The Perfect IT Setup for Home Business – Part 3 of 3: Miscellaneous Software & Services
October 2, 2006 • Glenn Murray
Now that we’ve covered IT hardware, computer security and disaster recovery (please see parts 1 & 2 of this series), let’s look at the vast array of other bits and pieces that you need to make things happen quickly and efficiently in your home business.
Issuing invoices, processing payments (and part payments), chasing outstanding invoices, recording expenses, managing bank accounts, setting money aside for tax… Don’t be fooled into thinking you can handle your accounts manually (or with Microsoft Excel). Although it’s technically possible, even if you only have a few clients, there are simply not enough hours in the day to manage it properly without a proper accounts package. (Copywriting is a relatively low volume service based business, and I still wouldn’t be able to manage everything manually.)
I recommend MYOB Accounting Plus V15. I haven’t tried Quicken and the wide selection of other tools out there, but I know MYOB does a good job for the home business. It makes BAS statements a breeze (if you’re in Australia), not to mention annual taxes. It also takes a great deal of the pain out of issuing invoices and chasing down outstanding invoices.
Email is a brilliant tool for the home business. Unfortunately, it can also be a headache. To begin with, there’s spam. I’ve tried a few spam filters, and I have to say that Spam Assassin is my favourite. My web host supplies this as part of their hosting package. I set it to level 2 (the second most sensitive level), it flags all suspect emails, and I simply move them all to a dedicated spam folder using a rule in Microsoft Outlook.
But even with spam sorted, managing emails can be a challenge. Microsoft Outlook stores all emails in a single .pst file. When you run a home business, it doesn’t take long for that .pst file to become very, very large. In my experience, as it gets bigger, Outlook gets slower, and less reliable (i.e. it crashes often). There’s an official file size limit for some versions of Outlook (I think it’s 2GB), but I don’t think it’s wise to let your .pst file get anywhere near this size.
The best way to solve the .pst file size problem is to stop using Outlook as an archiving tool. Instead, archive all attachments and old emails to disk outside of Outlook. You can do this manually, but it’s clumsy (if you’ve ever tried, you’ll know why). You’re far better off using tools designed specifically for the purpose. The best tools I’ve seen are sold by TechHit.com. Specifically, MessageSave archives emails and EZDetach archives attachments. Importantly, they don’t just save the email/attachment to disk as a file, they also do it intelligently:
- Both append the details of the email to the filename (e.g. sender’s name, email address, send date and time, etc. – you choose).
- When you archive an attachment, EZDetach keeps a link to the archived file in the original email.
- To open an archived email, you simply locate it in Windows Explorer and double-click. It opens in Outlook.
Hosting your website
For a home business or small business owner – whether you’re in copywriting or any other field – a good web host must be affordable, but must also be secure and deliver excellent customer service and technical support (very few of us have people on staff who can handle the technical stuff without good support!).
I did quite a bit of research, and decided to go with AussieHQ for my copywriting website. This has been one of the best business decisions I’ve ever made. I was previously with WebCentral and I’ve found AussieHQ better in every respect. Their prices are very reasonable, I believe their data centre is safe and secure, and their technical support is unparalleled. In fact, I can say without hesitation that they are THE BEST SERVICE PROVIDER I’ve ever dealt with. Every time I’ve called for tech support, I’ve spoken with knowledgeable people, right off the bat. I’ve never been put on hold, and I’ve never had to leave a message requesting a call-back. My problems have always been solved. And I get Spam Assassin as part of the deal.
Oh, and while I’m talking about web hosting, I should mention SmartFTP. For just USD $36.95, you get a great tool for uploading files to your website. Simple and intuitive to use (which, in my experience, is rare with FTP products).
If you’re after a good Internet Service Provider (ISP), I recommend Westnet. I’ve been with a few ISPs (including Optus, BigPond & TPG), and Westnet are far and away the best, in my humble opinion. While their prices are about average, their support and customer service are awesome. To begin with, tech support is all in Australia and they’re very knowledgeable and helpful (although you sometimes have to wait on hold or leave a message to get a call-back). And they actually go to great lengths to solve problems, rather than just pointing the finger at the customer or the infrastructure provider (normally Telstra). And it’s not just me who says so; they’ve been voted best for customer support by actual customers, a number of years running.
1) If you’re in Australia, no matter who you choose as your ISP, ensure that you know what speeds you can actually expect from your connection and what ISPs are supposed to say in their advertising, according to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.
Finding things on your computer
While Windows Explorer has a search facility, it’s slow and, in my experience, not very effective. I much prefer Google Desktop. It continuously indexes your computer’s hard drive – much as it indexes pages on the World Wide Web – so that when you search, it delivers the results instantly. Very handy!
Generating a good search engine ranking
Search engine ranking (SEO) is way too complex to discuss in one short section. Instead, I’ll recommend a few starting points:
- For a good grounding, download my free eBook at divinewrite.com/seosecrets1.htm.
- If you have a good understanding of SEO and want to engage in article submission (aka article PR, article marketing, article distribution), go to ArticlePR if you want to distribute your articles yourself, or go to Article Marketer or iSnare if you want an article submission service.
- If you want to quickly and easily create a Google sitemap, download the SoftPLUS Gsite Crawler.
The right advice
We all need advice, every now and then. Two great sources of advice are:
- Whirlpool forums – For advice and discussion on all things related to Internet Service Providers (ISPs), web hosts, general computer issues and VoIP.
- Divine Write Copywriting forums (divinewrite.com/forum) – For advice and discussion on all things copywriting and SEO copywriting.
So now you should be safe from external malicious threats and able to recover from virtually any disaster.
For information on what computer hardware you need for the perfect home business IT setup, please see part 1 of this series. For information on a few of the vast array of miscellaneous software applications and service providers that will help you in your day-to-day operations, please see part 2 of this series.