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7 Ways to save startup costs (that I wish I did 10 years ago!)

Table of ContentsUpdated Nov 26, 2014

So you want to start a business? Or perhaps you just did?

Are you mad? Bonkers? Insane? Lost your marbles? Quick, you still have time! Get outta here!! Run for your life. Run for the hills. Go on, go! Get out while you can!! Run, Forrest, RUN!!!

I mean really, are you sure you want this? It takes one tough cookie and some mighty 4” thick skin to fight the battles you’re about to fight just to survive each day?

Are you ready? Of course you’re ready — I’m just messing with ya. 😉 You were born for this.

My intro is only part joke (sort of). There are some elements of truth. Okay, maybe a lot.

But the good news? You are one of us. You swim against mainstream. You don’t do mediocre. And you love to be the pink monkey in the room. Slightly kooky. Partly insane. And ready for the most demanding (yet rewarding) chapter of your entire life, right?

Welcome to the ‘other’ side. You are now part of the 1%. (Kinda sounds like Fight Club!)


You just arrived to one of the most back-breaking, tear-jerking, nail-biting, palm-sweating experiences only a very few ever have the guts to embark on. Where ‘challenging’ is an understatement and ‘tough’ breeds a whole new meaning.

You’re not in Kansas anymore. And you’re in for one hell of a ride. But I can tell you this.

It will be worth it.

You bet it will.

After 11 years on the battlefields, I’ve learnt a lot. I want to share some of my war wounds and impart some of my hard-earned knowledge so you can win in this game called business – and in life.

I only wish some warrior had shared these tips with me 10 years ago…

It’s best to go in armed – especially when talking money.

I’ve blown a lot of money over the years and I’m not proud of it. In fact when I think about how much I’ve spent on a brand new $8,000 printer, $15,000 desk setups, $20,000 software purchases, top of the woz computers, expensive leases, etc.

And I feel ashamed. Embarrased. Reckless. Stupid. I have to remind myself that it’s all part of the lesson though. I had to learn the hard way. My way.

That said though, I certainly don’t want you to make the same stupid mistakes that I did.

So here goes…got a pen?

Buy used.

Buy secondhand everything! And I mean EVERYTHING!!  Printers, desks, furniture, chairs, computers, fridges, dishwashers, tables, chairs, cars…everything.

Buy a secondhand coffee machine for your office and you not only save the $4 on the Starbucks coffee, but you also save in lost productivity of you and your team going out for 15 minutes to get coffee. Winning!

We have Gumtree here in Australia which I’m in LOVE with. It’s my new best friend for a bargain. There’s also Craigslist and eBay obviously or even your local Swap, Buy & Sell Facebook page.

You can save tens (if not hundreds) of thousands of dollars over time buying secondhand and it’s more fun and creative anyway to pick up cool recycled stuff. My first big A3 printer cost me $8k and that was about 7 years ago. I recently bought two ex-government A3 printers for $800 each and they’re awesome.

Seriously, buy used. You’ll save a packet.

Keep overheads low.

Work from home for as long as you can. Or stay mobile and enjoy the laptop lifestyle forever.

I worked from my parents’ house for 6 months before I moved into a communal space with cheap rent. That was great; not only did I get to talk to other people but the shared infrastructure and office facilities really saved me a lotta money.

But then I started a canvas art business and grew so quick that I went and signed a lease on a massive big warehouse space and my rent literally went up by 500% overnight. Stupid, stupid girl.

Don’t do that, okay? Keep dreaming big but spend what you can afford, be frugal and don’t grow too quick or your overheads will outsmart you and put a massive strain on your cash flow like it did mine.

Contract labour only as you need it.

Pull in the people power only when you need it. Even if it’s just three hours here or there. If you need a specialist, copywriter, freelancer, advisor, business coach or whatever, work on an hourly contract basis. It just makes good business sense.

I was worried about hiring my first employee, so I put him on a contract basis and only guaranteed 20 hours work per week. Read all about it here.

That was almost 10 years ago but the lesson remains the same. I’ve used it for all sorts of situations since and I totally recommend you do, too.

Take advantage of global talent.

The world is such a small place these days. Back in my day (geez I sound like an old fart, don’t I?) we didn’t really have such easy access to talent worldwide. I mean we had email but still. It wasn’t easy to outsource projects like it is now.

We have a team in the Philippines now and it’s growing fast. I’ve managed to delegate so many tasks to my awesome team over there like admin, list building, marketing, social media, SEO, research, writing, website content and the list goes on.

I’ve even outsourced logo projects in the past to some amazingly talented designers. My two web designers didn’t really enjoy doing them so much so I’d outsource them abroad to keep them happy but also to save money, of course.

Get creative. And don’t be afraid to hire your first Virtual Assistant before you ‘feel’ ready to help you run more efficiently. Time is money. Which brings me to…

Track your time. Time is money.

If you’ve read my eBook, you will already know that I stopped doing face-to-face meetings years ago. It was sucking about 2 days a week from my schedule so at $200 per hour, that’s $3,200 per week I saved. Per week!!

So don’t do meetings. They’re a time drain. And…time is money.

You’ll also want to invest in a good time-tracking software and make sure you use it. There’s plenty out there and some, like Harvest, can handle your billing too.

Remember, your time is best spent on working on high-value tasks that will generate more money for your biz.

And if you’re running around all over the place flapping around like a chook with its head cut off, try RescueTime to get yourself back on track. Or just kill Facebook. That works too. 🙂

Use Saas & open source software.

Geez, I’ve spent so much money in the past on software, it’s not funny. I remember years ago I had to get a loan when I expanded just to pay for Adobe suite for my team and I. I think I had to borrow $12,000 or something. Now you can just buy the cloud version for $49 a month. It’s awesome. Do it! We do it for our whole team and it’s so much better on our cash flow and overall software costs.

Another time I took $10k out of my cash flow to invest in a CRM software called Streamtime. They now have a Saas model, too, which I wish I had have known was coming. But honestly, go for low monthly payments rather than forking out big upfronts. Then you can always change your mind when you outgrow a platform.

And Microsoft Office & Outlook? Don’t do it. Just use Google Apps and Gmail for next to nothing. You can setup a proper business Gmail account for just $5 per user per month and it rocks. Gmail and Google Apps are the best. I totally recommend you use free open-source software wherever you can.


I always used to be too afraid to haggle, really I was. I was too embarrassed. I didn’t want to look like I couldn’t afford it. Or like a cheapskate.

But now, it’s a different story. I always now ask “Is that your best price?” and more often than not, you will save money. I do it for everything, even personal things.

Get in the habit of asking for discounts for early payments. And also put a note in your diary to go to each of your suppliers every 6-9 months and ask for 10-30% off. Even if only a few of them say yes, you’ll save heaps on your cost of sales. Be tough too, people will often give you a discount if they think they might lose your business.

You’ll need to get good at managing your cash flow to negotiate early payment deals so if you need to skill up in that area, read this.

We’re forever negotiating and haggling (and sometimes threatening to leave) banks, hosting providers, data centres, phone companies, merchant providers, and more just to get a better deal. Our credit card merchant fees are now less than 1% and that makes a huge difference when you turnover the amount we do each month. It’s worth it so make it a habit to haggle and hustle whenever you’re exchanging money.

Before I go back to the battlefields, let me leave you with some final words of wisdom:

  • You really must have a solid budget. (Another big mistake I made early on!)
  • You must manage your cash flow daily. (Here’s how I do mine.)
  • You must constantly review and analyse your spending – at least every quarter.
  • You must track everything! Every cent.
  • You need to respect money and give it a home. (I mean separate accounts for everything.)
  • And you absolutely, totally, 100% MUST be frugal with every single penny.

Now go forth and conquer, my little startup warrior! Go in armed like I said. You’ve got this. You’re going to be brilliant. You’ll handle everything that comes your way in exactly the right way, including the dreaded ups and downs of the cash flow waves. (Don’t say I didn’t warn you.)

Be smart with your money. Respect it. Give it a good home. And remember, whatever happens, it was meant to happen in exactly that way. It may not make sense at the time, but it will later, I promise.

How else can we scroogy up and save startup costs?

I’m always looking for new creative ways to save a buck or two. Share your ideas in the comments!

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Written by Bianca Board

Staff at

Bianca is the co-founder of Web123, Australia’s small business web specialists. Bianca is passionate about reinventing web design for small business. 

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  1. Dzenan Skulj says:

    Hey Bianca,

    I stumbled upon this article by chance and loved it. I mean, frugality isn’t my strong side I must admit, it’s never been. Like younger you I too was a BIG spender – foolish at times – but hey, we live and learn…at least some do.

    As a serial entrepreneur who’s had his share of failures and many lessons learned, I’d say that your blog post is rather educational and valuable to aspiring entrepreneurs who are seeking to start and grow their businesses on a shoestring budget.

  2. Shahid Awan says:

    I didn’t thought about these things before starting the business, you are actually right its not important to buy brand new things for your brand new business, we can save money by buying second hand things and then all of the other advice you gave is absolutely right , thanks a lot or sharing such great instructions for startup business owners !!

  3. Really Good blog post.provided a helpful information about how to save the start ups .keep updating…

  4. I need to work on my haggle skills. Thank you!

  5. Robert Smith says:

    Another tip is to use a co-working or remote space (WeWork for example) as long as is possible and when your team is small. No point paying out for office space, desks, chairs and all that before you even have a decent sized team. In fact, many large and growing startups use co-working spaces regardless of their size! It’s also a great way to surround yourself with other businesses and business owners.

    Thanks for the article – good read!

  6. Might be old news but a great place here in the states to “buy everything used” is Habitat ReStores.

  7. Michael Shaddox says:

    This is the story I wish I could have written myself! I’ve been buying second-hand for a while now, even getting discounts on Apple products in their refurbished section, the best part of that being the 1 year warranty that comes with it.

    When Adobe first switched to the monthly pricing, they drew much criticism from many, while I applauded it for the same reason as you have done: the low monthly cost and the most up to date versions of the software I use the most.

    Outsourcing can be great as well as long as you’re confident in the quality of work produced.

    Great article, well written, and on point.

    Keep up the great work!

  8. I wish I would have found these startup saving tips years earlier. I would have saved on spending.

  9. Stuart Spindlow says:

    Interesting story. I am impress with your post, your experience help many people to save money.

  10. Great! Your writing style is really amazing, especially that intro was really something else.

    Startups often struggles with finance and cost. The tips you have given here are spot on and valuable to all startups and even for those who are freelancing.

    I haven’t read your ebook yet, will do as soon as I get some time off; but there is one thing I disagree with you on. Face to face meeting, in my opinion, is often necessary. What I have experienced, some clients are best able to contribute when meeting face to face, and the best way to nurture your relation with your client is meeting them face to face.

    Although, I agree that such meetings are time consuming, but in a long term it will benefit you with stronger understanding and relationship with client.

    I like to get involved with clients on a more personal level, treating them as friends, instead of just customers.

    Still, I agree with all your points and that the face to face meeting is time consuming. Maybe limiting the meeting time and frequency might be a best mix here.

    Great Work

  11. I freaking love your consistency and amazing value. As a marketer, I rarely subscribe to things, and almost always unsubscribe after a few emails. But you guys just deliver great content (even if its not 100% geared towards me) its always intriguing.

    Keep it up! 🙂

    1. April Greer says:

      Thanks, Hugo, from all of us at Millo! 🙂

    2. Bianca Board says:

      Very cool comment Hugo, thank you! Hope to see a lot more of you! 🙂

  12. Hey Bianca,

    Great write up as usual! Very informative and solid tips to keep a young business in check and growing. I had a question about using global talent. I find that it’s difficult to find solid trustworthy companies in a general search for a service. Can you recommend specific companies or at least resources that offer services you spoke about? (ie. admin, list building, marketing, social media, SEO, research, writing, website content) Really appreciate the response as this is an area I’d like to streamline best as possible! Thanks.

    1. Bianca Board says:

      Hey Will, thanks for the comment! Yes, it can be tough. I actually invested in a program by John Jonas called and learnt his way of recruiting in the Philippines. He also owns and when you buy Replace Myself you get access for free to Online Jobs where you can do an advanced search to find only the best candidates that suit your project.

      All my team work 40 hours per week so they’re actual employees, not task or project specific contractors. If you want contractors for different projects, best use oDesk, People Per Hour, Elance etc But if you do it the way I have, you will want to employ your team members on a minimum of 20 hours per week but 40 is more ideal so they’re 100% committed to you. And remember, they don’t have superpowers, they’re real humans just like us with specialised skills so hire a General VA for admin, listing building, research etc then social media expert for social media, SEO for SEO etc They might say they can do everything but it’s best not to try hire someone to fit 5 roles.

      Then once you find one, you can usually use their network to find more. They will rarely, if ever, recommend someone to work for you who isn’t the best person for the job. Good luck! And let me know how you get on. 😉