Friday, October 16, 2009

Starting a Community Business on the cheap

Starting a community business has been an interesting challange and an eye opening experience. 3-1/2 years ago we took on Brigid's Paradigm and set a goal to build a house in Houston similar to the Commotion homes in Huntsville. We had no money, but we did have support from Brigid's Place, from which the program grew.
The idea of starting a business of this sort could easily be set up for failure by simple things...being too depandant on one person or one computer or cost. When you have a volunteer based orgainzation, duplicity and transparency are keys to success. Burn-out can drive small not-for-profits into the ground. Recurring costs take thier toll when you are not sure what your budget will be (if you have one).
So how do you start a business with low overhead and no recurring fees? It's not too difficult actually. I think it cost us $25 for a domain for 2 years and using many free tools on the internet.
First, we decided to start a newsgroup, so our supporters could follow our progress. We chose Google, simply for the fact that there was less visual clutter, and of course it is free. Facebook, is another great tool that we use. We began to use Picasa as a photo album where people could see example of homes projects that are related to what we trying to do. Setting up a gmail address was also free and keeps responses flexible. Once those were established, we worked on a blog and set that to our url (it's still up today!).
Contacting some local non-profit assistance programs helped us to connect with a volunteer lawyer on documents need to file for a business not for profit corporation in Texas, and then with the IRS (which was a big, long ordeal!).
Recently we have taken to Google documents as a way to stay organized, on task, and reduce confusion that could happen with multiple files ciricling the internet. We also found Google Sites and are working on a web page that will be nicer than the blog.
I'm not a big cheerleader for Google, but we sure do use a lot of thier tools. I can't speak for thier privacy rules, but I do apprecite all the free tools they provide that give us a boost!
Once we recieved our 501c3 we were able to acess other tools, like Vertical Response and Google grants (for ads and no fee donation buttons). With voice we are hoping to get a phone number which we can point to the appropriate person to answer or make sure we are not using too many minutes on our personal cell phones. This will also be a permannet phone number, not dependant on a bill which could easily bust the budget.
Here are the tools that are helping us become successful:

Google Groups
Google Documents
Google sites
Free Conference

For Non-profits:
Vertical response
Event Brite (maybe)

So, go for it! There are many ways to meet your organization's needs in this new technology age!

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