How to Start a Business Without Money - A Short SBG Guide
Many people assume that you need a lot of money in the bank to start a company. But, as you’ll discover in this post, that’s not always the case. While capital helps for certain types of enterprises, it’s not always necessary. In today’s world, you can start something from scratch with no cash outlay at all and, in some cases, even build an income that far outstrips your regular salary.
In this post, we'll take a look at how to start a business without money and then provide some business idea examples that are affordable and easy to pursue.
How To Start a Small Business Without Money
Fifty years ago, start-ups had to do virtually everything themselves. Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak built Apple computers in a shed, and Bill Gates didn’t exactly have a ton of investors lined up to support Windows when he started out.
Things have changed in recent years, though, and starting a business with no money is considerably easier than it was in the past. These days, it’s more about leveraging the tools that are already out there in new and interesting ways. Good business ideas often still need some money, but there are ways around that, too.
Here’s how to start a business from scratch with no money saved up:
Find a Problem To Solve That Uses Your Skill Set
The best business ideas are those that sit at the confluence of your skillset and a problem that needs solving. Pursuing a passion of yours at any cost is not necessarily advisable. While you might love the work, it may not align with a problem in the marketplace.
Instead, look for a small subdivision in the market where consumers’ needs aren’t being solved and then look to fill the gap. For instance, you could:
- Chop a larger product into smaller, more manageable chunks (such as chocolate buttons or apple slices).
- Improve how often or in which ways you interact with customers (for example, eBay reviews).
- Change how quickly you deliver products (such as next-day or same-day delivery).
- Combine two existing ideas (such as providing a play creche in a coffee shop).
- Take something out of a product that people don’t like.
- Exaggerate your love of ugliness (such as misshapen fruit and vegetables to reduce waste)
- Automate an activity that used to require human labor (such as picking products in a warehouse)
Of course, your imagination will be much better than ours. But the principle remains the same: your idea needs to provide a meaningful improvement in your customers’ lives in a way that others on the market aren’t offering at the moment.
Create a Minimum Viable Product
After you find a novel problem that requires your skill set to solve, you need to create a minimum viable product (MVP). Your MVP should offer at least a minimum feature set that people will pay you for - it’s basically a demo meant to attract buyers.
When starting a business with no money, MVPs are essential. You need to generate revenue as quickly as possible to keep your head above water. You should not wait until you’ve built out your entire feature set before you start selling the product or idea.
Set Up a Payment Mechanism
Once you have your MVP in place, the next step is to set up a payment system. If you want to open a retail store with no money, you can work with a merchant account service. These provide you with the POS tools and accounts you need to take credit and debit card payments at your premises.
If you are setting up an online shop, eCommerce websites will provide you with various ways to take payments. Similarly, if you want to sell courses or training, you can use an online platform, such as Mastermind or Kajabi.
If you’re selling something else, look for existing payment platforms in your niche. Usually, you’ll find a company that provides you with all the tools you need to make payments so you can avoid relying on old-fashioned paper invoicing, bank transfers, and cash.
The next step is to go public with your plans. Even if you are an entrepreneur without money, there are still plenty of ways to do this.
Start by setting up a website on a free platform, such as Squarespace, Wix, or WordPress. Then acquire a domain name from a reputable provider.
You will need to pay a small fee for this, depending on the name you choose. However, prices are low for more obscure domain suffixes (such as .co or .us), meaning that you can get a URL for just a few dollars a year.
If you want to start an eCommerce business with no money, there are plenty of platforms to choose from, including WooCommerce, BigCommerce, Shopify, and Magento.
Next, maintain a constant social media presence. Make sure that you:
- Regularly respond to users’ questions and queries.
- Ask other people in your network to promote your posts.
- Post one to three interesting items about your brand per day.
- Regularly check in with your audience to make sure they’re happy and address their concerns.
Get Some Help
Great business leaders don’t try to go at it alone. They always ask for help and try to find ways to make the universe conspire in their favor by:
- Getting friends and family to pitch in and provide extra funding or ideas.
- Asking for mentors to listen to sales pitches and offer advice on how to improve them.
- Going to reputable lenders for small business loans when extra cash is needed.
- Looking for local grants and small business funding opportunities.
- Finding potential angel business investors who might be willing to take a punt on their business idea.
- Looking for additional sources of funding, such as peer-to-peer lending and crowdsourcing.
- Learning more about how to start a business without money.
Grow Your Business
The final step is to grow your business so that it becomes profitable. If you don’t push forward hard, you may not build enough momentum to make a good return on your investment.
Here are some inexpensive or free ways to market your business and ensure that it thrives:
- Invest in SEO
You can pay an agency to do this for you, or if you’re really short of money, you can do it yourself for free. Ensure that you include relevant keywords on your website, write content relevant to your audience, and get links from partner sites to your pages.
- Market on social media
You can pay for this with ads or do it for free by creating content for your pages and accounts. If you are struggling to gain traction, try working with influencers.
- Do content marketing
By writing useful articles and creating helpful videos, you can provide prospective customers with the value they can’t get from your competitors.
- Cold outreach
Lastly, you might want to try cold outreach. While challenging, it is a great way to get your foot in the door and build more sustainable clients long-term.
Examples of Businesses You Can Start With No Money
Wondering how to start a business with no money or credit? There are plenty of examples already out there and they provenly work. Let’s take a look at a few:
A life coach is simply someone who offers guidance to other people on how to live better. Many coaches focus on a particular dimension of life, such as relationships, finances, spirituality or career. To stand out in this industry, you’ll need to have the ability to truly change someone’s outlook on a particular area of life.
Becoming a pet sitter can be a fun line of work. You walk or groom dogs and, in return, their owners pay you a fee. Pet sitting is popular in cities where professionals don’t always have the time needed to look after their pets properly.
If you are good at fixing things around the house, then you might consider handyman services. These professionals charge callout and service fees for fixing broken windows, putting up curtain rods, and removing mold from tile grouting. You might need some initial investment to buy the necessary tools if you don’t already have them, though.
Selling Printed T-Shirts
On-demand, customizable printed t-shirts are a viable, low-cost business option. Here, you simply set up an online store and then work with a t-shirt printing partner to distribute apparel to your customers. This is not exactly a free option and is something you’ll need to invest at least some funds in, but the overall returns make those modest initial investments worth it.
You might think of writing as a different category from business, but it’s not. After all, a book is just another product that gets bought and sold.
There are many types of books you could create. These include:
- How-to manuals.
- Professional books for a particular industry niche.
- Novels and fictional literature.
- Scientific books and journals (not really a money-maker, though).
- Self-help or philosophical books.
- Photo books.
- Customizable books for children and adults.
Again, this is one of the best businesses to start with little money because you don’t need to set up the printing shop yourself. You just work with an existing publishing house that provides the features you want to offer your customers. With that in mind, you’ll still need to scrounge up some starting capital.
Selling an Online Course
If you are thinking about how to start a business online without money and are serious about not having even a tiny bit of seed capital, there are still options to consider. One is to simply sell your skills – something that you already know how to do well, but other people will find valuable learning.
Selling a course online is much easier than you might think. Today, there are many platforms that host your course and help it reach your target audience. What’s more, it’s the type of work you can do without having to quit your day job, and, on many platforms, you won’t have any upfront costs, either.
Selling Print-on-Demand Cards, Posters, and Prints
Print-on-demand services are becoming more popular as consumers look to personalize gifts or items in their homes. Therefore, selling these products could be a great way to scale a business fast. Again, you don’t need to pay for the printing facilities or worry about shipping yourself: you can partner with a dropshipping service and a publishing house and get them to do it for you.
Have you ever said to a friend, “I want to start a business but have no ideas on where to start”? Child care is a very popular profession in this age of overworked people who cannot dedicate the time they’d like to their children but still want them to be in good hands. Parents want to leave their kids with people who will look after them properly and provide educational support.
If you get a license, you can start using your home, which will allow you to look after multiple children simultaneously to earn more money from this venture.
Test Prep Services
Parents want their children to perform well at exams. Hence, test prep services are just as popular as private tuition, if not more so these days. All you need is some experience in academia or a background in education.
If you love cars, you might want to offer a car detailing service. Proud owners are often willing to pay a premium for specialists who can make their vehicles look great, and the start-up costs to set up such an operation won’t cripple your budget.
Food truck businesses aren’t free, but they are much more affordable than setting up a restaurant or getting a retail unit in the middle of town.
These days, you can rent food trucks to test your business model – you don’t have to buy them outright. To be successful, you’ll want to offer people niche food that they love.
Electronics Repair Services
If you know a lot about electronics, such as smartphones and notebooks, you might want to offer an electronics repair service. Here, people bring you their broken items, and you’ll attempt to fix them. Again, you’ll need both knowledge and a set of tools, but if you’re keen on electronics and have been fixing your own hardware for years, chances are you’ll already have everything you need.
A similar idea to the one above is opening a refurbished electronics business. Here, you take old devices, factory reset them, clean them up, repair any obvious damage, and then sell them on while making a profit.
The landscaping business can be a very lucrative option. If you are careful with the type of projects you take on, this can be a great way to make money. Start with small items that you can complete with simple hand tools, and then use the cash you earn to buy more equipment that will let you take on larger projects.
Believe it or not, there is actually quite substantial money to be made from getting into the vending machine business. It’s not an entirely passive income stream after the initial investment, though - at least not if you want to keep making money. The ongoing work involves restocking machines and fixing them if they go wrong. To make truly good money, you’ll eventually want numerous vending machines and a team of staff to help with restocking and repair work.
It’s easy to start an Airbnb business without money, but you will need a place for people to stay. Your home is more likely to be in high demand if you are close to a tourist hotspot or a business district.
Selling Subscription Boxes
Selling subscription boxes is a great way to start a business without experience. The way it works is simple: instead of building your own products and packaging them, you curate those of other brands and then pass them on to consumers in boxes. The value is in the selection process itself: you’re telling consumers what’s good instead of relying on them to figure it out for themselves.
Selling Phone Accessories
Today, there’s a huge market for smartphone accessories, due to the sheer volume of people who now own these devices. They need Bluetooth headphones, tripods, cases, dashboard holders, portable and wireless chargers, and so on. What’s more, they are often willing to buy on impulse, either online or in-store, so you’ll likely have a high demand for your products. Just bear in mind that this is another job that will require some reasonable starting capital.
If you have had a long career and are starting a business from nothing, you might have success with online consulting. Here, you provide firms with guidance and advice on topics they might not understand. They may then ask you to directly intervene and perform tasks for them, paying you fees for the privilege. It’s another great job to put your skills to good use without having to spend any money upfront.
Starting a business without money is surprisingly easy in the modern world. Thanks to the internet and other communication technologies, it’s now something that’s accessible to most people. That said, some of the ideas we presented here still might require some sort of seed capital, but you won't need a large amount of funding to get your idea off the ground.
There are many ways to start a business without money. However, many companies have running costs (unless they are dormant). Therefore, revenues will need to exceed expenses if you want to stay in business and avoid having to constantly dip into your savings.
If you can’t get a loan but need funding to start your business, you can look for alternative financing sources.. For instance, you may be able to fund a business with crowdsourcing or angel investors. If you are still struggling, you might want to save up and self-finance or explore business opportunities that don’t require any upfront outlay of cash.
Examples of cheap, profitable businesses include child care, pet sitting, renting out part of your home on Airbnb, digital marketing, blogging, personal training, home and office cleaning, product licensing, and translation services.
The most profitable small businesses tend to cluster around professional skills. For example, consulting, bookkeeping and accounting. However, you can make virtually any business highly profitable, so long as you adequately scale it and provide good value to your customers.
If you’re wondering how to start a business without money, check out our detailed guide above. There are plenty of businesses that you can start with little or no money, but you’ll have to pick one that matches your skillset to do well. Some of the better options are online coaching, home remodeling, catering, child care, print-on-demand cards, handyman services, and pet sitting.
Julia A. is a writer at SmallBizGenius.net. With experience in both finance and marketing industries, she enjoys staying up to date with the current economic affairs and writing opinion pieces on the state of small businesses in America. As an avid reader, she spends most of her time poring over history books, fantasy novels, and old classics. Tech, finance, and marketing are her passions, and she’s a frequent contributor at various small business blogs.
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