I can barely imagine being so brave as to venture out on my own and start a business. In addition to the overwhelming amount of work required to create something successful, it can be a risky venture.
Still, women are increasingly taking the chance, and making it work. The proof is in the numbers: there are more than 8.9 million women-owned businesses in the US, employing 7.8 million people nationwide.
GoGirl talked with some female entrepreneurs about how to save money (and be smart!) when starting a business.
Samantha Cooper, CEO and Founder of Trend-Tribe
Trend Tribe helps college students get a chance to break into the fashion industry by providing them with the training, tools, and resources to create and execute four fashion events/marketing campaigns on campus each semester. Cooper told us:
- Barter your products/services: “There are so many other entrepreneurs out there who specialize in different areas who are also looking to save money. Barter your services and you’re good to go! For example, are you desperately seeking a photographer to take pictures for your e-commerce site? You may find a photographer who is desperately seeking your product or service and is willing to take photos for free in exchange for your expertise. It’s all about working together!”
- Turn to college students: “At Trend Tribe, our mission is to empower college-aged women, so it was natural for us to turn towards college students for help on some big projects. College students are eager to learn and help and will be more than satisfied with a product allowance, a letter of recommendation, and some help with their resume. It’s mutually beneficial because they’re getting the experience and responsibility they crave, and you’re getting some incredible talent at a minimal price.”
Catherine Alexander, Founder of STANMORE NYC
Stanmore NYC is a jewelry company. After graduating from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, Alexander spent years producing indie movies and television shows, but gradually realized that her love of design was too powerful to overlook. She followed her heart into the world of fashion photography and, through prop styling, discovered an innate love for creating with her hands. After experimenting with a wide spectrum of mediums, Catherine found her true calling in metals and stones, and so, STANMORE was born.
- Hone your negotiating skills: “No matter what field you’re in, never take a first offer. Whether you’re trying to get a vendor’s price down or a client’s fee to a rate that will compensate you fairly, make sure you have the gumption to get those numbers to where you want them.”
- Don’t waste your money on fancy desks and designer pencils: “Ikea is an amazing resource for startups so take advantage!! Figure out your bare minimum and then add a plant to curb those early designer cravings.”
Lucie Cincinatis, Founder of Jacmel & Co.
Jacmel & Co is a fashion brand and social enterprise that creates jobs in Haiti and empowers local women artisans.
- Location, location, location: “Ok so just move to Haiti and eat Rice and Beans everyday. Kidding. BUT Starting a business in a third world country is definitely a plus. I don’t think I would have been able to achieve as much if I had stayed in Europe or in the US, because the costs are so high (rent, labor, taxes, just everything!!). It would have required raising capital from investors, which is an additional layer of pressure as an entrepreneur. So, it may sound crazy, but starting a business somewhere else is not always such a bad idea, at least in terms of economics. Of course, this comes with other disadvantages (language barrier, cultural differences, potential social isolation and all). But hey, nothing is easy in life, so taking risks sometimes pay off.”
- It’s not quantity, it’s quality: “Currently, with Jacmel & Co, I’m employing eight artisans in Haiti but for the rest, I’m pretty much running a one-person shop . From production, to design, to shipping, to marketing or sales, I’m doing everything on my own. It may be a lot of work, but when you start a business, you have to be able to multitask and do as much as you can on your own, so you do not need to spend extra money on hiring other people or services.”
- Look for shortcuts online/website development: “This is a crucial angle of starting a business, as most startups need an online platform or website. In my case, I got lucky, and was able to get my website done for free through a friend in exchange for equity at a later time. But there are also a lot of interns or students who are looking for some type of work experience to put on their portfolio or build their resume, so it is important to find a way to utilize free or cheap resources when those are available.”
- Keep things simple: “I think a business can start small and grow organically. Many people just want to go big at once, without always proving to themselves or their investors that they can create value overtime. Those are common mistakes and as a result many entrepreneurs fail when starting a new business. I think it is also important to keep things as simple as possible to avoid further costs. The idea, mission and branding have to be well defined to avoid multiples changes in the strategy along the way.”
Alana Blank, CEO and Designer and Rachel Lavipour, CFO of Phyllis + Rosie
Inspired by pop culture, street style and the idea of timeless design, Alana develops each PHYLLIS + ROSIE piece with the intention of capturing the woman who tirelessly works to merge classic sophistication with an air of cool. Delicate necklaces, stackable rings, mixed-media bracelets, subtle earrings and edgy hand-pieces make up the collection, which is entirely designed, sourced, and handmade in New York City.
- Look around you and source your friends and family: “People may have skill sets that you are missing and might be willing to help you out. Seek out these people, but be generous back. Help them in whatever way you can as well.”
- Save money on office space: “We’ve worked in our apartments, coffee shops, and anywhere that has free wifi. Be flexible and creative. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither was your corner office.”
- Look to social media: “Social media can be a powerful marketing tool and sales driver. It’s free, and when used properly, can help spread a brand message and gives you a platform to present your brand’s voice. Instagram has been an extremely helpful and successful tool for us.”
Brittany Merrill, CEO and Founder of The Akola Project
When she was a sophomore in college Brittany spent a summer in Uganda teaching at a boarding school. Deeply moved by one woman, Sarah, who was struggling to raise and provide for 24 children, Brittany felt she had to do something. She raised money to start an orphanage for children and moved there to help run it after graduation. While there she started The Akola Project with partner Blake Smith. The Akola Project helps empower women like Sarah through vocational training, education and employment opportunities. Akola Project jewelry is now sold in over 250 boutiques and has been featured on The Today Show and Katie Couric.
- Get Creative: “For the first 10 years of our business I didn’t take a salary from Akola Project. This was more challenging when I was in grad school in LA than when I had been living in Uganda. My expenses went up and therefore I had to be savy with what money I could spend. I started shopping at local farmers markets and rarely went out to dinner.”
- Know Your Limits: “Be aware of your basic expenses and budget accordingly so you can channel your resources to your business. Being mindful of where you can and cannot spend will set you up to be financially productive in the future and will help your business get off the ground!”
- Know Your Business: “What Works at One Time May Not Be the Most Productive Move Down the Line. For example, I recently started taking a salary with Akola Project. I realized that I was working to economically empower women around the world and I was disempowering myself in my family structure by not taking a salary. I truly believe that not taking a salary was the right thing to do when I first started the Akola Project. The organization needed all of its resources to survive and grow. I am happy that I was able to make major sacrifices in my own life to contribute to building such an impactful organization. However, we are at a very different place 10 years down the road and I realized that it was important to me as a woman to be able to financially contribute to my family and be able to cover my basic expenses.”