Now that’s a boring title…but it is the point of this post, and it is important.
First, what is bootstrapping? (Sadly, that’s what my father asked me as he nabbed my credit card and bought himself an Aeron rocking chair.) A very simple definition from Wikipedia: “Bootstrapping means starting and operating a business with little or no money or assistance from outside investors.”
In my mind, you can translate the definition to: “Starting a company when you’re desperate to make a living for yourself and/or get insanely wealthy off the ‘next big idea’, but you’re broke, and have no money to invest unless you sell your childhood comic book collection.”
Alright, maybe not that extreme, but bootstrapping is certainly not easy. And, it’s a reality for tons of business owners, start-ups and people thinking about starting businesses.
So, here are my “things to remember” when bootstrapping:
1. Track every single dollar spent. This should be self-evident, but lots of people aren’t uber-anal about tracking money. How many of us actually have budgets for our personal expenses? Exactly. Some of us do, but most of us collect a paycheck and watch the money disappear like water in the toilet bowl.
Tracking every single dollar spent requires serious discipline. And I’m not just talking about doing your basic accounting. It’s more than that. See #2.
2. Force yourself to justify every dollar spent. Why did you just buy that brand new 19″ LCD screen for your computer? Cause it looks cool? Cause it’s easier on the eyes? Did you -really- need that LCD screen? Maybe you did, but you better be able to justify it logically. It better make a difference to the bottomline.
Expenses can make a difference to the bottomline in different ways. Maybe you buy something that improves productivity. That might save money because you get things done faster. Or, you might spend money on something that generates leads, which in turn generates business. Ultimately though, when tracking every dollar spent, make sure you know what it’s doing for you.
3. Do not spend money as soon as you get it. Unless the bill collector is crashing down your door with two guys named Guido (yes, they’re both named Guido), I would always recommend that you hang onto the money you get from customers. Even if you intend on spending it, wait a few days, let it sit in your bank account, feel good about having that $3.50 before you spend it (very carefully: see #1 and #2 if you’ve skipped down to this point.)
4. Always think about cash flow. Cash flow is key when bootstrapping. Guy Kawasaki covers this in a post on his blog, so I won’t go into it in detail. But, ultimately, without cash you’re toast.
5. Watch your partners carefully. Alright, this is mostly in jest, but let me tell you, some of the guys around here at IGotNewsForYou are letting titles like, “President” and “Vice President of Writing Funny Stuff Every So Often” go to their heads. Apparently, Allen (our main writing guy), can now only write when he’s got a new bottle of Crown Royal. Plus, he wants a new crystal shotglass every week. Neil (our resident brit), claims he has some outstanding partnership opportunities back in the home country, and suddenly he’s trying to buy 1st class tickets on the IGotNewsForYou expense account (see, I didn’t even realize there was an expense account until I started looking into things more closely.)
6. Network, network, network. Networking isn’t expensive. Often, it’s free. More importantly, networking is a great way of meeting people that could be helpful to the cause; potential partners, potential vendors, etc. I’ve met a good number of great people through networking (and I’m not even very good at it), and I’ve done business with quite a few of them. When bootstrapping, networking is a great way to make new friends, and hopefully the old saying, “you scratch my back, I scratch yours” works out. Whether you actually scratch each other’s backs is totally up to you, and really not appropriate to this post.
7. Find resources online to help you. There are resources online for every possible business, in every possible industry. If you’re building a software product I could point you to a handful of great resources in a blink of an eye. For example, here’s a great forum, The Business of Software. No matter what business you’re in, there are going to be resources online. Go look, find them, join the appropriate communities, interact (this is networking, but virtually), and get a lot of free advice/help. Trust me, it works.
8. Be prepared to do things you don’t like doing or don’t know how to do. Even if you’ve got partners, chances are you won’t collectively have all of the skills and experience needed to run your business. And, there are some things that are just plain dull. But you better be prepared for this, because you’ll be wearing more hats than this guy. And you won’t know a lot about some of those hats. In some cases (and no, I’m not looking directly at the IGotNewsForYou people) you might not know anything about any of those hats. Marketing, accounting, business management, sales, customer support, research, partner agreements, legal, etc. The list is endless. And sure you can outsource this work but that costs money, and you don’t have any remember?
While your idea/business might be focused on something you love (and it should be), the reality is that much of your time will be working on things you don’t love, and don’t know a lot about. Invest the time to learn, prepare yourself for the fact that starting your own company isn’t a breeze and get your hands dirty. In the case of IGotNewsForYou, I’ve got some stubborn partners. It seems they think I should do everything they don’t want to do. Imagine that.
9. Be prepared for the long haul, but enjoy the challenge. To conclude (hey, wake up!), you’ve got to be ready for the long haul. Very few businesses kick off and make millions right away, most take a lot of time and hard work. Most small businesses fail (which sucks). But you won’t fail, and neither will we, and throughout all of the hard work, long hours and meetings spent watching my partners eat more doughnuts than most Tim Horton’s make in a day, I’ll enjoy it all.
Best of luck to you.