Five tricks to keep your startup costs low

The startup phase is when your business is at its most fragile, so rein in costs wherever you can and focus on scaling up

The Frictionless Office

woman at desk in new, unfinished office space

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It’s worth being frugal when you’re in launch mode, says Sandra Altner, CEO of the Women’s Enterprise Centre of Manitoba, which helps entrepreneurs start and develop businesses. “Don’t spend where you don’t have to spend,” she advises. Here are her tips to keep costs low.

1. DIY, then scale up

When building out your office or retail location, be a minimalist, then add as needed. “Do your own paint job and keep it simple,” Altner suggests. “You don’t have to be sloppy or shoddy, but it doesn’t have to be the diamond version.”

2. Lease rather than buy

Furniture, software, equipment—just about anything can be rented instead of owned, which can save you cash up front. “You don’t want to end up with a piece of equipment that’ll be useless to you in two years, or to have so much money tied up in it that you have no liquidity,” she explains.

3. Know your true needs

Avoid overpaying for services that don’t fit your needs—or coming up against surprise costs—by building out a business plan that lists all the tools you’ll require and exactly how you intend to use them. Start with free tools, and upgrade as needed.

4. Get creative with staffing

Don’t assume full-time staff are the best choice for your fledgling business. “I’m a real believer in having people on contract in your first year,” Altner says. “You are saving severance costs if you make a bad decision, and staffing is much more malleable.”

5. Invest where it counts

There are two places where DIY can backfire, says Altner: legal and accounting. For instance, you can save a lot of money if you have a lawyer look over your lease, contract or partnership agreement. With accounting, even if you do your own day-to-day books, you should consult a professional to ensure you’re not making costly errors.