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Stop Worrying About Funding! What You Really Need Is Sales

It’s easy to spot dollar signs glittering in the eyes of most would-be entrepreneurs. Money is the goal. Funding is the hurdle.

With all the focus on cash, it’s easy to forget the far more pressing issue: sales.

If you can’t sell your product or service, it won’t matter if you have investors — your business is doomed to fail. Starting by selling (and bootstrapping your way to sustainability) can be a smarter — albeit slower — way to start a new venture.

My husband and I were fresh out of college when we started our company. As immigrants with zero credit, few resources, and no track record in entrepreneurship, we knew no one would fund us.

We worked out of our garage the first year, staying focused on our goal and keeping our expenses to the bare minimum. It was a strain on our relationship and our careers, but if I had to start over, I’d do it exactly the same way.

So What’s Wrong with Seeking Funding First?

Not seeking funding seems to make no sense: How can you start selling something without the cash on hand to produce, market, or deliver it?

Here are the problems with seeking cash first:

Raising funds for a startup is a full-time job in itself.

I used to think that money was the most valuable resource an entrepreneur could have. Now I realize it’s time.

Chasing capital will distract you from your primary job, which is creating and selling your product or service. Plus, as the sole owner or co-founder of a company, you have much more flexibility, so you can try new things without running them by a board or investor first.

Funding an untested idea is like boiling an empty teakettle.

Before you can confidently seek investor funds, you have to demonstrate your idea has merit. This means selling enough of it to prove your product has an audience willing to buy. Your time and energy are better spent pursuing sales instead of funding at the outset. Once you’ve shown your idea has legs, you’ll have more confidence and evidence to woo potential investors.

7 Things to Do Before Looking for Funding

So if you’re not pursuing funding, how do you get your business off the ground? Here are seven tips to get your company started without investor funds:

  1. Find your passion.

If you’re passionate about a product or a service you’re uniquely qualified to provide, that energy will fuel your enterprise. A desire to get something valuable into people’s hands is the first step toward making sales. Without this pivotal piece, you’ll find yourself running out of steam.

  1. Define yourself and your customer base.

Decide who you are, what you want your business to be, and who you will sell your product or service to. Narrow it down to the simplest form possible. If your grandmother can understand what you’re doing, your mission will probably be clear to your target market.

  1. Keep your day job.

Without investor or crowdsourcing funds, you’ll need to keep your job while you develop your business on the side. You don’t want to be responsible for paying startup costs without a steady income. If your job doesn’t give you time to work on your passion, enlist help from someone you trust. When my husband and I started out, he worked on building our business full-time while my paycheck kept us out of debt.

  1. Reach out to leads.

To make sales, you need customers, which means finding leads. Once you’ve identified your target market, there are plenty of ways to find leads online. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Look at board members of agencies in your industry that cater to your client base.
  • Search contacts on LinkedIn.
  • Look up the distributor lists of your competitors.
  • Identify public companies that serve your industry, and look up their SEC filings on FreeEDGAR.
  • Find contact information for local and national companies through the Better Business Bureau.
  1. Start small.

Start with a version of your product that can be produced at the lowest possible cost. You don’t have to begin with anything big or fancy. You’ll always have time to fine-tune what you’re selling in the future once it’s clear people want it.

  1. Work with people you trust.

Use your time at the beginning to build relationships with people in your industry who will help you along the way. If you’re developing a product, seek suppliers you trust who will work with you on your product. Negotiate payment options with them to alleviate upfront costs while your business is in its early stages.

  1. Sell, sell, sell.

Start selling as quickly as possible. If you’re developing a product, use a free online marketplace to build traction and gain customer feedback instead of spending lots of money on a website. Amazon Marketplace, Yahoo Merchant Solutions, Etsy, or eBay are good free options for startups.

If your business is service-based, start by creating an online profile for your business. Use your connections to build relationships with potential clients who will offer recommendations and honest feedback on your business.

Starting your business as efficiently as possible means focusing single-mindedly on sales. Not having funding immediately may mean your company grows more slowly, but it will definitely grow more efficiently.

  • lgdlf

    In myopinion the author is missing the key variable hidden behind all of this, and its TALENT. As long as you have a solid cofounder team, driven just by passion and commitment, you can afford to ‘build for sales’.

    But if your people is in real need of earning some money I think its very difficult to setup a real and sustainable sales process without funding. Unless you are very lucky, you need to spend a lot of effort in the customer development process to get to that point.

    • Zeynep

      Hi Lgflf, thank you so much for your feedback. Yes you are making a good point about talent. It is such an important ingredient. The reason I did not choose to include that point was only because– for our case– as we started out we did not really have the financial resources to add talent to our team, it was just me and my husband working from our garage. A 2 people team so to speak. And I was working after work hours.
      But you are absolutely right, as we started to grow our company, the most important ingredient of our growth- our team, our talent,. That is the foundation of growth dear lgdlf, you are absolutely right about that.
      in terms of funding too, if its right for your organization by all means go for it, For us it was not, we were just two immigrants with no credit history and anything. it was not the right thing for us. No one would fund us or give us a loan with no credit history or track record. And there might be many people out there that have similar situation as ours. They might be fresh out of college, or with no credit history, or immigrants like us or something similar like this…and you can still build a company with focusing on sales, rather then trying to look for funding is the point I was trying to make.
      thank you again for your feedback, hope this will make it a little more clear. best wishes with everything, Zeynep