If I Had $500 to Spend on My Business…

A few weeks ago, I was asked a simple question: If you had $500 to invest in your business, how would you spend it? (Assuming I had all the photography equipment I needed.) I sat for a few minutes and ruminated because on the surface it was a basic question, but on a deeper level it revealed what I valued as an entrepreneur. Sure, it's easy to say I'd use that money for marketing…but the HOW presented a new layer of considerations.

I've made mention of this before, but I didn't have money when I started my business. No, really, my husband and I lived paycheck to paycheck…and date night consisted of a Taco Bell combo meal. I wish I was lying. But none of that matters because I took the little I had and made it work.

However, if I had money to invest in the early days, I might have considered online advertising or Google ad words or participating in a bridal show (here's why I'm so glad I didn't). The reality is that I didn't do any of that (because money was scarcer than a Pillsbury crescent roll on Thanksgiving), but my business grew as a result of word-of-mouth referrals (both from clients and industry peers).

Knowing what I know now, I wouldn't change a thing. Word-of-mouth grew my business far faster than the best advertisements. In light of this, here are three ways I'd spend the $500 on my growing business…
1. Customize My Web Presence
When I first started, I couldn't afford a website, so I simply started a blog by way of Blogger. It was a free place on the web, but I immediately reached out to a college student and paid him $75 to customize my blog a little bit (whatever $75 could afford me). He changed the width of the margins, changed the background color, and designed a custom masthead for my blog. These were small changes, but it made the blog feel like my own.
I encourage business owners to stay away from templates or anything that will make them look like their competition. The best thing you can do for your business is find a way to create an online experience by showcasing who you are, as well as what you do.
2. Attend Workshops
The beauty about the photo industry is the plethora of options to learn. Yes, there are workshops that cost $2,000, but there are also workshops that cost $200. My first year in business, I attended two workshops that cost $99 each. I saved every penny to attend and while it was lovely to learn from the teacher, I ended up learning more from the students. I made friends and stayed in contact with new entrepreneurs and we found ways to help each other learn our craft outside of the class room. This leads me to my next point…
3. Buy Someone Lunch/A Drink/A Cupcake
If you're keeping track of how I've invested my {pretend} $500, you'll realize that I've spent $275 dollars so far ($75 on customizing my web presence and $200 on education). With the reminder $125, I'd use that money to meet new photographers. It's easy to imagine taking a mentor or someone you reallllllly want to work with out for lunch, but I encourage business owners to look horizontally to build networks, not vertically. In a heavily-sided relationship (more experience, more resources, more opportunities), it's easy to to fall into the What Can You Do For Me mentality…but when the relationship is equal (two people are simultaneously struggling, trying to get their business off the ground, and ready to do whatever it takes to make it work), the context changes to What Can We Do For Each Other. This horizontal focus really empowered me to connect with peers and together we made our business stronger by passing referrals, working through our pitfalls, and/or simply commiserating over dessert.

If you're at a place in your business where you're ready to invest in marketing and strengthening your brand, I encourage you to invest in yourself and others, not advertisements. One of my favorite quotes by Dale Carnegie is: “You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.” Industry peers has been the cornerstone of my business and I'm thankful to have built a collective foundation, not one based entirely on myself.

If you have ideas or tips, I'd love to hear them, so feel free to share in the comment box!

**Updated To Add**
A few readers (ahem, MATHEMATICIANS) noticed I had $100 bucks left…okay, so my numbers were a bit off, but that's because I'm GREAT AT BUDGETING. Obvs. 😉
I'd use the extra money to invest in an online photo course(s) if there wasn't one located locally. I'm a huge fan of creativeLIVE, so I'd definitely buy a course with my added funds.