How to improve business with no capital
Small businesses and early-stage startups have a lot in common. We are talking about common problems. For example, how to get customers, how to increase cash flow, how to recruit best talents, how, how, how… and how, in general, get things off the ground. What is also common — it’s a lack of money. Not everyone has access to unlimited finances, but everybody wants to grow and scale his business. That’s why I often get the question, “How can I improve business with no capital?”. This time I decided to optimize my workflow and merge all tips into one article that I can share with an asking person. Founders can use it as a small cheat sheet with tips and tricks to improve business health.
No matter who you are, a first-time founder or even an experienced entrepreneur, you can find something useful in this article.
So, let’s go. 15 tips how to improve your business without any investments.
1. Spread the word
Starting a business with a limited supply of money means that there’s no advertising budget. There are no newspapers or Internet ads, no billboards, no radio or TV jingles. But word-of-mouth can be a powerful thing. Jonathan Long writes about this for entrepreneur.com, saying bluntly, “Tell everyone you know what you are doing”.
“Inform your family, friends, business contacts and past colleagues about your new business,” he says. “Call, send emails and make your new venture known on your social media profiles. Your friends and family members can help you spread the word, and past business contacts can introduce your brand to their professional contacts as well. This type of grassroots marketing can help introduce your company to a much larger audience.”
2. Get listed in domain directories
Another good way to increase the popularity is to get your business listed in relevant directories. It’s absolutely free and can gain you extra customers. How much? It can be tens, hundreds of customers. Even if you get only 1 extra customer, isn't it worth? Free channel to tell about your business and sell your services. Here is a small list of directories (major for the US) where you should list your business:
- Google My Business. One of the greatest benefits of My Business is listing the exact location of your business on a mobile-friendly google maps. It’s a gem.
- Bing Places for Business. Bing is the default search engine for desktop and tablet versions of Windows 8, some tablet, desktop, and laptop owners opt for Bing over Google. Let these guys find you.
- Yahoo Local Listing. Ranking third next to Google and Bing, Yahoo’s service draws millions of searches daily. A basic listing is free but also has paid options.
- Yelp is one of the best online sources for consumer reviews. It allows you to send public or private messages (including deals) to customers and review business trends using the Reporting tool.
- MerchantCircle is a free network targeted toward small businesses seeking to connect with local customers and other small businesses in their areas.
- Yellow Pages well-organized online version of the antiquated classic Yellow pages. The website generates millions of daily searches, so why not to be in these search results?
- White Pages lists more than 30M companies, offering sponsored ad opportunities and a premium text message service for clients.
- Yellowbook allows easily searchable business listings. Your info is distributed across the Yellowbook.com network and its partner sites.
- Citysearch specializes in listings for restaurants, bars, hotels, and other businesses across the US, via a partner network that includes Expedia, Urbanspoon, and MerchantCircle. Listings are accessed through the popular “Citysearch” mobile app.
- MapQuest. Web-mapping service owned by Verizon gets searchers to your physical location quickly and easily via detailed maps. The Washington Post had a story noting that one MapQuest mobile app still appears for every 20 smartphone users who have Google Maps. Not bad, right?
- Local.com: events, deals, and info relevant to a given city. Its database includes more than 16M business listings covering every zip code in the US. Paid ad options allow for coupons and other features.
- Foursquare. This combination of business directory and social networking site allows users to check in via map and comment about your business, with or without the Foursquare mobile app.
- TripAdvisor offers a flat subscription rate for any business related to the hospitality or entertainment industries in 48 markets worldwide. Calling itself the world’s largest travel site, it reaches 390M monthly unique visitors.
In addition, it’s worth to find local compilation, e.g. “best coffee shops”, “best steaks” and get your business listed in. To find such compilations and local directories, google the name of your town plus directories name.
3. Get free advertising through non-profits
Let’s face it, you are going to have advertisements in order to build awareness and sales. But, as we know, for many startups and small businesses the funds simply aren’t there. To get around the costs of advertising, it’s a good case to partner with non-profits that you care about. Sure, you’ll be giving your product or service away for free, but you’ll also reach potential customers that share the same beliefs and concerns that you do.
Experienced entrepreneurs advise that the best approach is to reach out to small, local nonprofits and charities, “We sought out organizations that believed in causes close to our own hearts,” says Houlihan, co-founder of Barefoot Cellars. “We gained access to huge numbers of potential customers and gave them a ‘social reason’ to buy Barefoot wine.”
4. Improve marketing
Marketing is important to every business survival. Today there are lots of cheap (or even free) solutions on the market that can help you improve your marketing. For example, you can send automated “thank you” messages to your customers with automated follow-ups, or you can create a chatbot that will work as a consultant asking your customer what he is looking for and how your business can help. There is no real magic behind chatbots, just think about them, like about smart contact forms, that can ask some extra questions before the submission. But for your customers the magic can be. One more example is email marketing tools. Good email marketing can help a lot in building a loyal community around your business. E.g. you can send weekly digest with best deals or “hands-on” videos/articles about your bestsellers. Not sure what can fit you? Ask our molfar.io team for free consultation.
5. Get Testimonials
People are social species. Before buying something, they often look for reviews from other people, who have already tried it, to validate a purchase. People want to know that they’re spending money on quality and good product, and reviews help them with it.
So, the hint here is to have a lot of feedbacks on an independent platform. It can be your facebook biz page, Yelp, or Google Business profile. The more good feedbacks you have — the more trust level you get. Ask your happy clients to leave reviews on your profiles, a lot of them will be glad to help you. As an option, the most stubborn clients you can encourage by a pleasant gift. What kind of gift it’s up to you.
6. Give your customers something in extra
No, you don’t need to give discounts to all the clients. Let’s stop and think about the value that you provide to your customers. Your service is not just “a delivery”. Focus on helping people. Make an extra mile for each client. Show that you really think about them and their problems, and not just want to get their money. If you are providing additional value to your customers and helping them out, it will inevitably provide cash to finance your growth.
Give something valuable away on your website; at your front counter; when you send out your invoices; when you deliver goods. This should be free (or low cost) to you, but valuable to your client. E.g. “how to”, ebook, some research, tool review, giveaway, survey results, etc. Anything that can be really valuable for your client. The more extra value you provide to your customer — the more loyal he will be to your brand. Such clients usually do not look for alternatives.
7. Invest in Customer Service
This point comes from the previous one. If you can’t deal with customer service and sales inquiries personally as they come up, use support software, like Zendesk, is the next best and cheapest thing you can do. Long answer response, delays and forgotten questions it’s not what can make a good impression on your customers. Good customer service is really a mindset, and it doesn’t cost much.
Treat your customers well. If you continuously treat your current customers well, there is a chance they will recommend you. In fact, if you always honestly go another mile just to help them, you can expect them to help you and even back you up in case something bad happens to your business.
8. Be social. Use social media
You probably already know that social media marketing is important for all businesses. But, simply having an account isn’t enough. First of all, keep your account information updated and accurate. If something about your business changes, your social media profile should change, too. Make sure your website, address, hours, logo, and pictures are all up to date.
Second, post fresh content. You must regularly post new content on your social media pages. Don’t create an account and then forget about it. Frequent posts keep you in front of customers’ faces and, what’s more important, — make you closer to your audience (current and potentially new customers). Post about new products and sales, interesting news about your business and maybe industry news. Show your followers why you are unique. You can’t give up. You need to be consistently awesome.
9. Let customers pay in advance
Growing a business with limited resources is the common problem for almost all startups and small businesses. Focus your efforts on getting your customers to pay early, often up front. It puts money in the bank and fuels the company for more growth.
Whether you are manufacturing a product or providing a service, the sooner you can get paid the quicker you can grow your business, which is why experts say it’s a good idea to try and get paid, at least partially, up front. Not only does it mean money is coming in from the get-go, but it bolsters relationship with your clients too.
10. Plan to reinvest
When a new venture starts making money, it could be tempting for the owner to pocket it immediately. It might seem daunting, though, putting your money right back into the business may be the better route.
Budget your early business profits for reinvestment, not for personal expenses or salary. If you have a full-time job now, this case may mean keeping it for a while, till you start your business as a second full-time job. You can begin taking profits out of your business when it has enough cash flow to both pay you and fund growth to the level you wish to reach — but not before.
11. Build strategic partnerships
A company is only as small as it projects itself to be. By developing strategic relationships and outsourcing non-core competencies to industry partners, small companies can maximize efficiency and create value. Play off your partners expertise and offer services that are unique. Clients don’t need to know you are running your operations from a coffee shop as long as you deliver the goods.
In a story for cbsnews.com, financial adviser Robert Pagliarini puts a different spin on the burden of a startup: “The truth is you don’t need money. You need what money can purchase. If you had your own small business fairy godmother, money would be unnecessary because everything you’d need to buy you could get for free.” The key, he says, is creating partnerships.
“You have to think in terms of a partnership. It can’t be, ‘Let’s see how much free stuff I can take from others.’ That will never work. You want your partners to feel like they are true partners in the venture. If you pay someone by the hour, you’ll get an hour of their time. If you pay someone based on a venture’s potential future success, you’ll get their time, ideas, life, sweat, blood and tears.”
12. Leverage subcontractors
The golden rule for all businesses — keep your costs low and make income higher. But sometimes we need to hire new staff and it dramatically increases your costs. How to deal with it? Subcontractors. Leveraging subcontractors gives you the ability to scale quickly while reducing your fixed costs. They’ll cost you more in the short-term, but you can adjust resourcing levels very quickly to adapt to increasing customer demands.
13. Take it to the Cloud
By moving everything you can to cloud-based systems (CRM, project management, accounting, etc.), you can easily scale up as you need more. If you are thinking about buying own server — dismiss this thought. In 2018 there are lot of cloud-based services (as known as SaaS), that can provide you not only the storage but great sets of tools to manage your data and operate your business. You can hire a new employee or subcontractor to optimize specific processes, or you can ask our molfar.io team for a free consultation. We are always glad to help other founders.
14. Take advantage of the online world
The Internet is the future of all business. It’s an inexhaustible resource and a great way to give a cash-strapped startup a boost. For example, let’s take a T-shirt business. The days of having shelves full of stock to sell are largely over for a business like this. If you want to start a small online T-shirt venture, you can upload your own custom designs or witty sayings to a service provider’s website and then publish your T-shirts images for sale on Facebook, Instagram or personal website. You don’t have to purchase the real T-shirts and hold them in inventory — your only outlay (besides any monthly maintenance fees required by the service) may be the cost of advertising your T-shirts online. When people purchase your T-shirts, you receive a percentage of the sale. Profit.
15. Move Lean
Don’t try to solve problems, that would be when you will be a big company. It’s a common problem for all beginners. Why spend money and time in solving things that can even not happen? Everything that you have as a small business — this money and this time. Loss of focus can kill your business because you will lose money and time. Focus on pains you have right now, whether it is a critical hire or a missing feature that customers are demanding. Save money and optimize for today’s problems. Don’t worry about problems the future might bring. Move Lean.
Ok, folks. That’s all for today. Hope, you found something useful for your business and opened something new in a business strategy. Use these tips and it can help you increase your profit, at least by 30% (we had such case with one of our partner).
If you have own tips how to improve a business with less capital — please, share with us and we will add your advice to the article.
If you have any questions about implementation of these tips — feel free to write me or my team. We will help you, for sure.
If you like the article and found it useful — please, share it with your friends-entrepreneurs. They will like it too and for us it will be a pleasure 😊