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You’ve heard the phrase to pull yourself up by your bootstraps, right? But what do we mean when we talk about bootstrapped tools?
Pulling yourself up by your bootstraps refers to succeed through your own efforts without relying on investments or help from anyone else. (Though the phrase’s meaning has shifted over time.)
Bootstrapped companies are those that grow through the dedication of their founders, rather than relying on cash flow from investors. Basecamp is a bootstrapped company, for instance. Apple isn’t.
Bootstrapped companies must focus relentlessly on sales, cash flow, and profit because they don’t have the luxury of VC investments to fall back on. They need to remain lean and keep costs to a minimum.
As a result, there’s no room in the budget for expensive enterprise tools. Luckily, there are a variety of bootstrapped tools that can help. Today I’m going to share with you some of my favorites.
Before we dive into the tool suggestions, let’s talk about what bootstrapped tools are — and why the distinction matters.
Starting a business, even a bootstrapped one, is expensive. But you can’t build a great SaaS or e-Commerce company without the help of digital tools. Unfortunately, the best tools are often prohibitively expensive for companies on a tight budget.
The good news is there’s plenty of free, freemium, or affordable digital tools you can use instead. These tools are often just as powerful as enterprise-level tools while helping you remain cash flow positive and maximize your runway.
If you’re serious about growing your startup, you’ll eventually need to put down the pen and paper to-do list and upgrade to a SaaS solution.
Wrike is a versatile and comprehensive project management tool, perfect for startups and businesses of all sizes. It has all of the features you’d expect from a SaaS project management tool, including Gantt charts, Kanban boards, briefs, and request forms.
Wrike also makes collaboration seamless with shared calendars, file sharing, and team reports time tracking.
Wrike is used by some of the world’s biggest companies, including Google, Airbnb, and Dell. It also integrates with over 400 other SaaS tools and software platforms like Salesforce, WordPress, Hubspot.
You won’t have to worry about the security of your data — enterprise-level security comes standard and everything syncs instantly to the cloud.
Wrike is free forever for up to five users. The professional version costs $9.80 per user per month for up to 15 users. If you need it, the business version costs $24.80 per user per month.
You can’t have a digital business without a website.
Even running an offline, local business can be challenging without a strong web presence. However, you don’t need to spend thousands of dollars on an expensive web design agency. It’s possible to build a website from scratch using an intuitive website builder.
One option is Webflow, which was labeled “the development platform of the future” by Smashing Magazine. It is a hugely capable website builder that lets anyone create visually stunning websites without a developer or designer’s help.
It comes with CMS and e-commerce capabilities, meaning you can turn the platform to any task or goal and integrates with tons of leading SaaS and web apps. Hosting is also built into the platform, so there’s no need to mess around with a separate hosting company.
It’s not just a platform for startups and solopreneurs, either. Webflow has built some pretty major websites, including Zendesk, Hellosign, and Dell.
You can use Webflow free forever, but you’ll want to play for a plan to get the most out of the platform. The basic plan costs $12 per month, and a CMS version costs $16 per month.
You need a strong SEO game, especially if you are a bootstrapped business that can’t afford to spend a lot on Facebook ads or other online advertising forms. But, you don’t need to pay a fortune for the right tools or even hire an SEO agency.
My SEO tool, Ubersuggest, is perfect for anyone running a bootstrapped company because it’s free. Even better, it gives you all of the insight and advice you need to optimize the heck out of your pages.
You’ll get an overview of your domain and its strengths and weaknesses, a report of the top pages ranking in your niche and how to beat them, keyword suggestions with accurate search volumes, backlink data, content ideas, and so much more.
Even the tool’s premium version is cost-effective, starting from as little as $29 per month.
Each tool provides similar data and insight, but you’ll find these slightly more expensive than Ubersuggest. Moz, Ahrefs, and Semrush all start from $99 per month, for instance.
Whether it’s a beautiful header image for your blog, great looking stock photos, or a banner for your new Facebook ad, having access to a designer is invaluable. It is also prohibitively expensive for most bootstrapped companies.
The good news is, you don’t need to outsource design to an agency or hire a full-time designer. Instead, use the following tools to create the designs you need.
While there are many free or cheap design tools out there, very few bring everything you need together in one place like ZeBrand. With ZeBrand, you can create logos, fonts, color palettes, inspiration boards, and whatever else you need.
There’s a massive library of high-quality photographs to use for free, too. The platform even provides Brand Coaches, on-hand experts who will help you create and execute your brand strategy.
The starter version of ZeBrand is available for free. The premium version is significantly more expensive at $399 per quarter, including brand coaching sessions.
Are you still sending out email campaigns manually? Are new subscribers automatically added to your welcome email flow? Automating your email marketing can save a lot of time, but it can also make your business a heck of a lot more profitable.
Squeezing as much value as possible from your email list is essential if you’re bootstrapping. You don’t need to waste your money on expensive enterprise platforms, however.
HubSpot is a freemium marketing automation platform perfect for every business, from a one-person startup to a 300-employee company.
Creating and optimizing automated email campaigns is easy once you get the platform set up — and you’ll be able to do it all by yourself. Personalization is included to easily create specific email marketing waterfalls for different types of users.
You can also A/B test your campaigns to improve open and conversion rates.
This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the HubSpot platform, however. You can also build landing pages to capture more email addresses, gate content that already exists on your site and get a full picture of how every lead came into your CRM.
HubSpot costs just $45 per month for up to 100 contacts.
If you’re not a fan of HubSpot, consider:
As your bootstrapped team grows, communication will become more critical. Emails, texts, and phone calls will only take you so far.
It doesn’t matter if your team sits in the same office or works across the globe; you need a SaaS communication tool to ensure you’re all singing from the same hymn sheet.
Here are some of my favorite bootstrapped communication solutions.
It will probably come as no surprise that I highly recommend Slack as a bootstrapped team communication tool. Slack is the perfect combination of email, instant messaging, and voice calls, and it’s all available for just $6.67.
A limited version of the platform is available for small teams to use for free. What’s better than that?
If video conferencing is a more pressing need for your business, you may want to consider:
So there you have it, that’s my list of the top bootstrapped tools for your startup.
Which bootstrapped tool will you try first?