Simply put, the less money you have, the more friends and contacts you need. There’s nothing worse than hitting up one friend for everything. You feel guilty and they feel put upon. Or worse, you try to do everything by yourself, which will ultimately hamstring you as the bottleneck in the growth of your business.
I speak from experience on this: the more friends you have, the easier it is to grow your bootstrap enterprise. They become a resource for ideas (that banana slicer is probably not such a great product after all), support (encouraging you through difficult times), and growth (sharing your great work with their network).
Don’t rely on your friends for everything! Check out these must-have resources for bootstrapping entrepreneurs!
Library – If you’re cash-strapped, big ticket training events and even trips to the local bookstore are probably out. Never fear, a quality library will have almost every resource you could imagine for growing your business. Free computer and internet usage means that you can check email and contact clients even if you don’t have a computer at home. And if you think your library is dinky, and doesn’t have much to offer, here’s my all-time favorite reason to use a library: Inter-library loan. Basically, you fill out a form, and your library can pull the book you need from another library somewhere else in the world that has the book your looking for. There are a few exceptions, but not enough for someone starting out to worry about. And if you have a Kindle, be sure to take advantage of the kindle lending program. You can borrow books on your kindle without having to buy them!
MailChimp – Every business needs a legal way to keep in contact with their best clients and prospects. If you’re just getting started, MailChimp offers free mailing list services for your growing business. They have a simple to use interface, and incredibly powerful statistics and tracking. That makes it easier to see at-a-glance what’s working in your email campaigns so that you can improve your client response rates.
PayPal – It’s critical that businesses be able to accept payments of all forms: cash, check, or charge. Paypal makes it easy for a bootstrapped enterprise to accept payments both online and offline (through their “Here” program). Plus, Paypal is now accepted at major retailers like Home Depot. It’s only a matter of time before this payment processor is accepted and used by even more consumers and businesses alike.
DropBox – Whether you’re creating a backup file from your hard drive, or you’re collaborating with colleagues, DropBox makes it insanely easy to save and share even large files over the Internet.
OpenOffice – Why pay for pricey spreadsheet, presentation, or word processing software when you can get a suite of document products free? What’s more, OpenOffice is compatible with both Microsoft Office and GoogleDocs so you can port your documents easily. Plus, OpenOffice has a built-in PDF converter so you can create e-books effortlessly.
Google Voice – Connect it to your gtalk account and you can make calls from your laptop wherever you are in the world. It also has voicemail and can ring through to your landline. Every business needs a dedicated business line, and Google Voice makes it free. If you’re looking for something a little more portable, or you’d like to have a cell phone, consider TracFone with their very inexpensive (under $20USD) phones and pay-as you go plans. If you’re looking for a smart phone, Virgin Mobile has affordable by-the-minute and monthly subscriptions options for Blackberry, Android, and iPhone devices without a contract.
There are tons of affordable resources out there for bootstrappers, but in my opinion, the ones listed above are the must-haves, regardless of the business you’re in. What are some of your favorite tools? Leave a comment below and join the discussion.