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5 Considerations When Bootstrapping Your Business

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This is a sponsored post written by me on behalf of Navy Federal Credit Union. All opinions are 100% mine.

In 2013, John (who was my fiance at the time) called me from Afghanistan. It had been months since we had seen each other in person and the video was blocky and lagging. John was trying to figure out what he wanted to do with his Naval career: stay in? Get out? Go OCS?

So when he called me that day, I wasn’t expecting another option.

He wanted to open a coffee shop. In fact, he had started sketching out a rough draft of a business plan, already dreaming about second (and third) locations. The more he dreamed, the more he knew that this was the thing he wanted to do. But like anything, there’s an ideation phase and then a lot of space between that and the implementation phase. And John still had 3 1/2 years in the Navy.

Once we decided opening the coffee shop was the next step, we went about creating a plan. And when I say “we,” I really mean John. He spent the vast majority of time researching and planning, running numbers, and thinking about alternatives. And the whole time, we saved as much money as we could, even as I was a freelancer without a full-time job.

In November 2017, we opened our first location, Swatara Coffee Co., having bootstrapped the entire project ourselves. While the squeeze at the beginning was tough (saving money is always hard, especially when it means giving up things), John and I both agree that doing so gave us much more flexibility and creative control over our business than securing money from outside funders. So, let’s talk a little bit about bootstrapping and how to save for your business.

What is bootstrapping?

Just think of the phrase “pull yourself up by your bootstraps.” That’s exactly what bootstrapping a business is. It means that you’re only using your own funds and resources to start your business. You’re not using angel investors, loans, or other methods of funding. There are thousands of books written about self-funding a business, so of course, I can’t cover everything. But it’s important to note that bootstrapping isn’t for everyone. And your individual circumstance and level of risk and financial management absolutely plays into the choice you’ll make about your own business. Consider this: Unless you’re very wealthy, bootstrapping probably means that you’ll have a limited budget and need to get creative. However, it also means that you’ll be independent and won’t have to answer to outside investors or worry about loans coming due. There are many other factors, so you’ll want to consider those before you decide how you want to proceed.

1. Know what you’re saving toward

John and I set up strict parameters when we began saving to bootstrap Swatara Coffee Co. We knew exactly how much money we needed to save and exactly how that money was going to be spent. We talked about what we were nervous about, excited about, and worried about. We made sure that we were both 100% on board with the foundation of the business plan.

2. Have a line in the sand

Before we started saving anything at all, John and I created a line in the sand. It was the amount of money that we absolutely would not spend more than while setting up the business. Maybe we had watched too many Kitchen Nightmares episodes, but we knew that it’s very easy to spend more than you mean to with just a few bucks here and a few bucks there if you’re not being careful.

3. Automate it

Create a nest egg for bootstrapping without thinking about it. Set up a savings account and set aside a certain amount of money every month or every paycheck. It’s easier to save when you don’t have to physically move the money from one account to another. And it’s easier to avoid the temptation (or accident) of dipping into that pot of cash when you have it separated from the rest.

4. Devise a payback plan

Treat yourself like an investor. (After all, you are!) One of our non-negotiables about bootstrapping Swatara Coffee Co. was that we would absolutely pay ourselves back. That meant that John kept track of exactly how much we spent initially and also tracked how much and when we paid ourselves back. We also had a deadline when we would begin paying ourselves back, knowing it would be easy to push it back indefinitely if we didn’t give ourselves dates and times.

5. Think about your relationship

If you’re in a committed relationship and your finances are intertwined, you absolutely need to consider how this financial part of your journey will impact you and your significant other. It’s very easy to be resentful of the money you’re saving or the amount you’ll spend on the business if you’re not both ready for that sacrifice and aren’t in agreement with how it’ll be done. You don’t want your business to become a wedge between you and your significant other; so make sure you don’t just talk about it at the beginning– make sure it’s an on-going conversation.


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