Bootstrapping falls somewhere in the top 3 list of most common ways that startups choose to fund their business. While this frugal practice can’t possibly guarantee you success in the end, it’s certainly a great way to keep an equity stake in your business, money in the bank, bill collectors away from your door, as well as a healthy sense of desperation that will help you to generate other creative funding ideas.
The following list assumes you’ve already performed your market research, including analyzing the competition:
1. Launch a business that can make cash fast, with little investment
This may seem easier said than done. However, if you look at the majority of successful businesses, they were able to propel themselves forward because they made money fast. Some industry businesses, like green energy technology, automotive manufacturing, and space flight/exploration (ie., Virgin Galactic), require millions of dollars and often years of research before they ever produce a profit.
If you don’t have access to the kinds of funds to get your business model there fast, move on and find something that you can make solvent as fast as possible. Move back to expensive ideas as you build on your successes and have the funds needed to make those ideas a profitable reality.
2. Avoid marketing firms until you start to make profits
It’s nice to think that investing money in outsourced marketing firms is the way to go for fast exposure and massive profits. The reality is these firms can only do so much with what you’re able to give them at the startup stage. The whole idea of bootstrapping is doing as much as you can with very little; something marketing businesses will require plenty of cash in order to generate the buzz your fledgling business needs at this point.
If you need outside assistance, seek out marketing firms run by industry experts who have experience working for established firms, or within the marketing departments of large corporate businesses. If you can strike a deal to give them what they want (ie., experience) in exchange for the marketing exposure you need, that’s a good deal and still falls within the definition of bootstrapping.
Guerrilla marketing ideas:
- Offer discounts in exchange for reviews and referrals.
- Create videos about your business in-house and share them on YouTube and other social media platforms.
- Ask for invites to local, state, national events in the industry you operate in.
- Street marketing: Post information about your company anywhere you can (bulletin boards, telephone poles, public restrooms, flyers in car windows, etc.)
- Make sure all founders have advertisement vinyls installed on their cars.
- Get involved with local charities, organizing fundraisers and the like (this is perfect for free media exposure!)
- Talk about your business constantly when out in public.
3. Account for all expenses, eliminate all but the essentials
There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to setting a budget for any given startup. Some industries and niches require more investment than others. If you can meet the necessary obligations set out in tip #1, you still need to put together a smart financial game plan to get from insolvency to positive cash flow.
As an owner or co-owner of a bootstrapping startup, you need to look at your businesses expenses as well as your own. This is so you won’t be tempted to take money out of the business before the time is right. Eliminate all unnecessary expenses, on all fronts.
For the business:
- Unnecessary marketing expenses (see #2).
- Extravagances such as company cars, car hire services, and other transportation expenses.
- The latest smartphones (ie., last year’s model will still get the job done).
- Catering, buying lunches/dinners for everyone all the time.
- Hiring two people where one will do.
- Outsourcing things that can be done in-house cheaper (ie., data entry, social media blasts, customer service).
- Purchasing software when a suitable free version is available.
- Spending money on a custom theme for the company website before its profitable.
For personal expenses:
- Entertainment (theater, movies, premium cable/satellite channels, hosting expensive parties, etc.)
- Going to a coffee shop instead of making it at home.
- Eating out.
- Driving a Mercedes instead of a Prius (ie., car payments, insurance, maintenance).
- In-home maid services.
- Driving up high interest credit card balances.
- The best and biggest smartphone plan.
- Anything on this list.
As mentioned, following the startup bootstrapping tips above won’t guarantee you success. However, they can help ensure you don’t lose the business due to mismanagement of funds, or because desperation forced you to bring investors in to early and losing precious equity that will benefit you later on when investors become a definite necessity to grow the business further.