How to keep your small business financially adaptable

Financial commitment can feel alarming when the economic future looks this murky. Flexible, online systems and a freelance workforce are becoming more common, and are both good ways to keep costs low. Pay-as-you-go facilities – online file storage, mailing list management, even call-center infrastructure complete with automatic dialler systems and unlimited answering capacity – can be rented online, in the cloud, for as long as you need them, without buying hardware or paying staff to maintain systems that might not be used all the time.

Staying adaptable – easy to scale up or down along with your fortunes – makes survival more likely, and at least minimises loss if things don’t work out.

Head into the cloud
“The cloud” is a fanciful way of describing a vast array of computing capacity that’s held somewhere else, owned by someone else, but that you can pay to access via your internet connection. It used to be impractical because internet connections were so slow. Now, if you have a decent connection speed, you can do pretty much anything online. Store files, write proposals, retouch photos, prepare your accounts. Set up call centres, or code websites. And you can do it from anywhere you can get online, and share your facilities and work with colleagues who are geographically remote.

Freelance and future-proof
The freelance community is getting bigger by the minute, and lots of it is online and remote-working. It can take a little bravery to get used to this, especially if you prefer seeing your workforce at their desks by 9am sharp every morning, but freelancers let you tailor capacity to demand on an hourly basis, if necessary. Personal recommendation is always good, or find workers via agency sites like Elance, and choose professionals whose project history shows repeat custom, and examples of work done for others.

Crowd-sourced content
If you need stock content for your website and literature, but don’t want to pay Getty Images £500 for a tiny picture of someone laughing, try community-sourced content instead. IStock Photos and Shutterstock sell millions of images on behalf of photographers worldwide, for a fraction of the price you’d pay the traditional image-brokers.

When not to Scrooge
Downloading unlicensed software might seem economical, but often causes greater expense than it bypasses. Even if you don’t get arrested and fined for pirating, you won’t get any support from the software developers, so if anything goes wrong – and you lose all your work – you won’t have anyone to run to. The likelihood of downloading viruses or other evils along with your pirated copy of Photoshop, or whatever, is also pretty high, leaving you with another expensive problem to solve.

Using other people’s photos and writing without asking them is also a bad idea – it makes you look untrustworthy, for a start, and content producers can easily scan the web for non-permitted copies, and sue the copier. Search engines penalise duplicate text, shunting you down below your competitors. If you want to check that content you’re buying from someone else is legitimate, run it through Copyscape (for text) or Google’s reverse image search, before you publish.

This helpful article was provided by Michael Bolt.

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