Not all small-business owners start out with generous investor capital or bank financing. In fact, the overwhelming majority of entrepreneurs start their businesses by dipping into savings, liquidating personal assets, or obtaining personal loans from family and friends. According to Dr. Jeff Cornwall, author of the book “Bootstrapping,” more than 99 percent of small-business owners finance their startup costs this way.
But starting a business costs a decent chunk of money — how is it possible for an entrepreneur to scrape together the necessary funds to carry a business idea to fruition without help from wealthy investors or a bank manager? The answer is to cut costs wherever possible, without compromising the quality of the services you provide. You can save money by taking advantage of free online templates and services, minimizing your marketing costs, establishing good relationships with key vendors, bartering with friends for goods and services, and purchasing secondhand office furniture and fixtures.
1. Use Free Online Services and Templates
Sure, you could make your budget even tighter by spending your already-limited funds on costly software or subscription services to handle tasks like email, online collaboration, invoicing, CRM, email marketing, and business cards. Or you could do what most of your competitors are already doing, and cut costs by taking advantage of free platforms and services. Google apps for business can save you money on email, video conferencing, cloud storage, collaboration, and scheduling. Whether you want to create a free invoice, put together an email marketing campaign, or score some free business cards, you can get most of the services your business needs for little to no cost.
2. Buy Secondhand Office Furniture
Whether you’re putting together a home office, a storefront, or a regular office, you don’t need to start out with the best of the best furniture and fixtures. Before you head to your local furniture store or hop on Amazon to price desks and chairs, go to Craigslist and look for bargains on gently used furniture, fixtures, and other office supplies. You might be surprised how much you can score just by looking through the classified ads — since so many businesses fail in their first year and a half, you should be able to find plenty of like-new furniture, fixtures, and even electronics. If you’re opening a storefront, hit up local businesses that may be closing their doors — they’re more likely to give you a good deal on shelving, racks, tables, and other fixtures just to help recoup their losses.
3. Barter for What You Need
It’s likely that you have friends and loved ones with professional skills that could help your fledging business get on its feet. Hit up your social circle for help with tasks like graphic design, organization, or social media marketing. Offer them a complementary service in exchange for a discount on their own services.
For example, if you want to start a restaurant, offer your friend the accountant a few free meals in exchange for some help with the books. If you’re in consulting, offer your friend the graphic designer some resume advice in exchange for creating a logo and designing business cards. You may need to make some sacrifices, but they should pay off later in the form of word-of-mouth advertising.
4. Minimize Marketing Costs
These days, you can get the word out about your business without spending a fortune on marketing. Setting up a website and opening Twitter and Facebook accounts for your business is half the battle, but make sure you update them constantly. Many small businesses rely almost exclusively on social media platforms to build a formidable online presence. Include your website address on your letterheads and business cards and limit your advertising costs to small local newspaper or Google ads. Don’t forget to take every opportunity to talk to others about your business.
5. Cultivate Strong Relationships with Vendors
You can win a great deal of bargaining power by cultivating strong relationships with key vendors. Vendors with whom you develop a longer relationship are often more willing to negotiate lower rates. You can establish a strong relationship right out of the gate by making sure that your vendors understand your business’ goals and how it plans to meet those goals. Assign each particular vendor to a specific employee, to facilitate relationship growth.
Try to give your vendors plenty of time to fulfill orders by planning as far in advance as possible, and try not to make unreasonable requests. Keep a written record of every transaction with a particular vendor. Not only will cultivating good relationships with your vendors save you money, it will also save you time.
Most entrepreneurs don’t have tons of startup capital, but they don’t let that stop them from pursuing their dreams of business ownership. You’ll be surprised how little it can cost to start a small business when you keep your costs to a minimum.