Bootstrapping in business – the art of survival in an economic downturn

I started up my Business just prior to the news of the forthcoming Recession hit, but I can’t say it particularly put me off as I was quite determined and had already lined some work up.

Banks? No Thanks

I started up with a very small amount of capital behind me (£250) and had no intention of seeking assistance from any Bank.  Every piece of equipment, software and furniture that I bought, I paid for and gradually as the Business started to turnover a profit, I was able to claim these expenses back from the Business.

Tax & Self Assessment

Additionally, I put myself through two HMRC courses – one on Becoming Self Employed and the other on Self Assessment for the Self Employed and learned how to deal with my own accounts and taxes etc, avoiding needing to spend my limited funds on a Bookkeeper or Accountant.

Making Good Use of Free Advice & Info

Used to carrying out my own research, I sought out all the free advice and information I could find covering various subjects that affected my Business and I, such as Marketing, Social Media etc.  There’s actually a huge amount of free, very good advice and information out there – you just need to invest some time in seeking it out.  I Networked, looking for new clients, suppliers and contacts and built up over time, a comprehensive network of Business acquaintances, friends and colleagues.


With regards to bartering, I carried out a ‘swap of expertise’ with particular individuals when our collective Business funds were really tight, which allowed us to not only benefit from each other’s skills and knowledge, but at the same time, keep moving our Businesses onwards and upwards.

IT Requirements

Luckily, my husband works within the IT Industry, so when it came to my IT infrastructure, I didn’t have to shell out for costly assistance on this side of things either.

It’s Good to Talk

As mentioned previously, some of the contacts that I made whilst out Networking have become firm friends as it’s always good to talk to likeminded individuals who are also endeavouring to make their small Business a success during hard times – sometimes it’s just good to talk to someone full stop as it helps to keep you ‘sane’ (especially if you work alone and remotely as I do).


On the Marketing side of things, it’s become quite apparent that ‘flat’ advertising in hardcopy mediums is in decline – having tried various forms of advertising I’ve found that this type of advertisement is the least effective, though advertorials, where the reader learns more about you than they would from a flat advert, seem much more effective.  Online Marketing in it’s various forms including Social Media, Blogs, Websites and Pay-Per-Click ads etc have become very dominant and continue to gather in strength and popularity, but there’s really no replacement for word of mouth – clients who have used your services and in turn refer you onto someone they know due to receiving great service from you currently, or in the past.

Cost Effective Outsourcing

Many Businesses today look for the most cost effective solution to their requirements, whether that involves outsourcing certain elements of their operation to experts (like a Virtual Assistant such as myself, who has over 24 years of Industry experience and skills that folk might lack in-house) or even seeking to make best use of technologies that suit their core Business model, for instance free or low cost Cloud-based technologies such as Google Mail and Google Docs.

My Sales, Marketing & Accounts Department?  That’s Me

One thing’s for sure, in these trying times, you need to be on top of your game if you want to survive – clients expect a wide range of solutions to be available to them, all of which provide them with the absolute best in terms of quality and cost effectiveness.  If you slack, you lose.  It also doesn’t do to sit back on your haunches and expect the work to fall into your lap – these days you really have to be a ‘go-getter’ and be prepared to go ‘out there’ and sell your services, find your clients.

Bootstrap From Day 1

I think there are differing camps when it comes to Bootstrapping and whether this is something carried out only during an economic crisis – some firms probably naturally adhere to this method of managing themselves and their operation, no matter what the climate and others, perhaps slack off when times are good, though you’d probably find that many small Businesses and Sole Traders have no choice but to Bootstrap from day 1 in order to make a living and survive, no matter what the financial climate.

Lone Working

Yes, there are times when I may work longer hours due to the ‘eb and flow’ nature of what I do – I am a lone worker and don’t contract out to associates and as a result, can only handle a certain amount of work, which as you’ll know, can never be guaranteed, but there’s a lot of give and take in this and at times, I’m glad to be able to take it easy for a few days, especially when I’ve just experienced a very busy period.

Diversification During Quiet Periods

Something else that’s worth considering is whether you have naturally occurring ‘quiet periods’ at any point during the year – it may be that rather than simply accepting this, you could or should look to diversify what you do and focus on some slightly different market sectors to supply the work you need during these lean times.  Those who predominantly work within the Public Sector, especially right now, need to be considering this carefully – what can they do to gain clients in the Private Sector for instance, which is where spending is still occurring?  If you totally rely on the Public Sector and don’t look to diversify either your offering or target market, you possibly won’t be in Business for long unfortunately.

My advice?  Grab the world by the horns, go out there and make it happen!

About the author: Alexandra Trapnell. Following on from 24 years in a successful support career, Alex began operating her Virtual Assistant Business in early 2008 from her base in the Cotswolds.  A highly respected Professional, Alex has previously worked in Secretarial, PA and Office Management roles, in sectors such as Event Management, Training, Recruitment and Higher Education to name but a few and as a result, is well placed to offer a wide range of Professional Services as a Virtual Assistant.  Visit her site to find out more.

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