The paradigm shift from corporate expense accounts to start-up bootstrapping has been challenging, but fun. Of course, being a woman, I am so proud of the bargains I find, I just have to share them!! (My husband, while happy I can find a purse for $6 that I carry for five years before retiring, still does not understand this innate need of women to boast of our bargain conquests like men boast of their Fantasy Football rankings.)
Here are my Top 6 Web-Sites You Need To Know About to Start or Grow a Business on a Budget:
#1: VistaPrint (www.vistaprint.com)
If you can handle constant emails touting free products (yeah, like anyone orders just 10 Christmas cards — even if they are free), VistaPrint is the highest quality printing source at the lowest price that I’ve found. Yes, I’ve tried others – online and local. But I keep coming back to VistaPrint. They even will refund for jobs that aren’t as high quality as you would expect (as I’ve learned – but in hindsight, was my own fault….before I found out about Camera Ready Art – see below). Also, if you pay for anything on this site without a 25% off discount, you haven’t done your homework. They have promotions all over the internet coupon/deal sites.
#2: iStock Photo (www.istockphoto.com)
Where do businesses get those awesome photos they use on their print pubs, web-sites, and newsletters? Unless they are large enough to have either in-house photographers or hire their own commercial photographers, it’s likely they use stock photos from a supplier that serves many businesses. The largest and cheapest one I’ve found is iStock Photo – you can buy royalty-free pictures for as low as $1 per download with no long-term contracts (the next cheapest one I’ve seen is www.shutterstock.com, which allows you 5 photos for $49 in their most basic package). They’ve got thousands to choose from. Beware of the potential for time-sink: it’s easy to get lost searching for just the right shot – and find yourself looking up from your computer hours later.
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#3: 99 Designs (www.99designs.com)
Need a logo designed? A flyer? A t-shirt? A web-page? 99 Designs is an online marketplace where businesses (or individuals) post design contests, and designers compete to win. Minimum contest prize is $150 or so, plus you have to pay a set up fee, but if you want lots of choices and ideas, this is the most economical route to go. Most of the designers are art students building their portfolios…and many of them are very good. Works best if you devote a lot of time to provide feedback to the designers on their submissions to allow them to iterate and refine.
#4: Camera Ready Art (www.camerareadyart.com)
If you already have a design in mind and can sketch it down on a piece of paper, Camera Ready Art is for you. For a small fee, they will take any picture or sketch (online or in hard copy — even fax!!) and turn it into a vector based file. I’m not exactly sure what that means, yet, other than having vector-based file gives you the high resolution you need to blow up a logo to a large size (like for a banner) or a t-shirt. You can pay on a job-by-job basis or join for a year and use the services at a discounted rate.
#5: Constant Contact (www.constantcontact.com)
Talk about a fast-growing business. Anyone who is using e-mail to keep in touch with their customers is likely using Constant Contact. If you have a small list, it can even be free. Pricing goes up as your database gets larger or as you want to add more features (like images) to your newsletters. But still a cost-effective way to keep in touch with customers on a regular basis.
#6: Craigslist (www.craigslist.com)
This site is not just for selling the crib once baby has moved out of it. You can post jobs on Craigslist for a low fee (like $25) and get results submitted in, like, minutes. Seriously mind-blowing. So if you’re willing to weed through a lot of poor fit resumes to find the gems, this can be an extremely cost effective way to advertise for part-time help.