shoestring budget
Many Under 30 CEO readers are looking to start something big (a company that can scale) with limited resources (money).  We’ve been there.  We started Audio Transcription on a shoestring budget and we learned a lot in the process.  There are the intangible learnings (e.g. that finding, spending and saving early-stage money is all just another obstacle in the path to startup success) and the tangible (the specifics services, tips and tools that exist to help save your young business money).  To help other entrepreneurs, we’ve listed some actionable money-saving tips below.  What did we miss?  Let us know in the comments.
  1. Use WordPress.Org. WordPress.Org is the open source version of WordPress.com.  Though it’s generally referred to as blogging software, the range of ways in which one can use WordPress is far more broad.  The website of my company, Audio Transcription, was built for free using WordPress.Org software.  As for design, we paid about $40 for a theme (because it matched our aesthetic preferences), but there are literally 1000s of free WordPress themes available.  The larger point is that many corporate websites (for startups and larger) can be built entirely for free using WordPress.
  2. Consider using free legal resources like Nolo.com. If you have simple business-related legal questions and can’t afford a lawyer, consider using free online legal resources like Nolo.com.  Nolo has tons of relevant small business articles like “Create Your LLC Operating Agreement” and “Your New LLC,From A to Z.”  While there’s no substitute for a lawyer’s advice, if you’re going to seek business-related legal information online, go straight to a repubtable website like Nolo.com.
  3. Consider LegalZoom.com. In the same vein as Nolo.com, consider LegalZoom.com.  LegalZoom.com is one step between free online legal resources and hiring a lawyer.  What sites like LegalZoom offer is “online hand-holding” through the legal process.  In terms of business services, sites like LegalZoom offer hand-holding through the incorporation and LLC formation processes as well as drafting partnership agreements and filing Doing Business As statements.  Always consult a lawyer if your startup or small business has the money, but be aware that there are less expensive options to explore as well.
  4. Don’t unnecessarily shell out money traveling to meetings. Whenever you can, use free video conferencing technology like Skype or TokBox.  You could also use paid web conferencing technology like GoToMeeting.com or WebEx.com
  5. This is geared more toward offline businesses: Don’t hire a web developer unless you have complex website needs. If you’re starting or run a business that has a physical storefront, consider how complex you web needs truly are.  Are they so great that you couldn’t self-install WordPress (#1)?  Could you use free website creators like DevHub.com, Wix.com or Google Sites?  Is a Twitter account enough to suit your business’ needs?
  6. Accept credit cards with SquareUp.com. SquareUp.com (also called “Square”) offers free credit card readers that you can plug into an iPhone.  It’s simple to use and cheaper per transaction than most other credit card readers.  Even better, if your business is not currently accepting credit cards, you’re leaving money on the table, as people tend to spend more money when using credit cards than when they use cash.
  7. Consider using FreeConferenceCall.com. FreeConferenceCall.com provides any group (including small businesses, of course) a teleconferencing phone line that is available 24/7.  Your group gets a dial-in number and access code.  Once you share this information with your group members, you can all communicate in the same secure environment.
  8. Use your scrap paper.
  9. Get a business phone number with Google Voice. If you’re still using your cell phone as your business’ phone line, pay particular attention to this tip.  Google Voice is a free voicemail and phone number rerouting service from Google.  Your customers can call a phone number that you select for free as your business phone number from Google’s database of available phone numbers.  Their calls are rerouted to any number you choose (i.e. your cell phone).  They’ll never need to know your personal number.  If the calls made to your Google Voice number are not answered, the voicemails will be transcribed (though not perfectly, you should hire a voicemail transcription service for that) and sent to your email.  Your voicemails are also available to be played online.
  10. Consider working out of a coworking location instead of leasing officespace. Coworking is shared officespace, generally with a community feel and month-to-month rental agreements.  Unlike signing a formal lease for several years, coworking is a lot more flexible.  Also, leasing traditional officespace requires you to estimate your space requirements and many small business owners overestimate, paying more than they should.  Coworking, on the other hand, allows you to simply rent another desk when you need to add someone to your office.

Bonus Tip: Make sure you know how to have a logo designed as cheaply as possible. LogoMaker.com is a great free online logo maker.  Freelancing websites like oDesk.com, Elance.com and Guru.com are also great for inexpensive logos.  Moving up the price scale, there’s 99Designs.com, which is more expensive than these other options but deserves a mention because it’s a website that allows designers to submit logo designs and you only pay for a logo if a designer creates one you like and want to use.

Randall Davidson, 27, is the lead project manager and a co-founder of Audio Transcription, a transcription service.  Audio Transcription was founded on a shoestring budget and, incorporating many of the above money-saving tips, has grown to the point where it now provides business transcription and other services to many large clients.