Most startups operate on a thin margin and need to be very careful that they don’t take on too much debt.  Businesses can go bankrupt whether they are bootstrapped or have millions of dollars in financing available.

Here are some quick tips to keep debt from ruining your startup:

  1. Create a sound budget. Regardless of what kind of business you are in, it is essential that you have a budget worked out so that you can keep your expenses in check.  Make sure that you are realistic about what you can afford, and be consistent about keeping your books from month-to-month. Remember, your budget is only a projection and you need to be flexible with it as time goes on.

  2. Don’t be shy about getting help. Attorneys and CPAs may not be free, but they can give you some valuable insights that can save you a lot of money down the road.  Find a good group of professionals who are well-versed in issues facing startups, and start off on the right foot.

  3. Make smart staffing decisions. It is essential that you get a handle on how your employees are contributing to your bottom line.  If you are having a hard time making ends meet, consider cutting non-essential positions in lieu of taking on new debt.

  4. Buy used equipment. This can be a great way to cut costs.  But before you start buying used equipment, you need to be careful that you aren’t putting your operations in jeopardy or risking expensive maintenance and repair costs.

  5. Share costs with other businesses. Many of the business costs you incur can be shared with other companies.  Many suppliers offer discounts to people who buy products in bulk, so you may want to consider combining your orders with non-competing companies that need the same products.  You should also consider sharing office space with other businesses.

  6. Barter for other services. One of the best ways you can save money as a new company is by bartering with other businesses.  In addition to keeping your sales up, you will also reduce your expenditures. Sometimes you can avoid paying taxes on services you receive through bartering, but that depends on tax laws in your area (see #2).

  7. Look for different funding opportunities. Lenders are reluctant to offer money to small businesses right now.  If you are lucky enough to find a loan, you will probably find that they will want you to pay over 20% in interest.  If you can leverage any of your own assets you can spare, you should consider using them to fund your startup.  If not, consider asking your friends or family to help fund your venture.

Running a startup can be very expensive, and accumulating large amounts of debt is a surefire way to destroy a fledgling business.  Be smart about how you manage your debt, and don't be afraid to ask for help along the way!