The financial climate has also made access to bank funding more difficult to come by – and the lack of jobs in the economy has impacted on people’s ability to save to start up their dream business in the first place.
Not to mention that people are even more reluctant to build unsecured credit card debt than they were previously.
OK, so that’s the bad news.
The good news is that it’s still possible to start your own business even if you don’t have any money – and despite the gloomy economic climate, business startups in the US have gone up by 20%.
Here’s our list of aspects to consider to help you to start a business with no money.
1. Start Small
You don’t have to start a business that has incurred huge expenses before you’ve even opened your doors. For some businesses, a classy office in the centre of town may be seen as a requirement, but be really honest with yourself about what you NEED versus what you WANT for your business. They are not the same thing.
You could start out as a consultant or an online business – where your outlays are probably limited to a computer, a business card and maybe a web design (although in reality, if you’re a consultant, a really good LinkedIn profile will stand you in good stead – and with 380 million users worldwide, will bring you to the attention of lots of potential customers).
2. Have a Plan
If you know and understand your business from the outset, you are more likely to avoid making costly mistakes or decisions about spending that you shouldn’t.
Understanding your overall mission, having SMART objectives, setting goals for profits and sales – in other words, having a well-thought out business plan – will help to keep your costs low, as you will know when to invest and when to curtail your spending.
3. Grow Organically
Not every business model requires investment from day one – and if you need to start a no-cost or low-cost business, clearly you will need to choose such a model. However, that doesn’t mean that your business can’t or won’t grow – but it does mean that you need to ensure that growth is organic and sustainable.
Make investments where you need to and put all of your profits back into the business in the early days if you can to help it to grow from the outset.
4. Start With The Obvious
You don’t have to make it difficult for yourself from day one. Go for the aspects of your business that are easiest to implement.
Building upon the idea of starting small, are there markets that you can access easily? Perhaps you’ve already been building an audience – what are they interested in and what are they most likely to purchase from you? Or, where you have an existing expertise, use that to help you to grow your business idea from the early stages.
UK entrepreneur Jo Malone, talks about this as ‘going for low hanging fruit’. So consider what’s right in front of you first of all.
5. Get Partners
Partnering up with someone else – or with another company – can provide you with access to expertise, markets, and resources that you don’t already have available to you. This can be a low cost – or even free – way to get what you need to grow your business without having to pay for it.
By looking at it as a partnership in the first place, you are more likely to have people who are willing to work with you – rather than simply seeing it as a way to get stuff without paying for it!
This article on CBS MoneyWatch has some great ideas about how to create partnerships that will bring riches to your business – from having a great idea in the first place to creating an engaging offer.
6. Start With What You Know
Rather like starting with the obvious, starting with what you know is all about looking at creating a business in the areas where you already have some experience or expertise.
A consultancy business, where you use existing knowledge and skills, or a business created from a hobby that you enjoy, are good examples of using what you know to get a head start in business.
As long as you know that there is – or will be – a market for your business, starting with what you already know is a good way to keep your costs low. You won’t need to invest in any additional training or buy in expertise. You are building your business around you.
7. Be Creative
Like the example above, one low cost way to start your own business is to make something.
Crafts are becoming a huge industry – you just need to look at the popularity of sites like Etsy where people sell their own creations to buyers from around the world to see the evidence. It’s relatively straightforward now, to build a business from a creative hobby.
8. Resell Something
If you’re not so good at the creative side of things, another low cost business model is to resell a product that someone else has made. In other words, become a reseller. You can make this even easier by becoming a dropshipper – so you don’t need to hold any stock, you just send the order on to the supplier when it’s made, keeping a proportion of the cost for you.
If this idea appeals to you, here are a few suggestions for starting a drop shipping business in 5 steps.
9. Use What You Have
As I said about starting small, you don’t need a fancy office, you can work from home or at the local library or coffee shop with free WiFi to begin with.
If you have a car, perhaps you can start a delivery business or maybe you can utilize some of your resources by hiring them out – like equipment or space you have available. The investment required will be minimal.
10. Cut Your Costs
You could make a radical change in your lifestyle and reduce your outgoings as a result. The idea here being that, with lower living costs, it will be more possible to invest early profits back into your business.
Johnny FD is a good example of someone who did just that. Since moving from California to Thailand, he has not only dramatically reduced his living costs, but has managed to create several businesses over the past 5+ years, steadily making more profit, while keeping his outgoings as low as possible – and certainly lower than they would have been in California.
You don’t have to do anything quite as drastic as moving continents, but it might be possible to move to a cheaper state or rent in a lower cost neighborhood to keep your living costs down while you build your business.
11. Focus on Needs
If you want a low cost business – and one that starts making money in the early days, so that you can start to invest and grow reasonably quickly – you are best to focus your business on what people need rather than what people want.
If you are an aspiring baking entrepreneur, it may be worth considering that people need bread more than they need patisserie.
This isn’t to say that there’s not a market in wants – after all, every luxury brand is based around those – it’s just that, by focusing on needs rather than wants, you are likely to start to see returns that you can reinvest in the business more quickly.
12. Use Word of Mouth
You probably won’t be able to take out a double page spread in Vanity Fair, or a billboard ad at the edge of town – but don’t underestimate the power of word of mouth to promote your business.
When I started my consultancy business, I never told any of the Moms in the playground what I did for a living. Three years in and a close friend (who did know what I did) happened to mention it to another parent one day as we waited on the kids. Turns out they were looking for the exact skills I had to help them with a project for their business – and I won a large contract followed by repeat business as a result of that initial 10 minute playground chat.
Tell everyone what you’re doing. It doesn’t have to be promotional. It can be as simple as letting people know what you do and who you help.
13. Get Paid
Cash flow is the lifeblood of every business, large and small. If you are starting out on a low cost basis and don’t want to get hit by a lack of available funds, make sure that you invoice on time and have short payment terms, such as payment on delivery or within 14 days rather than the standard one month, which is the practice of larger businesses who are able to wait a month to be paid because at any one time they are invoicing a large number of customers.
For larger projects, you can ask for half up front and half on delivery – I’ve even asked for interim payments between the first and last payments.
If you’re unsure about invoicing or hate asking to be paid – a common problem – check out these free invoicing tools for small businesses.
14. Get Free Advice
There is a wealth of free advice and information out there for small business start ups so, rather than paying for expensive advice, get it for free.
Join local business groups or your local chamber of commerce, go to business networking groups, ask people that you know who have expertise in starting or growing a business if they will give you some of their time, get a mentor or join online business groups.
The list of free advice opportunities goes on, so take advantage of what’s out there.
15. More Freebies
You can also get hold of equipment for your business for free – or at the very least for a low cost. One man’s trash is another’s treasure after all.
Check out Craigslist, Freecycle, eBay and spread the word about what you need among friends and family.
16. Do It Yourself
In the early days when you’re still trying to keep your business spending to the minimum, try to outsource only the absolutely necessary. As your business starts to grow, and your focus shifts, there will be a point where DIY-ing everything becomes a false economy. But in the beginning, you should aim to carry out as much of the necessary ground work as possible. If, for example, you need to build an online community for your business, you can start out with a WordPress site and a MailChimp email list.
However, you must be able to recognize the point where you have to start spending or you will actually start to stunt your potential growth. If your site is growing in popularity, for example, there will come a point where you have to get a professional design, start paying for your email provider, and get a VA to do your basic list administration and send out your newsletter.
17. Outsource Well
As well as knowing when to outsource, you should also consider WHERE to outsource. In the early days, if you’re looking for design work, or some help with social media, for example, sites like Ffiver Upwork, PeoplePerHour and so on are all good places to find low-cost help for your start up. The freelancers on there also come with recommendations, so you can get a feel for who is good and who you should avoid.
18. Start a Side Hustle
We’ve dealt with this before so I won’t go into any great detail – but if you want to start your business without spending too much money, start it as a side hustle BEFORE you quit the 9 to 5.
Erica Zidel started her business as a side hustle while still working full-time in her main job. This approach meant that she was able to invest $20,000 of her own money into her business in the first two years – without taking on any debt – while still enjoying the financial security that her family needs through her main income.
19. Use Social Media
You don’t need me to tell you how powerful social media is – Twitter has 289 million active users, while Pinterest is reported to have 72.8 million users worldwide.
So if you are looking for a low cost – or indeed free – way to promote your business to a wide audience while building a strong reputation among potential customers, then use social media to spread the word about your business.
If you are really new to this, Social Media Examiner has a great ‘3 steps to get started on social media‘ post that will help you to figure out which platform you should be on.
20. Be Online
Building on from this, if you want to start your business at a low cost and reach a large potential customer base, then you need to get online.
Get a website up and running, consider having a blog to drive traffic to your site, while building your authority in your field, and link up your social media to bring people to your website to find out more about your business.
21. Create a Buzz
You don’t need to have a huge budget to generate publicity around your business. You do need a great idea that will attract media attention.
Take the Ultimo brand. When it originally started out, CEO Michelle Mone had only £500 ($790) to spend on marketing. The brand was being stocked by Selfridges in London and the £500 budget was spent on hiring actors who played plastic surgeons holding a ‘protest’ outside the store, saying that the bra was so good, they’d lose business.
No one had heard of Ultimo before but it received a lot of media coverage – and continues to do so, frequently punching far above the company’s weight when it comes to media attention.
22. Don’t Spend What You Don’t Have
You should know what you NEED to spend money on versus what you would like to.
Make sure you have enough to cover your financial and legal obligations – such as setting up an LLC. Figure out what taxes you will be liable for and make sure you have enough to cover them – but trim your costs where you can. You don’t need fancy equipment or expensive consultants.
And remember that what your business needs isn’t going to be the same as someone else’s business – so figure it out before you get started.
23. Avoid Debt
One of the best ways to start up a low cost business is to avoid debt. Having no money and owing money are two completely different things.
If you’re starting a business – whether low cost or not – don’t have any personal debt. Not only will having debt reduce your ability to put any of your personal money into the business, it will also hinder your ability to access credit for the business further down the line should you need to. While you don’t want to access credit at this point, you never know how your business might grow and when you may need a cash injection to help you to stay on your growth trajectory.
24. Use Your Initiative
Need access to funding but can’t get it from the bank thanks to their new found caution when it comes to small business investment?
Consider other options, such as crowdfunding or peer to peer lending. Reduce your PR and marketing costs through creative use of social media – or stunts like the Ultimo one above.
Before you start imagining yourself as Paul Newman in a smoky poolroom (tempting as it may be) what I’m talking about here are deals with suppliers, partners and customers.
Can you offer something in return for a lower cost – like repeat orders to suppliers or joint promotions for potential partners?
Negotiate to reduce your costs. Don’t just accept the quote – you’ll soon discover that your customers are happy to negotiate over your prices, so learn to do the same with your own suppliers.
26. Start a Low-Cost Business
Of course, the easiest way to keep your business start up costs low is to start a low-cost business in the first place.
Become a consultant, start an online business, become a freelance writer or designer. If keeping your costs low really is a major concern, and you have no money, then these are good businesses to start out your entrepreneurial life.
Starting a business with no money is challenging – but it isn’t impossible. With careful planning, a clear understanding of your market, and the right attitude towards spending and saving in your business, it is possible to build a successful business from the ground up with little investment at the outset.