Whether you’ve been inspired by the stories of successful entrepreneurs, have always dreamed of creating your own company, or have been forced to look at less traditional forms of employment in an increasingly competitive job market, most of us have at least considered starting our own business. But if you’re starting from a position of having little to no capital available to do so, it can be endlessly frustrating to get going. The good news is that it can, and has, been done! Here are some of our top tips for running a business on a shoestring budget.

Offer a service that you can run on the side at first

It can take months for a business to stand on its own feet, and even longer for it to become profitable enough to support you without a day job. If at all possible, keep your job for as long as possible, and start your business as a part time undertaking until it’s feasible to do it fulltime.

Choose your industry carefully

If you don’t have startup capital, then trying to go into an industry where expensive equipment is required just doesn’t make sense. Focus on skills that you already have and make use of, and know enough about that you can do your own marketing. It could be virtually anything – from offering your services as a freelancer online, house sitting or dog walking, crafting or trade skills, tutoring students – you name it.

Reinvest your profits

Any money you make in the beginning must stay in the company. You need money to expand any venture, or it’s always going to remain a side hustle. Do lots of research into the kind of investments that will generate real returns – this could be equipment that will allow you make better products, training that will allow you to offer new services, or even just investing in financial products that will generate a return while you save up for bigger and better things.

Make use of free marketing platforms

Before you’re making enough sales to justify paid advertising, you’re going to need to act as your own marketing department. Creating a free website where you can upload your own blog articles and then sharing these on social media platforms is a good starting point. Make sure you receive automated emails or notifications about any activity on all the social platforms you use, so you don’t miss any questions or inquiries from potential customers. If you don’t feel comfortable doing your content all on your own, do the best you can and then hire an affordable freelancer just to proofread and spruce up your writing.

Create a business plan, even if you’re not looking for investors (yet!)

It might sound like a waste of time, but creating a professional business plan is one of the best ways of educating yourself about the real potential of your idea, and laying out steps and goals to guide you on your way. Through working out budgets, forecasts, assets and liabilities, and laying out your plans for expansion in goals that have deadlines attached, a real business plan acts as a blueprint for success.

Keep your eyes peeled for innovative ways to reduce overheads

The more you can keep your operating costs down, the more profitable your business becomes! Dedicate a little time each month to actively seeking out cheaper or more flexible options. If you do most of your sales or customer support through the phone for example, then signing up for VoIP services with least cost routing is an excellent example. It could be negotiating better deals with your suppliers or looking for cheaper alternatives to services you’re already using – just keep your eyes and mind open.

Keep excellent financial records right from the start

Most first time business owners only focus on the money that’s coming in, and don’t bother to keep track of where it’s going out. Keeping records like you’re a big corporation where every penny must be accounted for is an effective way of spotting negative trends before they become a real issue, or isolating areas where you never make a return on an expense. The sooner you spot these, the sooner you can nip them in the bud.

Outsource and hire freelancers before you hire fulltime staff

If you’ve reached the point where you need a service you just can’t do yourself, or the workload is becoming too much for you alone, then get some part time remote workers onboard that you can use on a per-project basis before you hire someone permanently. This gives you enough flexibility to keep your service running when you do need them, but without the potential profit sink of paying a fulltime salary should work dry up.

Make customer service your number one priority

In a global marketplace, customer service is fast becoming the number one difference between businesses who succeed and those who fail. Treat every customer like royalty, and if you’re lucky enough, they’ll reward you with a glowing review that has new customers lining up!

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