Create a lean, competitive small business on the cheap

It’s a tough time to be in college. More and more people are graduating every year, and jobs aren’t keeping up. Now that employment after graduation isn’t a sure thing for the average college student, creating a job for yourself is a smart way to hedge your bet.

Fortunately, it’s a fantastic time to be an entrepreneur. It’s never been easier to get organized, reach a global audience, and start making money. Here are a few must-haves for aspiring entrepreneurs.

1. Group Video Calling

Fifteen years ago, it was tough to run a small business without renting office space; but with decent video-conferencing software, your startup can put off that expense for a lot longer. Maintaining a virtual business over video chat allows you to find talent anywhere in the country or the world; and eliminating your employees’ commute is a huge perk that can make your startup a more attractive draw to high-quality talent.

2. Outsourced Shipping

Your startup will likely be composed of a few highly-motivated, high-skilled, extremely busy students like yourself; spending your limited work hours packaging and shipping your product is wasteful, and a sure recipe for burnout. Check out a service like FBA (Fulfillment by Amazon) to make use of their infrastructure, instead of trying to build your own.

This goes for most elements of your business that someone else can do better and cheaper. Consider the value of your time carefully—is the company better off with you focused on growing your business, or learning HTML and designing your own webpage? You can do the extra work recreationally if you’re bored on the weekends, but it’s not the most efficient use of your limited time and energy.

3. Cloud Computing

Providing, maintaining, and securing business computers for your employees can make new hires expensive; but virtual desktop interface (VDI) allows each employee to work from a cheap “thin client”—essentially just a display, mouse, and keyboard, connected to a virtual PC on a rented server. VDI provides telecommuters on your payroll with an integrated, secure terminal, just as if they were working from the office.

Leaving aside a full cloud solution, you can take advantage of free cloud storage and collaboration software like Dropbox and Google Docs. Payroll is easily a startup’s biggest cost, and duplicated effort simply unaffordable. Get your team working from a single set of documents.

4. Project Management

When the energy of a passionate team is coordinated, a startup can be an exciting place; but without leadership skills and organization, that energy can lead your team down rabbit-holes and dead ends, and keep you from living the dream.

Look for a project management app that allows you to track time, compare time spent on each task against a time “budget” via Gantt chart, and maintain a coordinated calendar to keep each team member on track and excited.

5. Marketing Analytics

If your new idea really is a new idea, marketing is going to involve some trial and error; but with decent analytical tools, you can make the most of each mistake, as well as making sure you recognize when you’re doing something right. Look for an tool that shows not only your sales and conversions over time, but details on how people visit your site, where they come from, and which pages they stay on. Google Analytics is easily your best free option, and probably enough for the early phases of startup marketing.

Aimee Watts is a staff writer for Going Cellular.