Case Study: 4 Successful Businesses that Started on a Shoestring

It’s been a few years since I went to a music festival…

Sleeping in a tent gives me backache and I get stressed in big crowds.

Plus, you know… AGE.

So I was lazily watching the Glastonbury coverage on TV the other weekend when Ed Sheeran came on stage.

He was headlining the entire festival on Sunday night.

Personally, it’s not my kind of music.

But seeing one bloke, on his own, with an acoustic guitar playing to tens of thousands of people flicked a switch in my business head.

Ed gets to keep ALL the money for his show.

As a one man show there’s…

No sharing it with a band.

No spending it on expensive stage gear, dancers or pyrotechnics.

Yet he still gets a bigger crowd and earns money than anyone else at that festival…

And he’s just one bloke with his guitar.

Think of the profit margins.

Whether you like Ed Sheeran or not, this is something that should inspire your business marketing… or at least encourage you to keep at it.

Don’t worry if you’re doing things on a shoestring…

Don’t worry if you feel like you’re behind on your knowledge of all this SEO, social media, traffic-generating stuff…

Don’t panic when you see other businesses with fancy websites, expensive videos and state-of-the-art graphics.

Don’t convince yourself that you have to spend a tonne of money in order to find and grow a customer base.

The Ed Sheeran success story shows that the most important thing is to have strong identity and personality for your business, with an emotional message that connects with your audience.

So many new businesses forget this and panic instead about software, technology, fancy design and SEO tricks…

The reality is, these are simply ways to amplify what you are already doing. Without your business, products or services being unique, passionate and desirable, the biggest tech budget in the world won’t help.

To show you what I mean, here are a few examples of people with nothing more than a strong idea who went on to succeed.

#1 Alice Mayor kick-started a business with just an Instagram account and a bit of personality…

Alice founded an online souvenir shop called We Built This City.

At a Small Business Connect seminar run by The Telegraph, she explained that she helped to launch and market the business using Instagram.

This one free tool drove £20,000 worth of sales in the very early stage.

The key to Instagram for a visual business like hers is to take really compelling, attractive and professional product shots.

However, she says: “We didn’t have any money for a proper shoot, so we tried to take the best shots we could in store…”

But even despite this budget limitation, they succeeded.

And why?

She says: “Even if it’s just a product, it’s all about describing it with personality, which helps build a good rapport with your audience.”

See, even if you don’t have the best equipment, all you need is a bit of that old Ed Sheeran audience-rapport!

Here’s another example…

#2 Jason setup a cross-fit business with a simple website and just one form of advertising

Jason Glaspey was getting tired of working the 9–5. He knew a bit about building websites and he was also into cross-fit training.

People who do cross-fit are often followers of the Paleo Diet. Effectively, you eat like a caveman – lots of meat, vegetables and fruit and nothing processed like bread or pasta.

But it’s a bit more complex than that in day-to-day reality.

Because to stick to a diet like that you really have to get organised with your shopping and meal planning.

Jason quickly realised this and sought some advice online. But there was a lot of conflicting, confusing advice about following this diet… so instead he decided to come up with his own plan.

He then put it all up on a membership website, including plans, lists, ingredients, recipes and exercise tips. Everything a Paleo follower would need.

It took him about three weeks to set up the site. He didn’t have an email database. All he used was Google AdWords to attract traffic. That’s it.

But it caught on…

Slowly but surely, people began to come to his site and sign up for membership.

It took a year and a half for it to become full-time. And then a few years ago he sold it for a pile of money that he’s now put into new, more profitable ventures.

Here’s another one…

#3 Gary Leff turned his air miles obsession into a blog which turns over $100,000 a year

Sometimes all it really takes is a singular passion to create a business. Like Gary Leff, who was obsessed with flying and building up his air miles.

(I have a close friend who is one of these people – sometimes he flies half way across the world first class simply because he has the points to spend!)

When his mates kept badgering Gary for advice on flying he began blogging about it.

After a while he decided to put up a very basic website where he’d book people’s flights for a fee and help them build up their air-miles.

It was at this point his business suddenly took off.

To add value Gary also began to include news, updates and special offers from airlines and hotels.

Within a few years it was making $100,000 a year and this was still only a part-time side project.

You can see it here: http://viewfromthewing.boardingarea.com/.

As you can see, the site is nothing fancy or revolutionary. Gary is offering information people can get for free if they put in the time and research… and he admits it, too.

But his customers want an easy, lazy shortcut which works and they’re happy to come to him for that.

And finally…

#4 A home business that started with £100… and a kettle

A few months ago there was a short interview on the Guardian website with a woman called Isabella Lane.

She runs a successful company called Smarter Applications with her husband.

These guys have cleverly tapped into the new trend for the ‘internet of things’ by creating household products with wi-fi connectivity.

But at the beginning all they had was a wi-fi kettle which they built for £100.

That was it – a budget of £100 and a good idea. No staff, no premises, no big backers.

Yet they had a major success in just one day when all their kettles sold out.

Then, disaster…

Customers reported a fault so all the kettles had to come back. Isabella and her husband then had to repair and reassemble all their products in her parents’ living room.

Despite this, they persevered and now have growing product range.

Isabella has this advice: “Have faith in what you’re doing. Take things slowly and try to ensure longevity. Not everyone will wake up after a year living in Barbados. [But] what a difference a day makes.”

So there we have it…

A bit of faith and self-belief…

A good idea…

Some passion for what you are doing…

And bags of personality…

Those are the basic ingredients for success, and they matter a lot more than your marketing budget or technical powers.

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