Start up businesses: ways to save – and make – money

Start up businesses: ways to save – and make – money

So many people dream of being their own boss.  Working just a few hours a day, they’d spend most afternoons relaxing, playing with the kids, or having quality time with their partner.  But most start up business owners know the reality is quite different.  You’ll spend the first few months – if not years – scrimping, saving and slogging 90 hours a week to try and build your business.  When times are tough, every little really does help.  Here’s a whole load of ways you can save – and make – money for your start up business.

Make money from your website

It’s no good looking at saving money until you’ve made some – so let’s start with how you can turn your website into a source of revenue, leads and sales aside.

  • Google Adsense – you place a snippet of code on your website and when a visitor clicks on an advert, you get a small amount of the money that the advertiser pays to Google.  The amount you’ll earn is very variable.  One of my sites has earned £2,100 for approx. 500,000 visitors over 28 months.  Another has earned £3,300 for approx. 450,000 visitors over 7 months.  It all depends how much someone is willing to pay to bid on those adverts (all this is handled by Google).
  • Affiliate schemes – try signing up to Affiliate Window as a publisher.  You can choose what products you advertise on your site (try and make them related to your industry or something your visitors might want, but non-competing).  I find it harder to generate revenue from affiliate schemes than Adsense but I don’t put much effort into it.  In the past year I’ve had £1,253.82 of confirmed sales, making just £96.28 and £2,006.64 of declined sales, losing me £159.93.  So I don’t find it very lucrative, but I know people who put far more effort in and making a living from affiliate revenue alone.
  • Amazon – allows you to advertise books and products relating to your industry.  Not only can you write up good reviews (great content for your website) but you have a higher chance of sale because it’s all related.  Commission is tiered up to 10% of the sale value.
  • Ebay – if you have products to sell, create a few ebay listings.  This helps people find out about your company.  If you have nothing to sell, ebay has another use – you can sell books and products related to your industry which you can mail directly from Amazon, using the gift option to disguise the price.  I’ve done this successfully for an education site – the idea here is not to make money, but to get the ebay links for SEO.
  • Advertising space – sell space directly on your website – links and banners.  Approach related but non competing companies and offer them a low price or free trial so they can see that the space is valuable to them.
  • Lead generation – generate leads for products and services closely related to what you sell.  For example, a car sales website could generate leads for a car valeting service.  Arrange in advance what the leads are worth and how you will track what you are owed for successful leads.
  • Mailing list – collect email addresses by giving away free information, ebooks, coupons etc.  You can then use the mailing list to sell advertising space (in the email itself), advertise affiliate products, advertise for lead generation and so on – as well as advertising your core business.

Freelance

If you can write, code, design, proofread, offer business or marketing services, translate, take photos or anything similar, you can freelance through one of the many internet websites that connect you to people needing your services.  It doesn’t matter if these skills are unconnected to your business – it just provides another revenue stream to keep your start up business going.  Of course, if they are connected to your business, it’s a great way to find customers.  Try:

  • Bizreef
  • Scriptlance (mostly programming)
  • Academic Knowledge (academic writing – degree required)
  • Odesk
  • Guru.com
  • Elance

Partner up

Whatever trade you’re in, you probably meet people with business needs that you can’t fulfil.  Find a good partner who can – and agree to exchange these type of leads.  For example, if you offer SEO but don’t do graphic design, find a good graphic designer who you can recommend and who is willing to recommend you.  You can either go for a mutual exchange of leads, or agree on a fee if any introductions are successful.

Operate cheap

Now’s not the time to invest in swanky offices a la Google.  A good option instead is to choose shared office facilities such as those provided by Angel Offices. You can rent offices as you need them e.g. by the day at a network of business centres across the country, or be a virtual tenant and just rent meeting rooms when you need them.

If you do have an office or you’re operating from home, keep your costs down with electricity and gas savings:

  • Compare providers and ensure you’re on the cheapest tariff – try CompareBusinessEnergy.co.uk for offices or uSwitch if you’re running a home office.
  • Don’t allow staff to run the dishwasher all day – wait till it’s full.  If you do run a half load, use the ‘half load’ setting if your machine has it.
  • Invest in a power usage monitor (e.g. http://www.reuk.co.uk/Buy-UK-Power-Meter.htm) so you can see exactly where your electricity is going.
  • Turn off computer equipment and any other equipment that you can, when it’s not in use. Don’t leave them on standby as this can use as much as 90% of normal running costs.
  • Replace all of your light bulbs with energy efficient CFL bulbs and replace halogen spotlights with efficient and longer lasting LED Spotlights.
  • Use a microwave to reheat food or to cook small portions. Although a microwave uses a lot of power, it does so over a very short time and so saves energy overall.
  • Turn down your heating system thermostat. For every degree you lower your heat between 60° and 70° F you can reduce your heating bill by up to 5%.
  • If you purchase a fridge for your office, make sure it is energy efficient.  It may cost a bit more up front but the cost savings will make up for it over time.
  • If you have a fridge freezer, vacuum clean the condenser coils at the back or underneath your fridge freezer.  Dust around them can reduce the efficiency of the machine by as much as 25%.
  • Heat only as much water as you require for drinks and cooking. Purchase an energy efficient eco kettle.
  • In the summer use ceiling fans on a fast setting instead of air conditioning to keep cool. In the winter, running the fans slowly will push warm air collected at ceiling height down to where you want it. (If the slowest setting on your fan is too strong, reverse the direction of the fan in the winter so that the accumulated warm air is blown up against the ceiling and bounces more gently down around the walls and into the living space (Energy saving tips from REUK, the Renewable Energy Website which offers a wide range of energy saving products: http://www.reuk.co.uk/Ways-to-Save-Electricity.htm)

When you’re shopping for your business, use loyalty cards.  You collect them for your everyday shopping so do the same for your business shopping. Make sure you have points cards for every shop you use.  Take advantage of any petrol vouchers you get for shopping there (often run by Tesco) and save on your business fuel too.

If you need to buy office furniture, Google office furniture auctions in your area.  You’ll pick up great furniture, often new, for less-than-Ikea prices.

If you have a few staff, keep an eye on Groupon and Living Social to book company meals (such as anniversary meals) and save a lot of money on the cost.

Employ cheap

If you need staff but they don’t need to be highly skilled, check out the Youth Contract scheme: http://www.dwp.gov.uk/youth-contract/ (up to April 2015).  Employ an 18-24 year old who is enrolled on the scheme for a minimum of 26 weeks at 30 hours a week or more and you can get a payment of up to £2,275 back from the Government.  The rebate is made in 2 stages – first at 8 weeks and then at 26 weeks.  This makes the cost of labour very cheap – current minimum wage levels in the UK are:

  • £6.08 – the main rate for workers aged 21 and over
  • £4.98 – the 18-20 rate

So at £4.98 an hour, 30 hours a week, you’d normally pay £3,884.40 over 26 weeks – with the scheme, the same costs £1,609.40, or just over £2.06 an hour (factor in Employer’s National Insurance Contributions on top as you will have to pay these as usual).

Explore grants and finance

There are plenty of grants available so make sure you’re getting everything you’re entitled to.  The best place for UK businesses to go is their nearest Business Link.  You can find out more through the Business Link website which has a list of grants and other finance options.  Two examples are:

  • The Government’s Train to Gain programme gives grants for training.  Where there’s some money to pay on your part, courses can often be offset again your tax provided that they are “wholly and necessarily incurred” in pursuit of the trade or business.
  • Government research and development grants (SMART) are available for projects worth between £5,000 and £500,000 which cover a percentage of the total cost of project (usually between 35 to 65 per cent).

You can also get zero interest loans of £3,000 – £400,000 from The Carbon Trust to help you use more energy efficient equipment.

Another place to check is the Community Development Finance Association which provides loans and support to businesses and individuals – http://www.cdfa.org.uk/.

For complete start ups, The Prince’s Trust is open to 18 to 30-year-olds who are unemployed or working fewer than 16 hours a week. In addition to business training schemes, the programme provides funding of up to £4,000 (or £5,000 for partnerships), along with support for your business idea.

Something else to look into is Invoice Discounting, which allows you to obtain an advance onmoney owed to you by customers. The option tends to be relevant for companies that trade in the B2B market, have a turnover of more than £50,000 and are seeking money against overdrafts worth between £100 and £100,0000.

More established small businesses with an annual turnover of at least 500k who are seeking finance should look into the Government’s Enterprise Finance Guarantee. This Government-backed business loan is designed to help established companies access additional funding or working capital – enabling businesses to raise anything from £25k to £1m.  The Government guarantees up to 75% of the business loan.

Be tax savvy

Make sure you’re claiming everything you can do.  All of the following are allowable expenses, and this list is not exhaustive:

  • Salaries, wages, bonuses, pensions, benefits for staff or employees; agency fees, subcontract labour costs; employer’s NICs.
  • Car and van insurance, repairs, servicing, fuel, parking, hire charges, vehicle licence fees, motoring organisation membership; train, bus, air and taxi fares; hotel room costs and meals on overnight business trips.
  • Rent for business premises, business and water rates, light, heat, power, property insurance, security; use of home as office (business proportion only).
  • Repairs and maintenance of business premises and equipment; renewals of small tools and items of equipment.
  • Phone and fax running costs; postage, stationery, printing and small office equipment costs; computer software.
  • Advertising in newspapers, directories etc. mailshots, free samples, website costs.
  • Interest on bank and other business loans; alternative finance payments.
  • Bank, overdraft and credit card charges; hire purchase interest and leasing payments; alternative finance payments.
  • Accountant’s, solicitor’s, surveyor’s, architect’s and other professional fees; professional indemnity insurance premiums.
  • Trade or professional journals and subscriptions; net VAT payments.

Source: http://www.hmrc.gov.uk/worksheets/sa103f-notes.pdf

For some things, there’s no substitute for professional advice – paying for an accountant will often save you money in the long run.

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