A few weeks ago, I was standing on a balcony in Puerto Rico… The sun was setting, I was staring down at the beach, holding a glass of champagne and I had a moment. One of those moments when time freezes and you see this sort of highlight reel of a part of your life. For me, it was this flashback to when I started this whole thing and here I was in this reality that was a total *pinch me* moment.
I came back to earth when a photographer walked up to me and I asked him what lens he was shooting on. Our conversation took off and he asked me ONE question that inspired this whole episode. He said, “If you had $5,000 and had to start all over again, where would you spend it and what would you do?” Wow.
Maybe you’re thinking of starting a business or maybe you’re pivoting and adding a new product or service. Or maybe you’re just curious where I’d invest today. I’m betting that excitement of wherever you are also comes with some anxiety and uncertainty about what things are actually going to cost you and where you should be putting your hard earned dollars when it comes to starting, growing, or scaling your business. Not only do you have to worry about making your idea successful and profitable, but there are a lot of start up costs to consider in the process.
In this episode I’m offering up my free strategies to get started, places to save a little cash while growing, and the most important investments… This is what I’d do with a blank slate, $5K and the knowledge I have now. So, how much does it cost to start a business? Press play on the player above for the full episode.
3 FREE Strategies
The FIRST thing I’d do if I were starting today is to start growing my email list. The first thing you need to do is build a list of people interested in hearing more about you and what you have to offer and this is something you can do for free.
Mailchimp has a totally free service that you can start building your email list at zero cost. You can always upgrade to a more advanced system later if needed, or once you get enough subscribers to make it worth it, but this is a FREE way to start in the beginning and the first step I would take. If you’re not entirely sure which direction you want to go or if you want to test out a few headlines or ideas, creating freebies that share your passion and serve your audience is a beautiful way to start. So yes, while you want to start on the pretty stuff, the shiny things, the fun things, I would start with this FREE idea and test your concept or offer or begin sharing your passions with an email list.
The next thing I want for you to focus on is figuring out what your client experience will be. Map out every single step someone will have to take to hear about you, find you, and then book you. A lot of times we overcomplicate this process, especially when we are building things out like our websites or Instagram feeds and so you want this process to be seamless and easy. If I were to tell a friend about you and what you do right now, what would they have to do to get in touch and book you.
A lot of times we want to start SUPER simple: They search you on Instagram (FREE) and then you have your description of what you do and an email to connect with you in your bio (FREE) and then you begin serving them! You could also include a URL to a freebie if you followed my first piece of advice so that they can get something for free and in exchange you can get their email address! If you can start with the customer experience in mind, you will be setting yourself up for a workflow that works and also for clients that will be more likely to refer you to others. The name of the game is “under promise, over deliver” in every step.
My third FREE tip? Create community and establish relationships in your area and industry for referrals. Don’t ask for coffee dates to “pick someone’s brain”. Instead offer friendship, start cheering others on, slide into DM’s with nothing but encouragement, offer your gifts to others without asking for anything in return, seek out community through things like the Rising Tide Society, join Facebook groups like our Goal Digger Insiders group. Don’t go this journey alone, it’s much more fun when you have people in your life who get what you do, who support you, and who can cheer you on. There can be community over competition so find a few people you trust and connect with them intentionally.
What to Skip at the Start
Getting started can be filled with paralyzing decisions, and this desire to do everything perfect and right and to never launch until you’re ready. I know all the ways you can drag your feet and never get your idea out there. Let me give you a list of things that you can wait on. This “To-Don’t list” will free you up!
You can always upgrade later but you don’t need to start with the best, most extravagant options at the beginning. Here are 5 places or ways to save money while you focus on getting your idea out there. These are things I either did or wish I would have done when I was in the penny pinching stages of starting my business.
- Opt for a Free email marketing service provider vs. top of line with all the bells and whistles. You can always upgrade later and it’s pretty easy to do so!
- Templates vs. custom work (in the areas of website, design, legal templates). Purchase templates so you’re not inventing things from scratch.
- Equipment: Consider used vs. new, and “will do the job” vs. top of the line.
- Consider employing students or hiring interns to help in the beginning vs. hiring the experts.
- Consider sites like Fiverr, Upwork, or 99designs for freelance help where you need it.
Invest in a Website
Let’s walk through real business start up costs, what you should plan for and where I would be investing my money if I were starting allllll over again today. These are the most important things and are worthy of your time and resources.
You need to own a space online. Now before you freak out or see dollar signs in your brain, let’s keep things simple here. Having a place to send people to on the world wide web is super important. It’s almost like a billboard for your business and while starting on social media with a Facebook page or Instagram account are logical first steps too, it’s important to own a space on the web that you have control over the client experience.
Facebook is in control of how people see your content, what they see, and the order in which they see it. Same with Instagram — the algorithm is constantly changing and while social media is an incredible and free tool you should utilize, you don’t want to put all of your eggs in one basket, especially one that you can’t control.
When you have a website or landing page or even a blog that you can send people to it and outline an experience that can help guide them into making the decision. You can even create one for free or next to free if start a WordPress blog, or you can go the template route on sites like SquareSpace or using GoDaddy’s website builder.
When I first started out, I couldn’t afford a full website. I started a free WordPress blog, hired a design student to make me a logo, and started sharing my work through that. I had ONLY a blog for a few years but it served me well because I was still able to have an “about” page, a contact form, and a portfolio of sorts. Websites are a total: “start small, work big” part of your business and there are many free platforms you can use to get started until you have grown your business to a place that you can afford your own branded website.
Equipment and Inventory
Now, this is going to look different based on the type of business you are running, but it’s likely this category will need to be on your startup list unless you run a completely virtual business. Even then it’s likely you’ll need a computer or other equipment. Make a list of all of the items you need to purchase and then it’s important to label what is truly a must have (like you can’t start a photography business without a camera but you CAN start it without having four different lenses!) so be honest about what you have to have to get your business started and then label the rest of the items in terms of level of importance.
I was able to start my business without going into debt by squirreling away every extra hundred dollars I could every time I was paid and putting any bonuses towards my equipment. It was a slow grow but it worked well for me. Set goals on what you need, look up the costs, and then figure out how you will save either putting all profits you’re making back into your business or using your 9-5 to help fund your dreams.
Making your Business Legit
You want to account for these fees so that you aren’t just starting a business but you’re running a legal one. While these start up fees suck, they will save you a lot of headaches and potential penalties or fees in the future — and if you hire someone like an accountant, they are likely to SAVE you money, so they can be worth their weight in gold. One of the places I ended up wasting money when I first started was on things I didn’t understand like registering my business, which I paid for and did wrong and then had to pay to undo, so I would start with finding an accountant and then paying the stuff to make you legit and legal! Legal set up fees, incorporation fees, insurance — getting your business or new idea legal is not the place to skip for the purpose of saving money. Set things up correctly from the beginning and respect this as a real business, not a hobby.
I know I’m an educator but man, my business was good before I sought out a mentor or paid for a course but it really started to grow exponentially when I invested in my own personal development and education. While your grip might be tight on your money, I want for you to reframe this thought. Think about it: money is a renewable resource right, you spend it, you work, and your bank account replenishes every two weeks… but does that happen with your time? No, you can’t get your time back, can you? So really, we need to look at your time and start to understand that your time is worth something — in fact, it’s worth a lot.
One of the biggest mistakes I see is that new entrepreneurs are so tight fisted with their money but they waste so much time and if we could just nip that in the bud and equip you to understand the power of investing in your own growth and in learning from people who can get you results faster, hand over systems that work, and save you from making mistakes or spending hours Googling things, then it is worth it, because you’ll have that much more time to invest in actually making money!
Sometimes it just takes buying a course and getting yourself results to see how you could extract your own genius and scale it. This can often be the thing that sets you apart or helps you get to where you’re going faster. If you’re listening to this episode, you likely understand the power of hiring mentors to teach you and learning from people ahead of you, but if you’ve never put a dollar down on growing your knowledge, then you might be dragging your feet on actually taking action. Knowledge alone can’t save you. You need systems, roadmaps, step-by-step processes you can adopt… So yes, you can get all the free education in the world but if you’re not taking action and investing in yourself, you’ll likely never do the actual work.
Choose someone who resonates with you, choose someone who has given you value without asking for a penny. I wish that I would have invested more into education at the beginning of my career when I was floundering around and feeling entirely alone, when I was making mistakes and wasting time in doing so. I was scouring the web for resources, trying to piecemeal a plan together, and trying to learn the art of photography while putting my corporate business education to work as an entrepreneur (not as easy as it sounds).
My advice: scour and find mentors you trust and get your hands on all of their free content until you’re ready to dive into their courses. Yes, this one is scary but trust your gut here and you’ll know when it’s the right time, the right offer, and the right price. I am giving you permission to invest. It’s okay to invest in learning things faster and taking mentorship from those ahead of you.
The Money Breakdown
So let’s take a closer peek at what a $5,000 budget might look like.
- Website: $500 – $1,000 for a template (or free if wordpress template) My sister spent $456 on the nose for a site, domain, and template – so we’re being generous here!
- Logo/Branding: $200 – $500
- Templates: Email templates, pricing guides, graphics: $300
- Legal/Incorporation/Insurance: $300 – $1,000
- Education: $2,500
You heard that right. I would spend HALF of my budget in this category.
At the end of the day, what is going to matter the most in terms of the success of your business? Having clear counsel and strategies from those that are ahead of us and have been there. Yet people are starting businesses online today and not willing to invest. Education is the place where our online businesses need to be and I believe it is going to make all the difference. Let’s not be part of that staggering percentage of businesses failing. Let’s instead surround ourselves with the right people and information to support and guide us.
To hear the full episode and learn more about your question: how much does it cost to start a business with more advice and stories about launching a business with $5,000, tune in on the player above.