Starting your small business is no walk in the park—with business cards to buy and legal documents to take care of and social media pages to run, it can often feel like you’re drinking out of a firehose. Add budget concerns to that and your bucket o’ stress floweth over, friends. But not to worry—today, we’re breaking down our top areas to spend money on, spend time on, and save for later (you’re welcome) when it comes to your business.
*In the spirit of full disclosure, this post contains affiliate links, which means that we may get commissions if you decide to purchase anything from any of these companies. We only recommend products that we love ourselves and that we think you’ll love, too.
Systems & Operations
A Domain: Spend the Money
Buying your website domain is inexpensive and, thanks to sites like Squarespace or WordPress (which allow you to buy domains through them as you setup your new website) super simple. It’s one of the first things you should do after starting your sole prop or LLC. You want to secure the domain a) so no one can take it and b) so you can get started on your website (an all-important step of starting a business) right away.
A Professional Email Account: Spend the Money
Getting an @yourbusiness.com email account through Gmail is such an easy (an inexpensive) step. Oftentimes when starting out, we want to pinch pennies everywhere we can. And, while we totally applaud that approach, it can sometimes lead to losing professionalism (and potential clients) in the name of saving a few dollars. A professional email address is an absolute must for any business owner. Always use your exact domain—-if your website is sugarandstonebakery.com, your email address should be your name (or hello, sayhi, info, etc.) @sugarandstonebakery.com (as opposed to @sugarandstonebakers or @sugarandstonebakedgoods, etc.) This helps to keep everything branded and consistent, so more potential clients find you faster.
Project Management Tools: Spend the Money
A great project management tool will save you tons (and tons…and tons) of sanity right off the bat. With a thousand tasks to balance, don’t make the mistake of thinking all you need to keep track of everything is a your iPhone calendar and your notes app. Invest in great checklist and calendar tools and make a habit of using them.
Business Management Tools: Spend the Money
From online contracts to invoices to proposals, keeping business documents spread throughout ten different channels or platforms (your email account and docs saved on your hard drive and some in the cloud, others on accounting or e-signature platforms, etc.) only creates more work (and more passwords to remember) for busy pros. We definitely recommend investing in a small monthly subscription to a platform like Aisle Planner, which houses all of your business management tools in one simple, streamlined, access-from-anywhere place.
Legal Documents: Spend the Money
While you’ll eventually want a lawyer to look over your legal documents as your business grows, but we recommend making these a time investment (as opposed to a financial one) when you’re trying to find areas to save when first starting out. You’ll find plenty of contract templates to start from online—just be sure to spend some time doing your research before downloading any old contract and calling it a day. You’ll want to tailor clauses to cover specific things that could go wrong (cancellations, bounced checks, late payments, weather woes, last-minute changes, etc.) and to protect your right to your own creative work where applicable.
Client Experience: Spend the Time
While spending time doing things like defining a workflow can seem tedious when you’re just trying to stay afloat, it really can make the difference between a poor client experience and a great one…and great client experiences lead to client referrals which lead to—you guessed it—more clients. Spend time defining your workflow right from the get-go. What does your client go through, from tip to tail, when working with you? You should have a clear and defined welcome process (complete with an email template that you can personalize and send out to new clients, a welcome letter, a checklist for them to begin working on, etc.) as you bring clients on. From there, you should also have a defined “roadmap” for where you’ll take them. Every client should, more or less, go through the same exact process with you. This helps you perfect your process as time goes on, while ensuring your client knows what to expect and can “follow along” easily.
Logo/Brand: Spend the Money
Your logo and brand guidelines (fonts, colors, etc.) are the foundation for your entire business—and for how potential clients perceive your business. They should be professionally designed from the get-go. You’ll want to invest in a graphic design or advertising firm or freelancer who can provide you with a logo design, brand colors and usage guidelines (a document that outlines how to use and not use the logo in order to maintain brand integrity).
Website: Spend the Time
Having a web developer design a website from scratch is a huge financial investment, which is why we recommend saving money and starting from an online template. Sites like Squarespace offer clean, streamlined design templates that are pretty darn intuitive to work with and flesh out. It doesn’t have to be an award-winning website—it just needs to be clean (aka pretty), easy to navigate and professional. (If you’re not a great writer, consider hiring a professional copywriter to create your content.) Above all, it should definitely be branded with your logo, colors, and font(s).
Business Cards: Spend the Money
Business cards are so important, not just for industry networking events, but to carry with you on a daily basis. They’re a potential client’s or creative partner’s first impression of you in so many cases, though, so don’t just throw together any cheap business card. Sites like MOO offer gorgeous professional stationary and business cards for a decent price (be sure to look for online promo codes for first-time customers). If you can afford a few extra dollars, try opting for luxury options like variable printing, foil, letterpress, etc. The added touch can have a huge effect on the overall aesthetic of your cards (and the impact they make on potential clients).
Networking & Partnerships: Spend Money and Time
Networking is something that so many of us either fear or dread (or both), but taking the time to go to that luncheon or attend that workshop can be the single spark that changes the trajectory of your business if you meet the right person. Workshops and conferences will cost you money, while sending a nice handwritten note won’t—and this is one of those rare areas where we recommend spending both time and money, as the ROIs from building strong partnerships are often tenfold.
Social Media: Spend Time
If you have an eye for imagery and can throw together a sentence or two for a caption, you can manage your social media accounts on your own when you’re first starting out. Remember to keep them in line with your brand guidelines (use your logo as your profile photo, write a catchy, concise bio, and include your professional website and email address where applicable, etc.). You can always take a quick crash course online if the idea of running social media business pages intimidates you.
Content Marketing: Spend Money Down the Road
Content marketing is all about creating killer content to attract your audience (rather than using explicit advertisements). Once you’ve got your head above water, we definitely recommend working with a freelancer or hiring a full-time team member to create effective (and optimized) content on your behalf (articles, blogs, videos, etc). In this day and age, content marketing and SEO play a huge role in driving traffic to your site and getting your brand and business in front of your audience’s eyes, which means it’s definitely worth the investment. That being said, you don’t want to drive tons of traffic to your site until you’re sure you’re ready for it. You should have a beautiful website, a defined workflow, and the right project- and business-management tools in place before you move on to content marketing.
Overall, you want to take the time to develop professionalism, above all, when you’re first starting out. The trick to accomplishing this is to strike the right balance of investing in both outward-facing materials that make you look amazing (logo, business cards, website, etc.) and perfecting internal processes (developing a great workflow) that make your client experience amazing—all while being OK with saving bigger projects (like a website designed from scratch or killer content marketing) for down the road.