We’ve had a busy new year so far at MadPilot Productions, but we’ve still managed to push some updates to 88 Miles this week. The main change is a new payment system, which means you can better manage the credit card that you have used to sign up with, and we can now offer pro-rata credits when you upgrade and downgrade plans! This means you aren’t paying twice if you decide to change your account mid-payment cycle.
If you are an existing customer, you will need to re-enter your credit card details – unfortunately, our credit card merchant can’t migrate your card numbers from one system to the other. You will get charged the full rate again, but we’ll credit you back the pro-rata value (This is a manual process, so it might take a couple of days to sort it out). If you have any problems during the process, flick us an email from the contact form.
The other advantage of this upgrade, if that you are are now able to download proper invoices from the system directly now (Which will no doubt make the tax man happier). Again, this doesn’t go back in time, so you will only be able to get invoices for after you update your credit card details – if you want previous ones, we can generate them manually for you (Again, shoot us an email).
That’s it for now – we have some big plans over the next couple of months, so stay tuned!
Happy time tracking!
As strange as it sounds, a downturn in the market can be a great time to start your own business. Generally when things are a bit tight, many companies will start to look at ways to make their businesses more efficient, and one way to do this is to use smaller suppliers who have lower overheads, and can still maintain a high level of quality.
Of course, simply being really good at what you do isn’t going to be enough to build a successful business, there is a whole lot of other stuff you will need to think about before you can take the plunge.
Step 1: What are you going to sell?
It isn’t a bad idea to know what you are going to sell before you start a business, otherwise making money can be quite difficult. There are two types of business that you can consider: Product based, where you sell things (either real things like hand soap, or imaginary things like software); and service based where you sell your time and expertise. Both have their pros and cons.
Product based industries can make money while you sleep!, especially if your clients can purchase what you are selling without your direct input. Obviously, you will need some sort of product, which will incur some sort start up cost. If you are selling real products, this is a real cost – many manufacturers will make you buy stock upfront.
Generally, service based industries have a lower start-up cost, assuming you are already an expert in what you do. All you need is some willing clients to engage you for your services, and the time to provide those services. The obvious downside to service based industries is they are generally time dependent, and unlike hand soap, you can’t buy more of that.
You have to spend money to make money
When starting a business, there is a rule of thumb that says you should have three months worth of running costs in the bank. You can do some pretty quick calculations to work out what three months of running costs will be:
- Calculate any recurring, monthly personal expenses you already have: ie Rent/Mortgage, monthly phone bills, electricity etc.
- Estimate any new expenses you will have due to the business. Think carefully – there may be things you can go without initially, and there will be other items that sound extravagant, but will really save you money in the long run.
- Add as little bit of spending money – all work and no play makes new business owner something something.
If you are smart, you can get save heaps of money by knowing when to use free services, when to use monthly services and when to fork out some cash up front. Check out this short list of products that can help you out:
There aren’t many businesses these days that can justify NOT having a computer – email is a really important communication tool, and storing documents electronically can save space and paper. Laptops are pretty cheap, and even mid range computers have more than enough grunt for day-to-day tasks. While you are at it, printers are pretty much throw away items now – you can get all-in-one units, with a built-in scanner and copier for around $200.
Cost: Starting from $600 + $200 for an all-in-one printer/scanner/copier.
A backup system.
It is scary how many businesses don’t backup their data properly, especially when it is so easy. If you are lucky enough to be in a country with permanent internet connections (like ADSL or cable) you should use a service like Dropbox. It acts like a normal folder on your computer, and will automatically upload your files to their secure server. You can even synchronize those files amongst multiple computers, and share folders with other Dropbox users. The free account gives you 2Gb of storage, which is plenty to get started, and the upgrades are pretty cheap.
Failing that, go and get a external USB drive – most modern operating systems have some basic backup software installed (such as Time Machine for OSX and Windows Backup for Windows). Just remember to run the software regularly!
Cost: Free! Or around $100 for an external drive.
In many countries you can get ADSL connections pretty cheaply. Don’t worry about getting a business account right away, home accounts are usually pretty reliable, and are generally much cheaper. You might even be able to get high speed wireless internet, either via 3G modem (attached to a mobile phone) or via a 4G dongle. These will allow you to work from your local coffee shop or library when you want to get out of the house.
Cost: From $29 per month
While you can probably get away with a spreadsheet for a while, getting some accounting software will help you stay more organised, and will allow you to sub-contract your accounts to a bookkeeper. Again, online solutions give you the most flexibility – we use Saasu (it integrates with 88 Miles), but we have also heard good things about Xero, Freshbooks and Blinksale.
Cost: Around $30 per month
Your own domain + Google Apps
email@example.com may be a perfectly fine email address to share with your friends, but it doesn’t look very professional. Domain names are cheap, so there is no reason for you to not have a proper email address. Google offers a service called Google Apps which allows you to setup email using your domain, as well as calendar and basic word processing and spreadsheet for nothing! You will still need to park your domain somewhere – many domain registrars can help you out.
Be aware that some countries (such as Australia and Ireland) have restrictions on the names you can register, so you may need to register your business name first.
Protip: Make sure you store the domain registration password somewhere safe, because if you decide to hire a web developer in the future to build you a site, they will need it.
Cost: Domains start at $8 per year for a .com
Pretty much everyone has a mobile these days, so it’s easy enough to use that when you are starting a new business, but if you want a landline number (clients have a habit of calling mobiles at all hours of the day), Skype offers a service called Skype In, which allows you to register a phone number, that is attached to your Skype account. You can then use your computer to make and answer phone calls, or simply redirect the number to your mobile (at extra cost of course).
You can also check with your ISP, and see if they offer bundled VoIP services with your internet connection. While more expensive then Skype, it’s still cheaper than a landline, and the call quality will be better.
Cost: $2/month per Skype-in number, plus call costs.
As you can see, starting a business takes a bit of financial planning, but it isn’t nearly as hard as it was a few years ago if you are smart about what you spend your money on! What services do you use in your business? We would love to hear about them in the comments, or via twitter.
Well, our server upgrade is all done, and with it brings a new user interface. We have also revamped the API, so if you are a developer check out the new documentation to see what you can do!
We also have a twitter account, which will have smaller announcements posted to it, so make sure you follow us.
We would love any feedback you might have – leave us a comment, or send us an @ reply on twitter.
88 Miles is getting a server upgrade and some spit and polish on Sunday 20 Jun 2010. The site will br unavailable for around 30 minutes starting at 2:00 PM (GMT +0800 – Click here to convert to your local time).
We are quite excited about this upgrade, and it has been a long time in the making, so we would love to hear your feedback on Monday!
88 Miles will be pushing a fairly major UI update sometime next week, which is very exciting. However, we have decided that it is time to drop support for Internet Explorer 6.
It doesn’t look like this will affect too many people, as IE 6 is less than 3% of our traffic, but if you are still using it, we would recommend upgrading your browser.
More details of the new roll out shortly. Oh, and if you want to try out the new version before it goes live, send us an email!
Some of you may have experienced some problems when trying to create invoices in 88 Miles and saving them to Saasu. Good news: the problems are fixed!
If you are still having problems – Drop us a line!
The MadPilot Produtions office will be closed from the 24th of December until the 5th of January.
Whilst I’ll be periodically checking that 88 Miles, I won’t be checking email very regularly during that time, so by all means, continue sending any email, just don’t be offended if you don’t get a response until early 2009!
So have a safe holiday season, and I look forward to tracking your time in 2009!
Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been experimenting with some optimisations at all points of the 88 Miles stack — everywhere from code to database queries to database optimisation and Apache configuration. Because of the downtime today, I though I’d finish off some of those optimisations and push them live.
At the server level, 88 Miles is now running Passenger (aka mod_rails) instead of Mongrel, which better utilises memory and doesn’t require the overhead of proxing. It’s also a lot more reliable and stable (especially when it comes to restarting or pushing out new versions). Although I must admit, this mornings downtime was more to do with some overzealous settings than anything else — I think we are at a sweet spot now, so I don’t think I’ll need to touch it again for a while.
Much of the code for the core functionality was written quite a while a go, and was in dire need for a clean up. There was a lot of unnecessary iteration and object instantiation that resulted in really long load times for the main page (as well as for punching in and punching out). By pushing more of the work to the database and utilising the fact that a DB is better at searching for things than my code is, I managed a 4x speed increase.
However, that wasn’t quite enough! By adding some database indexed to regularly used foreign keys, I managed to bump that speed increase to nearly 10x! And this is just the start — the priority at the moment is the speed and stability of the system.
Hopefully you will notice the speed increase — there is, of course, things out of my control, such as network latency and server load — however on the whole, you should be getting a much snappier 88 Miles experience.
The server has been restarted successfully. I’ll be looking into the configuration to stop this happening again.
Again, thanks for you patience.
88 Miles is currently experiencing some server issues. We are working with our hosting provider to fix the problem.
Sorry for any inconvenience