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.
What Are Bootstrapping Tools?
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.
Planning and Project Management Bootstrapping Tools
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.
Other Bootstrap Project Management Tools:
Asana offers a robust project management package with features that vary by account level. Their free version includes unlimited tasks per team, projects in the board or list view, unlimited file storage, an activity log, and more.
Trello is a popular project management tool that offers a free basic version. Their free version offers 10 “boards” (project views) per team, unlimited “cards” (tasks), and 10MB per file attachment.
Paymo offers their lowest-cost plan for $9.95 per user per month. With this plan, you can access features like task views, time tracking, project templates, and recurring tasks.
Microsoft Projects starts from $10 per user per month. It offers grid, board, and timeline view; co-authoring and communication on tasks; and project planning and scheduling.
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.
Other Bootstrap Website Builders
Contact Contact is more well-known for email marketing, they also have a website builder that’s great for bootstrappers. You don’t need any SEO or developer experience to use it. Features include mobile responsive design, logo design, creating easy e-commerce websites so you can sell your products with minimal effort, and more. The Constant Contact website service is $10 per month.
Squarespace helps customers create sleek and professional website design. You can also integrate some of your favorite SEO tools, have access to data analytics, and get help with your company blog. The cost of your account varies by which services you use. Squarespace offers monthly payments or a lump sum.
HostGatorcosts only $3.84 per month for their cheapest package. For this plan, you have access to the website builder, a website hosting service, and 12 months of ownership of your domain name.
WordPress is one of the most popular website builders. Their cheapest plan is $4 per month and includes free domain hosting for a year, no WordPress ads, and free email support.
SEO Tools for Bootstrappers
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.
Other SEO Tools for Bootstrappers
Moz: The free version of Moz has robust services such as keyword research, a link explorer, and domain analysis. It offers a pro version and a local version.
Screaming Frog: Screaming frog’s free website crawler alerts you to technical SEO problems like broken links, metadata issues, and discovering exact duplicate content on pages.
AnswerthePublic: AnswerthePublic is a tool that identifies content topic opportunities based on what people are searching for.
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.
Bootstrapping Tools for Design, Stock Images, and Prototyping
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.
Other Design Tools for Bootsrappers
Canva: Canva is known for its design prowess. The free version has a robust collection of templates for users to choose from. WIth the paid version, you have access to designers, premium custom templates, premium fonts, and a background remover.
Dribbble: Cribble’s primary goal is to connect users with graphic designers or creatives. Users are able to hire freelancers directly from their website.
Crowdspring: In addition to designing logos and web pages, Crowdspring also offers a service that helps users find unique business names.
Design Pickle: Design Pickle provides graphic design services on demand. Their work quality is great, but you’ll pay for it. Design Pickle is a pricey $499 per month.
Automated Email Software Tools for Bootstrappers
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.
Other Automated Email Software for Bootstrappers
If you’re not a fan of HubSpot, consider:
Marketo: Marketo has a wide range of marketing services, one of which is email automation. Marketo’s email solutions include creating campaigns quickly and easily, creating personalized emails, ensuring you’re targeting the right audience and tracking KPIs.
Salesforce: Salesforce boasts they are the number one email marketing solution. Their product offerings include tailoring your emails for every step of the sales funnel, delivering engaging content to your email subscribers, and using AI tools to improve upon the process.
Blueshift: One of Blueshift’s product offerings is an email marketing service. They intend to generate emails quickly, send emails that are triggered by user behavior and the sales funnel, and offer predictive segmentation.
Team Communication Tools for Boostrapped Small Businesses
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?
Other Team Communication Tools for Small Businesses
If video conferencing is a more pressing need for your business, you may want to consider:
Zoom became a household name during the Covid-19 pandemic. Since Zoom is free, friends and families use it to stay connected during the pandemic. Zoom is also useful for businesses. You can use Zoom for team meetings, chats, webinars, conference meetings, a phone system, and a marketplace.
Microsoft Teams is another popular tool for communications. Its services include chat channels, video meetings, screen sharing, and more. Teams is a good choice if you’re already using Microsoft products.
Skype was one of the first iterations of communication software. You can use it to chat to your friends via messenger or video chats, as well as make direct calls. Skype has not changed much since the early days, so it might be a great fit if you’re looking for something that’s budget-friendly with basic features.
So there you have it, that’s my list of the top bootstrapped tools for your startup.