5 Bootstrapped Startup Tips to Survive the First Year

Bootstrapping a startup is no easy task. That first year is particularly grueling. Yet these days, a lot of folks are bootstrapping their web startups, rather than going the VC-funded route.

It takes a tremendous commitment from the founder(s) to make it through the ups and downs during those early months. You must overcome many roadblocks and hurdles as you travel from idea to side project to full-time gig to thriving company.

To that end, let’s cover a few tips and tactics crucial to the survival of a bootstrapped startup during its first year. Whether you’re just hatching an idea or already knee-deep in code, hustling to ship your minimum viable product (MVP), these tips will help to move things forward, and ultimately, compete with larger, funded startups.

1. Talk to People Early and Often … and Don’t Stop

So you’ve had a lightbulb moment. A brilliant idea. But is the idea worth sacrificing your time, hard work and money over the next year (or more)?

The only way to find out is to validate your idea. To do that, you must talk to people — those who are most likely to need the product you’re thinking about building.

But customer interviews aren’t just for the idea stage. They’re just as necessary, if not more so, during the design, build and even post-launch phases. Talking to customers should be a weekly routine during every phase of your bootstrapped startup.

These conversations not only help you design and build your product the way your customers want it. They serve as inspiration to you, the founder, to keep grinding away. Constantly staying in touch with customers reminds you why you’re doing this in the first place.

2. Prioritize Your Marketing Plan

Most bootstrappers tend to have the skillsets needed to build their ideas into functonal products, without having to hire a team. That makes it easy to rush into the design and coding phase, because that’s what we love to do.

But the smartest bootstrapped entrepreneurs know that building a product is only half the battle. Marketing is even more important.

Priortize your marketing plan from day one. Just as you wireframe and sketch how your product will look and function, you need to map out your framework for how you will drive traffic to your site and aquire customers.

No matter what your strategy is, figure it out early and start executing right away, before you write your first line of code.

Most bootstrapped companies pursue a content marketing strategy. Don’t wait to start your blog. Get your content out there and start building your email list right now. You’ll thank yourself later, when it comes time to launch.

3. Consistent Email Marketing

Email marketing is one of the lowest-cost and highest-impact marketing activities you can do. Why? Because it gives you a direct line of communication to people who have told you — by opting in to your email list — they want to hear what you have to say.

One of the biggest mistakes I see new startups do is throw up a landing page with an email capture form, asking visitors to “sign up to be notified when we launch.” Then those visitors don’t receive a single email until launch day finally comes around — six months to a year later!

If I sign up to be notified, then don’t hear from you for six months, I guarantee I won’t remember who you are or what your product does. Delete.

Here’s a better approach: Build your email subscriber list early. Use your landing page or blog to give away something of value, like a free email course.

Then be sure to email your list regularly, so you remain at the top of your audience’s mind. Remember, they opted in to hear from you. They can always unsubscribe if they want (if they do, they’re not qualified customers, anyway).

Keep your subscribers updated on the progress you’re making as you build version one of your product. But don’t just talk about your product. Provide them with valuable information, like in-depth blog posts about your subject area.

When it comes time to begin customer aquisition, you’ll have a list of engaged readers who know and trust you, ready to see what you’ve built or share the news with their friends.

4. Guest Blogging With a Purpose

Guest blogging on other websites has become a very popular tactic for building early traction. But there’s a right way and a wrong way to execute a guest blogging strategy.

These days, too many people focus on the back-link without providing any real value to the blog they’re guest writing for, or their audience. Sure, a back-link will drive a short stream of traffic and might help with SEO, but if that’s all you’re in it for, you’re doing it wrong.

The real benefit of publishing a guest article on another website is to establish a personal connection with a new audience. This is your chance to showcase your expertise and provide your best, most valuable insights to a new group of people. Only when your guest article wows the audience will they decide you’re someone worth paying attention to.

With that attention comes the ability to provide even more valuable and relevant content down the road. So make that first impression count.

You must also choose your target audiences wisely. Pick sites that are relevant to your niche, or have some audience overlap with your target customers. And write about topics those readers care about.

Remember, it’s not about pushing your own product. It’s about providing valuable insights, earning recognition and trust, and building on that relationship. This will have far more impact for your personal brand and your bootstrapped startup than a back-link from a mediocre guest post.

5. Measure Results, But Keep It Simple

As you’re building traction and experimenting with various marketing tactics, it’s important to measure results so you know what’s working and what’s not.

But don’t dive too far into the rabbit hole of startup metrics. Between Google Analytics and the growing list of other metrics tracking tools on the market, it’s easy to get lost in a sea of charts and statistics. Just because you can track 30 different metrics doesn’t mean you should.

In the early stage of a bootstrapped startup, most of these metrics will be meaningless, simply because there isn’t enough data yet (due to low traffic or the wrong type of traffic).

I suggest picking just a few key metrics to keep your eye on: traffic, lead conversions (email opt-ins) and customer conversions. Knowing where your traffic and conversions are coming from is important, too.

Beyond that, don’t get hung up on studying those numbers all day. You have more pressing things to fill up your day, like talking to customers and closing sales.

What have you learned from keeping your bootstrapped startup alive in those early months?

Source: mashable.com