5 effective ways of bootstrapping your startup business

August 10, 2020

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Simon Paine, CEO of PopUp Business School, says anyone can start up for free and you should never let a lack of money thwart your ambitions. He offers five awesome examples on bootstrapping your startup business.

Business is about making money, not owing money. Yet the way society teaches us to start up means many people get into debt and waste time when they could be getting ahead. People are advised to ‘write a business plan, get a loan’ and then start their business. This isn’t true. You can get started today, even if you’re completely skint.

You don’t need a business plan to start up and, let’s face it, nobody needs debt – the only people who need debt are the banks. What we need is a customer, plus a little bit of hope. 

So let’s see how bootstrapping your startup business can pan out.

How to bootstrap a business in five steps

You can find thousands of tips on how to bootstrap a business online. However, in my humble experience (me and my team helped launch 967 businesses in 2019 alone) the following five steps are the most effective.

Get stuff for free

Google is free and so is this awesome search. Right now, type in the words: How do I get business cards for free? The results are amazing. There are ways to obtain free business cards, logos, websites and so much more. People advertise free stuff on Facebook and Gumtree all the time and every entrepreneur should check out Weebly. The key here is to believe you can get great stuff without spending a penny.

Borrow whatever you need

Borrow space, borrow equipment, a restaurant, borrow a kitchen, borrow people, borrow whatever you can. We had a songwriter along to a PopUp Business School event in Nottingham, UK, who was about to spend £2000 on recording equipment. After a quick Google search, we discovered her local university had several brand new recording studios which residents could borrow. Not only that, the university would even throw in a team of student sound engineers, producers and a technician! There are underutilised resources all around. Get creative and borrow what you need.

Barter your skills

Don’t worry, I’m not talking about swapping chickens for vegetables. But, in the modern day, we can swap our skill sets. I gained three years of accountancy services by building someone a website. My co-founder, Alan, offered free training to a marketing agency in return for some free branding. Find someone who has what you need and swap what you have for it. You have incredible skills that other people need. Swap them for what you need to get going.

Sell unwanted items

If you do need to generate some fast cash then there’s no better way than clearing out items that are gathering dust at home. Joanna, a mobile beautician, needed a portable treatment table but couldn’t afford the £120 cost. If she didn’t get a return on the investment, she wouldn’t have enough to cover her bills. So we encouraged her to sell her underused running machine (only being used as a clothes horse) and spend the cash on the treatment table. We all have unused stuff lying around in our house. Sell it and create your ‘start-up slush fund.’

Get paid in advance

Getting paid in advance is one of the best business practices I can recommend. It means you can use your customer’s money to get moving and is a foundational principle of the PopUp Business School. You might be thinking: ‘Yes, but that wouldn’t work with my business.’ Well, you’d be wrong, because you can make this work with any kind of business, you just have to think differently about how you make it happen. 

Pitch your ideas first, then shape your offering based on the feedback you get from the market. Once you know they are interested, ask them to pay upfront. You might have to incentivise them with a discount. When we launched the first PopUp Business School, we pitched it to a sponsor in March, got paid in April and delivered it six months later, in October. Getting paid in advance solves cash flow problems in one big swoop.  

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