I’ve invested quite a bit of money into my new business so far: a new digital SLR camera to take nicer photos for my site’s blog (cha), a web designer and developer for a necessary rebranding (ching), and services to power my online shop and process payments (ouch, says my bank account). And there is still so much more to buy.
It’s a common problem for early-stage entrepreneurs: You’ve just about hit your budget’s cap, but you still have many more items on your shopping (and hiring) list that are pretty necessary to kick-start your business.
Well, here’s hoping that we’ll all wake up with money trees outside our doors tomorrow, but in the meantime, I’ve found a few smart ways to keep business moving forward without shelling out more cash.
1. Don’t Hire Experts—Become the Expert
When it comes to areas of your business that aren’t your specialty, hiring an expert to handle things is certainly the most desirable option. But when you’re on a budget, spending a little extra time to learn new skills yourself can really save you.
For example, I took some online courses on Lynda.com to get better at Photoshop so that I wouldn’t have to rely on outsourcing smaller design projects, like badges for my contributing writers. Learning how to do these small tasks on my own has allowed me to save my resources to hire someone for more important projects that are way outside my capabilities—say, a logo.
Another great source of expertise are the free e-books that many experts offer, like Christine Kane’s The Complete Guide to Vision Boards and pretty much anything by Seth Godin, including the gem Who’s There?. Sure, nothing beats the tailored advice and attention that these professionals would give your business if you hired them, but the e-books they provide give great general guidelines and tips with the same approach and philosophy they would teach in a personalized session. It’s absolutely the second-best option.
And no matter what you’re trying to do or learn, think a little outside of the box for cheap ways to gain expertise. Pinterest has been a surprising source of tips and advice for my site: I’ve found helpful infographics on content marketing tactics and how-tos on taking professional quality photos (which were great, since I couldn’t afford actual classes after paying for the camera equipment).
2. Go Back to the Barter System
This one is my favorite tip. While learning a new skill is great, it also takes up your valuable time. So instead, use the skills you already have to your advantage by trading your expert advice or grade-A services in exchange for someone else’s.
Where can you find people to trade with? Start by reaching out to your network, asking if they know of people who’d be willing to trade their services for yours. Think about what your friends do for a living. Send out a mass email or post about it on your social pages and blog. Scour the web for people whose work you admire, then research to see what you could offer to pique their interest in making an exchange with you.
For my own business, I really need to advertise my site and online store, so I’m reaching out to sites that have audiences filled with my type of customers to see if we could swap ad space. Since my readers are in line with their target demographic, it’s a win-win for both of us. I’m also researching freelance photographers and videographers to see if I could trade them for promotional images and marketing videos.
The most important thing to remember here is to respect the time and talent you are requesting and to be sure that you are offering something comparable.
3. Wait for it to Pay for Itself
Patience is a virtue when you’re starting your business, in many ways. Keeping this in mind, it’s important to ask yourself if what you’re wanting to pay for is a priority at this time or not. If it can wait—meaning, its delay isn’t detrimental to your business—consider holding off until you’re really bringing in enough dough to pay for it.
Or, consider other creative ways to get the funds you need to make it happen. Are there services or products that don’t cost much to you that you can offer now in order to raise funds for bigger initiatives down the road? For example, I would really like to design my own products to sell in my store, but the cost of making that happen is massive. So, instead of focusing on that right now, I’m going to put my energies into offering creative business coaching to my customers (a much lower startup cost)—which will ultimately bring in the money I need to make my own products. Other options might include partnering with someone else to split the cost of an initiative or getting sponsored by a larger organization.
When you need something done for your business, hiring people to do it is almost always the best option—but it’s not always feasible. Hopefully these alternatives will help you make it work until you’re raking in enough dough to outsources projects—or (gasp!) hire someone full-time.