When you're starting a business, finding the capital to get going can often be a barrier. We chat to Greg Miles, founder and MD of social media-led digital agency Bumbl, about how they started up the business on a tight budget.

How to start up a business with little capital - Bumbl

Tell us a bit about your business

Bumbl is a social media-led digital marketing agency. We work with ambitious brands, but typically with smaller teams or budgets, to help them punch above their weight. These challenger brands cannot usually outspend their competition, so it's our job to help them outsmart them with creative thinking and technical know-how. Social media is a big part of this as it has fundamentally disrupted how brands operate and communicate with customers. It's our mission to adapt to this ever-changing landscape, and to help our clients navigate, and find success in the digital world.

What are the first steps you took to make the business reality?

The first step was to plan and budget. Like many young entrepreneurs I had no savings to fall back on, so had to factor in paying myself from day one. Calculating how much I needed for living costs, and then all necessary business expenses, gave me that magic number that I needed to bring in each month to survive. To get up and running I also needed to invest in a website, a laptop and a few pieces of software, so I contacted Virgin StartUp to see if they could offer any support. After showing them my business plan I was granted a £2000 Start Up Loan, and I was ready to begin the journey as a one-man digital band.  

How did you prioritise what was most important?

I started out with the bare essentials - if I didn't need it I didn't spend money on it. I was forced to be strict with what I spent money on through circumstance. I needed a laptop to carry out work and I needed a website as a central hub to demonstrate what I could do for clients. I would try to find ways of doing things for free or as cheaply as possible. 

How did you manage to do things cheaply?

There are a lot of things you can do to keep costs minimal with digital-based services. There is free graphic design software, and you can usually get free accounts on many different platforms such as MailChimp, Hootsuite, and Buzzsumo. These will offer you limited features, but it can be enough to get by when you are starting out. It's also often possible to find ways of doing things for free with a little more time investment. For example, instead of subscribing to accounting software I did my accounts manually on Excel, and created invoices on Microsoft Word before emailing them to clients as PDFs. Learning how to do things yourself instead of outsourcing them is another obvious way of keeping costs down. I needed to make some updates to my website, but couldn't afford to pay a web designer, so instead, I watched tutorials on how to do it myself. In the end, I totally re-designed my website with the skills I had learned.

What was the most challenging thing about bootstrapping?

Growing to the point where one became two was a challenge. It was a careful balancing act of not hiring too early in case we lost a client or ran into cash flow problems that could put us out of business, but also not waiting until I was so overloaded with client work that I would have no time to properly hire and manage an employee. I reinvest nearly all of my profits for almost a year to build a security net, and then made the hire when I was close to winning some new business. If I hadn't won the business we would have been barely breaking even, but fortunately, I did. As they say, not taking risks is the biggest risk of all.

What were the beneficial things?

I can't remember who said this, but the message stuck with me: "How you run your business during the good times is a great indicator of how well you will survive in the bad times." Through bootstrapping I learned to think of every pound spent as an investment in something that will magnify and grow the success of the company. I think it's easy to let your ego dictate your spend on things that make you look good, but don't actually bring any value to the business, its people or its customers. When I have to make the choice between looking good or growing the business' success, I'm confident I'll now be able to make the right decision.

What is the most important thing the process taught you?

The fastest path to maximising profits is reducing expenses, not growing the sales engine.

What are your top 3 tips for other businesses starting up with little capital?

  • Search the web for free tools that can give you an edge. Many famous products have a free alternative, and they might not be quite as polished, but they will often produce the same result.
  • Don’t spend a single pound without thinking about how it will contribute to the success of the business. Do you really need that Italian leather office chair?
  • Stolen from Charles Darwin but more true today than ever: "It is not the strongest or the most intelligent who will survive, but those who can best manage change."

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