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Low-Cost Startup Secrets

Overwhelmed with monetary stress over launching your business? Here are some cheap--and free--ways to get the job done.

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So . . . you have a great idea and you're brimming with excitement about being your own boss! But then you do some research and find out you need more money, legal papers, an accountant, business loans . . . the list seems endless. Suddenly, the prospect of starting the business seems to be more trouble than it's worth-and you end up staying with your current job.

But starting a business doesn't have to mean emptying your pockets, draining your back account and maxing out your credit cards. Here a eight ways to cut your expenses when starting a business:

Get free advice from a successful mentor who's already been through the rough-and-tumble first stages of starting a business. You should find someone who has 100-percent faith in you and your business idea. And your mentor should preferably be someone who's already stable and established, not some overnight success: A good mentor who's already experienced business success will have been through a lot of ups and downs and can offer useful advice on what not to do when developing your business. This alone could save you thousands of dollars!

Because they're established, this mentor will most likely have a long-term, trusted relationship with their lawyer and accountant. So that's who you should use, too. Because if your mentor does a lot of work with these professionals, they'll likely put more effort into getting your paperwork taken care of quickly because they want to make their established client happy. They may also offer you a discounted rate.

Have your business plan drawn up for free by submitting your business to an MBA class. Most MBA students are required to take a class on devising complete business plans. If your business idea is well organized and creative, you could score a pretty snazzy A-list plan at no charge! Plus you'll be able to see your company from the perspective of numerous objective eyes. This will give you insight into any loopholes you may have overlooked when drafting your original plan. Pinpointing these errors early could save you money in the long run and will also help you be better prepared and organized for the future.

Barter strengths with other business owners. Start networking with other small-business owners by joining your city's chamber of commerce or other local business group. At the networking events, don't by shy-ask questions. What are the needs these other businesses have? How are they struggling with different aspects of running and growing their companies? Pinpoint the areas in which they need help and creatively offer those services of yours that can enhance their business. In exchange, propose that they provide you with help in their area of expertise in the areas where you need help. Small-business owners love to barter: Hiring outside consultants can be pricey, but objective suggestions on improving your business are priceless.

Get low- or no-cost advice from a university-affiliated Small Business Development Center (SBDC). These centers, which are sponsored by the U.S. Small Business Administration and scattered throughout the country, offer free advice and free-to-very-cheap workshops to new companies. They provide resources and information regarding every aspect of business. More often than not, entrepreneurs are creative people with great products but are lacking in some of the other, "not so exciting" areas of business. Services at these centers include such things as one-day seminars on getting started, free one-on-one counseling, legal clinics, online resources and downloadable forms. You can log on to the SBDC's Web siteto find the small-business center nearest you.

Hire a virtual secretary. Most small-business owners are so busy multitasking their primary responsibilities that keeping on top the small stuff-like answering the phone-can be a challenge. So most new business owners set up voicemail boxes to answer their calls. But this can result in a major loss in business: In a world full of new technology, customers appreciate personal attention. Impatient and demanding, they want to hear a human voice on the other end of the line, someone who can answer their questions or take their order immediately. And remember, if you don't answer, someone else will.

Hiring a virtual secretary provides the illusion of a professional office atmosphere, even if you're just working out of your den. Virtual secretaries can do anything from setting up appointments and taking messages to answering FAQ's and even answering your calls 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Hiring a virtual secretary could cost you as little as $40 a month to start, a small price to pay for excellent customer service.

Hire college interns to help with the small tasks. When you're just starting out, it's critical that you focus on the things that will bring in the business-developing your marketing strategies, perfecting your sales skills, performing the work your customers expect from you. But if you're going to find success, you won't have time to do it all. So don't. Interns can help out by running errands, making copies or helping with mailings. They can also be trained to answer customers' initial questions about your product or service or can handle PR duties or Web design-it will depend on the expertise of the students you hire. By hiring smart, you can carve out the time you need to deal with bigger and better things.

Give the illusion of having more than one location by renting office space on an hourly basis. Why pay monthly rent for office space when you're just starting out? Instead, employ a "pay as you use" approach. Do most of your work out of your home office, and then when meeting prospective business associates or clients, rent space by the hour. Try to find a business center company that has numerous office locations under one corporate umbrella. One example of such a company is ExecuTec Suites.Having the option to work out of various locations will be more impressive to your clients and will look great on your marketing materials. Oh, and yes, you'll save money, too.

Enlist the help of your support network. When you start a business, it's imperative to enlist the help and support of people you trust. It's easy for entrepreneurs to get into the mindset of "If I need to get something right, I have to do it myself." While this may be the case, spreading yourself too thin keeps you from building your business properly. In addition, as your business grows, you won't have time to be the janitor, the accountant, the secretary and the CEO!

No one knows you better than your family, close friends and partners. Trust that they know your strengths and weaknesses, and allow them to help you out by offering complementary assistance. Doing this early on will help you learn to trust that other people can get the job done and will give you practice in the art of management and delegation. Those who believe in you will want to see you succeed, so determine their strengths, get them excited about your vision and ask them to help you out.

Marisa Liza Pell is the founder of Knowledge For Living Inc., a consulting company that offers a combination of success coaching, intuitive advising and motivational seminars to clients. Marisa believes in making the most out of life through creative passion, which is the driving force behind her work.

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