Friday, May 6, 2011

Too clever?

It's always a good idea in business to bring in more than you let out of the door! Recently I've been putting enthusiastic effort into business start-up on a budget. This week's experiences include:

  • Hiring in the services of an ex-BBC man to advise on the right way to capture video and edit it in the way we need to for the final cut, losing minimal quality along the way ... It's cheaper, and better, to buy in that expertise as we need it, but retain the core skills in-house so that we can produce material in a rush when necessary. That's not to say that we won't use professional media productions teams in future, but only when the scale of the projects warrant it.
  • My next task this week was renting additional office space to use as a video 'studio.' There's a lot of snobbery in business, aspiration to be using 'quality' materials to project something other than what you are. I'd love to have hired a plush room in the first impressive office building I saw. But that wasn't worth a premium of more than double what I'm paying for a less gorgeous space, but a space that no one other than me and my team will ever need to see.
  • We needed additional file storage space for the huge quantities of material that video and audio requires. We could have bought in expensive servers, but found that consumer-grade devices now include 'RAID"' disk-mirroring in a plug-and-play box that sits in a cupboard, and just works. Previously we've spent thousands identifying file server hardware, software, backup combinations - and the staff to set it all up. Now it's barely multiple hundreds to do the same thing.
  • This week, too, we've brought additional staff on to the project and need to expand the phone system to cope. Traditional land-lines have probably had their day; mobile calls internationally are too expensive; it has to be some variant of VOIP. But my telecoms supplier tells me he just can't compete with Skype, a proprietary VOIP technology.

    Here's where some of that snobbery can come in: it's tempting to hire-in the services of a human answering service company, or go for a higher-profile VOIP company. But our callers would never know we're using Skype! The phone 'clients' are free of charge for each staff member, and we can easily bring temporary staff on and off the project as needed. And we can use the 'PrettyMay Call Center' to produce full auto-attendant switchboard and voice mail capabilities...
This, though, is where I think I'm being a bit too clever: PrettyMay sits on a PC somewhere and I didn't really want to have a PC dedicated to that humming noisily in the corner of the office, dependent on us to keep the Internet access flowing. As we shortly need additional server capacity anyway, yesterday I contacted one of our hosting providers and within hours I had a brand new Windows Server 2008 machine at my disposal, on a monthly rental. Another few minutes and PrettyMay was installed and ready for its first test. Doh! It works, in that it answers the calls, but I'd forgotten that a cloud-based server isn't going to have a sound card in it; so the calls get answered in silence! 

I'm kicking myself for missing that one in my haste, but resigned to having to run a cheap PC dedicated to our voice switch facilities. It's still cheaper and easier than having a person sit there to do it.

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