The following is a guest post by Heather Johnson. Her details are at the end of the article.
In order to maximize sales and improve marketing tactics, each small business must learn the fine art of bootstrapping. There are many ways to cut costs in order to leverage your assets. Some of these methods are complex and only gradually save money, which is fine if you have the luxury of waiting.
However, many businesses resort to bootstrapping out of urgent necessity and there are certainly ways to cut costs immediately. Below are eight bootstrapping tips that will show you quick results.
- Switch to VoIP – Many companies are saving thousands each year by using VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) providers like Skype. All phone calls are free between Skype users around the world and Skype-to-landline calls are cheaper than traditional long distance services.
- Sell Your Unnecessary Frills – Did you get overexcited when you opened your office and purchase some unnecessary goods? If you need to free up some cash for more important ventures, then you can certainly do without your hip decorations. Sell them on eBay or Craigslist.
- Stop Faxing Everything – Are long distance costs rising because of your constant faxing? There are cheaper alternatives, such as scanning documents and emailing them. Most companies will have no problem with receiving a PDF instead of a fax.
- Go Easy on the Thermostat – Energy costs are hard on everyone these days, not just small business owners. While you don’t want to create a terrible work environment for your employees, there is nothing wrong with asking them to bundle up a bit in the winter and dress cooler in the summer. That way, you can be a bit more sensible with the thermostat.
- Outsource That Open Position – If you are struggling to cut costs, then the last thing you need to do is hire more employees. Outsourcing is a preferred method of saving money for companies both small and large. Sites like Elance and Get a Freelancer are brimming with eager, virtual assistants who will save you time and money.
- Buy Secondhand / Refurbished Goods – The fact is, you don’t need a new desk or copy machine. You can find secondhand office furniture at many stores, as well as refurbished electronics. Conduct some research beforehand, however, and make sure you are buying from a reputable source.
- Go Open Source – There are numerous open source alternatives to the commercial software you may be considering. In case you haven’t heard, open source = free. Free is good, so find out more about open source software at osalt.com.
Stop Paying for Lunch – Are you the type of boss who likes to buy lunch for everyone several times a week? That ends now if you want to leverage your assets to the max. Yes, even those pizza deliveries are adding up. For those of you who run a one-person operation, the same rule applies. Stop eating out and start packing your own lunch.
Great companies have been built with very little money and efficient bootstrapping skills. Don’t be afraid to start cutting costs on a smaller scale with the above tips. You will be surprised at how much money you will save… money that can be put toward marketing, for example.
Heather Johnson is a freelance business, finance and economics writer, as well as a regular contributor at Business Credit Cards, a site for business credit card and best business credit card offers. Heather welcomes comments and freelancing job inquiries at her email address email@example.com.
Update: A few interesting things have happened since I wrote this article. 1. The Beyster Institute has taken down all the pages I have linked to here. But they can’t beat Google! If you want to see them, simply paste the URL in your Google search box, and on the results page, click on “Cached” to see them. Contact me if you have any questions. I’ve also saved the pages on my hard drive. 2. A reporter contacted me for a story on this issue, and told me that “coincidentally” the Beyster Institute is redoing their program requirements, and now ALL Israelis are welcome to apply! Well, I’ll be applying, and I invite those of you believe you are suitable candidates to apply as well.
In the past, if I had noticed this and wanted to protest it, I would have had to write letters and fax news outlets, politicians, etc. and hope that someone cared. Chances of making change would have been slim to none for a mother-of -five-small-business-owner sitting in Jerusalem, and if any change were made, it would have taken weeks or months. But the Internet has changed all that. I started writing about this yesterday afternoon, and in less than 24 hours the injustice was resolved. I can’t prove that it’s not coincidence, but assuming it’s not, then apparently we all have the power to make change. A single letter or blog post CAN make a difference.
As a follower of all things related to Israeli business, I was excited to discover a program geared towards training Middle Eastern entrepreneurs, Israelis included. The program, Middle East Entrepreneur Training, is hosted at the Beyster Institute, and heavily supported by the US State Department, and is described as follows:
“The Middle East Entrepreneur Training (MEET) program is an innovative training program designed to identify, develop and sustain a new core of leaders in business and Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) throughout the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region.”
The Application and Selection Process page states that “The MEET program does not discriminate on the basis of sex, race, color, age, religion [my bold], national origin, or handicap. This policy is consistent with all relevant U.S. government statutes and regulations.”
Great! I’m a female Middle Eastern entrepreneur, and I even run a social program aimed at strengthening the Israeli small business community: exactly what they’re looking for, so I got ready to apply.
But then I came across the eligibility requirements:
“Applications will be accepted from citizens of the following countries and territories: Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Israel (limited to Israeli Arab citizens) [my bold], Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Morocco, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, the United Arab Emirates, West Bank/Gaza and Yemen.”
These criteria are not listed on the MEET site, but on various US Embassy sites across the Middle East.
Limited to Israeli Arab citizens?
This is the equivalent of stating that they accept applicants from Iraq (limited to Sunnis), Lebanon (limited to Christians), and Jordan (limited to Palestinians). Imagine the uproar if that were the case.
Let’s look further at the problematic nature of the application requirements:
- The program is backed by the US State Dept., and explicitly states that they will not discriminate based on race or religion. By stating that only Israelis from a certain race are eligible, they are blatantly discriminating against Israelis of other races.
- I have heard the argument that Israeli Arabs need democracy training. Israeli Arabs are educated in Israel-sponsored schools that teach their children courses in “Citizenship,” just like Jewish children, which cover the principles and ethics behind democracy. Israeli Arabs vote, get the same free health care as everyone else, state-sponsored education, and all the other social benefits all Israelis enjoy. Israeli Arab women enjoy rights here that they couldn’t dream of anywhere else. See this post on Israeli Arab businesswomen for an example of what they can achieve in Israel.
- I have heard that Israeli Arabs are more in need. According to poverty surveys in Israel, Haredim and Arabs tend to equally make up those below the poverty line in Israel. Also, in these surveys, “Arabs” include Beduin and Druze too. Someone was told by someone involved in the institute that this program is not open to Christians, Beduin and Druze Israelis either, allegedly to demonstrate how the program is not anti-semitic (ok, now it’s anti-Israel-supporters). But if the argument is that the program is geared to helping needy Arabs in Israel, then it must include Arabs of all religious persuasion. Not only that, I’m sure many other poverty-stricken populations in Israel could use some help in gaining economic independence: single-parent families, handicapped, development town residents (Sderot anybody â€“ they seem a bit in need).
- I have heard the argument that when programs refer to the Middle East, they mean all countries except Israel, since Israel is generally considered “European.” First of all, Israel is not European, and we are not part of the EU. But let’s say that is the case â€“ then they should not accept Israeli Arabs, since they are just as “European” as we all are. (Does that mean I can start charging clients in Euros?)
How do you determine an Arab’s religious beliefs?
So if it is correct that they are only accepting Israeli Arabs, and only Israeli Arabs that are not Christian, Beduin or Druze, how do they make sure that they are rejecting applicants from the “wrong” religions? They can’t do it according to their names (i.e. if they wanted to differentiate Jewish from Arab applicants, they could just throw out all the Itziks and Dudus and keep the Mohammeds and the Azizes).
Maybe they have a special question for religious screening on the application:
Question 25: What would you say best describes you:
- I pray five times a day.
- I am eagerly awaiting the Second Coming.
- I believe I am a reincarnation of my great uncle Abdul.
Woe unto those who believe in b and c.
I have contacted the Beyster Institute, Dr. Beyster, and the US State Department, and they all replied that they will immediately correct this injustice. Yeah right! I haven’t heard back from any of them.
The Middle Eastern Theatre of the Absurd continuesâ€¦
A few months ago, I wrote a post about whether female entrepreneurs should hide the fact that they are mothers, and was lucky to get a comment from Julie Lenzer Kirk, author of “The ParentPreneur Edge: What Parenting Teaches About Building a Successful Business.” She said the following:
Thank you for this post! I had a problem finding successful entrepreneurs who are also parents because, as you say, so many people hide that fact. I agree that they should NOT hide it, and recently published a book for moms and dads that shows WHY you should not hide that fact.
I do like the steps youâ€™ve provided because at the end of the day, parenting should not be an excuse for shoddy workmanship but if you do it right, it can give you an EDGE in business!
I thought this was a really interesting point of view, since while I have always believed that we can succeed in business despite being parents, Julie was basically saying that we can succeed because we are parents!
I contacted Julie, and she agreed to an email “interview.” So here it is, and I think you will find what she says to be an interesting perspective on life and work:
Miriam: I’ve always seen parenthood as something that can be compatible with a career, but not as an asset! How is parenting an asset for business owners?
Julie: The life cycle of being a parent and starting a business are strangely the same. Deciding to get pregnant and start a family is not unlike the decision to start a business. Sometimes it is an accident, sometimes it takes a couple of tries, and other times it works great the first time!
Being a parent gives us skills we can use in working with and managing other people. For example, who better to understand the delicate balance of delegation than parents who have left a babysitter in charge of their children for the first time, or the parent of a pre-teen during their first solo cooking attempt? Likewise, understanding that your teenage daughter oftentimes just wants to know she is being heard mimics many an employeesâ€™ need for airing ideas and grievances.
Additionally, as a parent we appreciate the need to guide the behavior of others (our children) to accomplish goals (grow up healthy and productive in a safe environment), much like the role of growing a business by leveraging the skills and talents of other people to achieve our business goals. And in both cases, we try to do all of that without spanking!
Miriam: Can you describe a few specific skills that parents have that are helpful and business, and explain how they are helpful?
Julie: Resourcefulness: I donâ€™t know a parent that hasnâ€™t, at one time or another, had to learn something about being a parent on-the-fly. We go into it knowing that there is no way we can know everything. We have to be resourceful in reading up on parenting or asking for help from family and neighbors. We canâ€™t wait for someone to sit us down and tell us how to be a parent â€“ we just have to do it. In business, resourceful employees are valued and often a necessary part of a growing company. When our businesses are in their infancy, we need people who can do whatever it takes to get the job done. We donâ€™t have time to oversee and micro-manage them â€“ we need that resourcefulness!
Vision: When our kids are born we canâ€™t help but start to envision their future. We save for college, explore child care options, and make sure we have access to quality schools. For a company, having a vision of a positive future is good, especially when coupled with positive actions that help the company get there. How big do we want to grow? What new markets do we want to enter? How can we best serve our customers?
Creative Persuasion: Anyone who can teach a toddler to pick up or share his toys has mastered the art of persuasion. Those actions just donâ€™t come naturally. Business is all about getting people to work together towards a common goal. Sometimes that requires just a little nudge (or creative persuasion!) from management.
Miriam: How has parenthood helped you in your business career?
Julie: Being a parent has honed my management skills (as described above) and also given me perspective. All too often we get wrapped up in an issue at work and sometimes, such as when we have a deadline, we need to have perspective. For me, however, raising my kids while I grew my business gave me perspective that allowed me to stop sweating the small stuff. I could step back and look at an issue in my business and more objectively determine whether it was really such a big deal – would I even remember this problem in a year?
Miriam: What advice can you give to parents as to how they can maximize their parenting skills in business?
Julie: First, recognize the similarities. Once you see the parallels, youâ€™ll feel freer to use skills from one aspect of your life in another, though I would stop before you get to feeding a colleague and saying â€œOpen your mouth, here comes the choo-choo!â€ Really look at the challenges you face with your children and how you solve them and donâ€™t be afraid to apply an adult-version of that to how you relate to folks at work. After all, underneath it all weâ€™re all just a bunch of kids in grown-up clothes! We still need attention, love, care, and feeding.
Miriam: Would you say that mothers develop different business-related parenting skills than fathers? If so, are they at an advantage or disadvantage?
Julie: That depends on the household. In my house, my husband and I are equal partners in raising our children. We share household and parenting duties. In general, the primary care giver will develop a better sense of the parallels.
Miriam: The time element: both parenting and entrepreneurship demand a huge amount of time. Do you have any advice for managing time so that we can give sufficient attention to both aspects of our lives?
Julie: First, if youâ€™re an entrepreneur, you should be doing something youâ€™re passionate about. Both starting a business and raising children are the toughest jobs youâ€™ll ever love, and if you donâ€™t love what youâ€™re doing it is next to impossible to be successful at it. When you love what you do, it stops feeling like work. OK â€“ sometimes there is that drudgery that has to come with it, but MOST OF THE TIME it is fun.
Also, most people miss the fact that balance should be evaluated over time. Trying to live each and every day in balance could lead to insanity. It is important, at some point, to devote 100% of your attention to the task at hand â€“ whether it be your children or your work. You can not live your life totally multitasking every minute or youâ€™ll never feel like you accomplish anything. Some days are all about kids, such as when they are sick, and other days work must take priority because of deadlines and due dates. You have to look at your balance over a period of time and make adjustments when things get too out of whack.
Miriam: Thanks Julie for taking the time to participate in this interview!
So it seems that there is quite a bit of overlap between the skills we use as parents and as entrepreneurs. It’s an interesting idea, and definitely worth thinking about.
Julie Lenzer Kirk (Washington, DC) is a successful entrepreneur and passionate about empowering others into entrepreneurship. She is a business owner, mentor, author, international speaker, community volunteer, and parent. It has been her ability to balance all of these roles and transfer that capability into a profitable work place that has won her and her company – Applied Creative Technologies, Inc. – national acclaim.
Learn more about Julie Lenzer Kirk on her site (she also has a blog), and check out her book, “The ParentPreneur Edge: What Parenting Teaches About Building a Successful Business.“
There is still the perception that business is a man’s world. I would maybe say that it’s a “man-style world,” i.e. women are welcome as long as they act like men. From conversations with other women who run their own businesses, I see that many feel very self-conscious about being women in what they see as “a man’s world.” Some make efforts to suppress or hide signs of femininity, and try to blend in with the men around them.
As a result, many women will also never discuss the fact they are mothers, and will even go to lengths to hide that fact. This is understandable, since people often hesitate to work with mothers since they see them as unreliable. They worry about sick days, the inability to work long hours because they have to be home for their kids, etc.
But is it really necessary to hide the fact that you are a mother? Will it negatively impact on your ability to grow your business and win clients?
I don’t think women should hide their motherhood, and I even think that hiding it could be detrimental. But I do think that there are certain steps that need to be taken in order to succeed as a working mother:
- You don’t have to volunteer the information: When meeting with potential clients, you don’t have to tell them right off the bat that you are a mother. It’s not relevant, and has nothing to do with what you are discussing, just like they aren’t telling you about their personal life. But don’t hide it. Often, once business is aside, friendly chit-chat ensues and you’ll start discussing more personal issues with the client, i.e. how long have you been doing this? where do you live? do you have kids? etc. Be confident and proud of the fact that you have kids. It shows you have a life outside of work, and believe me, you’re not the only one.
- Always remain professional: It’s nice that you have kids, and the client may even think so too. But at the end of the day, the work has to get done. No one cares if your kid is sick or has a class party. If you want to be a working mother, you need to figure out ways to make sure that you have your bases covered for any eventualities. Of course, there are some parental situations that simply can’t be overcome, but your clients will generally understand in those cases – they’re human beings too! So if you want to go to that class party (and you should!) make sure to work overtime the day before so that you can free up that time.
- Be confident in your abilities: If you are confident in your abilities, this will come across to the client and they in turn will feel confidence in their choice to hire you. If you feel self-conscious about the fact that you’re a mother, and you’re trying to hide it, this will come across.
I know a businesswoman who for years has been hiding the fact that she is a mother. She wouldn’t discuss it with clients or any business colleagues, even though she is proud of her kids. About two weeks ago she joined Facebook and opened a profile. At first she wouldn’t mention her kids or family, but after a few days she uploaded pictures of her kids to her profile. Not only did this not adversely affect her, but someone she knew found her on Facebook and contacted her about business – despite that fact that she obviously had kids!
In Israel, everyone is an entrepreneur. At least, sometimes it seems that way. Everyone knows someone who has started up some kind of venture, whether it’s related to technology, finance or industry. Sometimes I can’t believe how many people I personally know who have technology startups. Many of these ideas do come to fruition and succeed on a large scale. Look at Teva, Amdocs, and Comverse for some examples of the biggies, and see this list of the top 10 Israeli Web 2.0 wonders for a look at some of Israel’s most promising startups.
But how does Israel rank on a global scale for entrepreneurship? According to the GEM 2007 High-Growth Entrepreneurship Report, an annual report released by Babson and the London School of Business, Israel is ranked 17th out of 53 countries for friendliness to startups. This rating isn’t terrible, especially if you take into account that the only other Middle Eastern countries that even appear on the list are Turkey and Jordan, and they are ranked 33rd and 47th respectively. The top four countries in the survey are New Zealand, US, Canada and Australia.
But if you look closer at the survey, it becomes apparent that Israel is actually very competitive from an entrepreneurial point of view:
- “The countries with arguably the ‘healthiest’ entrepreneurial anatomies…[are] Singapore, Israel, and China.”
- In the comparison of “Adult-Population Prevalence Rate of High-Expectation (Nascent and New) and High-Growth (Established) Entrepreneurs in GEM 2000â€“2006 Countries,” Israel is rated sixth.
- In the table titled “Relative Prevalence of High-Expectation Nascent and New (20 or more Expected Jobs) and High-Growth Established (20 or More Current Employees) Entrepreneurs,” Israel is rated second.
- “In addition to Singapore, Israel stands out for its high relative prevalence of high expectation and high-growth entrepreneurs. “
- “Of high income countries, the United States, Israel, Iceland, and Canada exhibit the highest adult population prevalence rates of high-expectation entrepreneurship.”
So that explains why it feels that everyone and their mother here are entrepreneurs. But is this thanks to government policies that encourage entrepreneurship? Yeah right. From my own experience, the government makes it anything but easy to survive as a small business owner.
I think that the high levels of entrepreneurship might come down to two things:
- The Yiddishe Kop – this is Yiddish for “The Jewish Mind.” My grandmother always claimed there’s such a thing, and now a few goyim (non-jews) have backed her up. Jews always feel uncomfortable talking about this kind of thing, and the only reason I’m mentioning this is that some goyim claim this is so. While my grandmother is certainly an authority, I don’t know if her opinion is enough in this matter.
- Perseverance – over 2000 years of attempted annihilation and successful genocide, and we’re still alive and kicking. If that’s not perseverance, well, I don’t know…
When Warren Buffett bought Iscar in Berkshire’s first overseas investment, he said that “Being in Israel has a major advantage of having the exposure to a fabulous pool of talent and brains. When we bought Iscar, we bet on brains.” Who can argue with the second richest goy in the world?