Building a business without upfront investment is tough, but not impossible.
Many people would love to start a business, but they often feel like it's an insurmountable challenge. After all, if you don't have any capital and there are no investors clawing at your doorstep to dump funding into your idea, you might be asking yourself how you would even get started.
While it's true that you might not be able to launch a cutting-edge tech startup without some serious funding behind you, that doesn't mean business ownership or entrepreneurship is out of your reach. Just think about all the incredible entrepreneurial stories that start with "I came to this country with only $50 in my pocket … and now I'm a billionaire!"
Businesses come in all shapes and sizes, and you truly don't need a huge budget to start one. A smart idea and a small budget can go a long way in building a bootstrapped business from the ground up, but there are a few things to keep in mind that will help you get where you want to be.
There are four fundamentals of starting a business:
Build a team of smart, adaptable people who are in it to win it with you.
Keep your overhead as low as possible.
Leverage tech solutions to set up efficient and scalable systems.
Prioritize sales and marketing.
1. Hire adaptable people with an entrepreneurial spirit.
One of the biggest mistakes founders make is trying to do everything themselves.
While it is definitely valuable to intimately know and understand every aspect of your business, it's unwise to try to carry an entire business on your shoulders. In the earliest days of a business (especially a bootstrapped one), it will be necessary for you to wear multiple hats, but once the model has been proven and there is some momentum to justify outside support, it's essential to find the right type of help.
A young business is in a constant state of evolution. Things don't always go as planned. Ideas and reality don't always align. For these reasons, it's a tremendous help to hire people who are adaptable and entrepreneurial themselves. Look for people who have great soft skills on their resume and varied sets of hard skills that will serve them in different contexts.
Experience is one thing, but attitude is perhaps even more important. A smart person can learn new skills, but they need to have drive and passion to survive in a bootstrapped business.
2. Keep your overhead low.
One of the biggest challenges of starting a business is month-over-month costs. These can pile up quickly! Office space rent, equipment, websites, SaaS tools, digital marketing and paid ads are all pieces of the business puzzle that commonly have recurring costs that inflate your overhead. If you don't have any upfront investment and haven't already started generating revenue, these costs can quickly drive you into the red. If you are not careful, you might dig yourself a hole that goes too far down.
To avoid this, keep your monthly costs as low as possible. Bootstrapping means problem-solving with hard work and creative solutions, not cash.
Granted, there are some unavoidable costs, but there is always more than one way to fix a problem. For example, as an alternative to renting and furnishing an office, there are tons of affordable coworking spaces in every major city, where you can host meetings or get down to the daily grind with your team. Keep your costs low with creative problem-solving. There are plenty of small business resources at your fingertips.
No one is going to dump money on your desk when you first start out. You will need to fight for every penny along the way, each cent just as important as the next. Avoid spending and focus on earning at all costs.
3. Embrace tech solutions from the beginning.
When you are a small team without significant investment, you might start to notice a lot of gaps where you could use more support. So many small tasks, manual input and repeated efforts are necessary to keep the machine moving for any business. However, when you are on the bootstrap grind, it's not always as easy as going out and hiring someone to help you with whatever you need. This is where tech comes in.
Thankfully, there are tons of great tech solutions for startups that can make a huge difference in the work capacity of a small team. It's all about working smarter, not harder.
Of course, this sounds easier than it is. However, if you keep a keen eye on the daily activities of your business, taking note of the repeated and manual tasks, there is a ton of potential for you to embrace tech solutions to save yourself and your team significant time.
Too many people waste their time doing small tasks that could be automated or made redundant by applying a little creative thinking and finding the right tool. Don't be one of them – time is everything when you are starting out.
4. Make marketing and sales a top priority.
Of course, you need a clearly defined product or service before you can sell anything, but in the bootstrapped entrepreneurial world, you might not have every aspect of your business as perfect as you would like it to be yet. While there's no debate that you need to actually have something to sell before you can market it, the reality on the ground is that, if you don't have lots of time and money to sink into product development, you will need some revenue from the very start to keep the ship afloat.
This might mean that you need to start selling before the "perfect" launch date. This gives you the opportunity to learn from your customers and improve whatever you are trying to offer.
Sales are the engine that keeps a bootstrapped business moving forward, but it's important to be honest with potential customers. Let them know that it's still early days for your business and that you might still be refining your service or developing your product.
Consider offering early adopters a discount or "lifetime" deal. This will give you a base of customers who understand what you are trying to do and are open to providing feedback that helps you build a better solution for them. This is usually known as beta testing in the tech space, and it is actually a very important step in making sure you are headed down the right path with your business.
These are just a few recommendations that may be able to help as you start your entrepreneurial journey. Keep in mind that every business is unique and you will constantly be faced with tough business decisions that could make or break your bootstrapped endeavor.
The most important thing is to stay creative and apply critical thinking in your work, remain flexible and adaptable within the systems you build, and always learn from your mistakes to evolve your approach.
There will be many bumps in the road, but perseverance pays off in the end!