I think people throw around the word “bootstrapped” too casually. I hate to break it to you, but raising 500K from a friends and family round is not being a bootstrapped startup. When you’re truly bootstrapped, you don’t have the couple of hundred dollars to shell out to someone to do your companies taxes, or go to that pitch event, or hire someone to help you get PR. When you’re scraping together cash to get by, offering people money just isn’t an option.
BUT I HAVE GOOD NEWS
Here are 5 things you can offer people to help you get shit done when you can’t even buy a book of checks, let alone write one.
1. Your Skills
This is always my first go-to. Although an exchange of services can get messy, as long as you’ve carefully outlined exactly what each person will deliver, leveraging your own skills to hire someone to do something you suck at can be incredibly effective. I come from a background in graphic design, so many times I offer people new logos or social posts in exchange for something else. I got my taxes done by a CPA while I helped him redo his website. Find people who need things and barter with them, the key to this tactic is to carefully package up your skills in a way that sounds appealing. If you can write, offer to take over their twitter account for a week. If you can write business plans, or you’re good at pitching, or you can debug a product, then you have something to offer. Chances are if you’ve made it this far in starting your own company, you have strengths where someone else has weaknesses, use that.
2. Your Social Influence
This part takes a while, but spend 30 minutes a day building up your social following. Do it on one platform and get really good at that, I find trying to become an Insta-star AND Twitter famous is just too much time spent where I could be doing other things. If you build up your social following then tweeting about someone else’s company can be valuable to them, and they are much more likely to want to help you out in other ways. If you’ve got 5,000 followers on twitter and they have 200, this small gesture can actually mean a lot. Creating a following is entirely free and you can use it to leverage help from other people, or build relationships, or make that investor who is sitting on the panel that you just tweeted about the entire time actually remember you after you’ve introduced yourself along with a swarm of other people. When they’re in their uber home and catching up on their phone, guess who’s beautiful face they’re going to see first? Your twitter mentions.
3. Your Network
Every time I talk to another CEO or entrepreneur I offer my ability to make introductions to thank them for helping me and build a strong relationship. I close most of my phone calls by saying “and if there’s anyone you see I’m connected to on LinkedIn that you want to talk to, please don’t hesitate to reach out!”. This shows that you can provide value to them and are willing to after they just provided value to you. I also happen to work with tons of freelancers per my company, so I have a large network of developers and graphic designers that I can tap. Many times people don’t even ask me for anything in return, but the offer shows them a little piece of who you are and again, makes them more willing to help you knowing that you’re willing to do the same. The biggest thing I’ve learned about networking isn’t necessarily what value people can add to you, but what value you can add to other people. That is a truly powerful connection, and constantly being a leach looking for help and offering nothing in return isn’t a good way to build relationships.
4. Your Time
This might seem silly but most meetings I’ve taken that don’t directly benefit me have always come back around to help in some way shape or form. That person may be looking for something from you right now, but chances are if you give them the time to answer their emails, or do a 30 minute call, or grab a quick coffee, sometime in the near future you’re going to pop into their head. I recently had a fellow entrepreneur send me a pitch opportunity for LGBT founders that I wasn’t aware of, and connect me with the people who could get me in, without me even asking. The email came entirely out of the blue and perhaps it’s because I had made time to talk her through a pitch experience that I had that she was going into, and weeks later she thought of me when this opportunity came through. Giving people your time is incredibly valuable, especially if you’ve done something before that they’re just starting, or you know a certain market that they’re trying to tap in other ways. What goes around comes around, and that goes especially for positive experiences.
5. An Experience
Recently my company needed an extra set of hands to handle some of the more tedious tasks that we didn’t have time for, so my co-founder Kristen reached out to the community colleges in the NYC area in search of opportunities. Turns out Queens College was piloting an internship program this summer in exchange for experience and class credit. Now, I’m not one to not pay interns, and if I had the cash you better believe they’d be seeing paychecks. But since we couldn’t pay them, we made sure we opened up opportunities in areas that they wanted to explore. If it’s marketing we are having them to run our social and medium accounts, create brand personas and dive into strategic thinking. No one wants to be tweeting all summer feeling useless, so we’re making sure we’re letting them get their hands dirty in the bigger initiatives to balance that out, something that interning at a larger company wouldn’t give them. Now we have 5 amazing interns helping us out part-time this summer, and we didn’t spend a dime.
There you go, anything can get accomplished if you’re backed into a corner and it’s do-or-die. You just have to get scrappy and creative about your approach, dig deep and find value you can offer in other ways. I always find that when I have a problem and I need to find some help, I first reflect on what it is I have to offer, what I’ve offered in the past, and who is on my side and willing to help. Chances are if you are providing value to other people, they’re always willing to provide value to you.
5 Things You Can Offer People When You Don’t Have Money was originally published in Austin Startups on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.
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