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Five tips for starting a business on a shoestring

Follow these five top tips for starting a business on a shoestring. Stop being an employee and start being your own boss.

4 min read

So you want to start your own business, but you think it’ll be too expensive to do. Well, you don’t necessarily have to spend a lot of money to make money. The internet means entrepreneurs with very little capital can now succeed in ways that weren’t imaginable even a decade ago. 

Here are five tips for starting a business on a shoestring.

1. Capitalise on skills you already have

Your business idea may literally be lying dormant in your own CV. Some of the most popular bootstrap businesses are simply people capitalising on the skills they’ve learned throughout their career. The most popular in recent years have been virtual assistant services: career coaching, creative event management, social media consultant, graphic design, tutoring, training and consulting. 

Once you know what you want to offer, you can promote it immediately on outsourcing sites such as Fiverr, Upwork and Freelancer – “microjob” marketplaces that can enable you to test the waters for a product or service.

2. Make or resell a product

Creating a product and starting a business does involve outlaying money for supplies, but the final item can be sold for much more than what it cost you to make. You can generate a great turnover selling on marketplace sites such as etsy, Handmade at Amazon and Zazzle. 

You can also have the best of both worlds by selling in a pop-up store, which lets you use retail spaces on a temporary basis and make your online business a talking point in the process. There are tens of thousands of pop-up stores operating in Britain. Sites like We Are Pop Up and Appear Here advertise pop-up spaces available across the country. Most cost about £70 to £200 a day, but some can cost as little as £10.

Not everyone is creative and many businesses thrive by selling existing products. The beauty is that it’s easy to set up an online store with marketplaces such as Amazon or eBay, taking advantage of their worldwide reach, and partner with drop-shipping companies that will do the order fulfilment for you. 

Drop-shipping means you don’t have to purchase a product until you’ve already made the sale and have been paid by the customer – letting you start selling with very little money. The e-commerce platform Shopify has an excellent drop-shipping guide. Oh, and by the way, it can be synced with your accounting software.

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3. Make the most of your networks as you’re getting started

Don’t underestimate what’s possible within your own social and professional networks. This is where the internet comes into its own, making it easy to reach out, trade favours and share skills – such as asking a web developer friend to build your website in exchange for free coaching sessions, or starting a Facebook chat with your friends on how they tackle online marketing. 

What’s more, starting such conversations online has the added benefit of giving your business idea exposure without coming across as overtly self-promoting.

4. Act big, even when you’re small

No one needs to know that you’re starting a business from your laptop at the kitchen table. In fact, if you’re offering a professional service such as consulting or corporate training, it’s in your interests not to reveal that. It’s fairly easy to create the impression of being an established business with small touches – such as smart business cards, which can now be bought online for very little from sites such as Moo and Vistaprint, and sending your customers timely, professional looking estimates and invoices via accounting software such as QuickBooks.

5. Team up

Use social media to find other startups that have offerings that complement yours and form an alliance. For example, if you’re a dog walker you could join up with a pet grooming service. This also means you can cross-promote your business online, whether it be a joint offer, a competition or a mention. It’s an easy way to network and increase your own exposure.

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