Oct 11, 2007

Bootstrapping 101: Get It Together, Then Get The Word Out

It amazes me that out of all the companies started each year, less than 1% are backed by a venture capitalist or angel investor. Yet, out of all the entrepreneurs I've talked with over the past year, when asked about their biggest problem, over 80% of them will say either "funding" or "raising money" for their enterprise.

Is it possible most of them are wrong? I think so.

Here's why: not that lack of money is not a problem, because it is. But, many entrepreneurs start out their organization before they fully realize what they're into. Hey, I did, I ought to know. They think to themselves, "well, I've got enough money in my bank account, or with stocks, and a last resort, with credit cards, to pay the bills until this thing takes off." What they don't realize is that their timeline might be off: by YEARS. And that is when they get into the money scramble game of trying to pay bills and trying to keep their company going.

How do you stay out of this dangerous lack/fear game with money?

First of all, start by taking the amount of time you think it might take you to launch your firm, and triple it. Or, take the amount of money you think you need, and triple it. Either way, you're probably closer to reality with this new budgetary figure for cash (lifeblood) than the number you first assumed would cover your start-up.

Second, get your act together. Most executives starting their venture are so blinded by what they know that they don't realize what they DON'T know. Their business plans suck. They lack marketing. Their products are a mess. They aren't selling properly. And so on. So many entrepreneurs I've talked to know they need help, but when you say, "you need help with this aspect of your marketing, or your logo, or.." they'll turn right back around and say "oh, no, we've got that covered." But, just two days earlier they had admitted, in writing no less, that they did NOT have that covered. What gives? The problem is our inate ability to bullsh*t ourselves. Seriously. The only way to cut the bull is to get real and realize that we DON'T have it all together. A ship cannot sail if it's leaking too much water. For our business ship to sail, we need the next step, finding help for where we have holes.

Third, find professional help. An example of this is with patents, trademarks, and copyrights. There's no way I am going to recommend to you that you do your own trademark from a box. Get professional help. Do it right. There's no way I'm going to tell you that you can buy Quickbooks and you'll have your own built in accountant. No, hire a professional and meet with them on a quarterly basis. Pay them for their time. It is worth it to have your financials in order. Not only that, but how many executives consider getting outside professional assistance to help write sales scripts, website copy, structure teams, build sales presentations, and develop ways to market to their clients outside the norm?

Wait - let's take a step back. Are you making any money? If not, you need to look at why not. Most people are not making money for one of the following three reasons:

1. Product/service poorly defined: you have not fully created what you do.
2. Product/service poorly articulated: sales pitch, graphics not professional.
3. Product/service poorly marketed: not enough people know about what you do.

It's almost always one of these three blunders. If your problem is money, as in making any money, then you need to examine these three critical areas of your product lines and MAKE DAMN SURE you have your act together on these, or you've got a partial company, at best. (To me, I see holes in the hull of your sailboat.) I made this mistake when I first launched AspireNow (http://www.AspireNow.com). Rather than get one product really well articulated, with tight sales copy, dynamite graphics, packaged right, priced right, and then communicated through the various channels of marketing, I missed an opportunity to make money earlier by focusing on an online service and networking. And, it cost me a lot to run my business without that income coming in.

Mistake made = lesson learned. Fill the holes, right the ship.

So, I've been there. Don't do what I did. Do it smarter. Get your act together with your products and services. Don't skimp on product design. I've been redesigning all of my products to include classier pictures of people enjoying the product or solution. We buy from emotion, justify with logic. Don't skimp on sales copy. I've been selling and marketing long enough now that I can offer sales copy expertise to people who need it. Is your sales copy written to dig into people's guts and make them thirst for what you offer them? Good copy will provoke the curious prospect to buy. How complicated is it? Many products are now sold on the web with three page websites. Do you know why? One of my websites has an average page view statistic of 1.5 pages per visitor. That means, that if I don't get an order by page two, I'm not going to get an order from that visitor. And, although they MIGHT become a repeat visitor; then again, they might not. So, I figured out that I need to sell on the FIRST page they visit. Not *hope* the visitor decides I'm so wonderful to just click on over to the products page and buy all my stuff. It just doesn't work like that.

Last, if you're not getting the word out properly, you've set yourself up to fail.

What are you doing to get the word out? I'm joining professional organizations, cross-linking, blogging (to create backlinks and position my expertise), hosting a radio show, speaking as an expert on professional panels, speaking in person at professional events, and more. Notice I didn't say that I'm flooding the market with press releases boasting about what we can do? I didn't say pay for an expensive advertising program. Hey, you're boot-strapping, right? But you've got to find creative ways to get the word out and not drain your bank account.

One sales tool worth spending money on is gifts.

One of my philosophies in sales is that *you have to gift your prospects* much like a man ought to gift a woman when they are dating. Frank Sinatra said "you gotta gift 'em." From a man who once had a drawer with 200 toothbrushes stacked in it, he would have known, right? Anyway, if you're not gifting your prospects, you're not seeding them to like you. I have one company I'm helping get in the door of a major distribution center right now. My approach: gifting. I'm gifting each of their top managers, the product tester, the buyer, and several distribution center managers with a generous amount of product. I will include a simple one page letter explaining the virtues of partnering with my client's firm. And, I'll include a packet of marketing brochures to show the glossy material to back it up. Last, I'll include a page or two of client references, with testimonials.

Do you think I'll get in?

Many companies are now approaching ARRiiVE Business Solutions to serve as an "Acting VP of Key Accounts" to enable them to get into their top prospects. Now, they have a team of 10 salespeople who can't do it. But we can. Why is that?

Because we GIFT. Not only that, but we also have a strategy and structure to the process of the approach, the pitch, product demonstration, company demonstration, financial demonstration/trial-close, relationship implementation that wins business. But it never happens if we don't get the word out, first and then gift, second.

I recommend you utilize this approach to your marketing:

Blast small freebies to your mass marketing approaches.
Seed larger groups with a trial, but inexpensive gift.
Gift larger gifts in larger ways to your top prospects.

What I mean is when you run a press release, post a new blog article, send an email newsletter out, those types of marketing methods can be blasts that have a small hit but are large blasts of targeted people. After all, a blog may be hit by thousands of people. Put up a post at Squidoo and thousands may see it. Send out a press release, thousands my see it. You could even run an adwords campain, and thousands of impressions will see it. Offer people a free report to come to your site or to call you and learn more.

But when you're targeting your initial prospect list, where you could actually name the companies or individuals you want to do business with, seed them with something larger. For example, a website may not know who this prospect is, but they know they are on a website page. They could seed with a free workbook, white paper, or small product for visiting a page that creates interaction. That's what I mean by seed larger. If you're trying to sell to The Gap, maybe the first thing you want to do is send a sample of the fabric you use, complete with intricate stitching, to their top executives and buyers. You've got the list, right? So, seed larger, with a small gift, that shows your capability. Or, perhaps, make it more fun, send them the seed, but let them know that you'll create a free patch for them with their kids name, spouse's name, friend's name, or slogan, with your material as a fun way to see how well you can respond to their demands. Different, huh? Be different. Add value. Be personable. These things help you get their attention.

Then when you have their attention, gift larger, with product they can try and possibly even sell to their client-base. Put it in their store. Make it easy for them. And, when it sells (because you've already tested that it will sell, right?) then you can ask for the price you want, because you've built a relationship that fostered trust.

If I were to do it all over again, I'd follow the advice in this article like a Bible. If only I could go back, right? Well, I can't, but you can. You have the opportunity in front of you to launch your dream, and create success. Bootstrapping doesn't have to be ultra-stressful. It can be a lot of fun. And, you can make a lot of money, if you do it right. Go after your dream, but get your act together, then get the word out the right way. Don't forget to gift 'em. And watch your sales skyrocket, too.

Scott Andrews, CEO of ARRiiVE, heads up professional panels, offers keynote speaking, and leads professional services helping executives start a company, launch new products and services, improve sales and marketing, and empower teams through dynamic collaboration models and tools. Find out more at http://www.ARRiiVE.com.


  1. I love this post! Fantastically written. I really resonated with "just gift em!"

  2. I can't stress enough the importance of gifting. Have you ever been on a time-share presentation? How did they get you there? By GIFTING YOU with either (1) discounted vacations, (2) a gift card or credit card, (3) discounted or free activities (golf, scooter, car, sailboat, etc.), and/or other gifts (liquor, prizes, etc.).

    Gifting works, trust me.