrepreneur Council, a non-profit led by the world’s top young entrepreneurs. You can submit your questions to this group on YoungEntrepreneurCouncil.com.

Budding business owners should go virtual wherever and whenever possible. In a fledgling startup, the last thing you need to worry about is excessive infrastructure or expensive overhead. It’s already a difficult enough task to generate income and garner clients. Why spend that precious revenue on something as useless as an office space?

Your ego might try to get the best of you, telling you that your business needs that fancy schmancy corner office with a city view. But unless your ego has a few hundred thousand dollars to cough up for rent and amenities, kindly tell it to shut up.

Plain and simple: The vast majority of startups — and more established businesses for that matter — don’t need a whole lot. In the last several years there have been a multitude of virtual business services that have become essential to millions of business owners. But in a world of apps and redundant SaaS, which programs and services are best for your business? I asked a panel of successful young entrepreneurs what virtual tools they use to stay lean, effective and productive.

1. Cloud Computing is Essential
As someone who has built a completely virtual company with 25 employees, I can honestly tell you that reliable cloud computing is essential. And, the more you can consolidate web services, the better. We use Google Apps Premiere which, aside from being an excellent substitute for an exchange server, also includes the ability to store and share documents, create groups, and share a calendar.

- Shama Kabani
Company Name: MarketingZen
Twitter: @Shama

2. “Virtual” Doesn’t Mean “Alone”
Whether you work in an office, at home, at a coffee shop, or on a beach, people are your most valuable asset. Elance.com can be a virtual entrepreneur’s human resources department for hiring and managing people who can offset your strengths. Use it to find your logo designer, website developer, virtual assistant, and other people who can help you build a successful virtual business.

- Natalie MacNeil
Company Name: Imaginarius
Twitter: @NatalieMacneil
Facebook: Natalie MacNeil

3. Project Management is Essential
I love BaseCamp. It has made us [nearly] 100% virtual! It has every possible feature for project management, and other products from 37signals’ suite [can] add whatever else you fancy! It’s inexpensive and easy to use because once you’ve subscribed, anyone, e.g. your clients, vendors, and employees, can simply join in via web without … downloading or signing up.

- Devesh Dwivedi
Company Name: BreakingThe9to5Jail.com
Twitter: @Break9to5Jail
Facebook: BreakingThe9toJail

4. Know the “Must-Haves”
I have a completely virtual business at this point and the services that are [an] absolute must for me are Gmail for e-mail, dropbox.com for online storage, skype.com for international calling and IM, Google Voice [for] calling into the U.S. when I am abroad, Google Docs to share Documents in real time and — yes — Facebook, which allows me to stay connected to my business and personal contacts no matter where I am in the world.

- Louis Lautman
Company Name: Young Entrepreneur Society
Twitter: @louislautman
Facebook: LouisLautman

5. Take Advantage of Subscription Services
It’s cheaper and easier to create a virtual office than ever before. Start off by getting a mailbox at a local UPS or FedEx Kinko’s, get setup with a toll-free phone number through Grasshopper.com, register a professional domain name at NameCheap.com, and get business cards and marketing material from VistaPrint or PrintingForLess.com.

- Matt Mickiewicz
Company Name: 99designs
Twitter: @sitepointmatt

6. Keep Your Systems Simple
I currently run one of my businesses virtually and I believe it’s increased efficiency and substantially lowered costs. Some web services I suggest are GotomyPC for international access to one base hard drive, and Evernote for paperless document and image management. More features are not always better. Remember, keep your systems simple.

- Kent Healy
Company Name: DontGetBurnedBlog.com
Twitter: @Kent_Healy
Facebook: Kent Healy

7. Utilize an Online Fax Service
Faxing is still a huge part of running a business, but if you do this activity online it can save you a bit of money. You don’t need a printer, toner, or ink and it makes it easy to transfer if you move rather than setting up a new line every time. I recommend Grasshopper or eVoice to help your small business stay mobile and on the go. Both services are awesome and help you with everything you need.

- Ashley Bodi
Company Name: Business Beware
Twitter: @BusinessBeware
Facebook: Ashley Bodi

8. Make Use of Virtual Offices
After a year and a half in business, I moved into my first office at Stark Office Suites. It was the best decision I ever made. I was able to move in and start working immediately without worrying about Internet or phones, and I even have a receptionist answering calls for me. If you are on a shoestring budget, utilize services like Stark Office Suites or Regus, which will keep your overhead to a minimum.

- Kris Ruby
Company Name: Ruby Media Group LLC
Twitter: @sparklingruby
Facebook: Kris Ruby

9. Outsource Your Engineering to oDesk — For Cheap!
If you’re building a web-based business, I highly recommend that you go to oDesk.com to hire low-cost engineering talent. oDesk is a directory of international contractors. Take some time to interview and vet the engineers with high ratings and lots of logged contract hours — it’s a good filter for finding good talent initially.

- Eric Bahn
Company Name: Beat the GMAT
Twitter: @beatthegmat
Facebook: Beat The GMAT

10. Reduce, Reuse & Recycle
Before buying anything, make the best use of what you already have at your disposal. For instance, your current software, e-mail provider, phone service, and office equipment may be most — if not all — of what you need to start. Also, you can begin with free web services like ZOHO CRM and upgrade after your business has earned the cash to pay for new purchases.

- Elizabeth Saunders
Company Name: Real Life E®
Twitter: @RealLifeE
Facebook: Time Coaching