How To Bootstrap Your Startup By Selling Services
3 Steps To A Killer $3,000 Venture
There’s a big change that I think needs to happen in the way we build businesses. It’s a change I can see coming, not for everyone, but for some few people who see a business as their life’s work, not their payday.
Can a business be more than just something you build to flip to the highest bidder? Is that possible?
And realistically, is it possible to build a business without giving up part of your soul to do it? My answer to both those questions tends to be “sweet fuck yeah it’s possible.”
The business I started, Creatomic, generates enough income to live on, grow on, buy records on and support my mission of getting out there and changing the world. It’s a business I own, that I started on my own, that I’m building the way I want it to. These are my projections for the next 3 months:
Those are realistic figures, based on what I’m doing currently. So if you’re following me because you want to get to know a millionaire, I’m not one, and I’m not about to become one by April. If that matters to you, stop following me now. I don’t want you here.
Also note, those figures are done in cheap and nasty Microsoft Excel in an existing template. I use the tools I have, until they don’t work. I don’t blow cash on fancy “nice-to-have’s.”
That being said, that’s a great income right there. It’s awesome, and I’m proud of what I’m doing. If I hit my targets of $17,900 per month, that makes me successful, in my own eyes.
But when I started turning Creatomic into a business, my first goal was to hit $3,000 a month. Today, I want to walk through how you can do that. PSA: it’s not going to be easy to do.
Step 1. Focus on a service right now.
To build a killer venture, making $3,000 a month, you don’t need to have thought of the next Facebook or Snapchat or whatever the fuck you think is billionaire worthy. You just need to be able to do one thing well.
Here’s a list of potential services. Pick one.
- Ebook formatting
- Podcast ad reading/recording
- WordPress troubleshooting
- Delivering flyers
- Doing bookkeeping (hey, can you go niche? Bookkeeping for podcasters??)
- Event design and management
- Pitch deck formatting for startups
- Rewriting content
- Designing social media graphics
- Cartooning (seriously, it’s an awesome option…check out Kiki Schirr for proof)
- Resume writing and designing
- Facebook Ads services
- Snapchat filter designs
- Content editing
- Business plan/ lean canvas writing
- Logo designs
- Brand troubleshooting (“why the fuck doesn’t my logo work??”)
- Audio blog post recording
- Essay writer (I used to make extra dosh at Uni doing this…)
- Social media management and reporting
…and there’s a million more.
Here’s rule number one. Don’t waste your clients’ money.
Why is this rule number one? Because you can’t just come up with a bunch of bullshit services, slap the word consultant on it and then call it a business. You have to be out there to create value for people and give them services, insight and ideas that can make a difference to their business or project.
I believe in that pretty dearly. So kicking off this challenge, I knew that I wanted to offer a specific service that folks could use that would be of real, tangible value to them.
I knew it had to be a service, because that’s the fucking easiest way to get from Zero to Hero when you’re starting a business. Fact.
It had to be a service that was easy to offer, easy to communicate and easy to manage.
Because that’s your starting point. If you can offer that one thing as a service, you instantly have a business that’s gonna make money.
Make sure it’s something that you actually can do. Something you have a lot of experience doing. Something that you’ve done for long enough that you can stand by your own work with pride.
So here’s a few questions to get through. What are your skills? Which of those skills can you find an audience for? How much can you charge that audience? For me, turning Creatomic into a business meant offering marketing services. But not just generally, I got niche with it. I was going to offer email re-writing.
I was going to charge people $250 to rewrite their EDMs. The way I figured it, a good email for most of the businesses I wanted to work with one good email could equal several grand in revenue. So to me, that was a good pricing point.
Here’s a great read on coming up with that pricing, shout out to the Wix crew for publishing this one:
One of the trickiest parts of running your own business is deciding how much to charge. Price your services too high…www.wix.com
Next up, you need to gather your evidence.
That means proof that you can do what you’re going to sell yourself doing. Doesn’t need to be big. Doesn’t need to be fancy. I took a bunch of existing emails from a bunch of companies including Google, Buffer and McDonalds, rewrote them, and compiled the before and after document and called that my portfolio.
You’re also going to need to get inspired. Real inspired. Because you are going to want to quit.
You can honestly do this. But your brain is going to tell you that you can’t, because your brain wants to mitigate risks. It’s trying to make sure you don’t get burned by failure, and that’s great but it’s not useful in this instance. Because you gotta have and show some guts.
When I kicked this off, I set myself a purchase goal. I said okay, if I’m going to hit this $3,000 a month, that’s enough to pay back a car loan on an SUV that I wanted. So I took this picture and I stuck it to my bathroom mirror:
I wrote $3,000 a month on it in black felt marker and I looked at that car every day to keep myself on it. To keep myself focused.
At Creatomic, we are content creators before all else. We are content creators as a priority. This business, regardless of anything else, is built on great content and sharing information, insights and learnings with our audience — it lives and dies on its content. Without the content, we wouldn’t have a true north.
But we’re about more than that; I always envisioned Creatomic as having a lot of different arms. The publishing has to be the core, but we’re profitable on our consulting and coaching models. I want to talk today about what it takes to build a profitable consulting business that actually brings in clients and is sustainable in the long term. So this experiment was also about establishing one of those arms.
Step 2. Find an audience.
Here’s What I Picked. Email Copywriting for Real Estate Agents. They’re an industry that I could find prospects for worldwide, and they’re pretty willing to spend money to make money. So that made a lot of sense.
I decided to do this project under the Reach by Creatomic brand I’d been working on, because it was a marketing service and I knew that’s how I wanted it to run. I set up a simple landing page in Squarespace, based on that branding, to act as a store front.
I used LeadFuze — an online lead gen platform — to come up with these. You can sign up here:
LeadFuze's all-in-one B2B lead generation software finds contact info for your ideal prospects, then delivers…www.leadfuze.com
NO, I don’t work for or with them. They’re just a cool product.
You can generate and email lists of leads, built from LinkedIn. I went searching for Realtors:
Once they were added to the list, here’s the email copy I sent them:
Notice how I branded the venture at the bottom? Reach for Real Estate. Just to highlight to them that I was in their industry. What was the response on this? Pretty great, actually. I contacted my maximum number of leads for the month — 500 on LeadFuze — and had 63 responses back. Of those leads, 8 moved forward with EDM re-writing. At $250 an email, that hit my $3,000 target pretty fast.
Step 3. Capitalize.
So here’s where it gets interesting. The process above is not groundbreaking at all. It’s been tried and tested by better people than me. It’s what you do with that process that matters. I knew I didn’t want to just keep on offering EDM re-writing services for real estate agents, I wanted to turn the service into a full on marketing services arm of Creatomic, supported by the blog, making a solid flow of cash every single month.
I took the $3,o00 from that first month, and I put it right into hiring a Squarespace developer to put together this:
Jon Westenberg is an entrepreneur, a passionate creative and a business and transformational consultant. He started his…www.reachgenius.com
I had an early version of it that I’d done, and I hated it. So a developer was the right way to go. He’s the same developer that I’m working with to develop the web design arm of Creatomic, but more on that later. This ain’t about that.
Capitalizing on the success of the real estate push also meant that I could bring on a part time project manager to help me deal with Reach by Creatomic clients. I was re-investing the money made from the short term service into being able to offer a longer term service.
BUT WAIT. There’s more.
…because I’m also not spending income generated through Reach by Creatomic. Nope. Not happening. That income is going into developing new products that support my vision of turning Creatomic into a much bigger business, including:
- A marketing campaign planning software platform. This is a piece of project management SaaS software dedicated to planning, executing and running a marketing campaign from start to finish.
- A marketing course, How To Market Everything, that I’m working on pulling some great marketers in on, including Everette Taylor Jr. who is incredibly talented at what he does.
And that’s where it gets fun. This is how you bootstrap a startup.
If you follow those 3 steps to generating a small amount of income, and you put that cash into developing your startup, you can bootstrap a company without the real, core product being profitable just yet. Think of it as being your service based investor. Because that’s where the money comes from your runway.
“Yeah but I want to build the next Snapchat…great tech companies are built with investors or not at all…blah.”
Okay, but there are some amazing companies who walked the exact route I’m talking about. Jason Fried and his gang started Basecamp that way. They were originally a web development and design services company The guys at MailChimp were the same, a web design company — whose services funded startup did around $400,000,000 in revenue last year. Read those numbers folks, they’re real and they’re based on reality. That was revenue. Money in the door. Not a paper valuation.
That’s where I’m at. On my way to the figures you saw above. It’s about hustling, doing real shit that works and getting money in the door. Then it’s about funding your big, massive dreams with it.
As an addendum to this post, you can absolutely support what I’m doing by working with me at Reach by Creatomic. Get in touch: firstname.lastname@example.org for content, podcasts, marketing campaigns — we do a lot and we do it well. If you can help me hit that monthly rev. target by letting me help you find more customers and make more money, that’s a win win.
If you’re interested in getting to know me and what I do more, I recommend checking out these links:
Okay, I want to be clear. It’s possible to build a great company whether you take on VC money or not. So note: this isn’t a knock to VCs, I know and respect a lot of investors who are incredibly smart and are helping to do awesome things.
But you can walk another path, and in fact many VCs are going to be more interested in you if you’ve started by walking that alternative path. Because you will have proven yourself. Proven that you can do what it takes to win.
Yep, I hit the motivation goal and I got my car. Here’s the obligatory photo of me with it. It’s not a Lambo, or a Ferrari or any other “Get Rich Quick Scheme” car. But it’s mine and I love it and I worked hard to get there.
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