The Frugal Entrepreneur: 10 Tips for Starting Your Own Business with No Money
Apple, Whole Foods Market, Mattel. What do they have in common? Besides being Fortune 500 companies, these three companies all share one thing: They started with no money.
Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs purchased the parts for their first computer on credit. The founders of Whole Foods were evicted from their apartment and lived inside their first store for two years. Mattel actually started as a picture frame business in a garage when the owners began making doll furniture from the scraps.
Despite the old spend money to make money adage, many businesses start with little funding. Some take from their personal finances. Some take out business loans. And then some turn the traditional business model on its head and get creative.
The best entrepreneurs don’t see a lack of funding as an insurmountable obstacle but as the first of many challenges to climb over and grow from. If you have a business idea gaining ground in your mind but not in your bank account, here’s how to start your own business with no money.
Image source: Pixabay
Make a plan
Spending money on a business venture is easy. While some business expenses are absolutely necessary, others are like the candy lining the checkout aisle—temptations that don’t really add to your pantry but add to your grocery bill. Worse, the same sweet can often be found in the actual candy aisle for a better price.
Starting a business without a plan is like grocery shopping without a list—you’ll end up with only half the ingredients you need, but you still spent a big chunk of change. That’s why writing a business plan is essential, even for entrepreneurs who don’t take out a business loan.
As you start to define the idea that will someday become your business, write it down. Write down what your goal is and exactly how you’ll achieve that goal. Then, write down what you need to accomplish that goal—that’s your “shopping list” for your business. Business plans can (and often should) change, but sticking to a plan will keep you from the checkout aisle expenses and ensure that each move you make contributes to the end goal.
Start with a current passion
The first place to look for inspiration for a business idea is right inside your own hobbies and passions. What do you like to do? How do you spend your free time? Starting a business with passion is important because you’ll need that motivation to prevent burnout. Plus, starting a business from a hobby usually requires less start-up funds because you likely have some related items lying around.
That’s exactly how my business started. I wanted to write and I wanted to take pictures. I already had a computer and a camera because I built a business on my hobbies. I used what I already had to get started; then, I put aside the funds from my first few projects to fund my biggest priorities, like a faster computer and LLC paperwork.
Along the same lines, don’t start a business in something you know little about. Choose a business option that you have some background knowledge in. Not only does that increase your chances of success, but it also eliminates the need to spend on classes, certificates, books and other resources that would otherwise be essential.
Keep your day job—at first
Starting your own business with no money isn’t impossible, but you probably won’t earn a full paycheck at first. Don’t leave your job just yet. Work on building up your business plan and start with a few projects that you can complete in addition to your current job. Save the money that you earn from your first few projects—that becomes your startup capital to market your new business or purchase necessary equipment. When you don’t need to write yourself a paycheck, you can put what your business earns back into the company.
Think service, not products
A product-based business is tough to start without a little bit of funding. Service-based businesses, on the other hand, often don’t require as much to get off the ground. Of course, many services require expensive equipment—a professional photographer offers a service, for example, but they must have a camera.
But what if your dream is really to start a product-based business? Some business owners build capital to start their own business by offering a related service, just at the beginning. Going back to the previous example, a budding photographer can freelance as a photography assistant and learn new skills for their own business and save to purchase the equipment necessary to get started.
Try freelance job boards
Service-based business owners can often get their feet off the ground through online freelance communities. Freelance platforms like Upwork (www.upwork.com) and Freelancer (www.freelancer.com) post potential client leads for service-based businesses and individuals to bid on. They’ll get a chunk of your revenue, but freelance platforms allow you to find new clients without upfront marketing costs. Many service-based businesses start there and stay there, while others move on to different opportunities once they’ve built their portfolio and an advertising budget.
Embrace DIY: Expand with tactics that require work, not money
The businesses that start with no money all have one thing in common: sweat equity. If you start your own business with no money, expect to wear a lot of different hats at the start. You’ll be the CEO, the head of marketing and the janitor all at the same time. Exhausting? Yes, but many successful businesses have started this way.
Image source: Pixabay
Take marketing as an example. Marketing is essential because if people don't know about your business, they can’t do business with you. But expensive TV ads aren’t essential. Start with some tried-and-true word-of-mouth and tell everyone about your business. Use social media and spend time creating engaging posts and building up followers organically. Write a press release about your new business and send it to local news media outlets. Scrape up $25 to get a domain name and a DIY website.
Sweat equity can go well beyond marketing. LLC paperwork is at least $150 when you go through a company. I filled out my own paperwork—it was a page and a half and took me less than twenty minutes. I only paid the $40 filing fee directly to my state (the cost varies based on where you live). That was the simplest DIY I’ve ever done for my business and it saved me over $100.
Chances are, there are thousands of other budding business owners like you reading this article and wondering just how to cover a certain necessary expense. But instead of buying what you need to start your business, what if you could barter for it?
A web design company could work with a content company and trade design for writing—allowing both businesses to get great websites with little money. If you have a skill or product that other businesses would find valuable, reach out and gage their interest in a potential service trade. The only thing you stand to lose is time.
Product-based businesses are tough to get started without any funding, especially those that create their own product. Crowdfunding is a new and creative way to raise the funds needed to launch a new product or venture. Platforms like Kickstarter (www.kickstarter.com) allow businesses to introduce their product idea and receive funding from interested consumers.
Crowdfunding, done right, isn’t just asking for handouts. Most crowdfunding campaigns give supporters the very first product once the funding goal has been reached. Think of it like pre-ordering a product, but so far in advance that the pre-order finances the development of the product itself.
Reach out to local small business organizations or start-up accelerators
Small businesses play a big role in the economy—there are many organizations that strive to help new businesses get off the ground. Look for a small business center or association in your area. These organizations often offer workshops and classes that teach valuable business skills. Many small business organizations also offer financial assistance or low-cost resources.
For big business ideas, start-up accelerator programs offer funding and often resources like office space. Usually, this is in exchange for stock in the new company. Of course, the accelerator’s goal is to earn more than their initial investment as the business grows, but many businesses get their start this way.
Create a buzz with free promotions
Big money advertising is an easy way to create a buzz about a new business. But businesses don’t necessarily need big advertising budgets to build buzz. Write a press release and send it to local news outlets and related websites. Send a free product to bloggers in exchange for an honest review. Create a free social media account. For brick-and-mortar operations, register your business on Google Places and Yahoo! Local for free. Post your business card on local bulletin boards. Get creative—write your business URL or Twitter handle in sidewalk chalk around town, hand out flyers at a parade, or create something out of the ordinary. Creativity can sometimes make up for a lack of advertising budget.
Starting your own business with no money isn’t an easy task—but, with some sweat equity, creativity and a few key strategies in place, it is possible. Push the spend money to make money idea out of your mind and look to companies like Apple, Whole Foods and Mattel for inspiration. If the iPhone in your pocket started in a garage on credit, who knows where your business venture could take you.
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