By Mark Pearson
The recent recession hit us all, collectively, pretty hard and we’ve been struggling to recover. But out of the ashes, there’s a positive. And it’s a big one. As a country, especially in business, we’ve never been so creative, daring and energised. For all the damage it caused, the global economic crisis sparked a boom in entrepreneurship. Since 2010, 20% of working people have decided to sculpt their own futures by starting a business or going freelance.
The fact is it’s never been easier; new technology and broadening online capabilities are fantastic enablers giving access to free tools and networking platforms. This combined with no real need for office space allows comparatively low start-up costs. Now anyone with a smart idea or in demand skills can start working for themselves. I started MyVoucherCodes in my bedroom with £300 and a laptop connected to the web. Within a couple of years it snowballed into a multi-million pound business.
Now businesses can be started with a few hundred pounds, and we can network with other freelancers to take on jobs, which individually, would be impossible without a workforce. However, according to ONS figures, the average self-employed person takes home just £12,000! So it’s clear that, even though it’s easier to get things started, it’s quite difficult to make it pay. Here are a few tricks I learned over the years to help you cut costs:
1. Who needs market research?
Whether you’re looking for market insights, customer feedback, or a want to develop an existing product or business, don’t shell out for costly market research - use what’s available online for free. Social media comments give us an amazing understanding of how customers perceive brands and interact with our products, and those of our competitors. Want to know what your customers think? Send out polls, tweet it or post a status update. Also, check out review sites like Trust Pilot. All this helps you tap into the mind-set of your market, for absolutely nothing.
2. Testing the water
When launching new products, use third party retail sites such as eBay and Amazon to test the market and gain product validation. This allows you to monitor performance and gather customer feedback. This information will help you attract investors, improve the product and allows you to tweak your business model. Then of course, with a little investment, you can scale up with your own website at lower costs. An equivalent platform for testing B2B services is Linked In.
3. Smart social
Social media is a powerful marketing tool, and if you harnessed effectively, it comes for free. But to achieve this potential you first need to build your social presence. Facebook competitions are a fantastic way to do just that for next to nothing. By running a competition you could expand your target base, increase interactions and develop your brand identity all in one go. To increase the impact of your campaign, partner with a larger, nationally recognised company - offer them brand exposure and co-registration in return for a prize. Impressed with this partnership, your customers will generate more interactions.
4. Savvy hiring
Instead of hiring full time staff, outsource certain functions to freelancers to cut costs. Plus this provides an easy way to connect with other entrepreneurs. For bigger projects, it may make sense to hire interns. Usually recent graduates or students, interns are looking for vital experience in order to progress their careers, so you won’t need as much compensation as established professionals. Get on the phone and start chatting with university employability teams.
A key part of my success is down to my seeking out business experts and entrepreneurs to learn from and work with. I’ve found some of the best ideas are born out of collaborations. Yes, business can be quite competitive, but you’ll always find people with similar attitudes, willing to help you develop, and perhaps even come on board. Networking is essential. And the easiest way to do it is by getting online. Linked In and Twitter are some of the most useful platforms for this. So, join groups and follow prominent businesspeople, and start asking questions. And it’s reciprocal — if you can answer someone’s problem, do it. They just might remember the favour.
6. Be a thought leader
You are an important aspect of your brand. So start marketing yourself. Use social platforms to get your own ideas across and curate great content. To become a thought leader all you need is linked In, Twitter, Facebook and a blog. To start, connect with and comment on posts by key thought leaders in your field. Retweet and share articles, videos and posts which inspire you — followers will respect you for sharing and you’ll interact and form professional relationships with key industry influencers. On your blog evaluate and expand upon existing discourse and introduce your original concepts and thoughts.
7. Be Original
Whether it’s content for your blog, and especially for your website, use well written, unique content. Never be tempted to replicate or paraphrase copy from other website as you’ll get hit with a Google penalty. If you’re starting out, your organic ranking can mean life or death for your business. If you commission freelancers, check if it’s original using a free plagiarism checker like Copyscape, before parting with any money.
8. Find ways to save money
From using voucher codes to taking advantage of loyalty reward schemes, as a savvy businessperson you should always be on the lookout for a bargain. Before you buy or subscribe to anything check if discount vouchers are available. It takes seconds and could free up money to hire a freelancer to take care of the day to day - freeing up your time to court investors, win new business or work on your business plan. Many companies now offer loyalty benefits. If you’re going to be regularly using services such as car hire, airlines or credit cards it makes sense to be mindful of what’s on offer and take a few minutes to sign-up for the rewards program.
Mark Pearson is an award-winning entrepreneur, serial investor and mentor. In 2014 Mark sold discount website www.MyVoucherCodes.co.uk and parent company Markco Media, a business he built in his bedroom for just £300.