Bootstrapping, or launching with your own limited funds, is how many entrepreneurs get started. It’s how my partner and I started our kids clothing line with a few thousand dollars we saved. Here are some things we did, and some things we wish we had done, to launch with a small budget.
1. Focus and simplify. We created an initial collection for our kids line that included six styles in multiple colors and a custom fabric print. We attempted to raise enough money to cover all the product development costs with a crowdfunding campaign. We didn’t hit our (very high) funding goal and, looking back, we should have simplified. If you’re trying to launch on a shoestring, make sure you fully understand the factors affecting your manufacturing costs and stay open to cutting styles, features, and customization in order to launch on a small scale.
2. Borrow, barter, and buy used. Trade with friends for skills and equipment. Ask what you can offer in return – maybe something as simple as running errands or making dinner. Check sites like Freecycle and Craigslist to find used gear. Contact students who can offer services like photography for a discounted fee. Get creative and make paying full price a last resort.
3. Take advantage of resources for start-ups. Check out SCORE, your local library, the SBA, and incubators. They are a treasure of resources for new businesses. We needed a partnership agreement when getting started but couldn’t pay a lawyer to write one. I read about partnership agreements online, wrote a draft myself, and met with a lawyer through SCORE who was able to edit it to a final version. Total cost $0. While volunteer advisors can’t do your work for you, they can be valuable resources to help you revise, learn, and troubleshoot.
4. Don’t be afraid to ask. Maybe you need people to test your product, review your website, or help you get the word out. We’ve found the best approach is to just be direct and ask for what you need. You’ll be surprised how many people are cheering for you and happy to assist. And of course, be ready and willing to return the favors.
5. Utilize free marketing platforms early. Start a blog, an email list, and social media accounts before you launch. This will allow you to connect with your audience and ask for input, as well as develop your messaging and voice. We didn’t ask for feedback about our first collection early enough. We found out during our crowdfunding campaign that our products weren’t resonating with our audience. Tell your story, ask for feedback, talk to people. Start now.
6. Do it yourself. Use what you have, keep it simple, and be courageous. Create your own website, marketing copy, and logo. Make a prototype – even if it’s cardboard and tape, you’ll benefit from working through design challenges and having something to show a manufacturer. The work might not be perfect, but you’ll remain flexible while you develop your brand. Writing was the most challenging aspect for me when we started our business. I read tips, took a class, rewrote things 40 times, asked my writer friends to review my work, drank a lot of wine, and slowly improved. Get started right away doing the things that scare you most.
7. Search for free services before paying. We use free services for: business banking, task management, accounting, photo editing, and office software. We send marketing emails and conduct surveys for free. We use free cloud storage to share files. And we use Pinterest secret boards to organize research. If funds are tight, make it work with the many free services out there.