Tips from the frontline: Bootstrapping for Startups

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Drummond Gilbert is in an ex-accountant currently developing gocarshare.com, a website that helps people share car journeys. Integrated with Facebook, and boasting its own mobile app, gocarshare.com will be free to use for individual drivers and passengers and will open up car-sharing as a cost effective and green way to travel. The site is slated to launch this June.

If you would like to contact Drummond you can do so via his e-mail, or on twitter @drummondgilbert. For more info on Drummond and the company, head over to his blog at gocarshare.com or join the facebook fan page.

By DRUMMOND GILBERT

How low can you go?

Bootstrapping is the process of setting up a business on a limited budget with very little external funding. It’s the approach I am taking with gocarshare. So what constitutes essential expenditure and where can you cut costs without cutting corners?

Communication & Collaboration

I’ve signed up for a worldwide subscription to Skype, which gives me free calls to landlines around the world. I have also signed up for the Skype voicemail service and a Skype out number; I’ve been working out in France over the last few months, this had made things considerably easier for me, as people have been able to call me on my UK number for the price of a local call, meaning that despite the fact that I am many miles away from the people I am working with, the distance is effectively irrelevant.

Skype has the potential to lower your phone bill considerably; it also makes it easier to contact people from all over the world. If you are not using it already you definitely should be considering it.

Design Services

I set up a logo design competition on the website 99designs.com, this has allowed people from around the world to compete on my logo design for gocarshare. The price I paid for the logo was perhaps a quarter of what it would cost to get a professional logo designer to do it for me.

It also enabled me to allow people who had joined the various gocarshare social media sites to vote on the winner, thereby making the process more interactive and building the site’s profiles.

Whenever making a purchase it pays to think ‘how can I get this cheaper?’ If I am buying a product or service off the Internet and I see a voucher code box in the check out process, I always do a quick Google search to see if there are any vouchers available for it; more often than not there are and it represents quick and easy savings.

Effective Marketing

Scores of people have been telling me about the importance of marketing a site effectively; that to get people using it, you have to market it very well. I totally agree, what I am not so sure about is whether it is necessary to spend a lot of money on achieving it.

I am still at the brainstorming stage as far as the marketing goes, but here are a few things that I am doing already: using social network sites; by interacting with people on twitter who are going to events where car sharing is a viable option, I am building up a big potential user database. Yes, it takes time … a lot, but it is free!

Other than that, I have a facebook site and I am also experimenting with new social media sites which I think is essential if you are to stand out:  Getgrogger is an interactive blog or ‘grog’ that let’s anyone contribute articles about your business, Sprouter is a twitter style contacting service but particularly for entrepreneurs. There are so many new sites; the key is to decide which are going to be big in six months time.

Public Relations

As far as PR goes, hiring a PR agency is only really an option if you have over £10k to launch your campaign; as I don’t, I’ll be doing the PR myself. I’ll be using all my contacts in the press and any contacts my friends have, I’ll be interacting with interesting journalists on twitter building up contacts. I know it’ll be hard work, but I also know that I can be a lot more passionate about my business than any PR agency can be.

Website Development

One area that I thought long and hard about is the website development. There are a lot of strong arguments for keeping costs down and only launching with the features that are really necessary in you first build. Then testing your product on the market, seeing people’s reaction, then going back and making changes. For me, the website, is the business – if people aren’t impressed they won’t use the website. Spending too little is a false economy, and that is why I have decided that a very significant portion of the businesses budget will be devoted to website development.

In short, the Internet provides an invaluable tool to make savings but don’t neglect to take into account the value of your own time and the fact that investing in quality really does pay.

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