By Saif Bonar Friday, 22 July 2011

MT Expert - Finance: What to do if you didn't win the Apprentice

Good news for those of us who didn't win Suralan's £250,000 investment: it is possible to build a booming business on a shoestring, says this week's expert.

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Self-confessed geek Tom Pellereau beat hotly tipped and highly organised PA Helen Milligan to secure a £250,000 investment from Lord Sugar for his back-pain relieving chair in Sunday's Apprentice finale. Meanwhile the rest of the nation’s entrepreneurs watched in envy, knowing that the prospect of securing funding at this level is comparatively bleak for many start-ups in Britain today. Banks have been notorious in consistently refusing to take the risk of providing crucial start-up loans and venture capital funding has taken a hit, forcing British entrepreneurs such as DataSift‘s Nick Halstead to head across the pond to Silicon Valley in search of the investment they crave. While funding is probably the biggest barrier for people starting a business, many would-be entrepreneurs don't realise how realistic an option bootstrapping and building a business with minimal investment can be.

Today, savvy entrepreneurs should be looking beyond the doom and gloom to see that it is actually a great time to start a business. Economic downturns are full of opportunity for rapid growth and the advance of technology in the past few decades has slashed the costs of getting up and running while easy access to the global labour market means skills shortages are somebody else’s problem.

Access free and low-cost technology
Free and open source technology has revolutionised the software landscape. While office applications were a virtual monopoly in the previous decade, Google Docs and Open Office are now both viable alternatives to the incumbent provider of standard office software solutions. Applications such as Skype have reduced the cost of global communication to pennies (or less) and there is a plethora of tools out there for more specialist tasks from editing audio and video footage, drawing charts and graphs, to bookkeeping and project management software.

Outsource and crowdsource your labour

With the increased digitisation of business processes, just about any job you can think of can now be done by someone on the other side of the world. Smart businesses can tap into global work exchanges including Freelancer.co.uk to identify a skilled workforce and save thousands of pounds in overheads for each ‘virtual’ employee they recruit. There are no head-hunter fees, no need for a desk, computer, company mobile or the office space to go with it and those traditionally costly jobs such as logo design can be completed at a fraction of the price you might expect to pay.

Crowdsource funding
If the prospect of bootstrapping on the back of a credit card is too daunting, entrepreneurs can turn to super angels – investors who typically invest up to £25,000 in high risk start-ups with big growth potential. Another emerging alternative in the UK is crowd-funding and micro-finance where through websites such as CrowdCube British companies can secure investment from as little as £10 a head from hundreds or thousands of people.

Use the right tools
Entrepreneurs should not hesitate to capitalise on the opportunities available, from cutting costs by recruiting offshore labour, to taking advantage of free or low cost software, to raising money from super angels. These are the tools of the trade for an entrepreneur in the current climate and in the years ahead.

While a quarter of a million pound leg-up will help Tom Pellereau in his latest venture, his creativity and entrepreneurial tact in securing Walmart and Boots as stockists of his first invention, the StylFile long before Lord Sugar clapped eyes on him demonstrate that a bit of creativity and drive can go a long way.

Saif Bonar, is a manager at Freelancer.co.uk

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