9 Tips for Bootstrapping Your Startup

bootstrapped-startup

When we hear the word ‘startup’, what word cloud comes to mind?

A quick Google search pulls up associated phrases like ‘accelerators’, ‘incubators’, ‘investors’ and of course, the elusive ‘unicorn’ status. 

Securing investors is often touted as the best – and even only – way to get your startup up and running. But while it’s definitely an option, the path to scoring investors feels like a mountain many entrepreneurs just aren’t ready – or willing – to climb when starting out. 

Injecting personal capital into your startup can seem like risky business. However, it’s a far more popular method than you may think. In fact, around 77% of small businesses primarily fund themselves through personal savings and finance.

There’s a lot of advice out there for securing investors. But knowing how to leverage a shoestring budget of personal cash to its maximum potential is an equally important topic. 

We’ve asked entrepreneurs who successfully bootstrapped their startups to share their practical tips!

1. Do Your Research

Adam Strong, Business Results Strategist and Entrepreneur

If you try to target a specific audience, and understand their needs, wants and aspirations as well as what they consume, you gain a greater understanding of who they are. Start-ups often make assumptions, but you need to research these extensively. Have conversations: What are your customer’s problems? How are you going to make their lives easier?

Lucy Emsley, Founder, Sow Clever

Starting your own business means you need to know how to do a bit of everything. I did a lot of research, read a lot of articles, and watched a lot of YouTube videos! I had a commercial background, but wasn’t an expert in accountancy, so I did a lot of self teaching. The only thing this costs you is time. There are so many free resources on the internet for start-up businesses!

George Burgess, Co-Founder, Basubu

Carefully researching and rapidly testing startup ideas is the key to launching a successful business on a tiny budget. My co-founder and I spent 6 months doing market researching and testing different ideas before we finally identified one with potential. We treated Basubu like any other idea we’d looked at before – we were not precious about it. We gave ourselves two weeks for market research and user interviews. This proved promising, so we allowed ourselves another 60 days to test the concept.

Anthony and Jacob, Co-Founders, Treepoints

Understand the problem you solve. Once you have that, you’ll have a confidence in your product/ service/ business which far outweighs the doubts of it not working. Simply take a step back and ask “What’s the problem? Why this solution? Why us? How big is the market”. This will help you build and offer a solution which ticks all these boxes when setting your company goals, not to mention it’ll help you significantly to differentiate from competitors meaning you don’t need huge investment to start off with because your product will ultimately sell itself.

Saravana Kumar, CEO & Founder, Kovai.co

As we started to launch new products in the company, we banked on the revenue of the existing products and reinvested in the same company. When I launched a product, I understood that designing the product is not a major job (if you know the technical know-how) but selling it is. But I strongly believe that if we create a market-fit product, customers will be loyal to the brand.

2. Track your cash

Nadia Hamila, CEO, Amboora

If the expense streamlines your business and replaces the need for a new hire, do it. If not, don’t. Software like Xero helps keeps tabs on cashflow for you. We currently all work from home with the exception of utilising an office space at least once a fortnight. This is a necessary expense, but also nothing in the grand scheme of things, and it ensures we’re all on the same page. This is an example of measuring need against expense.

Samantha Henry, Founder, Pup Chic Boutique

Don’t waste money on ads on social media unless you have the budget. Spending £10 here and there isn’t really going to deliver. It will get you some likes and views, but it won’t help you drive sales. Unless you can spend hundreds and run a campaign for at least a couple of weeks, you are better off putting your budget into developing new products.

Lucy Emsley, Founder, Sow Clever

If you already have a day job, either work your new business as a side hustle or go part time if you need to. Having a regular income every month from a steady job, means that you don’t need to use your start up cash to pay yourself. You’ll run out of cash very quickly, if you have to pay yourself from day 1!

Adam Strong, Business Results Strategist and Entrepreneur

You need funds to set up and register your company etc. Keep costs low and focus on building revenue through what you can offer your clients rather than taking out large loans and investments without any real promise of return.

Rune Sovndahl, CEO,  Fantastic Services

You need to be exceptionally creative and innovative in order to be able to manage your resources. Especially at the very beginning of bootstrapping. The unexpected growth that we saw was the biggest challenge we had to face. At first, we had way too many professionals, but not enough clients. Then, within a short span of time, we saw a shocking increase in the number of clients. That is when we found ourselves struggling to supply the demand. This, however, only motivated us to become better at managing the available resources and made us more creative and inventive.

Kelly and Zoey, Co-Founders, KelZo Jewellery

Start small and re-invest. Don’t put yourself in financial hardship to get things started. Think outside the box and start slowly – it will happen!

Ben Michaelis, Founder, ThinkEngine

Can you negate risk by earning some part-time/secondary income while you start your business? I was able to secure part-time income to enable my business to get off the ground. If you are concerned that you might not be able to pay the bills or your rent/mortgage, this can be a less risky way to get started.

3. Be Social

Samantha Henry, Founder, Pup Chic Boutique

Instagram and Facebook are definitely the core channels for any business, but don’t let it be your only platform. Pinterest is a great channel to drive website traffic, and TikTok is a great tool to reach new people and find other small businesses to support and inspire you. 

Lynsey Treharne, Co-Founder,  Fitness in Fifteen/Clubhouse Like A Pro

Utilise free social platforms for promotion and marketing. Blog posts and articles are great for adding value and promoting your products and services. Platforms such as Instagram allow you to put swipe up links in stories as a call to action and most have free analytics tracking too so you can see what is working for you and your business. Social media is a great place to gain that know like and trust factor and grow your audience organically without racking up marketing costs.

Kelly and Zoey, Co-Founders, KelZo Jewellery

We focused on the power of social media to share our message of inclusion and equality. Focus on your best platform, but don’t wholly rely on social media – email marketing and SEO are majorly important!

Nadia Bakir-Jay, Co-Founder, Crank CRM

Use social media and start up submission websites to showcase your work. It takes time but it’s worth it in the end. There are also plenty of opportunities to join free networking groups and connect with people who may need or recommend your services.

4. Less is More

Samantha Henry, Founder, Pup Chic Boutique

One of the biggest lessons I learnt from launching is to NOT try and do everything. I wanted to offer accessories for all size dogs, but the reality is my audience is mainly small and medium sized dogs, so I have larger quantities of some sizes that I don’t need. My top tip I would have given myself is to start with a selection few sizes, put the others on pre-order on the website and order them in once you have enough people waiting to cover the cost of the products (which is what I do now with every new launch).

Adam Strong, Business Results Strategist and Entrepreneur

For any start-up, the key is to keep costs as low as possible. An MVP, a physical product or a service, needs to be something really small and tangible, something that is going to give your ideal audience a quick win. Ask clients for feedback. This way, when your MVP goes to a bigger market, it will be more refined and seen by your ideal client as the go-to solution to their problems.

Lynsey Treharne, Co-Founder,  Fitness in Fifteen/Clubhouse Like A Pro

Map out your businesses core objectives and only focus on tasks that align with these objectives to avoid wasting your precious time and money.

Rita Trehan, Founder,  Dare Worldwide

Be willing to realise that your initial business idea, however compelling, will change, or will go through a number of iterations. As it changes, you may feel you are encountering setbacks, but use this process to refine your product. My original focus with Dare Worldwide was to make it a business transformation and consulting service for HR professionals. But I realised I needed to be more specific to create a sweet spot that encourages leadership capabilities, enables better company cultures and gives clients access to a platform to realise these assets.

George Burgess, Co-Founder, Basubu

We asked ourselves ‘What do we need to prove to be comfortable going “all-in” on this?’ We decided on three key criteria: i) retreat organisers would be willing to work with us, ii) we could get relevant visitors to the site, and iii) we could convince those visitors to book a retreat. The first was relatively easy. Within a matter of days, we had a lot of retreat organisers agree to work with us. Most were already working with similar sites, so they weren’t hard to convince. Visitors weren’t hard to reach either. We put a bit of money behind a Google Adwords campaign, knowing in the long-term we could move to an SEO (and therefore more affordable) strategy if this worked.

Saravana Kumar, CEO & Founder, Kovai.co

I often see entrepreneurs tempted to scale the product at a very early stage —and that’s the reason why most of them fail in the process. After launching a market-fit product, make sure all your business processes are aligned with the company. If not, focus on developing them before hiring or expanding the team. 

5. Outsource it

Nadia Hamila, CEO, Amboora

When you can outsource a project and avoid the costs of a new hire, do it. Canva and Fiverr are great for little odd jobs like video editing or website building till you can hire a professional. I also use co-packers, labelling and packaging services, to improve the finished look of my products. 

Lynsey Treharne, Co-Founder,  Fitness in Fifteen/Clubhouse Like A Pro

Outsource wisely. If your time is best spent elsewhere, consider a virtual assistant – this is often more cost effective than in person staff. Outsource sites such as Fivver and Upwork are great for bespoke one-off projects, too.

Olivia Hanlon, Founder, Girls In Marketing

One of my biggest pieces of advice would be to prioritize your tasks and delegate when you think it’s time to. I implemented ‘themed days’ in my workflow so I could focus on different aspects of my business every day without getting distracted.

Rita Trehan, Founder,  Dare Worldwide 

Do you invest internally in your staff or yourself to grow your businesses, or do you buy in external talent? Initially, it must be the latter – from accountants, to lawyers, to software and marketing professionals. You will need people with better skills than you. Just make sure you buy in the right expertise and the right time for your budget.

6. Use your Network

Nadia Hamila, CEO, Amboora

Networking within the industry is vital. This allows you to learn about the industry, other founder stories and learning from other people’s mistakes. I regularly attend food and drink industry networking events and over time this has meant building connections with experts, other founders and generally useful people to know from the inside.

Samantha Henry, Founder, Pup Chic Boutique

Look out for local events! I was reluctant to do any dog festivals or fairs before, but after deciding to take the plunge in September, I now have a plan for lots in 2022. Its a great way to show your products to people in person and communicate your business in a way you can’t online.

Lucy Emsley, Founder, Sow Clever

Beg and borrow time and expertise from friend, family and colleagues. Don’t be proud! For example, I was lucky to have a friend that works in marketing, so she helped me with a marketing plan. Her brother was starting out as a photographer and he gave me very good rates.  I also had a friend who works in venture capital and he was invaluable when we were looking for investment and putting our pitch together.

Adam Strong, Business Results Strategist and Entrepreneur

Start-ups should focus on building relationships. Connections only come through getting to know people, finding out what their needs, wants and aspirations are and helping them to achieve their goals and dreams. The only way your business will survive is learning from the mistakes of others. Invest in a mentor, seek out guidance and surround yourself with like-minded individuals. The key is to find a mentor, a coach, someone who has ‘been there, done that, got the T-shirt’ and can help you accelerate your business.

Lynsey Treharne, Co-Founder,  Fitness in Fifteen/Clubhouse Like A Pro

Network as much as possible. In person and online. Platforms such as Linked In and Clubhouse are fantastic ways to shout about your business and grow brand awareness without paid costs.

Olivia Hanlon, Founder, Girls In Marketing

If you can’t afford certain tools or resources you need, don’t write them off completely. Reach out to people – explain your situation as a bootstrapped startup with a limited budget – and more often than not, people are more than happy to provide you with free trials on a temporary basis. Don’t be scared – people are much nicer than you might think!

Rita Trehan, Founder,  Dare Worldwide

Conversation is free. Ask other entrepreneurs, people whose opinion you respect. Be very selective about where you take advice, and don’t take feedback personally. Learn from it. 

Anthony and Jacob, Co-Founders, Treepoints

When it came to generating cashflow for Treepoints, it was really about utilising the contacts we already had. Whether you have a lot of contacts or you’re just starting out, a great place to start can always be with friends and family. Ultimately, you should have enough confidence in your product that you want your friends and family to use it. It also helps they’re likely to be the most honest with feedback, which can really help to improve your product in the early stages too.

Ben Michaelis, Founder, ThinkEngine

Use your network to help accelerate your growth – on occasions people can be freighted to ask for help or seek support from their network, yet most of the time contacts are often willing to open doors to opportunities that perhaps you might not be aware of, you never know where the next conversation might lead to.

7. Do What You Love

Lucy Emsley – Founder, Sow Clever

Create your own website using a platform like Shopify or Squarespace. We learnt the hard way on this one! We engaged with an agency to build our website, which was expensive. Once it was launched, if there were any changes, we had to pay the agency to make them. We actually ended up re-creating the website ourselves using Shopify in April this year. It took me about 2 weeks, cost just my time and crucially, gave us the experience to make future changes ourselves at a much quicker pace and for free.

Lynsey Treharne, Co-Founder,  Fitness in Fifteen/Clubhouse Like A Pro

Build-your-own websites such as WordPress and Wix means you only pay for hosting and can edit the sites yourself as your business adapts and grows. As your website is often your lead conversion tool, it is worth spending some of your budget on a good designer, but understanding how to edit and amend pages/text yourself will reduce future running costs. Use free data tracking tools such as google analytics to track where your customers are coming from when they land on your site too.

Kelly and Zoey, Co-Founders, KelZo Jewellery

We focused on keeping costs down in the first 6 months so we could focus on building our brand and increasing our collection. We bought products in small quantities and then stocked back up once they’d made more sales. We used recycled card with a stamp for our logo, and created makeshift pinboards to display our jewellery for online (and later) in-person markets. With each sale, we were able to re-invest the profits into the business, slowly changing and improving our products and inventory.

George Burgess, Co-Founder, Basubu

To prove we could convert, we needed to build a site. But we ensured we built a site with only the most basic functionality: three types of pages (home, lists, retreat details) and a form to submit an enquiry. We’d then rely on the event organiser to communicate and take payment via email, trusting them to report this to us manually so we could charge our commission. It worked. £10k of bookings were generated in the first month, and we’re now growing Basubu at a crazy pace.

Eva Litzenberg, Founder, London Language Hub

The great thing about tutoring is that you can start your business for the cost of a classified ad, some paper, and a pen. Sure, it helps to have a wide variety of books, a website, or an office, but all you need is some specialist knowledge of any given topic.

Nadia Bakir-Jay, Co-Founder, Crank CRM

We are a team of three. Alex and Dean are our full stack developers, having coded and created Crank CRM from nothing, while I am responsible for all types of marketing and PR. This includes, social media management in all aspects, PR, backlink generation, networking, business development and anything that can optimise the profile of Crank CRM. We have chosen to not receive any investment and still believe in organic marketing. My advice for startups bootstrapping would be that there are plenty of free resources and hubs to promote your startup!

8. Build your Audience

Samantha Henry, Founder, Pup Chic Boutique

Getting an audience to buy into your brand is hard, but social media is a great tool to help you do that. Take time looking at other businesses who have a similar audience to you and engage with their followers, liking and commenting on their posts and following them, this will help you to gain followers. Running an ambassador programme, where you recruit people to help promote your business in return for a discount code and freebies. Giving them a code to share with their followers is also a great tool as it helps you to measure how your ambassadors are performing.

Adam Strong, Business Results Strategist and Entrepreneur

What we need in the digital arena is more connection. People want to feel they can trust you as an individual and as an entity because when living in the digital space, trust is the number one currency of today. Often start-ups assume that business will automatically come to them. You need to make sure you focus on the activities you can do to create more relationships, enhance and add value to people. What can you do to serve others?

Olivia Hanlon, Founder, Girls In Marketing

I founded my business – almost by accident – during a pandemic. I was working in a 9-5 marketing role and felt a lack of female support at work. It was difficult to make connections with other professional women and there were very few women in our leadership teams either. So I decided to create an online community called Girls in Marketing for marketers to combat how I felt.

Kelly and Zoey, Co-Founders, KelZo Jewellery

We were contacted by independent shops across Wales and are now stocked in several stores, but a big push for our business was joining The Queer Emporium, Cardiff. Being part of a one of a kind LGBTQ+b shop really boosted our presence within Cardiff and beyond. Having a niche LGBTQ+ audience really helped us grow, and in June 2021, a year after launch, we both became fully self-employed. 

Anthony and Jacob, Co-Founders, Treepoints

At Treepoints, we created a referral system where users get additional credit (Treepoints) to spend on eco-friendly brands. This resulted in friends referring friends of friends, and before you know it – there’s a snowball effect, and the platform is generating sales organically!

9. Keep growing, keep going!

Rune Sovndahl, CEO,  Fantastic Services

Be ready to get your hands dirty! Launching a startup business is a lot of hard work, and you will have to invest all the time, knowledge and passion that you have. Don’t be scared of what the future holds. Be prepared and expect both ups and downs. Failure only indicates that you need to work harder, try again, improve, try different approaches and strategies, and never give up.

Nadia Hamila, CEO, Amboora

The aim of bootstrapping is to keep control for as long as possible. People have this idea that you need a lot of capital and investors to build a business, but this isn’t necessarily true. Follow business savvy rules, stay true to your purpose and you can’t go far wrong. Find your why, trust your instincts, and love what you do!

Lucy Emsley, Founder, Sow Clever

Use bootstrapping as a selling point to future investors. We didn’t realise this at the time, but using your own cash to start a business is a big plus for investors. Being prepared to put your own cash on the line means that you are confident in your business idea and its future growth. Making that cash go a long way is also attractive to investors. It shows you are prudent and can make good decisions about where to spend any money they might invest in your company.

Adam Strong, Business Results Strategist and Entrepreneur

Whatever you’re trying to do, and making excuses about, you’ve got to conclude that 80% is better than the full 100%. Otherwise, you will be hanging around and moving really slowly.

Rita Trehan, Founder,  Dare Worldwide

Once you’re up and running, don’t chase the money. Don’t go for the low hanging fruit, the work that will make you money but won’t give your clients what they really need. If you give them what they want, but not what they need, over the long term this may undermine your businesses and take you too far away from what the underlying purpose of what your business was in the first place, however much it may have changed.

Ben Michaelis, Founder, ThinkEngine

You must believe that you can achieve your objectives and be prepared for challenges along the journey. How will you react to each stage? You probably can’t answer this, yet your response is key. Realistic objective setting is often a really good way to measure success and provides a more honest perspective on how you are performing. Although sometimes it can seem tough, you have to try and be decisive – and remember your business is the priority (it is your income, at the end of the day!). 

Eva Litzenberg, Founder, London Language Hub

After a year of trying /to find foot in the casual job market in London, I remembered my old after school job: I used to tutor my fellow students in English. Surely, it would be possible to go the other way and teach German to Londoners. Well, it was! 13 years and several life and business lessons later: my freelance side hustle has grown into a small business with a small bank of brilliant freelance tutors. We have turned language learning from a chore into a rewarding and engaging process that has helped people who were convinced that they were bad at Languages.

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