Bootstrap economics

15 tips to help you launch your big idea on a small budget

Three in 10 Canadians have started their own business—97.9 per cent of which are small micro-financed businesses, according to Stats Canada. Here are some practical tips to help you launch a business on a next-to-nothing budget. They cover everything from new tech that makes D-I-Y as easy as pie, to marketing strategies that will have clients lining up outside your door.

Home sweet home
Renting commercial space can push your breakeven past its breaking point. Why not work from home if you don’t need a retail storefront? The few times a month you need to meet a client or co-worker, take them out to lunch— hosting leaves a more favorable impression than a visit to your office and it’s tax deductible (a portion of it anyway). You’ll find that the occasional soup and sandwich is a lot more budget friendly than rent—and you get to write off some of your home expenses, too.

Consider cowering
Many cities have shared office spaces. For a small fee, you can grab a desk and call it yours, take meetings with your clients in shared boardrooms, and (as many people attest) be energized by the immersion in a collective entrepreneurial environment.

Talk it up
Step 1: Get a Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram account. Step 2: comment everywhere, especially in groups relevant to your business, where potential clients will see your company name. Plenty of curious clickers will click on your company name, finding out who you are and what you can offer. When the Newfoundland Cider Company used this as their only marketing tactic, half the restaurants in downtown St. John’s were asking if they could serve their product when it’s ready.

Go DIY with web design
You don’t need to know HTML code to launch your own website. If you can use Microsoft Word, you can use a hosted WordPress website. WordPress websites let you drag and drop your logos and text into hundreds of different templates; simply find one you like and customize its colours and layout. Via Go Daddy.com, for example, you can buy, build, and launch your new website for under $20.

Consider crowdfunding
No one likes begging for money. That’s why crowdfunding websites like IndieGoGo, Crowdfunder, and Kickstarter are so popular: the people who give you money to get your idea off the ground get rewards for doing so—rewards you set, like promising a free product or service once you’re up and running.

Be self-centred
Incorporating isn’t cheap—luckily it’s not your only option. A sole proprietorship is a perfectly fine, no-cost operating structure you can use to launch a company. The downfall is that you are personally liable for the company’s debts and legal issues, but if that’s of no concern in your line of work, don’t incorporate (at least, not right away).

Build buzz
You don’t need to hire a marketing firm to make a splash. If you opened a clothing store, why not put a red carpet out front and ask 10 friends to act like Paparazzi, photographing people as they walk by? Offer a shot at a prize to anyone who gives you permission to tag them on Facebook and Instagram. In the blink of a camera lens, everyone who knows anyone who walked past your shop that day will know about your company.

Farm it out
When the work is too much for you to handle but not enough to hire full-time staff, using contractors and freelancers for task-specific work will significantly reduce costly commitments like regular paycheques, office equipment, and employee benefits. After all, why pay people for their idle time between jobs and tasks when word of mouth, or websites like UpWork and Freelancer, can hook you up with the accountant, writer, graphic designer, admin assistant, or whatever you need, when—and only when—you need them?

EI cash incentive
When it comes to sales staff, commission cuts to the chase: if they earn, you earn, and if they don’t earn, you’re not paying out money you don’t have. It’s a simple way to stay in the black, and an effective way to motivate a sales team to hustle. Offer bonuses at certain milestones, or higher commission after X amount in sales, and watch them race for their reward. Win-win always wins.

Subsidize labour
Receive partial (sometimes full) salary reimbursement for employing students through government programs like the Federal Student Work Experience Program or the federal government’s COOP/Internship program. There are also government grants (like JCP) and programs (like the Wage Subsidy program) that will pay 50-100% of the wages for anyone you hire who was on EI at the time you hired them.

On the record
Local newspapers and radio shows are always looking for things to write about and people to have on their programs. Get in touch. If you sound like you have an exciting story to tell or an informed opinion about a topical issue (i.e. not blatant self-promotion), you could be their next interview. If you sound great in print and on the air, you’ll soon be the talk of the town.

Crunch the numbers
Software programs like QuickBooks make it simple for you to do your own basic accounting, from invoicing and payroll to financial analysis. Paying $10.40/month for Intuit’s Quickbooks program is definitely cheaper than hiring a real live human accountant. (That said, it’s always a good idea to pay for a professional to help you get started.)

Micro-manage
Part of being a business owner is being your own boss. But it shouldn’t end there: you should also try your hand at being your own accountant, administrator, grunt worker, sales worker, and whatever else you can muster alone. Start off wearing as many hats as you can, and you’ll have a better understanding of your company’s staffing needs when you’re able to start hiring more help.

Socialize to Monetize
There’s a reason 82% of businesses have Facebook pages. Just ask Halifax’s Alex MacLean—his campaign to sell over $10 million worth of clothes started with a few viral posts on East Coast Lifestyle’s Facebook page. Do the same to rise to fame: launch contests, or encourage people to share and follow your page for a small reward. It’s well worth it to help you build buzz, brand, and following on the cheap.

Sale away
Point of Sale (POS) systems are like glittery male jumpsuits from the ‘80s: they used to cost thousands of dollars, but now people are giving them away for nothing. Literally, nothing. Mobile Payment Processing like Square, Vendo, or ShopKeep can turn your tablet or smartphone into a cash register. With Square, you simply download the FREE app, and they charge you per swipe of a debit or credit card (10 cents per debit transaction; 2.65% per credit card purchase).

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