Episode 5 – When free turns out to be really expensive

Do you use free tools in your business?

Are you not sure what you should be investing in and what's a waste of time and money?

If you've answered yes to either of these I'm not surprised.

When you setup your small business for the first time the internet is LOUD with what you should be buying to make your business better.

Everyone has their opinion and their toolkit that works for them. But often the tools available can hinder, rather than help small businesses because they take so much time to learn and implement.

In today's episode I walk you through which free and low cost tools are a must have in your small business. We also look at which ones are a bit of a trap because they require much more time to learn and use them. Finally, we look at ones which you can spend all your time learning but you still won't get results with because they need professional input.

Are you ready to get more productive in your business? 

Episode Transcript

Hello and welcome to episode 5 of Your Business, Online, Your Way. The podcast to help you to achieve small business success. If you’re here for the first time, welcome. If you’ve listened to previous episodes welcome back! It’s lovely to have you here.

I’m Holly Christie, your host. I’m a website designer, mentor and business strategist. I have 2 website and mentoring companies; This Demanding Life - to help small businesses get seen online and Simply Sites, for budding businesses wanting a stellar website.

This week we’re looking at what traps small businesses can fall into in their first year of setting up. Where they can waste money and why taking the free option, doesn’t always work out to be as low cost as it first appears.  In other words: When ‘free’ turns out to be really expensive.

Setting up a small business comes with financial risk. It’s going to take a while before you start to get regular pay checks and in the meantime, there’s going to be a whole host of things you need to invest in. It can be tempting to take up the free versions of products and software, some are great, others, not-so. We’re going to look into what you should be investing in and what free tools you can also use to support your small business. Ready? Let’s get started.

When you’re just starting out, learning who you are, who your business is and how the world interprets it, you don’t need to go for the paid versions of lots of things - the free ones are just fine. After all, at the end of the first year you’ll find your business to be almost unrecognisable from the business you excitedly launched 12 months ago. Don’t get me wrong, you’ll still be using the same skillset but you’ll also have learned, how people want your product or service to be delivered, what’s the right price for it, and how to market it. If you’re struggling with any of these areas after 12 months then it may be time to invest in a business mentor or coach to help you work that out.

Let’s start by looking at the free and low cost tools to kick-start your business journey.

Free & Low Cost tools

CRM - A CRM is database software - where you keep your client details, your contracts and any other business bits and bobs. Whilst not strictly necessary at the start-up stage, adopting a CRM early on will pay dividends when you are busy or you’re looking to onboard clients or associates. They’re also a good tool for getting your processes setup early on so there’s no having to keep editing the same template for your invoices or your contracts. A CRM will help you store these succinctly, in the right places and with the right protection. There are whole host of different CRMs with a range of free plans which offer a lot of value for your input, and by this I mean, the more you put into it with data and good practice, the more you’ll get out of it. If you’re unsure of what may work for you, check out ClickUp and Trello as great small business options.

Invoice & Payment software - There are invoice software packages which are free -some come linked to bank accounts - for example, NatWest business account holders can get FreeAgent for free. There are also iPhone and Android apps which will help you to create invoices, which are free in return for their branding being on the bottom of the invoice.

The great thing about using these are that they look professional, they keep your invoices separate - no more overwriting that one template you’ve been using, and they can automatically send reminders to clients when invoices are overdue. Something you may like to consider is linking up a ‘pay now’ button to a payment gateway such as Stripe or GoCardless. They often charge a small transaction fee (around 1%) so aren’t totally free, but making it easy for your client to pay is a big step in getting invoices paid on time.

Design software

If you have a small business which you’re marketing yourself, you’ve most likely heard of Canva. This is a brilliant resource as it’s like a scaled down, user friendly version of photoshop. It’s well worth signing up to a Canva account for your social graphics, and graphic elements you may use on your website. The free version is a little limited and if you’ve had your branding done by a specialist you may like to use the paid-for version as you can upload your Brand Kit and custom fonts in there. You’ll also get access to a bigger library of design elements to help make your graphics pop.

You can use Canva to create social posts, newsletter headers, banners for LinkedIn and Facebook, business cards, infographics, posters and displays.

So far so good? As tempting as it may be, do not design your logo in Canva - there are complicated rules around trademarking, one of which is you can’t trademark their logos so you and many others may have the same one or similar elements. What’s more, if your business has a similar name/logo to another company you may find yourself on the end of a Cease and Desist letter, making it financially and labour intensive to rebrand your business and I’m not going to sugar coat it, a cease and desist order can be pretty terrifying and understandably stressful to a small business owner.

When it comes to branding your business always use a reputable branding designer, with a solid portfolio who offers the finished product in a variety of formats to meet print, as well as digital, standards. The designer may offer to setup some of the branding elements in Canva for you if you have an account but the branding shouldn’t have been created in Canva itself (most designers use Adobe studio/Photoshop).

Social Media accounts

I’m known for saying ‘choose one and do it well’ rather than doing many accounts, badly. The different Social Media channels, Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, TikTok, Threads etc have different algorithms and different ways of reaching your audience. If you try to do them all, well you will be exhausted and your messaging may become muddled as you will need to put it in different ways for the different audiences. Instead do some research on where your ideal clients are hanging out and choose those platforms as methods of reaching them.

For example if you’re a career coach LinkedIn is going to be the number one place to build your social media presence. You may like to try Facebook too but TikTok and Instagram aren’t really places people go to for career advice. Whereas if you’re a product based business, places with high visibility where you can get creative with your advertising, such as TikTok and Instagram, should be your first ports of call.

Social Media accounts are all free (I know you can have paid memberships to LinkedIn but the base level is free), which is great but their main objective is to get you to spend money. I would really recommend that in your first year of business you don’t engage with sponsored posts or Ads on the Social platforms. You’ll still be working out your messaging for your ideal clients and until you really have that nailed, you can waste a lot of time and money on advertising that doesn’t give a return on the investment and, in some cases, if you don’t use an Ads specialists, the adverts may not completely comply with guidelines and they may end up being pulled down by the platform.

When it does come to running ads on Meta bear in mind that you’ll need an Ads specialist to come up with the campaign and implement it, they’ll cost quite a lot of your marketing budget. Then the expected investment for ads runs into 1000s. Trust me, throwing £20 or even £50 at an ad campaign on Meta won’t get you any results at all. The return on ads is also small so for most small businesses it’s not a cost effective marketing strategy.

Domain

Your domain is your website address. Usually it will be the exact name of your company, or your name or it may be linked to your services. For example if you’re a coach, you may choose the domain name of: your name, coach, then .co.uk or .com.

Once you have a domain you can link your email address to it and I thoroughly recommend you do this. Using a Hotmail or Gmail address is not professional and doesn’t inspire confidence in the people you’re trying to reach.

Whilst domains aren’t free, they can cost less than £5 per year and buying the correlating domain for your business should be one of the very first things you do when you setup.

From a technical point of view - if you’re in the UK you only really need the .co.uk extension of the domain. They’re also cheaper than the .coms, they’re easier to move around and they respond faster to changes you may need to make. So if you’re not sure which extension to go for, get the .co.uk.

Mailing Software

All small businesses should have a mailing list. Even if you only connect with your subscribers once a month, it’s a vital part of the marketing puzzle for small businesses and even if you only have a few people on your mailing list, it’s still worth doing.

I promise I’ll create an episode on mailing lists soon, but in the meantime, if you don’t have one, mark today as the day you’ll set one up. Trust me on this, future you will thank today’s you for getting a jump on this one.

Mailing lists done well can be extremely lucrative and the big mailing companies know this. They offer all sorts of services for all sorts of budgets. If you’re just starting out, opt for a free one. It will be a while before you’ll really make money out of your mailing list and you won’t want your expenses to outweigh the value.

It’s entirely up to you which software you go with and which free plan you engage but if you’re finding it all a bit of a minefield, I recommend MailerLite’s free version - it’s flexible, allows you to send up to 12,000 emails a month for free and it often integrates well with websites for your sign up forms.

Websites

As a website designer I absolutely could not create this podcast without mentioning websites. Not just because that’s my job, but because every small business should have a website. It’s not just me who thinks that - back in 2017 there was a government drive saying that every small business should have their own website. I often liken websites to houses - it helps explain the structure of them (I’ll go into this detail another time, or you can visit my blog at thisdemandinglife.com and read it for yourself). But also, without a website your business is effectively homeless. There is nowhere of its own, with its own identity (as opposed to the limited identity you can create on Social Media) where your ideal customers can go and visit, get more information, in the layout you want them to be able to see it in, rather than pieced together from Social Media posts.

There are many software kits which will tell you that you can build a website for free. These include Wix, SquareSpace, Shopify, WordPress and many more. Whilst it can be really tempting to go with the free option, at least until your small business gets on its feet and starts earning some money. In the cases of free websites, they never support small businesses in getting on their feet in the first place. Here’s why:

You’re not a website designer.

Many website designers are self taught but they spend years learning and perfecting their craft. They’ll have a solid portfolio showing previous examples of their work and you can ask to see their score results for things that matter to Google like page speeds, SEO scores and mobile responsive settings. These are all things that make a major difference between Google offering your website in search results, and Google ignoring it so your potential customers can’t find you.

There are a lot of behind-the-scenes elements which go on with website builds, from the architecture of the site which will dictate the user journey, the format of navigation menus and how the website will respond on all screens, including mobiles and large desktops. If you don’t have experience in website design, you won’t be able to get this right.

So whilst it might feel like a good move to build a free website to test the water, it’s really not a good idea. No-one buys a business service from a website which has ‘powered by Wix/WordPress etc’ in the copyright bar and trying to build your own site will take hours of time you could be putting into the marketing of your business or delivering your services to clients.

Let’s wrap up… Setting up a new business will need some form of investment and I hate to say it but the more you invest, the easier it can be to get ahead in those early days. Brilliant branding, a confident website, a couple of paid-for accounts so you get pro features, like Canva, can really help you to get clarity and build your confidence. However, it’s ok to be choosy about where to make your investment. Steer clear of paid-for advertising in those early days and whilst I think everyone should have a mentor or a coach during their life as an entrepreneur, you need to get to know your new business, first. A lot will change in the first year and it’s ok to run with the minimum subscriptions as you get started.

Don’t be tempted into spending hours and hours that you could be working with clients or getting clients, on learning new software such as website building, you won’t get a winning website from it and it will take a lot longer than you originally planned for. This is all time you could be spending with clients or getting clients.

If you’re at the new business stage and need a helping hand in knowing what to invest in and where to spend your time and energy, you’re very welcome to get in touch with me through my website or send me an email: holly@thisdemandinglife.com and I’ll be happy to help. I’d also love to connect with you if you’re on LinkedIn, you can find me at: hollycchristie.

That’s all from me today. Thank you so much for listening and I wish you a brilliant week ahead.

If you’ve enjoyed today’s show please can you leave a rating and review wherever you get your podcasts. It helps the podcast platforms like Apple and Spotify to suggest this podcast to new listeners and I’d love to share this free resource as widely as possible.

Thank you for listening and see you next week!

Small Business Growth

I’m so excited to have your podcast alongside me as I grow my business. Looking forward to taking action on your steps and learn from someone who knows what they are talking about. Thanks Holly – you’re a star!

LisaJaneYork

Brilliant first episode!!

The first episode of “Your Business, Your Way” is a refreshing take on the entrepreneurial journey I needed to hear this morning . I felt reassured hearing Holly emphasise a crucial point: you don’t need to know everything to get started. This approach is a game-changer, especially for those new to the business world, breaking down the barriers of perfection and complete readiness that often hold us back.

What I loved about this first episode of the podcast is its blend of practical advice with an undercurrent of motivation. It reassured me that starting with what I know and learning as I go is not just okay, but a smart way to grow. The podcast feels like a supportive friend, nudging you to take those first steps while keeping the mood light and approachable.

For anyone at the crossroads of starting or scaling a business, this podcast could be the push you need. It’s a promising mix of insights, stories, and encouragement. I’m eager for the next episodes and recommend it to anyone looking to embark on a business venture in a way that’s true to them. It’s an exciting start, and I’m genuinely looking forward to where this podcast will take its listeners next.

wmbaggs

Feeling inspired

Would definitely recommend this podcast. Aimed at those small business owners, but for someone who has recently started a new role in my company, this definitely motivated me on this cold wet Monday morning to not be afraid of being vulnerable in the workplace and putting myself out there!

Can’t wait for the next episode

izagoo9067

Small Business Growth

I love listening to each new episode of Holly’s podcast. It feels like she has read my mind and understands the challenges I find myself up against when running my business. Her advice and insights are fantastic and I’m looking forward to hearing her future episodes. This is a great resource for any small business owner trying to establish a successful business in the online (and/or offline) world.

Fay Wallis

Really Refreshing

Looking forward to the next episode, I’m hooked already. Really easy to listen to and definitely strikes a chord with me. 

MrsH68

Just listened to your first podcast episode and it’s absolutely brilliant! Good work Holly!

Mike Cottam