Bootstrapping, as in, ‘to pull yourself up by the bootstraps,’ means accomplishing something on your own without outside help. In the world of start-ups, it means going into business despite having minimal financial resources. This is not an easy task but it can be accomplished with proper planning, diligence, guts and determination.
The following suggestions are not just for startups — they apply to any new business venture.
1. Make an initial plan
Have a plan in place to see where you can make savings and get things done for free, either on your own or using free systems. Once things are moving along nicely, you may have to consider outsourcing some of the things you’re not specialised in.
If possible, consider staying at your full-time, ‘real’ job whilst in the planning phase. That way you’ll have some capital to devote to your new business enterprise whilst you’re getting everything in place.
– Don’t reinvent the wheel. See what competitors are doing, and do it better or from a different angle. If you have a unique product, that’s a different story. But chances are there’ll be hundreds if not thousands of other businesses doing the same thing. You have to decide early on what your point of difference is and build around that.
– Dominate a particular niche. Become the expert people are talking about. If you have an area of expertise that you are comfortable with, make this the primary focus of your business.
– Make budgets and forecasts, and keep them rolling — not static and collecting dust. The bottom line on your budget paper will probably look very small at the start, but that’s ok. You’re building your empire slowly — perhaps one customer at a time — and with limited funds. Don’t forget to revisit your budget regularly and review your forecasts at least quarterly. While you’re at it, remember the boss has to be paid too; think about setting up a separate business account and direct debit a wage to your personal account monthly, no matter how small to start with.
Really decide how much time you can put in to the venture and what resources you already have. Will the resources see you through to the next phase of the business? If you don’t have as much time as you need, you might need to consider outsourcing work in those areas you aren’t familiar with. Also think about hiring equipment rather than buying it until you decide if it’s the right product for your needs.
2. Set up good systems
Set up your systems correctly from the get-go, especially your data and accounting resources.
– Use a cloud-based product for your accounting needs so you can provide direct access to your accountant, which can save time, money and heartache, especially during BAS submission. Your accountant can also help you organize your data so that you can reap very detailed information about the costs and profits of all your business operations, leading to better decisions down the road.
– Remember to use a cloud based email program and project management system from the early days. This will keep you on track with where your business is headed and make life much easier, especially as you start to grow and need to manage a team.
– Consider automated — but useful — marketing. Social media is an excellent place to start your marketing, especially if you are considering being an online-only business. There are many systems out there that can automate your posts and build your audience. If you have a brick and mortar shop, placing a sign in your window with your social media contact details is an easy thing to do along with listing it on handouts placed at the register. Be sure to collect contact information for current and potential customers, as email marketing is also a proven (and relatively inexpensive) way to attract and keep clients.
– Attend networking events and get the word out that you’re here. This is a great way to tell people about your product and services, and more often than not, it won’t cost much, if at all.
3. Ask for help
People love to share their skills and ideas, so ask for help and advice when you need it.
– Choose a mentor and be accountable to them. Many successful entrepreneurs believe that a business coach can be invaluable, but when just starting out, you probably won’t have the funds. This is where a trusted family member or friend comes in handy. Another place to get help is from online forums in your chosen field, profession or product.
– Use specialists to get to the final result quicker and more efficiently. Perhaps a virtual assistant, accountant, marketing manager, graphic designer and web designer are some of the first professionals you should consider outsourcing to once things start to really pick up.
– Testimonials are king! One happy customer will shout from the rooftops on social media or to their friends when the subject comes up, so make sure you get several testimonials in writing to use where you can to promote yourself and your business.
It can be done — you just have to really want it. Don’t be afraid to ask for help and delegate when you can. Even your accountant can help you keep things in perspective before they get out of control, so use them as a sounding board. You might be surprised with the solutions they come up with.