#SWAAYthenarrative

How We Bootstrapped Our Way to a Multi-Million Dollar Business

Business

When Courtney and I decided to launch Socialfly in May of 2011, we knew we were taking a big risk. Neither of us had attended business school, neither of us had launched a company before, and we didn't have a presence in the NYC entrepreneur bubble.


We were in our mid-twenties and, truthfully, we were naive - we didn't even know that raising money for our business was an option. We built our now-multi-million-dollar social and digital marketing business entirely from scratch using our own money, strategic networking, and a handful of scrappy techniques that helped us fill in the gaps that we had in experience, resources, and know-how.

Here are 5 ways we grew our business without taking in any outside money:

We waded in cautiously and cut overhead as much as possible. Although Courtney and I were both 100 percent committed to launching Socialfly, we knew that we couldn't quit our day jobs until we had invested the time in developing our brand and landing enough clients to keep us afloat. For the first 10 months, we kept our day jobs and spent our early mornings, evenings and weekends building Socialfly. We also knew that we needed to keep our operation as streamlined as possible - all we needed were our laptops, phones, and our apartments to get done what we needed to, so, at the beginning, the only money we spent was on web hosting services and an inexpensive web developer to build our site. When we needed extra people to help, we hired interns in exchange for college credit.

We bartered with other entrepreneurs for essential services we knew the business needed. Early on, we didn't have the capital to invest in many services that we knew we would need in order to scale our business, so we had to get creative. We met a number of entrepreneurs through our networking groups who needed social and digital media help, and so we were able to exchange that for services including office space, legal consultation, and even public relations help. Over time, as we began to see success, we tapered off this practice. Eventually, the amount of time that we were spending on providing services in exchange for another person's services became more valuable to us than the service itself, and we began paying providers outright.

When we did spend money, we spent it in ways that we knew would have a direct ROI for the business. We invested in networking groups and found that the monthly or yearly dues to join were well-worth the cost. We joined a group for under-30 founders called The Strategic Exchange, where we surrounded ourselves with other entrepreneurs who shared knowledge and resources and supported one another. Through that group, we not only developed a team of informal advisors who helped us immensely along the way when we had questions or needed guidance, but we also landed some of our first clients. We found significant value in Vistage and BNI, too, and today, shared workspaces like WeWork and Luminary offer office spaces, networking and learning opportunities as part of a membership.

We invested in our personal brands as well as Socialfly's brand. Early on, we realized that in today's business environment, forging a memorable identity and brand for your company's founders is just as important as building one for the company itself. Once we had enough income coming in from our clients, we were in a position to take stock of where we stood in the marketplace and where we wanted to be and invest in that. In 2014, we decided to invest in writing and self-publishing our book, “Like. Love. Follow. The Entrepreninsta's Guide To Using Social Media To Grow Your Business." This project was a massive undertaking for us in terms of woman-power hours as well as capital, but it had a huge impact on us almost immediately. Not only were we able to say that we literally wrote the book on social media and business, but it gave us immediate credibility and a news hook for business and technology reporters to grasp onto. Even today, we still give that book out to every potential client we meet with.

The reason that we share this story now is twofold; one, we want young women just like us to understand that you don't need to have a ton of money or give away a portion of your business to an investor in order to succeed. When you get creative and stretch your resources as far as they'll go, you can do it on your own.

Two, we live in a current business culture that celebrates the investor-investee relationship - perhaps too much so. Far too often we see entrepreneurs who trade their IP for a cash infusion and a board of directors, and while that may seem like an attractive thing at the time - in the end, you're giving up a lot of your autonomy as a leader in your business, not to mention future income.

Instead, we believe that business culture should spend more time celebrating the self-made entrepreneurs, like us, who grind it out day in and day out to build the company of their dreams - without sacrificing their equity or control.

Since we launched nearly seven years ago, we've been approached many times by individuals and groups who have wanted to invest in our business, but it has never felt right for us. While the idea of raising money is definitely not off the table (we never say never to anything - you have to have options and have an open mind), the benefits to bootstrapping a business have, in our minds, outweighed the potential benefits of bringing in investors.

As a bootstrapped founder, you have all the control, you're your own boss and you don't have to report into someone - three areas that are very important to Courtney and I. You also have the power to plan your own future and pivot the company whenever you need to without asking permission.

While we understand that many people want that extra cushion and want that direction from an investor, for us, we've enjoyed being able to lean on each other and build our business on our own terms.

How to Learn Much More From the Books You Read

It is one thing to read and another thing to understand what you are reading. Not only do you want to understand, but also remember what you've read. Otherwise, we can safely say that if we're not gaining anything from what we read, then it's a big waste of time.

Whatever you read, there are ways to do so in a more effective manner to help you understand better. Whether you are reading by choice, for an upcoming test, or work-related material, here are a few ways to help you improve your reading skills and retain that information.

Read with a Purpose

Never has there been a shortage of great books. So, someone recommended a great cookbook for you. You start going through it, but your mind is wandering. This doesn't mean the cookbook was an awful recommendation, but it does mean it doesn't suit nor fulfill your current needs or curiosity.

Maybe your purpose is more about launching a business. Maybe you're a busy mom and can't keep office hours, but there's something you can do from home to help bring in more money, so you want information about that. At that point, you won't benefit from a cookbook, but you could gain a lot of insight and find details here on how-to books about working from home. During this unprecedented year, millions have had to make the transition to work from home, and millions more are deciding to do that. Either way, it's not a transition that comes automatically or easily, but reading about it will inform you about what working from home entails.

Pre-Read

When you pre-read it primes your brain when it's time to go over the full text. We pre-read by going over the subheadings, for instance, the table of contents, and skimming through some pages. This is especially useful when you have formal types of academic books. Pre-reading is a sort of warm-up exercise for your brain. It prepares your brain for the rest of the information that will come about and allows your brain to be better able to pick the most essential pieces of information you need from your chosen text.

Highlight

Highlighting essential sentences or paragraphs is extremely helpful for retaining information. The problem, however, with highlighting is that we wind up highlighting way too much. This happens because we tend to highlight before we begin to understand. Before your pages become a neon of colored highlights, make sure that you only highlight what is essential to improve your understanding and not highlight the whole page.

Speed Read

You might think there have been no new ways to read, but even the ancient skill of reading comes up with innovative ways; enter speed reading. The standard slow process shouldn't affect your understanding, but it does kill your enthusiasm. The average adult goes through around 200 to 250 words per minute. A college student can read around 450 words, while a professor averages about 650 words per minute, to mention a few examples. The average speed reader can manage 1,500 words; quite a difference! Of course, the argument arises between quality and quantity. For avid readers, they want both quantity and quality, which leads us to the next point.

Quality Reading

Life is too short to expect to gain knowledge from just one type of genre. Some basic outcomes of reading are to expand your mind, perceive situations and events differently, expose yourself to other viewpoints, and more. If you only stick to one author and one type of material, you are missing out on a great opportunity to learn new things.

Having said that, if there's a book you are simply not enjoying, remember that life is also too short to continue reading it. Simply, close it, put it away and maybe give it another go later on, or give it away. There is no shame or guilt in not liking a book; even if it's from a favorite author. It's pretty much clear that you won't gain anything from a book that you don't even enjoy, let alone expect to learn something from it.

Summarize

If you're able to summarize what you have read, then you have understood. When you summarize, you are bringing up all the major points that enhance your understanding. You can easily do so chapter by chapter.

Take a good look at your life and what's going on in it. Accordingly, you'll choose the material that is much more suitable for your situation and circumstances. When you read a piece of information that you find beneficial, look for a way to apply it to your life. Knowledge for the sake of knowledge isn't all that beneficial. But the application of knowledge from a helpful book is what will help you and make your life more interesting and more meaningful.