Q&A: Limiting start-up costs

A woman counts the coins in her wallet

Putting money in a purse - limiting start-up costsGeoff Wightwick of accountancy and business service provider Baker Tilly provides advice on how to start up on a shoestring

Why do I need to keep my start-up costs down?

The less you spend, the less you'll have to turnover to breakeven, plus, the more likely you'll be able to afford any unexpected costs. Also, it's a good discipline to get into right from the beginning. It pays to establish good habits and stick to them.

Can I start a business on a shoestring?

It depends what you are doing. You can't start some types of business without investing, while others can be started with very little expense. With some types of business, it doesn't pay to pinch the pennies too much, as this can hinder performance or even put off customers.

How can starting my business from home help?

After wages, premises are usually the second biggest overhead. If you can start your business without having that burden, you're more likely to survive. There's nothing wrong with starting your business from home and then taking on premises when necessary or when you can afford them. However, make sure you have dedicated space, maybe a spare room, garage or even garden shed. If you need to meet people, you can do this in a coffee shop. Serviced offices are a popular and relatively cheap option and you don't generally have to sign up for long terms.

How important is it to be creative?

When they need something, many people instinctively focus on buying, it's become a natural reaction, but there are alternatives - you need to be resourceful. Look for no-cost or low-cost alternatives first - paying top-dollar for new goods or premium services should be a last resort if you want to save cash especially when refurbished or secondhand equipment will oftern suffice.

Where do people usually waste money when starting up?

Low or zero-cost advertising and marketing, such as audience building on social media, word of mouth or even a card in a newsagent's window, might be more effective than an expensive direct mail or advertising campaign.

Renting expensive premises is another common mistake. And unless you start a business that genuinely relies on its image, don't pay a fortune for a new logo or an all-singing, all-dancing website - keep them ultra-simple. Every penny you spend must earn money for your business otherwise you're wasting money.

Should I use my home-based PC?

Definitely. Using a home-based computer or tablet can save you a lot of money on many business tasks, from producing stationery and building your own website to doing your own simple accounts.

Your own gear can also help with market research, as well as networking and finding new customers. And, having a professional looking, easy-to-use website is crucial, so pay someone else to do it if your skills are lacking. Set an affordable budget and get them to work within it.

Another alternative is to purchase secondhand or refurbished computers and accessories. They are often much cheaper and usually carry a warranty in case of problems.

What about borrowing things?

This can help keep initial costs down, but consider what you would do if the lender asks for the borrowed item back at an inconvenient time, which inevitably happens. Also, if a borrowed item breaks you might have to buy a replacement.

And second-hand stuff?

Depends what you're after, but absolutely - eBay, local auctioneers, charity shops, newspaper and trade publication classifieds are good places to look. Often when firms move to better premises they’ll sell off or even give away old furniture and office equipment. Many companies also sell refurbished products such as computers and accessories, office furniture and tools.

Can I exchange goods and services with other businesses?

This depends on what you do, but yes, you might be able to offset some or all of your costs by doing a 'contra deal'.

Another option is to share costs by sharing business space. An established business might even let you rent a small amount of their office for a nominal fee.

How important is it to find the cheapest suppliers?

Don't confuse cheapest with best value. Often, it's better to pay a little more for better quality - especially if it's for a customer-facing item.

Focus on customer expectations when making such decisions.

When quality is less important, by all means go for cheapest. Without being unreasonable, drive a hard bargain with your suppliers, but learn to recognise when you've got a good deal.

Obviously, you wouldn't advise doing anything illegal or morally wrong…

Absolutely not. However much you're determined to save money, never do anything improper or illegal – it isn't worth it. Having a strong moral and ethical approach to business pays off in the long term and people will remember and respect you for it.

Any other advice?

Don't be embarrassed to ask for help. You'd be surprised what many established businesses will offer if they think they can gain in the long term.

Also, speak to your local enterprise agency, chamber of commerce or trade association to find out whether there are any grants or interest-free loans available in your area.

Written with expert input from Geoff Wightwick of Baker Tilly.

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