How to Start a Business With No Money
Entrepreneurs face a constant money challenge. From just making payroll to buying the next big piece of equipment, it’s hard to ever really feel secure with how much cash you have.
Some side hustle businesses could be started with literally no money. But any business that requires your full focus and provides a good living will require capital. Let’s look at some strategies to save or raise that capital and get your business going as smoothly as possible.
1. Save money
The simplest way to start a business with no money is to wait until you've saved enough. It may be the most annoying answer, but it’s worth considering.
Most business ideas that would work now will still work a few years from now. Taking the time to scrimp on every penny and save enough money to quit your job and start a business on your own will be well worth it. You'll not only reduce the amount of equity you need to give away, but you'll develop a mindset to reject bad or unnecessary expenses.
My wife and I save about 50% of our monthly pay immediately. It gets transferred directly into a brokerage account to be invested in municipal bonds before we even see it.
We probably won’t be starting a business anytime soon, but every few years, we have enough money in the account to make a down payment on an investment property. If we really needed to, we could probably save more.
Make the move to sales
If you decide to wait and save enough money to bootstrap your company, you can make one change now. Whatever industry you’re in, move into a sales role. Sales jobs are far more entrepreneurial than back office or operations jobs, and the commission-based pay could allow you to earn and save far more money.
I was a credit underwriter 3 1/2 years ago and would almost fall asleep on the job because it was so boring. I worked my way into a customer-facing role, selling the loans I used to underwrite.
After two years, I was desperate for a new job and taking antidepressants daily. Sales jobs give you the opportunity to deal with failure and test whether you have the mental fortitude to deal with the anxiety of not knowing when and if your next paycheck will come.
Sales won’t be an option for everyone. If you don’t have the ability to save for one reason or another (for example, to pay for daycare for multiple kids), move onto the next ideas.
2. Raise money
Most public companies raised money at some point. Bootstrapping can only get you so far with your billion-dollar idea.
Start with friends and family and then look to angel investors. Investors give you funds to start a business and meet business goals, but first, they'll validate that your business idea has potential.
There’s a clear trade-off with raising funds. You get money to grow, but you give up equity. Every dollar you accept as an investment could represent hundreds or thousands of dollars you give up in market value down the road.
3. Start part-time
I’ve always been attracted to side business ideas. I’ve written e-books, watched hours of affiliate marketing tutorials, and even attempted to get a weekly email newsletter going. Working for yourself appeals to many, and certainly me.
Most online businesses can be started while you’re working somewhere else. Obviously, it’s more difficult to start a concrete-cutting business part time than it is to build subscribers for an email newsletter, but most businesses can benefit from some sort of online work.
Even if you just network for future customers or partners, it’s worth it. And if you earn some revenue, it validates your business to investors, and you can reinvest the money in the business.
The business you start now doesn’t need to be the one you want to run long term. Consider these small business startup ideas. They can help you gain experience while you accelerate your saving process.
- Website creation: Building a website is fairly easy if you use templates. Most businesses have created a website by this point, but not all. Drive to strip malls on the weekend and approach each business. Walk in and offer to create a website, online review profiles, and social media profiles for any business that doesn’t have these. It will also give you an opportunity to network with experienced business owners.
- Poop scooping: No one wants to pick up dog poop. Run social media ads offering to clear out backyards for a monthly subscription. You can take one day a week and knock them all out while listening to audiobooks. What a dream.
- Food delivery: Drive for any number of food delivery apps. Keep close track of your expenses with this one; I’m not convinced it’s a big moneymaker.
- Niche sites: This is a step above normal website building. Research a niche topic, something like identifying the best sunglasses to wear while playing lacrosse. Then build a website around the topic strong enough to rank on search engines. Use the traffic to market affiliate products or sell your own.
4. Lean startup
Eric Reis’s 2011 book, The Lean Startup, showed how to create a minimum viable product and release it to the public.
This approach both validates the product or business and starts bringing in revenue to fund the company. Reis recommends doing as much as possible with each product tier to gauge the public’s reaction and interest in it. It’s about knowing whether the business will succeed using the least amount of money and time possible.
You’ll probably need to combine this strategy with one of the three above, using your own or raised funds to start a business, possibly while still working a day job.
Make a plan
Any of these strategies can be highly successful for your business. You just need to be intentional, and if you want to bootstrap, create a savings plan and stick to it. If you want to raise capital, work on a financial budget and follow it.
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