I’ve been working on my own solo-project, Epilocal, since the Fall. About 6 months ago I took the plunge to leave a steady job and focus full-time on trying to bootstrap it into a viable business.
For sure, there are lots of people out there that are looking to raise as much money as quickly as possible to ride a VC-funded wave to growth, but for my project I had different ideas. Since it has social goals as a higher priority than monetary goals, it doesn’t really fit the profile as an investable company.
And that’s ok - not every founder should have the idea in their head that they are going to create something that completely captures a big market in the way that is necessary to create the returns that VC’s need to make money.
But bootstrapping creates its own challenges - and since most of the articles that are written online are geared towards the perspective of VC-funded startups I wanted to share a bit about what it’s like to build a bootstrapped company from nothing.
Here’s some of the things I’ve learned in my first 6 months of bootstrapping.
Be confident in your decision to bootstrap
As I wrote in my first post on Epilocal’s Open Blog, I took a while to get confident enough in what I was building to start putting it out there in public. I think a big part of this comes from comparing yourself to others - you see everywhere on the news about companies that raised new rounds of funding and if you’re not doing that it can feel like you’re not moving forward.
But it’s important to remember that the majority of businesses in the world are not created with venture capital funds. They may fly under the radar so you don’t realize it, but it is just as viable a path to success. It just might be a bit slower and more modest level of success.
If that’s what you’re looking for and what you want out of the company you’re building, you should own it and be proud of it.
You still need a pitch deck though
Ok, so I knew I wasn’t ever going to be pitching the idea of Epilocal to investors since I’m building products for such a niche market. (local news sites and other small independent publishers)
But that doesn’t mean there’s no point in doing a pitch deck. In fact, it wasn’t until I put all of my thoughts together into a pitch deck that everything really gelled and became clear in my mind. It’s very easy as a solo-entrepreneur to get a bit lost in your own thoughts… putting them down on paper in the form of a pitch deck forces you to get some structure around them.
And as an added bonus, the pitch deck becomes a great intro resource for when you meet people who are willing to help you - you can send over your pitch deck and answer a lot of their most basic questions about your project before having your first meeting.
There’s a difference between writing for Medium and writing for Google
As a bootstrapper, you probably already know that organic content is king and that Google Ads just won’t be viable in the long term. (I found that out after I got charged $38 for one click and promptly pulled all of my Adwords)
But it’s important to know that you have to adjust your content depending on where you plan to distribute it. I made a big mistake early on with some of my blog content that I posted on the Epilocal blog to target organic search traffic. I had become used to writing for platforms like Medium where telling a story and getting engagement from people is the key to success…
Not the case when you’re writing for Google - if you don’t have the right keywords and informative titles and descriptions, no one is ever going to see your blog post, let alone get the chance to read it.
The best content is stuff you’re really proud of
But as you’re writing for Google, chances are you are going to be writing a lot of things that start off like “How to do…” or “5 mistakes you’re making doing…”. I’ll be honest, these are not my favorite blog posts and I don’t feel like I want to share them with my network on LinkedIn or anywhere else - they are for Google’s eyes only.
Which is fine, I look at it as my base of content that will solve a small niche group’s problems over time. But that doesn’t really get me excited.
In the end, the content that really drives traffic is the stuff that gets you excited enough to share. For example, my free theme for the Ghost CMS was something I really enjoyed making and I was happy to show it off reaching out to different blogs to feature it.
A couple of backlinks from bigger blogs makes a really big difference, and chances are you won’t get those unless you’re proud of what you created.
Find ways to change things up and make it fun
Bootstrapping can be a grind and it takes a lot of dedication to stick with it. Especially when you are a solo-founder, you are in a battle against yourself everyday to stay productive and get everything done that you need to move forward.
Make things easier on yourself by giving yourself a break - first by treating it like a regular job and allowing yourself to unplug on weekends and holidays but also by finding ways to change things up once in a while.
In fact, one of the reasons I decided to start the Open Blog was that I was getting tired of writing blog posts for Google all of the time - it makes me excited to write about something a bit more personal and to put something out there that will appeal to a broader group of people than just my target market.
Find something that you can do that helps your business but also breaks up the routine a bit.
Keep at it and good things will come
There’s no way around it, bootstrapping takes time. And especially at the beginning, you won’t see any immediate results from your work. You have to keep at it anyway knowing that it will pay dividends later on.
For example, I started publishing my first blog posts in October. It wasn’t until February that some of these blog posts started to reach the first page of Google where they got a decent amount of clicks. Now in March I just made my first couple sales of my Mailchimp connector for Data Studio.
Keep at it, keep building and you will gradually start to see more and more rewards for your work.
It may take a long time, but you’re building a foundation that will pay you back
The great part about bootstrapping is once you’ve built that foundation it will pay dividends over and over again in the future. The blog posts I wrote in October are giving me traffic today without me having to do anything. The Mailchimp connector I built for Data Studio in January is out there for more and more people to discover and purchase.
Everything you do builds on top of the last thing you did - if you keep going and keep building you will end with something not only valuable, but also something stable and long-lasting.
And for me that’s what makes bootstrapping worthwhile.