As a bootstrapping entrepreneur you might not have all the money a venture-backed startup has, yet you still need to compete with funded startups and keep up with their pace.
It’s not uncommon for a first-time founder to build out their prototype, funding it out of their own personal savings while still holding a day job for months – or even years. However, just because you’re bootstrapping doesn’t mean you need to be cheap – you just need to be smart about how you use your resources and get the most value for your dollars.
Here’s a list of affordable tools I used when bootstrapping two of my own businesses. I hope it helps you improve the chances of success of your startup. Good Luck!
Ideally, you test and validate your ideas quickly without forming a company. But if it takes off, you’ll have to tackle the legal side eventually anyway. So if you have multiple co-founders, and building your MVP demands significant resources, it might make sense to address your basic legal needs early on.
#1: LegalZoom To Form Your Company
Law firms are expensive. LegalZoom isn’t. You might need to consult a lawyer (or the internet) first to educate yourself. But once you know what you need, you can file forms at LegalZoom for a fraction of the cost of hiring a law firm.
LegalZoom offers quick, top-quality legal services and documents at budget prices. From incorporation, to filing trademarks and other legal forms, they’re a useful resource for every bootstrapping entrepreneur.
Make sure that when you incorporate your startup, you pay close attention to what decisions are permanent (location of your company for example), and what can be changed later (C corp > S corp). A bad decision here can come back to haunt you down the line. For example, if you plan to raise funds in the future you might be better off incorporating in DE that many VCs prefer and not in NY or CA.
#2: UpCounsel To Structure Your Legal Agreements
One tool you might want to check out in this stage is UpCounsel – think of it like Elance for legal projects. They have a great library of free templates of agreements and legal documents you can download and customize to fit your business needs.
Get $100 credit towards any project on UpCounsel with this link (disclaimer: I get $100 credit after completed project as well).
Once your business is formed, you’ll get down to work. These two tools make this a whole lot easier for you.
#3: TeamWork For Collaboration & Task Management
There are many tools out there to help you manage tasks and collaborate with your team (say 3+ members), and I’m a fan of TeamWork. A beautiful, easy-to-use and powerful suite of tools helps you keep all your team’s tasks in one place and collaborate in real time to get results.
They have a rock solid free plan if you want to try it but, but you can also apply to get their pro version for free for 1 year (which includes powerful Google Docs/Sheets integrations and more) – plenty of time to launch your MVP, or even get traction for your product.
If you are building a technology product and your team is small, say you (business founder) and a developer, please consider indulging your developer request to track work in Git, it’s simple but it works and your developer will be happy.
#4: GoDaddy Bookkeeping To Organize Your Books
GoDaddy Bookkeeping (formerly known as Outright) makes bookkeeping simple. They organize all your finances in one place, without hours of data entry or tracking down receipts.
Accounting is important, but can be a pain to deal with. You don’t want to waste your valuable runway time worrying about getting the books sorted out. The trick is to do it right from the start – create a separate business checking account, and ideally a business credit card that you use for ALL your business expenses, and let powerful software do the rest.
Just tag and categorize your expenses throughout the year, and when tax season comes around, all you need to do is take the P&L statements to your accountant to file the tax returns. Bookkeeping doesn’t have to be hard.
Building Your MVP
The real work starts when you build your Minimum Viable Product (MVP). Here are some essential, affordable tools you can use when building your MVP, validating your idea, or even launching it.
#5: WordPress For Website Hosting
When you’re building your MVP, you need to act fast. Many startups forget about this when it comes to their website. Instead, they overbuild, scale prematurely and waste too much time perfecting a website for an idea that hasn’t been validated yet.
Don’t make the same mistake. Use whatever tool that gets the job done with minimum effort so you can speed up your learning.
Just use WordPress for your coming soon page and your first content pages: about, blog posts, FAQ pages, and the works. There’s a good reason WordPress powers more than 25% of the websites on the internet: it’s cheap, easy-to-use and just works.
WordPress isn’t just for blogs – you can configure it to power all your content or marketing pages in addition to a blog – that’s what we had done at BigMailer.io using a premium Divi theme from Elegant Themes.
#6: 99Designs For Basic Designs
Designing your logos and other visuals doesn’t need to be expensive. 99Designs offer great, full-range design services at affordable prices.
From free logo templates, to $99 logos and even complete website designs for under $1000, they’ve got all your basic design needs covered.
Make sure you know what you want and provide clear directions to ensure that you’ll get the outcome you’re looking for.
#7: Stripe or Paypal To Collect Payments
Once you use Stripe, you can use financial analytics tools that pull data from Stripe and present it in an easy to analyze and track way. I highly recommend ProfitWell that is startup friendly with its free price tag for unlimited users compared to tools like Baremetrics and FirstOfficer.io.
When you’re still testing your MVP and especially if your product is B2C or targets international customers, consider adding PayPal‘s “Checkout with Paypal” button to your test pricing page. PayPal is a recognized and trusted brand used as a payment option even by established brands (like AppSumo) and for some audiences can actually help you increase conversion rates. On my last B2C business we AB tested checkout page with and without Paypal as a payment option and version with Paypal produced 10% more in sales.
Once you’ve got that MVP up and running, it’s time to get some customers and gain traction. These powerful tools might help.
#8: Google Analytics To Track & Learn
Building a startup is all about learning faster. And Google Analytics is the perfect tool to help you do it. You NEED to track how well you’re doing, and this tool lets you do it for free.
Just drop a small piece of code onto your site, and you’ll get powerful tracking, data, analysis and enterprise quality reporting for free.
Make sure you define your conversion goals (signups, registration, viewing a payment page) that will help you see how well your MVP is performing. Start collecting that conversion data early on, so you can accurately track whether each change you make brings you closer to success. Check out this Guide to Conversion Tracking article to help you get started.
In the early stages, you might not have enough traffic to be statistically significant yet. If so, look for qualitative data (e.g. customer feedback), not quantitative, and use that to drive decisions until your data set grows big enough to be useful.
#9: Google AdWords To Drive Traffic
Now, it’s time to get prospects to visit your site. If they don’t come on their own, use Google AdWords to drive traffic to your MVP..
For as little as $10 dollars a day, you could drive enough traffic to your website to help you validate your idea quicker. Even better – Google AdWords usually offers a free $100-150 ad spend bonus for new accounts (just sign up and wait for promo email).
Driving traffic with Google AdWords is one of the easiest ways to quickly get your MVP in front of your target audience and quickly validate your ideas, so don’t overlook it.
#10: Email Collection and Email Marketing
Once you have your website up, make sure to begin collecting emails immediately, even if all you have is a landing page and no product. On BigMailer blog we are using SumoMe for a newsletter signup module – they offer a big selection of display options and designs and offer a free plan.
Once you start getting new emails from early adopters and beta testers, make sure you keep in touch and follow up with updates, usage tips, and questions.
Talking with your (prospective) customers is one of the most powerful ways to get the crucial feedback you need to improve your product. Every email you send is a chance to ask about features, functionality and what your audience really cares about.
If you plan to spend a long time building out your MVP or in private Beta consider an email marketing platform with a good free tier so you don’t pay just for storing your contacts or sending minimal emails with no positive ROI.
Most email providers offer free tiers, usually capped at 2,000 contacts. BigMailer.io offers a generous free tier – up to 5,000 contacts free – and only $1 for every additional 1,000 contacts above. Keep an eye on your growth rate and future cost, and consider taking advantage of product pricing that scales well.
Try Them Out
So there you have it – these are the tools I’ve used successfully when bootstrapping two of my own businesses. They’re great and effective, and very affordable for any bootstrapping entrepreneur.