ask the expert | can i build a little biz on a shoestring budget?

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today our ask the expert post comes from our administration & organization expert partner, Kelly Evans from Virtual Mary Poppins.

Can I build a little biz on a shoestring budget?

This question is asked at a lot of forums, and also on Facebook. The answer of course varies according to the industry you are in. If your business requires the purchase of expensive assets, such as machinery or qualifications to be licensed, this may blow your shoestring budget.

So instead let’s focus on what you can do for little cost/free! Here are 20 tips to help you build your little biz on a shoestring budget. 

1. Register your business for tax purposes (Free)

Check with the tax requirements for your business - generally the tax office of your country will have helpful information online for small businesses. You may also want to consider whether your business will be considered a hobby.

(In Australia you need an Australian Business Number (ABN) and (optionally) Goods and Services Tax (GST). You will need your Tax File Number (TFN) so if you don’t have one, you will also need to apply for that.)

2. Register your business name ($$)

Sorry but this one isn’t free, unless you are trading under your own name (Jack Jones) in which case you don’t have to register at all. Keep in mind before you decide on a business name to check that no one else has that name first! 

Again, you will need to check in your country/state for registration requirements. If you plan to sell your item in more than one country/state you may need to register your name in all places.

3. See if you qualify for any small business programs (Free)

Check with your government listings to see if they offer any programs for people starting a small buisiness from home. For instance, Australia has the New Enterprise Incentive Scheme (NEIS)  If you are eligible, they can help you start your own small business and you can still receive income support while you do. 

4. Develop a business and a marketing plan (Free)

If you can afford it, you could hire someone to do THIS for you, but if things are tight you can do a search online for free templates. (there are some here)

5. Setup a Facebook page for your business (Free)

It’s relatively simple to start a Facebook page - click on ‘Create Page’ and away you go (just make sure you choose ‘business page’)! You can always add flashy things like welcome pages later.

6. Buy a website domain name and webhosting ($)

It’s relatively cheap these days to have a web site, and it’s getting easier to build your own. With .com and .net domain names from $7 a year  and webhosting from $7.15US a month (less if you pay a year in advance) you can get your business online asap (as long as you are capable of building a basic website from a template yourself)!

7. Set up your email account and signature block (Free)

That way every email you send is reminding people about your business (and hopefully driving traffic to your website)! Gmail/google apps offers yourname@yourbusinessname email addresses for free and wisestamp is a great signature app.

8.Analyse your website/Facebook traffic (Free)

Use Google Analytics, and Facebook insights to give you the scoop on who is visiting your website, when and more… Make sure your website is designed with plenty of the right keywords so that search engines like Google can find you easily (this is called Search Engine Optimisation).

9. Start Tweeting (Free)

Sign up for Twitter and start tweeting lyrical about your new biz (remember to tweet interesting info too not just sell, sell, sell)!

10. Google + (Free)

Sign up for Google + and discover a whole new world of social networking. Business pages are now available as well!

11. Set up a mailing list (Free/limited)

Mailchimp is a great free newsletter service (currently free up to 2000 subscribers). It has some fantastic features that make it really easy to use. You can import your subscriber list from an excel spreadsheet, and use a free template to create your first newsletter! It also has some great integration with other applications such as a Subscribe tab for your Facebook page, a QR code for your brochures (to allow people to sign up to your mailing list on the go).

12. Learn tax business basics (Free)

Check online to see if your country's tax office offers any assistance for small business such as record keeping, tax basics, one-on-one assitance and more!

(The Australia Tax Office has free Tax Basics Seminars, Record Keeping workshops, and free and confidential on-site visits to discuss your business.)

13. Get (free) Training

Government organizations offer training or voucher schemes from time to time, so it pays to keep in touch with your local business centre and to check online what is avaliable in your region.

(For instance in Australia we have Business Enterprise Centre (BEC)

14. Manage your (online) reputation (free)

Set up a Google alert for your business name/your name. Keep an eye on when you appear on web sites across the net. Social Mention will altert you to mentions in social media sites like facebook and twitter.

15. Promote your business (Free)

There are many pages on Facebook where you can promote your business for free. Find groups and forums where you can jump in and answer questions that are within your area of expertise. You can also author articles on topics within your expertise and have them published on blogs or in print. Find websites and directories in your niche that offer free promotion. Look for PR apportunities from SourceBottle and HARO.

16. Join industry associations ($$)

The industry association for you will depend on the business you are in – but everyone can join in local Chamber of Commerce events and get to know their local small business people. It’s a great opportunity for perfecting your ‘about me’ pitch and meeting a potential client or two.

17. Set up a Dropbox account (Free)

Dropbox allows you to store up to 10gb of stuff in the cloud (you get 2gb initially, but if you refer your business partners to join you can earn an additional 8gb). Perfect for backing up your website, storing your photos, or your business manual and procedures. Just be aware that folders shared with others count towards your limit!

18. See if you are eligible for a grant (Free)

Check in your state/province and country for available grants that you can apply for. (Grantslink is a list of available grants from the Australian government.)

19. Check your insurance policies ($$)

If you work from home, or use your car for your business, check that your insurance policy and your car registration lists ‘business use’. If not, and you don’t upgrade, you may find you are not covered if something goes wrong whilst you are driving, or running your business from home.

20. Business cards ($$)

Get some good quality ones and hand them out to everyone you know. There are many designers (especially on Facebook) that specialise in doing business card design for WAHP’s and you can get 1000 for under $100 (including design and delivery). If you get a logo designed – don’t forget to ask for it in a large format (you can always resize it smaller yourself, but you can’t make it bigger!). Also if your logo incorporates writing ask for the font and RGB colours – you may want additional design done later in the same font and colour scheme. Moo.com is a great place to get high quality, inexpensive cards.

Kelly Evans is a virtual Mary Poppins. A qualified trainer, assessorand book keeper, with over 10 years experience in administration inboth the private and public sectors. Her mission is to provide smallbusinesses with quality administrative assistance. Visit www.virtualmarypoppins.com.au