You want to be your own boss, are limited by a lack of finances but are still interested in starting up your own business? Then this article is the perfect starting point! It provides an overview of some of the key considerations to make when starting a business on a tight budget. So, let’s get started…
1. Know Your Target Market
So, you know what it is that you want to offer, or do… but who are your customers? An essential first step is to know who you’re targeting. Think about what they want, what their interests are, what would add value to them, and what problems they need addressed. Know everything you can about the target market, and think about how your business or product fits in with their world view, with what they need, or what they want.
Learn as much as you can about your target audience as that way your strategy can be more targeted, you’ll waste less money on unfocused activities, and stand to make more sales and profits. So let’s take a moment to think about your target audience and potential business prospects. Can you answer the following questions?
- Who exactly are your potential clients?
- What is their demographic?
- Do they have money to spend on your service/product?
- What problem do you solve
- What is the value proposition you offer?
If you can’t then you still have a fair amount of work to do on researching your target audience and business prospects. A good shortcut is to network with other relevant businesses and to review social networking groups and blogs that cater to your target audience: your aim should be to get to know as much as you can about them.
2. Secure Money or Expertise for Start-up Essentials
Decide on what the absolute essentials are that you need to start your business, and draw up a list of the funds and related skills you need. Unless it’s absolutely necessary, if you’re working on a low-cost start up, I don’t recommend putting yourself through the strain of a bank loan. Research all possible alternate funding avenues: discipline-specific funders, government/business start-up grants, as well as individuals and businesses interested in investing in your business concept. If your start-up is related to fields such as publishing, research, journalism, politics, translation, medicine, IT, etc., or is strongly interdisciplinary, then check out foundations and networks that can invest your business.
If that isn’t a viable option, look into government grant options. Most countries have these available to start-ups, though at times they may be linked to certain industry areas. Crowdfunding is also an option, this is where you can set up a campaign to get a fixed or flexible form of funding from a network of contributors. This can be applied directly to your own web-page through an option that enables, (and subtly asks), interested parties to contribute a sum for a small service that you can afford to offer for free. As this option can be very slow and almost impossible to predict, mainstream crowdfunding platforms such as KickStarter, Gambitious, Indiegogo, Thundafund and similar tend to be more popular. Crowdfunding is also a great way of capitalising on marketing strategies you already have in place.
If you’re looking for more personal contact with people who can invest funds and/or expertise, then go to business networking and partnering events, and even consider avenues such as community based project support. Think creatively, know your pitch and start promoting! Don’t underestimate the power of the right expertise… remember that even if you don’t have the funds you feel you need, accessing the right kind of expertise may be able to meet your needs. Be prepared to offer some value in exchange, either through a skills-swap or shares in your company.
3. Design the Best Marketing Techniques
Success of any business heavily depends on the effectiveness of its marketing. The more you can promote and advertise your business through the right channels, the quicker it will flourish. There are numerous methods of marketing that you can use. But your aim should be to narrow your decision down to the most cost-effective but highest-yielding marketing techniques. As a starting point, you can divide your marketing into a few major categories, e.g. online presence and exposure, marketing through your websites, social media websites, and search-engine optimization.
Online Presence and Exposure
The first step around developing a presence, is through creating a brand. It is important to have a clear sense of what is your business brand, and what is your personal brand… create both. You may wonder why it’s important to create your personal brand as well- simply put, it allows for you to be recognized for your achievements, so that if you do branch into other areas, you have immediate credibility. When branding, have a very clear idea of what you are trying to say about yourself and your business. Write this down, and be consistent in all the messages that you communicate. Make sure that it all leads back to the impression you want to give.
Marketing Through Your New Website
This is one of the most cost-effective marketing options out there… you can easily start your business’s marketing by creating a web-page, and there are a number of sites that allow you to create your own website for free… but beware of high hosting charges! If you’re gearing up for a big launch or announcement, or just to gain interest you can promote the page even before it goes live and have a count-down timer for example with LeadPages. With this method, you can start marketing your business way before its launch.
Marketing with Social Media
A number of businesses forego a website altogether and yield far greater returns just through social media pages. This does depend quite a lot on the nature of your business though. Social media is an incredible free marketing resource, (unless you’re utilising paid ad services of course), and it’s essential that you become familiar with, and start benefiting from these ASAP. Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, Pinterest and many more can play a decisive role in your business’s marketing and ultimately its success. Most importantly, it costs you nothing to start promoting and advertising your business.
There are two ways in which you can start spreading the word on social media websites. Firstly, by gaining fans and followers, or through paid-marketing options offered on these social media websites. Paid options bring in traffic a lot more quickly so make sure that you are prepared to capitalise and get the most benefit from this traffic. An opt in form is a great way to capture traffic and create a connection, but think about your offer, and try to make it as irresistible as possible.
Search Engine Optimization
In order to get ranked, and to increase your searchability, SEO is one of your greatest assets. Be prepared to invest time on this at the outset, and it will save you money in the long run. Take the time to draw up a list of the keywords that you feel describe your offer, and use these consistently wherever possible. Also create ‘loops’ by linking all your online efforts to other online efforts, consistently post across all online avenues, make reference to everywhere else you’re present online etc.
4. Training and Opportunities
You may already be qualified in your field, but extra training never hurts, and a wealth of knowledge and expertise that can really help your business succeed is available easily, and very often freely. What you can learn and implement to take your business to the next level is infinite, but you have to be open to learning and taking action. You need to keep up with new trends, techniques and technologies in your area of business to stay ahead of your competitors. You also show your ‘viewers’ a number of whom may be potential clients, (if they aren’t already), that you are active, interested, and continually developing your expertise.
Where you feel that the return on investment will be great, invest in paid training. In-person training can often be more expensive, so look at online programmes. Learning more about the business world, and expanding your breadth of knowledge and expertise can only work in your favour. It boosts your credibility, prevents your methods and service offers from becoming outdated, and very importantly, can save you tons of money in both the short and long term by allowing for more informed decisions, avoiding costly mistakes.
5. Test Trade Online
Whilst the traditional view of work is that it’s offline, with a physical shop-front, this is becoming increasingly out-dated. An increasing number of people are trading online, not just through their own websites, but through online freelancing and micro-jobs platforms such as For A Fifty, Fiverr, Odesk, Elance, Peopleperhour and more. If online trade suits your business, then try test trading online through one of these platforms. It can be an additional way of finding good clients for your start-up, with a lot of the clients being directed to you through these platform’s marketing efforts. It also gives you a good way of learning more about your competitors, what they offer and can give you great ideas on how to improve your brand, product or service, (and of course these platforms also offer a great way of accessing cost-effective solutions to creating a brand, marketing etc. too!).
6. Be Creative
Draw up a list of the things you need, and then think creatively of every way that you can access these resources by spending little or no money. Don’t think of throwing money at something as the best way to find a solution. For example, before spending money on an office, think about whether you can transform part of your home into an office area, if this isn’t appropriate, think of whether you can hot desk, or share an office with someone. Be creative in the way you promote your skills and services… put together a portfolio, but also look to audio and video presentations.
Consider the skills, or natural talents you have and consider whether any of these are feasible options for added skills for your start-up? If yes, then don’t hesitate to take advantage of them. Your business clients will be able to get to know the “real you”. A sense of personal connection with what clients feel is a sense of you- your authenticity, can make a huge difference in supporting your business success.
7. Choose Your ‘Team’
By team, I’m referring to more than hired staff…. I mean everyone who contributes to your business success. An incredibly important aspect is to surround yourself with people who are positive, uplifting, believe in and support your success. This is across the board.
Think about the skills gaps you have, and look at the most cost effective ways of getting in these skills, if you haven’t already through partnerships. The freelancing and micro-jobs sites I mentioned earlier are examples of ways of doing this. Freelancers are willing and eager to put their competences to good use and get paid for it, and often offer fantastic value for money. Another option is to look for students who are trying to build portfolios, or graduates who want experience, as well as through government subsidized programmes. Don’t be afraid to take a different route altogether.
When looking at people to partner with, don’t always look for people who are exactly like you… think about the business’s needs, think about what you are unable to offer in terms of personality as well as skill and you’ll often find that someone who can fill that gap can offer more value than someone just like you! Of course you aren’t looking for opposites for the sake of it… you are only looking for gaps that need filling in order to meet a business need. Aim for complementary, toward a positive end. Utilise platforms such as LinkedIn, Facebook etc. where you can easily find professionals and individuals with relevant skills, expertise, experience, niches and interests.
Two essential players to add to your team are a mentor and a coach. When starting up, you may not have the funds to invest in a coach, but as a starting point, find a mentor. I cannot explain the amount time, money and effort I could have saved if I had a mentor sooner. Business networking events are a great place to source mentors, and when you start earning, invest in a good coach! It may seem like a waste of money, but once you see the benefits, you won’t go back.
The End and Your Beginning
So we come to the end of this article which has some key points to bear in mind, and actions to implement when considering starting up a business generally, but more-so when doing this under financial constraints.
While start-up capital is always helpful, business success often hinges on improvisation, creativity, strategy and determination, so plan and implement wisely. I am committed to seeing others succeed, both in business and personally, and I hope that this article has been useful to you. I value your thoughts, so if you have any comments or questions, please send me a message on Facebook or through my website contact page, as I will continue to improve my resources based on your feedback. Don’t forget to like my Facebook page and sign up on this website for more free e-book offers, articles and for information on consultancy services.
Good luck! Here’s to your success!
(c) 2014, Noleen Mariapppen
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A quick note from the author: I am committed to seeing others succeed, both in business and personally, and I hope that this article has been useful to you. I value your thoughts, so if you have any comments or questions, please send me a message on Facebook or through my website contact page, as I will continue to improve my resources based on your feedback. Don’t forget to Like & Signup on my Facebook page (Facebook.com/iamoleenm) and sign up on my website (noleenm.com) for e-book offers, free resources, articles and for information on consultancy services.