Regardless of the motivation, the most enjoyable thing for me had been to figure out how to do something with as little cash outlay as possible when I first started my business. In fact, I started my first company, MEG Fitness, with just my time. I was even able to promote my services by writing a free weekly health column and then took advantage of a cheaper alternative to an ad in another newspaper by being featured in their health section.
When I think of the term bootstrapping, I always think of starting a business without outside financial help, but technically, it means, ‘using a special process to perform a task that one would be unable to do in general’. I found it can refer to much more than just business, but, for our purposes, I am referring to the term as I have always considered it: Raising yourself, and your business, up by your own bootstraps.
With any new service-based business, especially small health or fitness practices, chances are you are going to start it with the sweat and tears of your own efforts.
You may be in a position where you can quit your ‘day job’ and still pay your bills, but few people are even in a position to do that! So, you must create the plan and vision for your business, and then get it up and running, part-time and with your own finances.
Many people feel this is just too overwhelming a proposition to seriously consider, but I know it can be done, because not only did I do it, but many of my previous clients have done it, also. And today I have a home-based, 6-figure business!
There are several sources of funding for starting up a business and just recently I read that most women-owned businesses use their own money instead of searching other sources of funding. Using your own money is bootstrapping.
The fact is that it is said that 99.9% of all business owners will pull their business up by their own ‘bootstraps’. That probably means you! Let’s now look at how you can make it happen with what you have:
1. Focus on your cash flow, not profits.
This is an old lesson in schools of business. Reality is you have to pay your bills, so the biggest motivation is on sales. For a service business, this means bringing in clients!
2. Just do it!
Many people who approach me say they have been planning their business for a long time, but you can’t make money by planning only! No matter how well you plan, until you start working with clients, you won’t know what works and what does not work. Granted, you do have to plan, but no matter how much planning you do now, you will change procedures and processes as your experience grows.
You can’t build up experience if you don’t start seeing clients.
3. Keep your day job.
Many of the wellness professionals I have worked with have kept their full-time or part-time job while creating their business. The best way to keep the pressure off is to know you still have a regular income. That way you aren’t motivated by panic and can clearly define what your goals and vision are and create the plans to make it happen.
4. Get your name out there.
Locally, attend lunches and networking events and offer to give small presentations on your area of expertise (WITH a call to action). Virtually, get a website and blog up and set up all of your social networking pages, and blog and network regularly. People need to know you’re there before they start contacting you. This is one of the easiest forms of free marketing.
5. You can do most of it on your own.
The quickest way to grow your business is by building a team. It took me several years to start building my team because I didn’t realize the power of doing so. But, chances are, you are looking at conserving as much of your funds as possible.
There are always ways to do it yourself or only contract out for services that either will take too long to learn or you just have no interest in doing. For years I used templates to create my own websites. I studied all I could on SEO and how best to create a website, learning about website text, white space, headers and sub-headers, etc. Today I don’t do ANY of that!
Until business was so busy that I could no longer justify the time spent on my websites, I was content to do it all, myself. Other examples of doing it on your own are creating your own business cards, flyers and brochures. Most of us have the necessary software on our computers to create each of these promotional tools. All you need is a printer and ink, and you can have your own business card printed in no time. And, as details of your business change, such as adding a business phone line, a website or new office location, you can easily change your cards without having to throw out cards you spent several hundred dollars on.
6. Focus on function.
You imagine that perfect office or location, but you have an extra room in your house. If you want to start making money, now, use what you have! When you have more money, you can then invest in a better location or that ideal office furniture. The key is to see clients, now, not wait until you can have the ideal setting.
Don’t forget that Bill Gates started in his garage!
I always ask clients how much would they like to make in their first year. How many hours do you want to work each day, each week? What services do you want to offer? Today I show clients how to move away from dollars/hour model and into creating programs for success. But you still need to have a goal in mind for what you’d like to bring in, so you can craft your business to meet that goal.
Another part of forecasting, however, is to know what your expenses are. If you have no understanding of how much you’re spending on your business, you can end up out of business before you’ve even started.
For this reason, not only is it imperative to start seeing clients immediately, and that you keep your expenses down, but it’s also critical that you understand what your current expenses are and how they will grow as the business grows.
8. Start with what you know.
Let’s say you dream of opening up a health and fitness spa, but you want to start your business now. Creating a spa will take outside funding and a lot of market research, but seeing clients individually or in groups right now will just take some marketing and getting your name out there.
Think of the ultimate vision and set up the steps to make that happen. While working with clients, you can also start conducting the research necessary for the ultimate goal of a thriving health and fitness spa.
9. Always say yes!
I know this is a scary proposition, but suppose your vision is to provide corporate wellness programs to local organizations and a company calls you today and say they would love to have YOU create a wellness program for their company. They would like you to start it in 2 months, they want all 100 employees involved, you can create as many groups as you like from those 100 people, and they are offering you your asking rate for not only the time you will spend in presenting the program but also for creating it.
The first emotion you experience is amazement that it’s actually happening, then utter fear, and then panic sets in.
BUT; you say yes!
You cannot afford to say you’ll get back to them! This is increased cash flow.
One first theory in business is always saying yes and THEN figure out how you’ll get it done.
There are an unlimited number of options and resources when you allow your creativity to come into play. Funny how creative we become when fear of failure drives us and the passion to make it really happen motivates us.
10. Emphasize what makes you unique.
You don’t have the luxury of comparing yourself with the leaders of your industry when you’re starting out on a shoestring. You must draw clients/customers to you by focusing on yourself, period.
* Why will a client come to you instead of sign up for a hospital-based weight loss program?
* Why will they call you for your personal training services instead of join the health club?
* Why will they make an appointment with you instead of the doctor down the street?
It has to be more than what you charge. In fact, you do NOT want it to be because of what you charge, because your rates should be HIGHER. It has to be something about you and the unique services or care you offer. When you don’t have the fancy trimmings to attract clients, you have to fall back on what you do have to offer and use that as your competitive edge.
If you have a dream to start your health or wellness business, don’t let lack of funds stop you in your tracks. The number of successful entrepreneurs who have grown a thriving business from nothing is huge! Life is too short to live in a dream of what may have been. Bootstrapping is something you’ll one day look back on with pride, just as I do, today.
I’d love to hear YOUR bootstrapping stories!
Marjorie Geiser, MBA, RD, BCC
MEG Enterprises, Inc.
Would you like bootstrapping tips to grow YOUR business? Then you need this simple ebook, “13 Bootstrap Strategies to Build your Business on a Shoestring Budget.”