It wasn’t long ago that I took the leap of faith into becoming an entrepreneur. I did what SO many successful business owners and thought-leaders tell you not to do. I started with literally zero capital, I had no savings for my business whatsoever, and with a big fat mortgage, bills, and a one-year-old baby, I was making one of the riskiest decisions of my life. It is safe to say that I bootstrapped every single element of my business that I could: I wore about 20 different business ‘hats’ and refused to outsource anything. I would rather stay up all night and do a course on design so I could create my business cards rather than pay someone to do it. On top of this, I re-invested 100% of all earnings BACK into the business for about 9 months.
While being in complete ‘Bootstrap Mode’, I learned some really ingenious ways to create a very professional business that was able to give 100% satisfaction to clients and able to deliver time and time again, while continuously scaling. Still, to this day, I use some of these methods. Sure, I have better software, a solid offshore team to handle the minor in-house stuff, subscriptions to masterminds, and a whole bunch of other great products that makes running a business easier and more efficient, BUT this was all earned, and it was not this easy at the beginning—that’s for sure.
Something that has stood out for me since beginning Local Web Solutions is that it is crucial to give back and give value. That is why below, I have devised a list of things I did to save money, be more time efficient/organised, and maintain a smooth-flowing, professional business. I have also included a few extra pieces of advice and resources that I didn’t know about back then, but use now. I have included a link to all the resources, apps and software, and best of all, most of these are absolutely free. The only requirement from you is that you don’t just download the app or sign-up, but that you take action and start implementing it in your daily life. Action = Results. Please note that I have no affiliation with any of these apps and programs, I simply promote them because I use(d) them and genuinly believe they are great products.
1. Educate yourself—NEVER offer a service that you are not a professional in:
So many budding entrepreneurs HATE hearing this; I have a term which I have coined the ‘Richard Branson effect’. I call it this as he is amazingly popular for boasting how little he knew about business before starting his empire. He even says “If someone offers you an amazing opportunity and you’re not so sure about it, say yes – then learn how to do it later,” or, “Life is a lot more fun saying yes, than saying no.” Now, don’t get me wrong, I think this man is amazing and he is a true leader that everyone should follow. However, a lot of these sayings and quotes can often be misinterpreted. It doesn’t matter how big a potential clients pockets may be or how much you need the money; if you cannot satisfy the clients’ requests, 100% DO NOT DO IT! It will cost you so much more in the long run if you dissatisfy them—your reputation is crucial in today’s digital world, and large-scale businesses can be ruined overnight just from one negative review. I have personally lost a $14,000 contract because I could not do everything required to full satisfaction, but guess what, I got a handshake and a thank you rather than a bad review and an enemy. So, how do we educate ourselves when we have no money to pay for these huge online courses, subscriptions and books? Eventhough I have a University Degree it did not cover what I needed to do for my clients so the list below is exactly what I did to get started in educating myself further and in more relevant areas:
booklending.com: Yes, that is right, we have an online library where you can literally borrow books FREE of charge. All you need to do is go to booklending.com and create an account. Then search their extensive library for the books you need, check out the site and see if you can find what you need.
YouTube: One of my biggest hurdles for my business was getting good marketing material designed; I am not a designer, therefore I needed to find step-by-step instructions on how to do cool things with design software. My biggest friend in all of this was YouTube. There is so much out there it is incomprehensible, and if you need to learn about a certain topic or skill, simply type in ‘how to (your topic)’ in YouTube and be amazed by the results.
Coursera: Sometimes we need to know more than just a step-by-step, how-to. That is when Coursera comes in. This is a resource where you can take full courses from some of the world’s most popular universities, and yes, it is absolutely FREE. Check out the site and enroll in a course through topic/subject or choose the specific University you want to learn from. It’s not everyday you can learn Economics from YALE in comfort of your study. Eventhough the courses are free, and you get a certificate of completion. You do need to pay for the entire course if you want an offical certificate, but this is not necessary when you are just brushing up or gaining skills.
2. Contact & Communication – The lifeblood of your business
Communication is key. If you can have a solid line of communication with your existing or potential clients, your life will be so much easier in the long run, and most of all, clients will appreciate it too. Below is a list of free tools that are crucial to the everyday running of your business:
Thunderbird: Thunderbird is an email client which is very similar too Outlook by Microsoft. I still use this today and will more than likely never leave it. Thunderbird is super easy to use, amazingly sleek and powerful, and can do everything all of the expensive email softwares can do. It is absolutley free and open source, this means there are lots of new add-ons created for it everyday. In other words, this software is only going to get better.
Skype: It probably seems obvious; however, it has to be mentioned. I landed one of my biggest clients using Skype, so I am living proof that this is a must-have tool. For the not-so-tech-savvy business owners, it is crucial to understand that it is very common these days for clients to request a chat via Skype. It opens the lines of communication so you do not have to be geographically limited. People can call you, see you, and send you files all at once.
Mailchimp: MailChimp is a very popular email service provider called an ‘autoresponder’. It helps business owners send bulk emails to clients, customers, and other interested parties. The application is used as an email marketing tool and allows you to manage subscriber lists which you can build from your website or online advertising, build email campaigns, send bulk emails, and review campaign reports after you create them. Mailchimp has a forever-free plan which allows you to send up to 12,000 emails a month and have up to 2,000 subscribers.
Organisation is so very important to maintain your professionalism – and your sanity. There is nothing worse than getting a phone call saying ‘where are you?’ from a potential client when you forgot about a meeting. To make sure this does not happen to you, and to also keep you in-check as your business gets busier, make sure you utilise the following tools:
Evernote: This is my saving grace when it comes to note-taking. Evernote is an app available on every device, including your desktop PC/MAC. It is a note-taking program on steroids—you can record anything, from text, voice, take images, make lists, save locations, and even set reminders. Once you have created your notes, it will sync to all the other devices you have the app on. What I used to do is take notes on my iPad during a meeting or whenever something came to mind, and when I got home and turned on my computer, all of my notes and files were there and ready to go. Evernote has free for life package. As your business grows and you need more you can upgrade to a monthly subscription but the free package does anything your business could need.
Trello: If you have a team of people and you don’t have Trello, you will be a very happy human right now. Trello allows you to create workgroups where you can create task lists and jobs that can be assigned to specific people in that group. It also allows people to take notes and tick tasks off when done. You can find out a lot more info on their site; however, I highly recommend this if there is more than one of you in the business. Trello is available as a web and mobile app. It can also be used as a list keeper for the sole entreprenuer.
Easilydo: This nifty app is your life organiser. Add important dates, events, or even an entire itinerary, and Easilydo will make sure you don’t forget them. It will even take note of when you need to leave for your appointments to get there on-time. Eventhough the app is free, and is perfect for any startup business it has many more cool features; however, most are only accessible in the paid version.
Google Docs: Forget Microsoft office—that stuff is too expensive and clunky. Create yourself a free Google account and indulge yourself in their free software. One of my favourite things about Google Docs is that it can allow more than one user to work on the same document at the same time. You can also instantly share your work and have it saved and accessible wherever you have an internet connection. This is what business owners can only dream of.
Dragon Dictation: This is an app that turns your voice into text. It is great if you want to turn your thoughts or ideas into text as you think them or even write larger blogs or ebooks. This is a free app however as you need more you may need to buy certain version. I use this as a memo type solution as I can literally just talk into it as I go about my daily activites.
4. Professional Perception
Appearance: You will need a lot of marketing collateral, such as logos, letterheads, business cards, flyers, and a whole lot else. Unless you are a designer, this won’t be cheap, and I highly recommend you do not skimp on this area of your business. Your image is your first impression: make it professional and make it last. You will more than likely not get away with free here, but I will inform you of some super cheap ways to get some great designs done.
Crowd Spring (worldwide) or Design Crowd (for Australia): These two sites offer a really effective way for you to get designs done for you. Basically you post a brief of the design and you will then get approx 100+ designs sent to you. After this, you choose the design you like best and pay for it. This can save you hundreds of dollars from designers needing to re-do or revise your ideas and will also save you a lot of stress if you are not the creative type.
Freelancer: This site allows you to connect with a whole variety of freelancers in different professions. Designers here usually come a lot cheaper than hiring one locally and it has a very safe payment method. With this you must do your research on the freelancer before going ahead, and make sure they show you proof of work and that you BOTH agree to the terms and conditions set for each other.
Fiverr: At first I was not going to recommend Fiverr, because a lot of the time people misunderstand how this site works. In a nutshell, you find a service you require, and the seller will do that service for you at the cost of only $5 (yes, this includes designs). However, please BEWARE—if you pay $5 for a design…expect a cheap design. You will need to purchase ‘seller extras’ to get better designs and to ensure you also receive the original ‘design files’, as professional printing companies will require them for your marketing collateral. Your $5 job can range anywhere from $40 – $120 for a logo alone, if done properly. The best part about these sellers is that most of the time they offer unlimited reviews.
5. Royalty-Free imagery
Ever wonder how businesses get those really professional looking images for their marketing? Chances are they didn’t go through the huge expense of hiring a professional photographer. Instead, they purchased what is called ‘stock images’. These are great, and often can save your business a lot of money in comparison to a photographer. However, a bootstrapped business owner probably can’t really afford $200 for 10 images, and no, you cannot just get them off of Google, that is highly illegal and you can get into some major trouble. Instead, I have included a list of links below that will give you 100% royalty-free images that you can use for your websites, marketing, and anything else you may need them for. Make sure to check the license conditions, as each are different.
If you can’t find what you need above, you may need to bite the bullet and buy some. Make sure to check both subscription packages and pay-per-download packages:
Big Stock Photo
Photo Dune (really cheap pay per download options here, you can sometimes find the same images from other stock sites for less than 1/2 the price)
6. How to avoid the ‘can I come to your office’ question:
Yes, it may happen. Someone may want to come visit you at your office. I mean hey, you have this awesome website, a professional social media presence, and even an ‘office’ number. The thing is, if you are like I am, your office is wherever your computer is; for many years, this was my garage. I had three businesses at the time, and I had segmented sections of the garage devoted to each business. There was NO way I was letting any potential client in there. I will probably never buy an office—it is money that is literally thrown out the door, unless you are a business that relies mostly on foot traffic. Even though most people will never even know you don’t have an office, you always want to be prepared on where and how to setup a professional meeting with a client. So, I worked out some cool tricks I will share with you, including the apps that helped me execute these tricks flawlessly anytime:
Here is what you will need:
CubeFree: This is an app that will help you find free Wi-Fi in your area or an area you desire. It also does a lot more than this but so make sure to check it out.
Beanhunter: This well help you find really good coffee shops in your area.
Google: If you are not an avid coffee drinker learn everything you need about coffee, how to make it, what it looks like, what is in it.
ShareDesk (optional): Sharedesk helps you find temporary office space that you can usually get for really cheap and use on a onetime basis – I only found out about this a few months ago, so I never had to use it, but this can be very beneficial to you.
Here’s what you will say and do:
Firstly, use CubeFree to find all the places that have free wi-fi; write them down or save a list of areas you know you can take your client to.
Beanhunter: Find some highly-rated coffee shops in the area and cross reference some coffee shops with this list. Go to the coffee shop websites and check out their vibe and menu—make sure it fits with the tone of the meeting, and the person.
Use Google to understand as much as you can about coffee, if you don’t know much already. If you don’t drink coffee, then find an alternative to work with the below scenario.
Ok, below is an EXACT example of what I have used several times when people have mentioned visiting my office.
Me: Yes, I would love to give you a quote for that service. However, it is best to sit down, in person, and discuss exactly what else you require so I can give you a more accurate quote.
Client: That sounds great. I could swing by your office on Thursday around lunchtime if that suits you?
Me: I’ll tell you what, I usually go this awesome cafe called (insert beanhunter 5 star/highly reviewed cafe here). They make a brilliant (insert favourite coffee here) at lunchtime (or whatever time they mention). How about we meet there and I will buy you a drink. They have a great vibe/quite atmosphere/trendy space, we could chat, etc.
Client: That sounds even better!
Me: See you then!
Just like that I completely averted the subject. The most amazing thing about this is if they do want to meet again, they will more than likely suggest the coffee shop you introduced them to because of your research and well thought out plan by matching the atmosphere and quality cafe with the client. This is a real-life examples of what has actually happened to me, so I thoroughly believe this will work for you the majority of the time.
If someone insist on coming to your office it may be worthwhile either telling them you work remotely or using the shardesk app I mentioned above.
7. The Mind:
Stop, breathe, and think or Headspace: Your mind is your biggest asset. It is with you from the day you are born until the day you die; why do we not nurture it more? As a business owner, stress is going to be a regular occurrence. If the only thing you take from this entire blog is the advice I am about to give you, then I will be a very happy man. Your business will consume you and your mind if you do not allow yourself some downtime and some rest. Please do not get caught up in the machoism of having minimal sleep, you are no good to yourself or your business if you are constantly tired. I don’t care how sceptical you are or how tough/resilient to stress you think you are. Try meditating, do it regularly—everyday, for that matter. Contrary to what you think, you do not need to sit in an awkward position and hum to yourself. As a matter of fact, meditating can be done any many different ways. These apps will literally explain everything you need to know to begin, and will even help you take action. Please do this! This is something I only recently discovered and I really wish I had have known this when I started, it would have saved me a lot of stress and headaches.
Brain FM (paid): I purchased this at a very low intro price when it was first released. It is an app that helps you through stimulating your brain waves. I am not going to ramble on about this program in here as they have a REALLY good website explaining how this works and why it is good. A worthwhile investment, I assure you.
Other note-worthy apps and sites:
Pocket: As a business leader and entrepreneur, you want to keep up-to-date. Since you are busy, you may find articles or news items you really want to catch up on, but just can’t. Pocket solves this issue for you. When you see an article you may like, simply pinpoint it and Pocket will add the content to the platform. This will keep an archive of your desired industry’s news articles for you to access at a later time and read at your leisure. Best of all, it is accessible offline as well.
Unroll.me: If you are like me, you have subscribed to so many different email alerts you aren’t even able to remember why or where. At one point, I was getting 49 emails a day just from subscriptions. I started losing valuable emails and needed to find a quick solutions. So I stumbled upon this service which will allow you to instantly unsubscribe from any listing you are on. This app is a humungous time saver. Check out the site to learn more.
Facebook groups: I am personally part of a ton of Facebook groups, relevant to both my industry, entrepreneurship, and business in general. You will be amazed at how many people in these groups may actually be looking for your business or service. You could single-handily grow your client base just from Facebook groups alone. Better yet, you can get SO much free advice and hints. It is would be very detrimental to your business success not to take advantage of this. One of my favourite groups is called Entrepreneur Lifestyle Group; the admin Galant Dill is extremely proactive and encourages a very active, positive, professional, and friendly group. I highly encourage anyone reading this to come and join us, to share and also absorb some knowledge and increase your positivity. Also feel free to add me on Facebook and connect.
Snapchat: I am a huge fan of Snapchat. Rather than me explaining it all here, check out the blog I wrote called ‘Why Your Business Needs to Use Snapchat’. I show you some cool ways of using Snapchat, but also tell you how I got my first 100 followers. If you already are a Snapchat master, why don’t you check out the Top 10 list of my favourite and most inspirational snapchatters! Also feel free to add me on Snapchat (martinschnitzel) and I will add you back.
As I mentioned very early on in this blog, taking Action = Results. Don’t just read about these apps, think how cool they are, and then never do anything about it. As a matter of fact, make it a promise to yourself that you will download and use at least three of the programs/apps mentioned here by the end of your day. I promise that a more organised and successful person will come out of it.
Please make sure to comment below with your favourite apps, software, or life hacks to increase business and productivity. I look forward to reading and replying to the comments. Also, don’t forget to subscribe for regular updates and videos, including digital marketing hints and advice.