They say money makes the world go round. But when cash is tight, how do you grow your business without growing the size of your budget?
Alliance Virtual Offices has come a long way in a few short years, and like every business, we had to start somewhere. We were that cash-strapped bootstrapping business with big ideas and tiny pockets. We learned a lot in the early years, and we’re still learning – so we want to share some of our knowledge with you.
How do you build a business on a budget? To answer this, we asked some of the world’s best entrepreneurs for their advice. Here’s what they said:
- Knowledge is Power
Amber Armstrong (@ambarmstrong), Program Director at IBM Commerce, Mobile and Social, said: “Identify your network and find people who know what you do not know.” As a small business owner, you want to oversee everything – but sometimes you get drawn into affairs of which you have little knowledge or experience. So identify people who can help fill the void.
Amber lives by this rule, although she admits she didn’t come up with it herself. “Brian Fanzo told me that one” she says. So naturally, we asked Brian for his advice too…
- Are You Likeable?
Brian Fanzo (@iSocialFanz), speaker and self-confessed evangelist of social technology and change, says: “People buy from people they like.” He advises small businesses to focus on relationships and customer engagement, and not just marketing.
It’s easy to plough headfirst into marketing, branding and advertising when you’re running a fledgling business. Those things are important, but like Brian says, you need to think long-term. Focus on your relationship with your customers and they’re more likely to come back to you – and to recommend you to others, too.
- Referrals Are Important. REALLY Important.
On the subject of recommendations, Ken Varga penned a great article on how to grow a small business on a budget. Many of these tips ring true, including this one: “Referrals are one of the most important tools you can use to grow your business,” says Ken, explaining that two ways to generate referrals are to “pay for them per lead; or bribe people in a fun way.”
Naturally, we prefer the latter. Ken advises: “Referrals are the least expensive way to grow your business on a budget. The key is to start writing down the ideas you get, and then start doing them.” He also adds a word of caution: “If you haven’t done your job on making your clients happy, you shouldn’t ask for a referral.”
- Promotion, Promotion, Promotion
Like we said earlier, branding and marketing is important. Digital Sales & Marketing Professional Gary Creigh (@gscreigh) offers these words of wisdom for small businesses:
“It is important to promote your business before it is launched, as marketing and promotion can take a while to gather momentum. By pre-promoting yourself, prior to launch, you can get a buzz going and hit the ground running.”
To start, Gary suggests: “Create a simple one-page webpage which sets out your mission, feature and benefits, as well as a sign-up form for users who are interested. Use Twitter and Facebook as well as networking on LinkedIn to create a pre-launch buzz – and get those potential customers intrigued and ready to buy from you!”
- Continuous Improvement
Mike Sullivan, Chief Marketing Officer of yours truly, Alliance Virtual Offices, says it’s all about “continuous improvement”. Some know this better as the ‘kaizen’ approach, or ‘good’ (kai) ‘change’ (zen) – read more about this here.
Mike says that whatever size of business you’re running, you should always focus on continuous improvement by looking for ways to progress your enterprise. “Always look and learn,” he says. “Take a non-judgmental standpoint and find ways to improve. Rather than being overly critical, instead take a broad look at the situation and consider how you can make it better.”
You can do this in your own business, and also by looking at your competitors. Look at what they’re doing – both good and bad – and then identify ways you can improve on it.
- Think Big, Act Small
Ben Weeks (@REGV1), Founder and Managing Director of workspace search Real Estate Grapevine Limited, works with startups every day. He’s seen plenty of great businesses take off, but he’s also seen the effects of poor business decisions – particularly where expensive real estate is concerned.
“Never bite off more office space than you can chew,” he says. “Many young companies have visions of exponential growth and needing stacks of office space to accommodate such growth… but only when you are well and truly ready would I seek leased premises over serviced or coworking space.”
Real estate is one of the most expensive parts of running a business, and the hard truth is that most companies don’t even need it, at least in the beginning. As Ben says, “there are so many derivatives these days”. For instance, a business address can come from a virtual office instead of a physical workspace.
Ben says “there is a juncture” where a private office may be needed, but advises startups to always “think big, act small” in the early days of running a business.
- Think Partnerships
Vanessa Merit Nornberg (@vanessanornberg), President of Metal Mafia, says: “Identify companies who provide services or products that are complementary to yours.” As an example, she cites placing catalogues in each other’s mail orders. This, she says, eliminates the expense of extra mailing fees and can virtually double your readership overnight.
A “cross-pollination partnership” like this, she says, also acts as a silent endorsement – so it’s well worth seeking out suppliers with an existing client base and a good reputation. “(It) can also be done digitally – just ask to do an email exchange, or to trade advertising space on each other’s respective sites.”
Gemma Falconer of GoToMeeting recommends outsourcing tasks that you aren’t comfortable doing yourself.
“If the public is going to see it and you aren’t an absolute pro at it, just outsource,” she says. “When it comes to building your website, creating a logo or designing marketing materials, you really will get what you pay for. If you can, use more of your marketing budget on the tasks that you can’t do yourself.”
With websites like Task Rabbit, Odesk, and People Per Hour offering expertise at affordable hourly rates or set fees, you really don’t need to take on the world. You can now outsource everything from SEO management and blogging to cold calling and receptionist services.
So, armed with these 8 tips on how to grow a business on a budget, where will you start? Keep us posted @AllianceVirtual – and good luck!