Maybe you’ve been dreaming up the perfect business model for years. Or maybe you’re ready to ditch the 9-to-5 grind and finally call the shots. No matter what your motive is, there always seems to be one logistical hurdle stopping you: You don’t have a lot of money. Grants and business loans sound tedious. And searching for interested investors seems like a full-time job on its own.
It sounds like a tough situation for wannabe entrepreneurs, right? Short answer: It doesn’t have to be. It’s entirely possible to start and grow a business with almost no money whatsoever. You just need the right kind of business, the willingness to hustle, a ton of patience, and an understanding that you’ll have to start out small.
Still not convinced? Consider how these ubiquitous brands got their start. In 1978, John Mackey and Rene Lawson saved and borrowed money from friends and family to open their first store in a small house in Austin, Texas. Michael Dell started selling souped-up computers from his tiny dorm room while juggling final exams. And Nike founders Philip Knight and Bill Bowerman got their start selling training shoes from their car trunk with a $50 loan from family.
You get the idea—a lack of money should never stop you from pursuing entrepreneurship. If you’re ready to roll up your sleeves and build something awesome, here are some must-follow tips to start a business with little to no money.
Start With The Right Idea
Yes, finding the right business idea starts with something you’re passionate about, something you know a little bit about, and something you’re willing to work hard for. But it also starts with knowing what you can realistically achieve on a tight budget.
Fortunately, there are already a ton of business ideas that require little in the way of startup costs or resources. And the best part? They respond quickly to some good old-fashioned hard work. If you’re dreaming big on a small budget, here are a few low-cost options to help you get started cheaply—and even from the comfort of your own home. Here are a few (out of many) low-cost options to consider
To become a freelance bookkeeper, you don’t need to be a Certified Public Accountant—you just need to be good with numbers. With the help of free online invoicing tools, such as Sighted.com, and online payments tools, like Due.com, you could easily launch a business offering services including creating balance sheets, providing income statements, and creating financial reports.
Marketing does involve a certain level of background knowledge. Fortunately, studying up to become an expert is super accessible (and won’t cost you an outrageous sum of money). Online tools like Udemy can equip you with the skills you need to launch a solo digital marketing agency, helping you learn everything from SEO, pay-per-click advertising, social media marketing, digital analytics, inbound marketing, email marketing, and more.
Every business needs a website to drive traffic and make sales. If you have a knack for problem-solving and learning new languages, you could enter an industry that will truly never go away. Start small by teaching yourself how to use platforms like Wordpress (there are dedicated websites that walk you through everything you need to know to create a customized Wordpress site). If you want to take your skills to the next level, you can learn the full language of website creation through Codeacademy, where you’ll learn how to build personalized product pages, blogs, photo galleries, and more for future clients.
E-commerce Store Owner
If you have a great product that you love creating, but no money to invest in a physical storefront, staff, and bills, why not set yourself up online? By setting yourself up with an e-commerce store, you can sell to anyone in the world and keep your store open 24/7. All you need is an account on sites like Etsy, eBay, or Shopify to get your business started. Bonus points for taking free courses on Google to learn how to advertise your new business through targeted pay-per-click advertising.
There’s no denying the staying power of self-care. The licensing to become a massage therapist varies according to where you live, but if you have a passion for health and wellbeing, you could take a masseuse course and set up a clinic from the comforts of your home. Once you have completed your course and gained your license, you’ll just have to invest in a massage bed and massage products, like oils. You can check out your state’s specific requirements to get started.
Start Studying Up
Why launch a business on your own when you can get help from people who have been in your shoes? Consuming as much literature as you can on building a small business on a small budget is an easy way to boost your confidence and get some much-needed guidance.
Consider adding these books to your shopping cart the next time you’re browsing through Amazon:
Entrepreneurial You: Monetize Your Expertise, Create Multiple Income Streams, and Thrive by Dorie Clark: It's one thing to have a dream to be an entrepreneur, but another to learn the ropes. Author Dorie Clark offers insightful advice and an effective plan for making your dreams a reality, including how to get things off the ground when you’re strapped for cash.
Become Your Own Boss in 12 Months by Melinda F. Emerson: This practical guide spells out the tasks you need to tackle to get your business off the ground, from reaching out to venture capitalists and planning a one-year marketing strategy to getting the right software and investing in graphic design.
How To Start A Business With No Money by Rachel Bridge: What if you could set up a venture with nothing but a good business idea and the determination to make it work? This book (as the name suggests) outlines the golden rules every first-time entrepreneur should follow to knock down funding obstacles.
Reduce Expenses and Start Saving
According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, most microbusinesses cost around $3,000. While it might be tempting to tap into your hard-earned savings to cover those initial startup costs, here’s one piece of advice: Don’t do it. Why? It can take up to six months before you start seeing profits come in from your business. That means you’re going to need those savings to cover basic living expenses.
Instead, it’s time to go into savings mode. First, take stock of your complete cost of living, including rent, utilities, food, and other miscellaneous costs. Then include line items for things you’ll have to pay when you’re in business for yourself: health insurance and business insurance, for starters. Keep in mind, you will need to set about 35% of your self-employment income aside for taxes, too.
Now, it’s time to save, save, save. You can do little things, like ditch the daily coffee shop trip, commit to cooking at home more and reducing online shopping. Whatever method you choose, it’s recommended that building up six months’ worth of living expenses will give you a reasonable runway to get started.
Increase Your Available Capital Without Taking Out A Loan
You don't have to have all of your start-up capital in your pocket. And you don’t have to take out a loan and go into debt just to get things off the ground. Once you have the perfect idea for a business, here are a few ways to boost your available income.
Looking for a more informal way to raise funds for your new business? Platforms like Kickstarter have changed the way money is raised to fund new business ventures. Kickstarter is the dominant player in the crowdfunding space, and today, it has hosted over $4 billion in crowdfunding pledges for 150,000 businesses and projects since it launched. Besides being relatively easy to set up, crowdfunding platforms are great for small businesses because there’s no debt, interest or equity involved. If you’re successful on Kickstarter, all you have to give backers in exchange for their money is a reward that you set.
However, these platforms do come with their own unique challenges. While you can reach thousands of people with your idea, they do take a small fee from the funds you earned. Kickstarter, for example, takes 5% of the total funds raised. Indiegogo is another platform to consider. They take 4% of the total funds raised of the goal is reached. If the goal isn’t reached, they take 9% and you keep what you earned.
When you’re ready to get investors on board, you need to go to them with more than just a killer idea. You need to show them that your idea can be executed and survive the marketplace—and that there’s something in it for them. If you’re ready to find the right investor to launch your business, start by reaching out to other startups and investment communities to make connections with folks that have influence. Websites like Funded will also provide access to a huge network of investors right at your fingertips.
When you do find the right investor, get ready to work. They’ll want to know that your idea has legs. It can be really difficult to obtain a customer base (even a very small one) without any money, but it’s important to find at least one happy customer so you can show that someone’s interested in what you’re selling.
They’ll also want to know what they’ll gain from working with you. That’s the bottom line that investors really care about. It’s great that you are excited about your idea, but what does it do for them? Make sure your business plan is buttoned up and you’re ready to pitch your business like a pro.
Small Business Grants And Local Funding
As a small business, you may qualify for a grant to help you get up and running. The Small Business Administration works with different organizations to provide federal financial assistance if you meet certain criteria. To qualify, you’ll have to fill out and submit an application. Even if you don’t qualify for the grant, you may be matched up with funding programs that can help you finance your startup. You could also check in with your local Chamber of Commerce to see what programs they have available for small businesses.
At Swyft Filings, we help aspiring business owners like you get their company off the ground and running by making the formation process as simple as possible. Check out our guide for comparing business structures (so you can find the best one for you) or contact our business formation experts for guidance on getting started today.