We’ve already established that you don’t need money (at least, not a lot of it) or an office space or store front in order to start a business. Now let’s look at what else don’t you need.
3. (Paid) Staff
Many people starting out in business start out by themselves, as sole-traders/sole-proprietors. For many new businesses or business ideas, this is all that’s initially required. There is so much that you can do yourself in the early stages. In fact, depending on the type of business you want to set up, you may not actually want to bring anyone else in at the start-up stage.
However, what if you need other people right from the beginning? What if your idea is bigger than one person? Or requires a lot more time, effort, or assistance than you can devote to it by yourself? You need staff – but that’s a huge expense, especially if it’s going to take you a while to generate cash flow.
This is where finding helpful volunteers can be a great benefit to any start-up business. I put volunteers of this kind into two categories: 1) the helpful friend/family member; and 2) the like-minded interest. It isn’t unusual for a volunteer to be both, which can be even more beneficial. Let me illustrate with a couple of examples.
When I first had my clinical practice years ago, I found I was on-selling a number of products to patients; wheat bags, braces and supports, that sort of thing. As a very small and new business, I didn’t have the purchasing power to buy and stock items in bulk – I could only order one or several items as the need arose. This meant I paid very close to retail for items, and could only charge enough to recoup the expense of ordering them (sometimes not even that). One popular item was the wheat bag – a fabric bag full of wheat grain that people could use as either a hot or ice pack. These were popular, but the quality ones were expensive, so to stock cost a lot of money, and demand wasn’t such that it justified keeping a large surplus. It is a really simple product to make – I’ve known a number of patients who end up making their own – but I knew nothing about cutting out a pattern or sewing. And to be honest, I had no desire to learn. Fortunately, I had a family member who knew lots about it and was willing to help me out. After purchasing the materials at less than the cost of two wheat bags, we were able to come up with our own design that was every bit the same quality as what I had been purchasing. Once we had a template, we could make about five wheat bags for the same cost as purchasing one. And because I had a volunteer, I didn’t have the expense of hiring someone, or contracting the work out, so profit was immediate. I was even able to start compensating my volunteer for their time and effort.
It was similar when I helped establish the National Association of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Physiotherapists, Inc. (NAATSIP). NAATSIP was formed completely by volunteers – by a group of like-minded people – of which I was one. We had no money, no location, no staff; all we had was a group of people who shared a vision, and a desire to make it happen. We formed a board of directors, registered a business name, established ourselves as a not-for-profit organisation, and put ourselves into the Australian health arena. With no support staff (and no funding) we did everything ourselves, from developing our strategic plan to preparing reports, establishing services like our mentoring program to representing ourselves on local and national bodies. In our first year we made connections with all key stakeholders in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health, participated in State and National policy-making decision processes, and became recognised as the peak professional body for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander physiotherapists by other peer peak health organisations. All without a single dollar being spent on salaries or other form of compensation. How? Because we all shared a vision, and while that vision was beyond any one individual to achieve, by coming together we made it realistic and achievable.
Volunteers can be the lifeblood of any organisation, even ones that are already established. For the budding entrepreneur, they can be an invaluable form of assistance to get your business idea off the ground and in motion.
4. (Paid) Advertising and Promotional Materials
There’s no question that advertising and promotion is a must for any business, and should be part of any marketing plan. The problem for start-ups is that it’s very expensive, not just in terms of cost, but the initial return on investment is usually very low, and sometimes nothing at all. It is very easy to invest thousands, or even tens-of-thousands of dollars in advertising and promotion and not make that money back for sometime, if at all.
Fortunately we live in the era of one of the best free ways to advertise and promote yourself – social media. In my opinion, social media is still either grossly under-valued, or ineffectively utilised, as a marketing and networking tool for new businesses. Yet consider these statistics:
- Facebook has a reported 1.3 billion active monthly users;
- LinkedIn and Google+ have 300 million users each
- Twitter has 255 million users.
At those numbers, the chance of being able to expose your business to potential customers/clients is enormous, and (at this time of writing) it is all free-of-charge. All you have to do is sign up, create your business profile, and start promoting yourself.
One of the ways social media can promote your business is by finding people who will advocate on your behalf. You’ve probably heard it said that ‘word of mouth’ is the best form of advertising – never has this been more true than in the world of social media. Encouraging clients and supporters of your business to share that with others is one way you can attract ever-expanding interest in what you’re doing. Having people write reviews or testimonials about who you are and what you do, and then sharing that as far and wide as possible, is another way.
A good example of people who are using social media as part of their marketing strategy are independent (indie) authors and publishers.You’ll find indie authors and publishers on every social media platform, promoting their latest work or achievements to their followers, and encouraging said followers to share with everyone they know. Many actively engage in building friend/follower lists, and soliciting reviews of their work which they can then further use to promote themselves. The have to do this because, thanks to e-publishing, it has become such a highly competitive market: there are literally millions of self-published authors out there, all vying for your money. If you want to see how it’s done and how effective it can be, looking up the indie authors in your social networks can give you some pretty good examples.
Starting a business does not have to be as daunting or as expensive as it sounds. So many successful entrepreneurs – Richard Branson, Robert Kiyosaki, J.K. Rowling, Sara Blakely, and the Teutel family, just to name a few – have started out with little more than an idea and the desire to make it happen. One of the keys to their successes was that they made a start. If you have the desire to start your own business, you now know at least four things that won’t stand in your way.
Got more ideas on what you don’t need to start a business? Please feel free to share your tips in comments section below.