The easiest way to make a profit is to not spend money. You need to be frugal. Keep your costs down. Remember, you’re not spending your parent’s or your employer’s money anymore.
You’re spending your own money, so try to hold onto as much of it as possible. Here are some suggestions on how to accomplish this.
1. Do not hire an IT guy
Especially when coming out of a big company, the world of IT seems so intimidating that it feels absolutely necessary to bring in an expert. Apart from the danger of adding overheads, an IT guy lets you abdicate responsibility for an important part of your business that’s actually not so difficult nowadays. Sign up for Office 365 or Google Docs.
Don’t try be cool and go with the latest craze. If you know Office, stick to it. 365 is perfect because it’s a rental model, which saves you cash up-front and plugs you into an infinite upgrade stream.
For email, domain registration and web hosting use Hetzner.co.za. The UX isn’t as nice as GoDaddy, but its local (fast) and it’s German so it always works. Best of all, if you have a problem, they have a call centre in your time zone.
2. Nail your brand early; it makes life easy going forward
Find someone (an individual) who provides the full bouquet: Logo, letterhead, website. Do not use a pricey ad agency! If you become a monster corporation one day, sure, go ahead and use the likes of Ogilvy. Until then, be frugal.
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Also, design your own business cards. Use Moo.com. Best quality cards in the world. Get the thickest stock available. People are impressed by thick cards (girth matters), and when you’re a start-up, you need as much help as possible when it comes to seeming credible.
Even more important than business cards is a sign. You’re not a real company until your office has a sign.
3. Buy the stationery yourself
When you come from a corporate, you’ll be at a loss as to how to do things yourself. Finding printer paper, booking flights, etc. will seem awfully complicated. Fear not, you too can do it. You’ll find you get better deals than big companies do, even though they supposedly have much greater buying power. Also, you’ll get a feel for how much stuff costs in the real world. Like one litre of milk (R10). Or a 40 minute flight from Johannesburg to Polokwane (R2 000). It’s difficult to be frugal if you don’t know what stuff costs.
Use Apple Macs. I know this flies in the face of ‘frugality’, but Apple makes the best hardware. It never breaks so you have less need for IT support (see point 1), and it looks cool (see point 2). What’s the point of working for yourself if you can’t at least look cool?
4. Use the cloud
Ignore the noise of all non-cloud vendors. Use the cloud for document storage (Box), sharing (Slack), CRM (Salesforce), hosting (AWS), websites (WordPress), etc. Don’t do it yourself. Let someone else worry about encryption, back-ups and data security.
5. When in doubt, don’t do anything
There are many things that seem essential when you’re in corporate, but which are in fact superfluous — like fancy coffee, for example. Ricoffy with milk and sugar is actually survivable. Generally speaking, learn to do it yourself. If you can’t figure it out, outsource to the specialists. If you don’t know who the specialist is, Google it. If you don’t know how to Google it, stay in corporate.
6. No matter what, be frugal
Some companies boast of valuation or revenue or profit or users or market share. Outside of Silicon Valley, these metrics are meaningless. The only meaningful metric is cash flow. You need to spend less money than you make. The starting point of positive cash flow is to be frugal. Don’t spend money unnecessarily.
Ignore the accountants, ignore depreciation, ignore goodwill, ignore your balance sheet, ignore your income statement, ignore your valuation, ignore your revenues. Instead, pay attention to your cash flow statement. Revenue is vanity. Profit is sanity. Cash flow is reality.