You know what phrase I really hate? Legit have a physical gross reaction to?
You have to spend money to make money.
Eeewwww! Do you feel icky too?
What people should say instead is –
You have to INVEST money to make money.
There is a time and a place for investing money back into your business. You will at some point need to invest in infrastructure and some paid business systems that can keep up with you – like a bookkeeping software, CRM, email service provider, and perhaps Adobe – as well as additional coaching and training (yep, hiring a coach IS a worthwhile practice, I can speak alot to that). But at the beginning of your business is not the time to sink money you don’t have into this new venture.
A posting in a Facebook group recently caught my eye. A beginning VA (virtual assistant) was inquiring about the possibility of setting up a Kickstarter campaign to fund her VA career launch. She thought she needed several hundred dollars and didn’t have time to raise the cash. I jumped in there and encouraged her that when I started my business, I started it with zero dollars and she could to.
My entrepreneurial journey happened rather quickly. After being a dutiful stay at home wife and homeschooling mom of five, I suddenly found myself single and the sole custody provider for my kids. I was more fortunate than some in that we received monthly child support and I moved closer to my family for help, but it was a huge transition. I even figured out how to keep to keep my family of 6 sheltered, fed and happy for $2,000/month (just sayin’… cause you CAN do this!)
I have a Masters degree but it’s not in a high paying field and though I would’ve been able to secure a “real life” job, the daycare fees alone would’ve eaten it all up. I knew the traditional route wouldn’t work in my case and I started to build an online presence and business. For zero dollars.
START YOUR BUSINESS WITH ZERO DOLLARS
When you first begin to put yourself out there, you don’t need anything fancy. Yep – this website designer just said that. Hosting can be secured very affordably (my favorite hosting company is Siteground for about $5/month), but when you have zero dollars let’s stick with free for now.
Build your website on WordPress.COM. There is a difference between WordPress.ORG (self-hosted WordPress platform) and WordPress.COM (company hosted, free option). I always recommend to my clients to use a WordPress.ORG platform for building for any variety of reasons, but when you are just starting – JUST GET OUT THERE. Don’t get hung up on all of the extras. You just need to stake a claim on the little corner of the real estate world that is uniquely you.
When to Invest: I should take a minute right now and have a discussion about buying your domain name. Some things you want to think about before buying your domain name
- If you already have a business or brand, your domain should match your name. Feel free to use your name! If the .com domain is taken, think of an alternative like .co or .me. More and more people are using .co domains and it’s not slowing anyone down one bit.
- Try and keep your domain name as short and memorable as possible. Avoid using hyphens; if people are typing in the address, it can get lost.
- Make sure your domain is easy to spell and pronounce and doesn’t contain any strange letter substitutions or omissions that will make it difficult to remember.
- Check that the domain name does not appear as a username on major social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
You can spend about $10/YEAR to buy your custom domain name on Namecheap – like sarahkaydesign.co – and it will stay with you wherever you go, whether WordPress.com or .org. Do you HAVE to have it? Nope. You can always use the mydomain.wordpress.com as your web address to start, but if you WERE going to buy anything up front, this would be high on my list of priorities.
And if you have the money to invest in hosting, go ahead and start out on WordPress.ORG. It will be less to do later on (cause I guarantee you’ll want to move your website that direction as soon as you can) and you can just hit the ground running in the right direction.
I have known people (seriously) who have become so hung up on publishing heir website because they didn’t have any money to get professional pictures taken. Stop. Just stop the madness. My first headshot was an iPhone selfie that I tweaked with the in-phone editor. And I still love it:
Right? Who says it has to be fancy? Just get it done!
If you need other images to round out your website graphics, check out free stock photo sites. Some of my favorites are Unsplash, Pexels, and Pixabay. They have beautiful backgrounds and styled stock photography. You can download and use their photos for free on your site.
So you’ve got your website up, you talk about what you do and who you serve (Need help with this? Snag my free Web Copy Workbook), but how are people going to book you or contact you? You can easily incorporate a contact form via plugin on your website (some of my favorites are Contact Form 7, Ninja Forms or Caldera Forms) but I actually like to take it one step further – still for zero dollars.
One of my FREE favorite tricks and most professional set-ups is embedding a Dubsado form on your website and then linking your redirect page to Calendly immediately for them to book a call with you.
Was that all mumbo jumbo to you? Ok, let’s back up a few steps… my bad.
Dubsado is an online business management system. After my first year bootstrapping, AFTER I was making money and ready to streamline my business more, I was ready to uplevel my game and invest in a system like Dubsado (I currently use 17Hats, you can check out both). However Dubsado allows you to create a free trial (up to 3 clients) within their account before paying. Use this free account to create a “Lead Capture Form” (aka fancy contact form) to embed on your website.
Once you create a Lead Capture form in Dubsado, you can easily link it to a FREE Calendly scheduling page or Acuity. This way, when they say yes, I’d like to chat with you about your services and hit “submit”, they are automatically taken to your scheduling calendar. No extra step! This increases your conversions from contacts to customers.
Facebook Business Page
Starting a Facebook business page is super easy and starts with the click of a button. I’m not going to walk you through it here (there are alot of great tutorials on You Tube, including this one), but it’s free and is a great way for clients to find you, contact you, and book you! If you use a lead capture form from 17Hats, you can even add it right to your Facebook Business Page sidebar. Check out my blog post about it HERE.
YOUR BUSINESS SYSTEMS
Bookkeeping / Proposals
When I first started, I found the website Zipbooks. Can I just say how much I love it and recommend it? Still do!
Zipbooks offers a free account option, where you get:
- Unlimited invoicing
- Unlimited vendors & customers
- Acceptance of credit cards and PayPal
- Unlimited bookkeeping
- Connection & management of one bank account
Some of the additional features I really liked were:
- Time tracking built right into the software, so no additional websites needed
- Track business expenses
- Unlimited customers / project management
- Custom invoices
- Creation of custom proposals/quotes
- Invoice in multiple currencies (hello Canada!)
- Business reporting, so you can see your profit and expenses
And did I mention they have an app? There were so many times I was at the playground and realized I forgot to send an invoice to a client. Bam! Whip out my phone, fire off an invoice, get paid. All from the playground. #bossmom
Within Zipbooks, there is a feature to create a quote for your client, which is essentially your custom proposal. Send it as a beautiful, custom PDF. If they accept, Zipbooks will then generate an invoice for them to pay – so a very streamlined way for free to look professional and have your systems in place.
When to Invest: When your business starts to sustain a profitable return and a little extra automation is needed – such as issuing contracts and signing PDFs – look to upleveling your Dubsado investment. Or perhaps switch at this time to 17Hats (cheaper cost per month). Both offer the services of Zipbooks (quotes, invoices, time tracking, processing payments) but with the added capability of adding contracts, signatures, client portals (really cool feature) and sending beautiful emails all-in-one. I knew it was time to invest when I had multiple quotes being accepted and I was spending too much time tweaking Google Docs, turning them into PDFs, then using Adobe Acrobat to add fillable signature boxes, then emailing the client.
By using a software like Dubsado or 17Hats, you can automate the whole flippin’ thing – send a quote using prefilled service offerings (saves time), which turns into contract upon acceptance (also prefilled and pre-signed if you like), then an automated invoice (which can have a payment schedule set up) and any other steps you’d like to automate, like sending a “How I Work” document or Branding Questionnaire.
Generating a contract in Google Docs will allow you to access your contract from anywhere (whether you’re on your laptop or the app on your phone) without having to be on one device, like it would if you were to save it to your hard drive, The bonus about using Google Docs is that you can also easily download your contract as a PDF, allowing you to send it as a professional looking document and easy to sign by both you and your client.
Without a paid subscription to a online business management system or a PDF signature service such as Docusign, your options are a bit limited. But don’t worry – they are out there!
The best way to do this (though it is a bit labor intensive) is one I mentioned above: to download the free software Adobe Acrobat Reader. Once installed, you can upload your PDF (downloaded from Google Docs) and then use the “Fill and Sign” feature. Then save it again as a PDF and email it to your client. Like I said, a bit more work but you can uplevel as your business grows and you need to streamline your workflows.
So let’s see what you’ve done now for zero dollars:
- Set up your Facebook Business Page
- Created your personalized website
- Took some headshots to include on our website
- Used my Web Copy Workbook to add content to your website
- Created a way for clients to contact you – and even book a discovery call with you
- Set up your bookkeeping system to accept payments
- Used your bookkeeping system to send a proposal to a potential client
- Created a contract – with signature – as a PDF document
You are officially in business my friend! CONGRATULATIONS !!
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DISCLAIMER: This post may contain affiliate links where I may make a little bit of money in order to support my Starbucks habit. But everything I share, I share because I like.