Small businesses must be resourceful to stay afloat. With smaller budgets, big ideas need to be as proactive as they are cost-efficient, taking into account everything from consistent industry changes, cash flow, customer needs and the unexpected challenges you never saw coming. Multitasking to keep up with the big guys on a fraction of the budget is why small businesses have become notorious for bootstrapping, and being creative about their approach to staying competitive.
When push comes to shove, small business owners get scrappy. We spoke with seven entrepreneurs about how they do more with less and why it gives them the winning edge.
1. Use Time Wisely
Laura Kenney, founder and editor-in-chief of YouBeauty.com, has set up a process to make sure cool things get done well and that the right things get prioritized.
“There are so many opportunities to explore daily: mind-blowing new video experiences, smart ways to serve up your content to readers, social sharing tools, new ways to improve the shopping experience. It’s enough to make your head explode, and you could spend all day learning about these and no time actually working on your site’s real-time goals. It’s easy to get lost in the cool ideas,” she said.
“We’ve put a process into place to control this, with weekly priorities meetings, to put the right people in the room to decide what to move forward with, what to reconsider, and tag a priority to each goal so that our development team has clear direction on which task to do first.”
2. Be Smart About Customer Feedback
Jojo Hedaya, co-founder of Unroll.me, a service that rolls out your emails throughout the day rather than all at once, knows the value of listening to your customers, but being resourceful about what you do to address it.
“User feedback is very important, but a lot of times users think they want something that could end up hurting their experience. That’s why tracking a user’s behavior is super important. You must use the feedback that your power users give you and combine that with their behavioral data,” he said.
“At Unroll.me we get go through all of our user feedback and have daily discussions during our morning stand-up. We then decide if any of the feedback is worth moving on. We then put together the simplest test and track, track, track.”
3. You’ve Heard It Before, But Hire Well
A lot of startups and small businesses focus on culture when it comes to who they hire — so personality has to be a match — but Alexa Hirschfeld, co-founder of Paperless Post, knows that when hiring, while a good fit matters, you cannot skimp on skill.
“Never compromise on the quality of a new hire in a small company. If need be, contract with super talented people who you can’t hire yet to get to know them. Recognize that skill comes first and personality comes second, but if the personality is wrong, still don’t hire someone.”
4. Don’t Sell Out Just Yet
For some small business owners, the opportunity to sell to a larger corporation with the big money backup that will help to propel an entrepreneur’s idea into the big leagues can be tempting. On the other hand, Lee Hnetinka, co-founder and CEO at WunWun, the app that gets you what you want when you want it, says to hold on tight and for as long as you can.
“Do it for as long as you can, and you’ll keep more of your company in the end. This said, if a good deal comes your way take it. This is a tricky bet and you need to know the right time to take [your idea] outside.”
5. Ask Around
What small businesses lack in budgets, they gain in a network of like-minded entrepreneurs who have been there before. Alban Denoyel, co-founder and CEO at Sketchfab.com, says that bootstrapping is a team sport, and more people than you think want to play.
“When you need or want something, just ask for it! You’ll be surprised how often people are more willing to help than not. Most entrepreneurs are willing to help each other.”
6. Never Stop Looking
Most small business owners know that bootstrapping is a necessity, and finding the most resourceful solutions is key to survival. Joe Lallouz, co-founder at Grand St., a marketplace for creative, small-batch gadgets, says it’s important to always keep your ear to the ground.
“Resourcefulness is an entrepreneur’s best friend. In order to succeed, you need to move quickly and do whatever it takes to get things done. The reality is that startups are always bootstrapping something, whether it is an experimental feature, a new business model or the entire company.”
7. Dream Big
And though bootstrapping is about being on your toes and coming up with creative solutions, Alex Winter, founder and CEO of Placemeter, says to be careful about what you accept as success.
“Don’t trade your ambitions for leanness. Be resourceful and scrappy, but keep aiming high.”