When you're bootstrapping, money is tight -- but that doesn't mean that there aren't plenty of ways to get the full value of your business's resources. These 10 tips from bootstrapping entrepreneurs can help you get started.
1. Do a little marketing every day.
Ceri Ruenheck of It's Your Call makes marketing an on-going part of her routine. "My best tip is to make sure a bit of marketing is done everyday. One old fashion way to get business is to make phone calls. This is a proactive approach to marketing instead of reactive (like social media), which in the beginning, an entrepreneur doesn't have the luxury to do so. Also, a website can be built these days by oneself for very little costs. There are still businesses that don't have one and should."
2. Look outside of your own geographic area.
Christian Arno, managing director of Lingo24, says "Export is the best way to radically increase your customer base, and the most economically sensible way to export is using the Internet. The Web is now the first port of call for many people looking for goods and services, and with translated websites you can target customers in many countries. Crucially, you get a better ROI with Internet marketing in languages other than English, due to there being less content online in other languages and therefore less competition. With a minimal investment, bootstrapped entrepreneurs can test the water in foreign markets by translating, localizing and optimizing their websites and, using Internet marketing strategies, will see their sites climb the Google rankings much faster in foreign languages than in English, delivering greater conversions."
3. Think about more than price with your vendors.
Brian Hamlett, the founder of mPower Consulting, looks beyond just what he can pay his vendors for. "Build a close network of providers that offer complementary products or services to your own or that carry skill sets that your business needs. Then, look to see how you can form packaged offerings with those alliances and/or be ready to trade favors to get their skills applied to your projects. Not everything can be free, but it can be paid for in favors by other businesses needing what you have to offer."
4. Only pay for what you need.
If you don't need every feature under the sun, why pay for them? John Childs from Adventurefy points out that there are often cheaper versions of the software that you need that will do until you actually require the more robust version, such as choosing Batchbooks (priced at $10 per month) over SalesForce (priced at $60 per month).
5. Go for free help.
It's easy to assume that you can't get anything for free, but there is help out there as Sandra Holtzman, the principal of Holtzman Communications, will tell you. "Look for free resources -- they are there but require some searching. For instance, if you are in NYC, SIBL, the business library part of the NYC Public library system, is an extensive resource offering access to a lot of very expensive-to-purchase books and databases that will help with business plans, market research (including competitive research), and other background information which will cut a huge amount of time (and save a huge amount of money) from your startup activities. Additionally, most cities have a small business office dedicated to offering free services, including some time with accountants, attorneys, etc. to help you on your way."
6. Make use of social media.
While social media will cost time, it requires a lot less money than alternatives, notes Tiffany Aliche, the founder of CLD Financial Life. "Use social media as if your business depends on it, because it may. Social media is a free, easy way to reach a wide range of potential consumers. Seventy percent of my business is generated via Facebook and Twitter. I post daily financial tips of the day and answer financial questions several times a day. This has generated a lot of buzz, which has translated into requests for seminars and workshops. I have been able to generate income with little to no money, using social media."
7. Don't worry about scaling right away.
Graham Lawlor, the founder of Ultralight Startups, says: "Focus on revenue first and scale second. If you are not financed, scaling an unprofitable business will just make you go bankrupt faster. You need to find a business that will produce revenues and profits even with very few customers/users. Some businesses do this much better than others."
8. Find a mentor.
The right mentor can make a world of difference in your business, as Bob Negen, the expert behind WhizBang Training can attest. "Find a non-competing mentor in your business. Business builders, as a whole, are kind and generous people. Find someone who is willing to help you. It will takes years off your learning curve... find someone in your industry. Advice from someone in your own industry is much more valuable to the bootstrapping entrepreneur than general business advice. Find more than one. Keep calling and keep asking. Call the director of your trade association and ask who would be good to call. They have a bead on who is smart and who would be most willing to help. Offer to pay. Most people won't accept it, but will appreciate your offer anyway. Be sure to respect their time and be sensitive to the limits of their generosity. Especially if they are helping you free of charge. Follow up with a thank you gift! A bottle of nice wine, flowers or even a handwritten note showing your appreciation is in order here. Make sure that when you've made it you help someone who needs help, just like someone helped you."
9. Don't buy the cheapest option out there.
Brett Brohl built up Scrubadoo and knows that cheap isn't always good. "Don't always go 'cheap.' Many times it is better to purchase the best, or nothing at all. We have learned the hard way (on multiple occasions) that when you go cheap you are many times just throwing the money away. The only solace you have when you wasted money is 'at least I didn't waste too much.'"
10. Try negotiating.
Joanne Lang, the founder of AboutMe.com, suggests not taking prices at face value. "Negotiate with everything, you will be surprised what people will offer for a bootstrapped start up."
Thursday Bram is a senior writer at Wise Bread, a leading personal finance community dedicated to helping people get the most out of their money. Get daily money tips by following Wise Bread on Facebook or Twitter.