5 Things Business Owners Shouldn’t Skimp on

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As small business owners, we’re all strapped for cash and we hate spending unnecessarily. That being said, not everything should be DIY (do-it-yourself). Sometimes trying to save money and do things yourself costs you more in lost time and lost business than you saved in cash.


Consider handing these over to the experts:

1. Business Cards

Sure, Vistaprint and other sites have free templates you can customize to create your own business cards, but do you really want to use a template that hundreds of other companies have also used? The point of your business card is to stand out and be memorable – and you simply can’t do that with a cut and paste template.

Alternative: Good designers can be cheaper than you’d expect.  Especially if you choose a relatively new freelancer (perhaps a college student) or use a crowdsourcing tool like 99designs. You can also save by bundling several projects together, such as your business cards, brochures and direct mailers.

2. Website

While you no longer have to be a programmer to design a good website, you still should have some sense for design and layout. Content management systems (CMS), while useful tools, don’t make it foolproof to goof up on your website design. And with basic CMS functions, you may not know about more advanced features that let you add in descriptions and metatags.

Alternative: If you insist on designing your own site, go with a do-it-yourself content management system that provides ample customer support so that you can get feedback and help, making your site more user friendly. Try Weebly, SnapPages or Yola. Or ask for referrals for a good web designer based on your needs. Realize that if all you need is a simple 4-page website, the cost won’t be astronomical.

3. Mobile Apps

There’s a reason there are over 500,000 iTunes apps, many of which have few to no users. Companies that have no business creating apps are doing so. There are DIY app design programs like AppMakr, but they don’t help you with mobile app strategy, and without that – your app is useless. After all, do we really need a store locator app for your brand? Doesn’t Google Maps do that? What are you really trying to accomplish with your app?

Alternative: Find a mobile app developer with experience in your space. If you’re in the travel industry, find a designer who’s created other travel apps. Let the developer guide you to building an effective mobile app strategy rather than being stubborn about how your future app will be more popular than Angry Birds. It’s simply not happening.

4. Content

I could write books about the companies who undervalue good content. Suffice it to say, a lot of brands want content that will help them connect to customers, but they don’t want to pay its worth. Job boards like Elance are filled with writing gigs promising to pay a whopping $4 for 600 words (I’m not joking). If you devalue writing this much, you probably don’t get the overall content marketing thing. You pay to have a professional writer to create content that reflects positively on your company. For $4, you simply can’t guarantee that it won’t be riddled with typos and run-on sentences. Is it worth the savings to have to rewrite it?

Alternative: If you can’t afford a full-time writer or marketing staffer, outsource your writing to a freelancer or a firm. Look for a company or writer that’s written about your industry before and negotiate a rate for bulk numbers of articles.

5. Software

Sure, there are plenty of freeware programs available and you’ll get a lot done with Google Docs and a free membership to Basecamp. But when you need software to fill a hole that the freebies can’t, it’s time to invest. Paying a nominal fee for accounting software will prevent a major headache, as will project management software.

Alternative: Rather than paying a big chunk of cash for accounting software like QuickBooks to install on your computer, try the online edition for a lower monthly fee (QuickBooks Online starts at $12.95 a month). You’ll constantly get upgrades, which keeps you from having to shell out another few hundred on the latest and greatest edition.

Business Cheapskate Photo via Shutterstock


Susan Payton Susan Payton is the Communications Manager for the Small Business Trends Awards programs. She is the President of Egg Marketing & Communications, an Internet marketing firm specializing in content marketing, social media management and press releases. She is also the Founder of How to Create a Press Release, a free resource for business owners who want to generate their own PR.

44 Reactions
  1. All great points, especially true with things that are huge on first impressions like the business cards and website.

  2. Sue – some good recommendations, but I’m curious as to why the wordpress platform didn’t make it into your list of recommendations for CMS-based websites. It’s open source, and probably the most widely used, and the community of wordpress designers & developers has to be larger than the 3 platforms you mention combined (not to mention the many options available through plug-ins and widgets developed by that community).

  3. Nice article, I completely agree that bookkeeping software is definitely not something you should skimp on.

    But, I think it’s contradictory to suggest that people get QuickBooks Online Simple Start software(the $12.95/month version). The Online Simple Start version is basically unusable for businesses that have bank accounts since you can’t upload bank or other financial files. Every single transaction must be inputted manually, which is not scalable for businesses who plan on any type of growth. I discussed this with a CPA recently, who looked at Simple Start and told me, “I wouldn’t even recommend this software for a lemonade stand.”

    In one year the monthly fee adds up to nearly what a full-blown QuickBooks Pro desktop software costs, which is software that has impeccable capabilities and you can use it for up to three years with full online banking features. If you’re not going to skimp, I’d suggest shelling out the $183.95 for QuickBooks Pro (or less if you look on Amazon) to have your business set in the foreseeable future. Plus, if you don’t like the software, all QuickBooks products come with a 60-day money-back guarantee. So there is absolutely no risk for businesses.

    • Reece–
      Thanks for your input. I use QB Basic (I’m grandfathered in at $9.95/mo) and I don’t use online banking. Maybe I’m old school, but it works.

      My point was that many businesses don’t want to or can’t shell out nearly $200 at once, so the subsidized rate is more affordable. Plus you don’t feel like your software is instantly outdated.


      • Good point. It could be a good starting point for some if you have the time to sit down and do it the “old school” way. And it is a MUCH better idea as opposed to not keeping books at all.

    • Reece, you bring up a great subject in being cost conscious. However, there’s a few additional aspects between the apples to oranges comparison. QB Online is a service and includes additional features and aspects other than accounting software whereas QB Pro Desktop only includes the accounting software.

      Additional items in QB Online include backups and data archiving, uninterrupted power backup, secure storage of your company files, access from any location, detailed activity log for changes within the system, and updates automatically rolled out every 4-6 weeks.

      You couldn’t accomplish everything that QB online does but If you were to add up the costs of additional software and services to get close (i.e. Carbonite.com for backups, GoToMyPC.com for access from anywhere, pro IT support for setting it up and fixing it, a safe or secure room for storing your financial data, the value starts to become much more clear.

      This is why the cloud is so compelling and why I advocate QB Online in almost every instance.

      The same name doesn’t mean the same value, especially when comparing installed software to cloud options.

      Thanks Susan and Reece!

  4. For websites I’m a big fan of WordPress. There are a lot of free themes that get you the look and feel you want and I love the functionality of the CMS.

  5. I like the article, and the point about mobile apps is particularly salient. Most apps out there today don’t fill a need and have no audience, which is a great recipe for wasting valuable development time.

    Also, that is a terrifying photo.

  6. It’s true about Elance and other similar platforms but there are great writing firms out there that can provide a great solution to businesses that needs to speak to their clients in a different manner. Great article that is well rounded. It provided some insight for my own website that I need to consider.


    • Mike–
      Thanks! I find that Elance connects businesses to those writing firms (I should know; I run one). It’s an easy place to find both freelancers and professional companies.


  7. You’re so right, Its the First impression that counts, and if you skimp on that well… cant make it a memorable one.

    Get a proper graphic designer and get the Business Cards and in fact all your Business Stationery printed properly, have a look at a few designs, some proofs on paper (not emailed proofs on the screen – since the image is back lit from the monitor and maybe your monitor is not colour calibrated)

    Best to go to a proper print & design place & get it done

    A. Mehta

  8. All valid points. There are some even cheaper alternatives to the online quickbooks version as well. Website is a must.

  9. RE: #2 – I agree that a website is a HUGE issue and something that EVERY business should have, yet I continually shake my head when I see companies without them, or business websites that are horrible. Another service for those without web design skills is SquareSpace. We use WordPress for all our business sites, but I did use SquareSpace once to design a site when selling a car, and it was pretty slick. As a matter of fact, it worked so well that the car was sold within the 14 day free trial period.

    OK, that sounds like a pitch for SquareSpace, but it isn’t. Just trying to throw in a bit of personal experience…

  10. Very good article and advice on smart spending tips for small business owners and startups . Investing in good software can go a long way in easing the early burden of managing the business,quickbooks provides a generalized solution , a comprehensive/customized software such as an ERP will help business owners manage better.Cloud ERP solutions now cost a lot less so moving to a cloud ERP might not be a bad decision for small business owner.

  11. Susan:

    Some very good thoughts you have shared, but like Reece, I have to disagree with your comment about QuickBooks.

    The key for the business owner is to understand what they need out of their accounting software, not just go for the cheapest option available to them.

    In the QuickBooks world, there are MANY businesses that have regretted their choice of the online version and have spent countless hours of frustration moving out of it into the desktop version of QuickBooks or some other package. All of this has sure negated the “savings” they thought they were getting.

    I completely understand the $12.95/month vs. the $200 all at once idea. The $200 may actually be a far better solution for the business though, as it meets their needs right out of the gate and is still quite functional over the following 2-3 years as well.

    • Scott–
      Thanks for weighing in. The online version more than meets my own needs, and I imagine it would for many others as well. But it does depend on what type of business you have.


  12. We couldn’t agree more — content is key!

    BlogMutt offers crowdsourced blog content on any and every topic by professional writers for $79/month. We have incredibly varied clientele, and our writers work like dogs to fill up your blog.

  13. As an editor and a writer, I have observed that good, clean copy is one of those areas where people just don’t know what they don’t know. If a business doesn’t understand that its copy is riddled with grammatical errors, it doesn’t see why it should pay a premium for better copy — meanwhile, the public sees 6th-grade-level material and forms an opinion of the company.

    I have this discussion with authors all the time — they don’t feel they can benefit from editing, simply because they don’t really understand the difference between a human being and their spell-check tool. The cliche is definitely true: you get what you pay for!

  14. Nice points where covered by the author in this article. There is lot more to cover by the business or owner to get profits. Like business cards, website, Mobile Apps, etc. In any business, activity plays a crucial role to get profits…

  15. Great article Susan! You absolutely hit the areas where businesses most often try to save money.

    As a QuickBooks ProAdvisor, I commend you on your QuickBooks suggestion! Many small business owners are reluctant to invest in a software package they are not certain they will use. Perhaps they have heard QuickBooks is too difficult to use or they are intimidated because they have no bookkeeping knowledge. These fears, and others, make the online Simple Start a good solution. From there, if their skill level and business grows they can upgrade to either a premium Online, PC, or Mac version.

    I also must mention, the QuickBooks Online version has improved over the past couple of years. I have clients who have switched to the Online version and are very happy. It just takes some time to adjust to the different platform…just as anyone has experienced switching from PC to Mac.

    Once again, great article! Keep up the good work!!!

  16. Hi Susan,
    Thanks for your insight – how difficult to limit it to just five. I think the points made around how important it is to make a great first impression whatever the initial contact point (eg. business card, website etc.) are very valid. I also believe that the importance of thorough customer research should not be overlooked – and would definitely be one I would include in this list. Asking the customer what they want can be a very powerful means of helping drive small business strategy.

  17. Rysia Wojtanowski

    Hello Susan,
    I am so glad I got to find this blog. I totally agree with your points in regards of small business owner doing all by themselves.
    I am as guilty as they come. Lately however, I got to point that the amount of work, accounts, user names and passwords overwhelmed me. And just like today, I found GVO. Here is a link to my page, explaining what they do. I fell in love with their product and the customer service. I hope you will too. http://www.yestosmallbiz.com/small-biz-resource-tips/
    To your success!, Rysia

  18. Interesting observations. It is important to get the basics right and work on getting the message across to the customer as efficiently as possible with a user friendly website and content relevant to the needs of the visitor.

  19. Great article and many points ring true. It is amazing how many people try to skimp on software when I don’t think they realize how much time and money could really be saved by finding the appropriate software to fill a need in their business.

  20. Great article and great suggestions.

    Some other items that might fit this conversation:

    Fixing your computer systems. Get a good reliable, cost effective provider

    Paperless option – With the suggestions of the APPs above, Google Drive now makes collaboration easy for a really small offices to communicate.

    I think what is best about this article is being more efficient.

    If a product or service costs you $100, but it saves you 5 hours of work, then that is well worth the spending. Also, going along Susan’s article for a great read is:
    Michael Gerber’s E-myth series. Game changer.

    Thank you Susan.

  21. This post is really very nice and informational.Thanks for sharing.