Over the years I've received a lot of questions about what kind of money is necessary to spend in order to grow a small business.
Here's what I think is worth spending money on, and what's not:
Services That Get You More Followers?
Do not spend money on services that claim to get you thousands of followers on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, or any other social media.
What will end up happening is that you will get a lot of fake fans.
Or at best, you'll get people who aren't actually interested in engaging with your content, even if they are "real" accounts.
I don't even recommend paying Facebook itself to get you more Likes for your page! (I only recommend boosting posts and running ads, not paying to get more Page Likes or Followers.)
You will wish you had the right audience in the future, when your business needs to advertise (which is sooner than you might think)... it becomes very expensive to advertise when you've gotten lots of uninterested fans.
See this helpful video for more understanding on this dynamic:
Paid Online Advertising?
Should you spend money buying online ads?
My recommendation is a definite Yes, if you have a either:
I highly recommend that you start with Facebook Advertising, just $10 - $50 dollars a month to test it out.
Don't do ads on Google, Twitter, LinkedIn or elsewhere for now -- in my testing, it has been more expensive and less effective than Facebook ads. (If you want to learn Facebook advertising from me, get 5 friends together, and for $50 per person, I'll do a special 2-hour workshop for the 6 of you, answering all questions and getting your Facebook ads going in an effective way.)
Spend Money on SEO Services?
Unless you've already built a successful business and wish to scale up, I don't recommend spending money on SEO services yet... to "get your website on the first page of Google."
SEO services are best as an amplification of an already-successful business, instead of being a savior for new or struggling businesses.
Many SEO services often violate Google's Quality Guidelines, and will get your website punished in the mid and long-term.
Or, their services plain and simply won't work because Google is always outsmarting the majority of SEO services... did you know that Google updates its search algorithm more than 500 times per year?
Plus, SEO is no longer just about Google... it's Facebook, Amazon, Youtube, Yelp, Siri, Alexa, and wherever else your audience is searching.
Don't buy SEO services, unless you've become very savvy with marketing or are working with a savvy and trustworthy marketing coach.
Instead, focus on creating content that your ideal audience will love, and building relationships with peers that might share your content forward.
Creating content that gets shared -- that's the best and most effective SEO there is.
Website Spending & Other Software
Domain Names? I recommend that you get it directly from Google Domains... not 1and1.com or NameCheap and definitely not GoDaddy.
Your website will load slower, compared to sites from the reliable domain registrar of Google. For website speed, web hosting matters a lot too, but you don't need to create more friction by having an unreliable DNS server (your domain registrar determines that), and most people don't know how to change it.
So keep it simple, just go to Google Domains to buy your domains or transfer your existing domains there. They also provide free email aliases (forwarding addresses), which is helpful for having a public email address for sending your email newsletters or putting on your website. I use an @georgekao.com email address, which forwards emails to my gmail which is my real email account that I reply from.
One more thing about domains: maybe you need to stop buying and renewing a lot of yours... the fantasy of "I might do something with this someday" is costing you unnecessarily! I used to own dozens of domain names, and now, only own a few... just the ones that I actually am building a business with. Let that be the criteria: keep a domain name only if you're working on it now or within the next 3 months.
Website Platform? I highly recommend that you just go with Weebly ...so much easier. (In fact, that's where you're reading this post right now... on Weebly.)
I've had lots of clients use Wordpress, some clients use Wix, Squarespace, and a few others. After all that, I still see Weebly as the most reliable and simple choice.
Website Design Person? You'll usually get quoted from $500 - $5,000 for someone to design and build your website, and it's typically on Wordpress, which has a lot of maintenance needs compared to the platform I use (Weebly).
Instead, first try Fiverr to help you create your weebly website affordably.
Mailing List software? I highly recommend that you start with Mailchimp, which is free if you have fewer than 2,000 subscribers right now. I've been using Mailchimp (as a paid member) for 8 years and have been very happy with their reliability and continual innovation. I recommend Mailchimp over other common services: Aweber, ActiveCampaign, ConstantContact, Convertkit, Infusionsoft, and Ontraport.
Video conference software? My favorite choice by far -- Zoom.us
It allows you to easily record your sessions... or even do smaller Breakout groups with participants if needed. Otherwise, Skype is free if you just need to do 1-1 sessions, or small group sessions of up to 9 people. Zoom is only $15/month though, and has many other features compared to Skype. See my tutorial video about Zoom.
Scheduling software? I've tested several, including MindBody, TimeTrade, Calendly, ScheduleOnce, and my favorite by far has been AcuityScheduling. It can do both 1-1 sessions as well as allow you easily take registrations for classes / events / workshops whether online or offline. They also have the best customer service!
You can see all the tools I use to grow my business here: www.georgekao.com/tools
How about a VA (virtual assistant)? The best time to hire a VA is when you have already gotten your business and marketing processes dialed in -- when it's clear that when you do X you get a Y result that you're happy with.
Then the question is, what part of your processes could you automate with tools as I've listed above?
And only after you've (1) designed business processes that are really worthwhile, and (2) you've automated what you can, is it (3) the time to hire a VA to take care of what you can't automate, and what you don't have to do yourself.
Otherwise, your VA will give himself more work than you are likely to need in your business... i.e. it'll cost you (much) more than is necessary at this time in your business.
If you've followed the steps above, and you are looking for an excellent VA, I can heartily vouch for mine: Anne Barton. She's got a team, and she's busy, but will take good care of you if it's the right fit. I recommend contacting her for an exploratory conversation.
Business/Marketing Training Courses?
What about expensive courses about business & marketing?
Before you spend hundreds (or thousands) of dollars with any expert, first spend under $100 to buy one of their informational products (book, webinar, or course) and see if they really deliver excellent value in that way.
For example, I charge $25 - $50 for my two-hour online workshops which have gotten great reviews. My workshops come with templates for you to use, as well as a bonus Q&A session where I answer any unresolved questions.
After you've really enjoyed someone's low-cost product, it then makes sense to maybe spend a little more on trying out their middle-priced product (anywhere from $100 - $1,000, depending on your budget.) See if it's excellent value, before you decide to spend more than that.
Too many people get hypnotized into buying $1,000 - $3,000 training programs and later regret it. They should have more cautiously work their way up the buying ladder.
Similarly, don't buy expensive business coaching packages of thousands of dollars, unless you've first tried that person's coaching... why not just buy a few sessions first, to see if you're really a good fit with them?
Be wise about what money you spend to learn business/marketing.
Instead of spending $2,000 on a business training program, for that same amount of money, you could get private, expert 1-1 business coaching, customized for you, for 6 months! This is actually my rate at this time: $2K for 6 months of 1-1 coaching.
For community support, instead of paying lots for it, why not try joining a free and well-run group like Awarepreneurs and get as much support there as possible? Then if you feel you need a private community of support, ask around to see what people are benefitting a lot from. I have my own private business support group as well.
Have questions about your own wiser spending to grow your business? Feel free to comment below, or privately message me.
George Kao is a Marketing Coach for Counselors, Coaches, Speakers, and Authors. He focuses on ethical & effective ways to grow one's platform and build true livelihood.