GUEST BLOG: Jasmine Birtles explains how businesses can cut their costs

If you're a start-up, it's really important to keep costs low at any time but it's even more important now. In the current economic climate, there is less spare cash than ever so everyone has to watch the pennies.

Don't borrow

It's odd how almost the first thing any business advice leaflets tell you is how to get funding. But why saddle yourself with the cost of loans from the start if you can possibly avoid it? Why do you have to have so much cash to start your business? If you really think it through you might find that you don't need it.

Sure, if you've got a big idea and you are happy to have investors telling you what to do then go for VC funding or angel investing. But that's only right for a small percentage of entrepreneurs, I think.

It might be better to do as I tell first-time house-buyers to do: put it off for a year or two and spend that time saving like crazy so that you can fund yourself. Keep working on the side while running your business as well if you need to. Sure, it's tiring but in the long-run it will pay dividends.

Don't try to show off

We've all done it: chosen swanky offices or 'invested' in state-of-the-art computers because we told ourselves the business 'needed to make a good impression'. Actually I consider that there are very few businesses that really need to do that.

Many very big names started in the smallest way. Laura Ashley started on her kitchen table. Marks & Spencer was just a market stall at the beginning and Tesco was originally a couple of grocer's shops. What's so special about your business that it needs to look posh from the start?

Work from your spare room if you have to, use your old computer (and borrow others from friends and family), use your local coffee shop as your boardroom and travel economy wherever you go. Thankfully, now that it's cool to be green you can even cycle to meetings. Just make sure you have solemn-looking expression when you get there and just say 'I'm concerned about my carbon footprint'. Everyone there will nod sagely and feel guilty.

Get what you can for free

You'd be surprised what's out there if you know where to look.

For a start, you can get free furniture - sometimes genuine office furniture - on the free sites like Freecycle and the 'free stuff' section of Gumtree.com. There's free software of all kinds on the net. Check out Freeware [http://freewarehome.com/] to start you off.

You can also get free help if you can offer genuinely good experience to students. Business colleges are always looking for companies to give projects to teams of their MBA students. Some charge but most just do it on expenses. It's £1,000s less than bringing in management consultants and often more effective!

Prioritise

This is something I'm particularly bad at so it's a 'do as I say, not as I do' situation. A small budget means you have to make hard choices about what to spend on and what to 'save for later' (as I like to put it to myself - it's nicer than just saying 'no' to myself and my team). Usually the biggest expenses are staff so you should decide if you really can afford a full-time marketing person right now or if you should do it yourself for a few months until you have some extra cash brought in by the fab coding created by the IT guy you decided to spend on first.

On the other hand, as mentioned above, you might find that with a bit of extra creative thought you could get for free things you thought you had to pay for. Swapping, sharing, paying in kind - all these kinds of activities can work very well for you and other businesses while you are starting up.

With a bit of bartering, for example, you might be able to share a stand at an exhibition with a friend in return for helping them with PR and transport for the event. Don't be afraid to ask. If you don't ask, you don't get.

Remember to give more than you take, though. That's the way the world works best.

 

 

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