You Can Do It: How to Start a Business on a Shoestring

Business.com / Starting a Business / Last Modified: February 22, 2017

Starting a business doesn't mean you need deep pockets. Here's how to get your business off the ground on a shoe string budget.

Most employees at one time or another dream of owning their own businesses and being their own bosses.

Very few do it because you have to do all the work a business owner boss actually does, like be responsible for your employees.

You also need to put your money, not to mention your time and effort, into getting a business of the ground.

If you’re thinking of starting a business but are afraid of the financial risk, there are some things to think about to get you started on a shoestring budget.

Related Article: What Is the Best City to Launch a Startup?

Don’t Quit Your Day Job

Unless you have a rich uncle (or you are a rich uncle), best to have some kind of regular gig that sends you a paycheck, because while you’re starting your business you’ll still need to pay your living expenses. And if the business doesn’t quite turn out as expected, at least you’ll still have a job and a source of income.

Think Small

Self-made millionaire Vince Stanzione advises that if you are running a side business in your spare time while still working a regular job, think small. “Shoestring entrepreneurs don’t want to go into completion with Tesco or Walmart. By finding an unusual product that you deliver via mail order or creating an information resource that satisfies a niche need, you can create a profitable business.”

Embrace Social Media

It goes without saying that the Internet (and in particular sites such as eBay) was the biggest catalyst to the growth of shoestring business startups. With a virtual storefront, there’s no need for a physical location and the costs that come with it. That said, many small businesses fail to take advantage of a mostly free and high effective Internet marketing tool: social media. Sure, maybe they’ve got a Facebook page and a Twitter account. But if you’re only updating whenever you “get the time,” you might as well not bother. As Megan Conley points out:

"Traditional marketing can be a drain on your funds. Social media marketing, on the other hand, is pretty low-cost and gives you a direct line to current and prospective customers. It’s a trade-off though. What you save in dollars you’ll invest in time."

Related article: 5 Things to Invest in When Starting Your Business

That time is spent creating content, continually updating your feeds, improving your search results, and making direct connections with existing and prospective customers. It’s time you may think you don’t have with everything else you have to do to run your business, but it is time well-spent.

The Huffington Post reports the recommendation of Jason Falls, a founder of Social Media Explorer, to devote about three hours to brainstorming social media content for the next 60 days. Then spend another few hours constructing the content, which should comprise at least one or two Facebook and/or website blog posts plus two or three daily tweets. With five hours of effort, you’ve got content for the two months. But here’s where many small business owners run into trouble. You’ve got to constantly monitor and measure customer response, and, in many cases, respond to it. According to Falls, “The fundamental key here is making sure you don’t just set it and forget it…Social media is not a channel that you can walk away from for a while and not lose ground."

Share Your Space

Not all business is conducted virtually, however—there are times when you need to meet with customers, partners or suppliers face-to-face. Sure, you can meet at the local Starbucks, but an actual office or conference room provides a more professional setting. Fortunately, the growth of freelancing and shoestring businesses has resulted in a widespread availability of “co-working spaces,” office facilities available for short-term (daily even hourly) rental.

Co-working spaces also offer an alternative to the isolation of a home office, without the expense of a locked-in lease. As Become Nomad notes, a co-working space offers “the company of like-minded people that all together stimulate a typical office environment.” It provides an environment that promotes both networking and collegiality.

Get an App

You have to wear a lot of hats in a shoestring business, particularly if you are the one and only employee. Fortunately, you can tip a hat or two off using apps to automate various essential office functions. CNN, for example, recommends that you have the note-taking app Evernote serve your own personal executive assistant to keep track of relative items of interest. Another is the Expensify app that lets you use your smartphone to take pictures of receipts that are uploaded to an expense report. And if you’ve got a payroll, no need to hire a controller: ZenPayroll does almost everything paperless and automatically.

Related article:Is Starting a Business for You? A 10 Question Quiz

Running a shoestring business isn’t for loafers, but with some effective time-management tools and the right resources, you won’t get tied up in knots.

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