Bootstrapping a business is a unique kind of startup experience. Margins can be thin. Revenue and sales are always on your mind. And if your company goes negative one month, the money comes out of your pocket.
Despite the risk factor of bootstrapping your company, plenty of founders across the globe have grown profitable businesses without venture capital. Studying their stories will spark inspiration, calm your nerves and set you up on the right path.
Take Russell Brunson, a Boise, Idaho-based founder who has built 12 direct-to-consumer online retail businesses without any funding. Most recently, he started up ClickFunnels, a fast-growing software company that helps entrepreneurs and online business owners build landing pages and sales funnels (sometimes called "marketing funnels").
Through the use of sales funnels, good storytelling and offline engagement, Brunson's company did $30 million in revenue in 2016 is projected to earn $70-90 million in 2017. Inspired by a recent interview I did with Brunsen, here are three powerful strategies for bootstrapping your startup:
1. Obsess over high-performing funnels.
When you don't have venture capital at your disposal, you have to ensure your product is profitable as soon as possible. Building outstanding sales funnels should become your focus and, ultimately, your secret weapon.
Your goal is to move a potential customer throughout the entire process leading up to a sale. Start with a great landing page that tells your story and shows the value of your product or service. Next, present a front-end offer in which your customers have the opportunity to purchase your product or service. And finally, nurture those leads by offering upsells and continually providing value.
Building the sales funnel is simply the first step. It's critical for you to obsess over iterating and improving your funnel until you see the conversion rates that meet your goals.
"I found amazing mentors who taught me how to build a landing page, drive traffic and get people to give you their email address," Brunson says. "Building email lists and creating products those people wanted became my focus for the next decade in my life."
2. Use powerful stories to hook attention.
Brunson's transition into the software space alerted him to a unique obstacle in tech sales. The average consumer lacks a deep understanding of how tech products work, so they aren't easily excited by technical specifications and jargon. An emotional hook is needed to get them invested in the product.
Channel what Brunson refers to as the "epiphany bridge" to stimulate that a-ha moment when your team became truly excited about your product.
Then use strong storytelling and copywriting at every stage of the sales funnel to show your customers the value of your product or service. Draw them in by describing the emotional side of your product development. Build brand loyalty by explaining how and why your product may improve your customers' lives.
"What gave you that epiphany that got you so excited about your product? What was the emotional experience? You have to go back to that point in time and tell that story," Brunson says.
3. Take the sales funnel offline.
Now that you've built the sales funnel and told your story, how do you keep customers engaged while maintaining a low budget? Take your sales funnel offline.
One example of this is to create an instructional guide of sorts-books, white papers, seminars, training videos-drawing on your unique expertise. This is a cost effective method to continue building interest and value about your core product.
For example, Brunson released his first book a few months after ClickFunnels launched, and it served as a shot of adrenaline to his current and potential customer base. Use the offline space as an introduction to your larger sales funnel and an opportunity to generate revenue with upsells and added value.
While bootstrapping may seem daunting, it allows you to prioritize the key principles of your business, reduce costs and maintain control of your company while finding the right partners to help you scale. Follow our three tips above and seek inspiration from entrepreneurs who have successfully bootstrapped to profitability, and you will be on the right path to unbridled success.
If you're interested in hearing more, you can listen to my full interview with Brunson here: