The life of an entrepreneur can be exciting and hopeful, idealistic and richly rewarding. At the same time, launching something new can admittedly be a scary prospect, especially when your income and possibly your savings ride on your venture’s results. How can one be a frugal entrepreneur? Where do you draw the line between prudent expenses required to establish your name, brand, and materials versus unnecessarily (over) spending?
If you have yet to write a formal business plan, stop reading this and go work on that. Seriously. Right now. Run, don’t walk to your local Small Business Administration. The SBA and a select group of trusted associates are your greatest assets at this point. Plan for this team to accompany you along your entrepreneurial journey. A business plan will forecast and map the growth strategy of your business, minimizing the unpleasant surprise expenses that could pop up along the way. Accompanying this document should be a well thought-out budget.
As a start-up business, your largest expenses will most likely be materials and advertising.
Cardinal Rule: Save, but save wisely. Never present yourself cheaply, because it will cheapen you. These days, this does not mean going the extra mile; it’s only an extra jog around the block to make sure your website and written material present professionally. Absolutely no misspellings. Make sure you’re showing up in Google searches, which will take some consultation with someone who knows search engine optimization (check out our post on SEO Basics to learn more).
To save on materials:
- Databases and spreadsheets: First try using whatever you have on your home computer (Excel can be a very powerful tool – you don’t need SalesForce yet!) You will hopefully outgrow this system eventually, but by then, if you follow your business plan, you will have the income to cover an expanded system.
- Shareware – There are legally free programs that are very useful, as well as free templates that are compatible with Word, Excel and a number of other formats. Take the time to read program reviews before downloading anything. It might take a few tries to find a good fit for your needs, but the time invested is well worth it.
- Second hand – Obviously, don’t buy garbage, but second hand isn’t necessarily second rate. Put feelers out with your wish list. Stalk the ads. Be ready to put a little leg work into a worthwhile purchase.
To save on advertising:
Network your guts out!
- Social media tutorials are available in abundance, for free, across the internet (including our blog – here and here!). Get to know this useful (and largely free) world. Don’t be intimidated – it’s not rocket science. I promise.
- Community events, even a PTA meeting, are great opportunities. Let people know about your business to the point where each person that sees you has your title pop into her head.
- MeetUp is a fabulous resource. Look up groups where you would be a helpful addition. Consider starting up your own group if it will serve your purposes. Nobody wants to go out and sit through an advertorial, though, so keep that in mind while planning your program.
Free advertising opportunities do exist.
- Guest blog opportunities abound. Find the platform that would best reach your desired audience and make an offer to add content (for free!).
- Local tv/radio may have spots available for guest speakers. Again, research how to best reach the target audience. You want to do such a great job that people see you in the supermarket and your tagline automatically runs through their heads.
- Barter. Think of who you know and how this can work. Is the printer of the neighborhood circular in need of your services? Does she need a babysitter? Your child’s outgrown crib? Be creative.
Know when to bring in assistance and identify which assistance best suits your needs. An intern might be the cheapest way to go. Keep in mind, however, that there maybe parameters you need to know about and agree to in relation to an unpaid intern position. These rules are usually listed on the intern source website. Additionally, interns are short-term manpower. Take into account that any time that you spend training this person in will need to be re-invested in the next trainee, potentially after just one semester.
And this is where Virtual Assistants, like me, come in.
- Experience – I’m not new at this and neither is anyone else on staff at VAI.
- Long term – We’re happy to be trained once and remain with your business for the long haul.
- Office space – Not even a chair. It’s my problem, not yours.
- Vacation – When I don’t work, you don’t pay me.
- Computer programs – So long as it’s standard, this is also not your concern.
- Flexible hours – No need to pay a global cost for part time, full time or what have you. With a Virtual Assistant, you pay only for what you use.
A Virtual Assistant frees you up from the “around the work” work that needs to be done – the necessary evils you don’t want to (and potentially are not qualified to) perform.
One last way of saving is often left unmentioned. Do not break the law. The penalties involved in using illegal copies of software, plagiarism, patent theft, etc. can break your business in the blink of an eye. Only use email addresses that you check frequently and make sure to read your mail. A cease and desist letter if, say, you inadvertently used material on your website that someone else perceives to be hers can turn into a lawsuit if ignored. A bill left unpaid can bring you fines, interest and eventually, lots of trouble. Pay your taxes, and remember those very legitimate deductions you should take for your business expenses.
So yes, save money. Of course every business, especially a new one, must work within a budget. Just make sure it’s a realistic budget. Save wisely and always present yourself like a million bucks.
Submitted by Aviela