Is bootstrapping killing your productivity?

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One of the basic tenets of business is to keep expenses low and profits high.

Over the last few years, particularly in the tech startup world, an extreme form of this theory, called bootstrapping, has become extremely popular.

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Bootstrapping is when a business uses the founder’s personal finances and/or the business profits as operating capital.

Sounds smart, right?

After all, a business with no debt will have a higher profit margin!

In some situations, bootstrapping makes perfect sense. Studies say that most businesses that operate off of other people’s money are less likely to succeed.

If you already have the necessary tools to start a freelance design business, you probably won’t need to invest much.

Combine the paid tools you already have with the free tools available online, and there isn’t much you can’t do.

But what if we told you that those free tools come with a price? How likely would you be to use them?

How do free tools kill your productivity?

When I first started getting serious about freelancing after several years of working full-time in unrelated industries, I was amazed by all the free web-based software available for me to use in my business.

Sidenote: Once you finish, read how 4 freelancers built recurring revenue models that changed their business. You'll love it.

I fell prey to “shiny object syndrome,” and opened a zillion free accounts all over the web.

I found time trackers, email marketing tools, marketing automation tools, a CRM, project management tools, plugins for my website and more.

But what I began to discover was that every time I wanted to do something, I had to open a different piece of software. Instead of using simple tools I created, I would have to go to a different website for EVERY task I wanted to complete.

I started to realize that while I was saving money on subscription fees, tasks were taking three to four times longer than they used to. That’s when I confessed my addiction to free tools and started looking for a better way.

What should I do instead?

I’m not saying all free tools are bad. In fact, I still use a couple of them in my business.

What I’ve found is there are ways to connect many of these tools together and automate your business processes. The developers in our community are probably already aware of a newer technology called API or Application Programming Interface.

Without getting too technical, API is a protocol that allows different programs to talk to each other. This means that you can send information from one tool to another without having to open each one separately.

If you’re not a developer, you can use a tool like IFTTT (completely free) or Zapier (free for a certain amount of tasks per month) to hook things together.

For example, if you want to make a list of potential clients from your Twitter followers, you can use either one of the tools above to add a row to a Google Sheets document with information about your new follower so you can contact them later.

But this doesn’t work in every situation. Many of the free tools require you to upgrade to a paid plan in order to use APIs.

What else can I do?

Early in my career, a mentor taught me that all good businesses have efficient systems in place. Not everything in your business can be automated, but it should be systematic.

There are several paid software tools available that do a combination of tasks, like 17hats and Roll. With this software, you can manage projects, communicate with clients and more. Both of these software packages are created with freelancers in mind.

(Disclaimer: Sharon is not being paid by any of these companies to mention their software products. She’s just sharing from her own experience.)

For more about hiring someone, read:

Wrapping It Up

If you’re new to freelancing, don’t sign up for every free tool available just because you don’t have to pay for it. Instead, sit down with a pen and paper (remember those?) and come up with a system for every task you need to perform. Once you’ve got your systems created, search for a couple of good tools to help you.

If you’ve been around a while, start keeping track of your time and identify the things that take too long. Then, either outsource those things or create a better system.

Do you have good systems in place for things like marketing, accounting, and project management? What works for you? We’d love to hear about it in the comments!

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About Sharon McElwee

Sharon McElwee helps creative businesses with blogging, email, copywriting and social media. She loves to partner with designers on web and print projects. You make beautiful things; don’t let them get ruined by ugly copy. Connect with her on Twitter.

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  1. From my understanding, the key part of bootstrapping is that it’s with replacement. This means that even though you’re pulling from a sample of S, the variety of resamples you can pull of size n is actually much larger than S itself and approximates P. So you’re not using the distribution of S to approximate P, you’re using the distribution of the (almost) infinite number of resamples of S to approximate P, which is very different.