The Oracle of Omaha, Warren Buffett, turned an initial bankroll of $10,000 into a multibillion-dollar conglomerate. Shelby Davis began with $50,000, and he amassed a $900 million fortune. These inspiring stories give us all hope that we'll be able to achieve our own financial dreams. But what if you don't have $50,000, or $10,000, or even $5,000 to get started?

Fear not, Fool -- you aren't doomed to penury and misery. You don't need to be a trust fund baby to start securing your financial future. Just follow these four simple steps:

Why small caps?
Because they offer the greatest potential for market-beating returns. Institutions tend to ignore these tiny stocks, and analysts don't cover them. By the time anyone realizes they're there, they've already grown and appreciated in price.

To find these future giants, we'll screen for stocks with:

  • Market values less than $3 billion, to qualify as a small cap (but no micro caps).
  • An earnings surprise of 20% or more last quarter.
  • Long-term earnings growth potential of at least 20%.             

We'll filter our findings through the collective investing wisdom of the more than 145,000 professional and novice investors in our Motley Fool CAPS community. If the best and brightest CAPS players think these stocks hold potential, then we ought to take notice, too.

Here are some of the stocks this simple screen found:

Company

Market Cap

Share Price

EPS Surprise

Consensus Analyst 5-Yr. EPS Est.

CAPS Rating

3SBio (NASDAQ:SSRX)

$301 million

$14.01

20%

23%

****

Force Protection (NASDAQ:FRPT)

$367 million

$5.24

109%

20%

****

LDK Solar (NYSE:LDK)

$957 million

$8.45

NC*

21%

****

Volcom (NASDAQ:VLCM)

$379 million

$15.58

46%

20%

****

Zumiez (NASDAQ:ZUMZ)

$340 million

$11.25

21%

20%

***

Source: Zacks.com, Yahoo! Finance, and CAPS.
*NC = not calculable. LDK Solar reported EPS of $0.27 vs. ($0.08) est.

Of course, this is not a list of stocks to buy -- just a starting point for more research. We need to look more closely at these companies to see whether analysts' faith in them is well-founded. Since we've got the CAPS community helping us here, their favorites might be a good place to begin.

A brighter future?
At first blush, LDK Solar's surprise quarterly profit portends better things to come. Sales were nearly cut in half from the year-ago period, but they rose 23% sequentially, and the company forecast fourth-quarter revenue well above what analysts were expecting. Profits in the third quarter were $29 million, or $0.27 a share, better than the $0.08-a-share loss Wall Street forecast. Shipments are also supposed to increase next quarter, to between 320 megawatts and 340 megawatts.

Suntech Power (NYSE:STP) also posted higher-than-expected earnings, while Trina Solar (NYSE:TSL) was holding the trump card, indicating perhaps the clouds hovering above the solar industry are breaking up. CAPS member shepherd0513 believes the results show that the worst is behind the Chinese solar player:

All of LDK's inventory (polysilicon) writedowns should now be behind us. It's stock price has suffered due to these large losses the past several quarters. It should now proceed to catch up with other large solar players as it returns to profitability.

However, one can't help noticing that a good chunk of LDK's profits in the quarter resulted from $14 million in government subsidies. The company's still carrying a heavy debt load, too, which might not make it quite as nimble going forward.

Use the comments section below to let us know whether you consider the solar specialist a ray of sunshine. Once you're done, head over to LDK Solar's CAPS page and tell us your scorching ideas for success.

Foolish final thoughts
Academics will tell you that individual investors have little chance of beating the stock market. They say the Warren Buffetts, Shelby Davises, and Peter Lynches are the exceptions to the rule. We at The Motley Fool disagree. Stock investing is not brain surgery. Finding good, undervalued companies is not as difficult as the professionals want you to think.

It is possible to make a more comfortable retirement for yourself, even if you have little money to start with or are starting late in life. It is possible to turn $100 into $1 million. You just have to commit: Do it now, and do it regularly. No amount is too small. Let's get started. There's no time to lose!

Volcom and Zumiez are Motley Fool Hidden Gems selections. 3SBio and Suntech Power are Rule Breakers selections. The Fool owns shares of Volcom. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services today, free for 30 days.

Fool contributor Rich Duprey does not have a financial position in any of the stocks mentioned in this article. You can see his holdings here. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.