start a business

Does the lack of money stop you from starting a business?

You have an idea for a business, except you don’t have any money to start it.

How to start a business with no money?

People young and old complain that they want to start a business, but have no money. If you have a viable business idea don’t let the lack of capital stop you.

Here are some brands that started with almost nothing:

  • Whole Foods Market – In 1978 John Mackey and Rene Lawson saved and borrowed money from friends and family to open their first store in Austin, Texas. After getting evicted from their apartment, the two lived in their first store.
  • Apple, Disney, Google, Harley Davidson, Hewlett-Packard, Lotus Cars, Mattel, Yankee Candle Company all started in garages.
  • Nike – Founders, Philip Knight and Bill Bowerman started selling training shoes from their car trunk.
  • Dell – Michael Dell started out as a dishwasher, making a whopping $2.30 per hour. Dell started selling PC out of his college dorm.
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Keep your job.

Starting a business is risky. Don’t jeopardize your family’s financial well-being. The longer you keep your job the less pressure you put on yourself. When you start your business you are not ready to walk away from a steady paycheck. It’s true that you’ll have to work harder, but you can keep paying your bills as you grow your business. Once your business starts to generate revenue, you can start thinking about transitioning out of your job.

Stick with something you know.

Build on your passions and experiences. Instead of trying to start a business in a niche outside of your comfort zone stick to something you know. Build your business around your skills and knowledge. It is true that you can learn new skills, but it will take time. If you want to start a business quickly, you have to focus on what you can do now not years from now.

Learning new skills will require more time and additional expenses. You might have to take courses, get licenses, pay consultants, etc. Starting a business in a field familiar to you will give you additional confidence.

Do all the work yourself.

I agree that it’s exhausting, but you are going to have to do virtually all the work yourself. Doing everything yourself you will be able to put every dollar back into your business. It will be tough, but it is the only way to build up a cash reserve when you start with no money.

Offer a service.

You can start a service business with practically no money. Instead of money what you need is the ability to knock on doors and make sales. Even if you ultimately want a product business, owning a service business can help you get there. Use the service business to finance your dream business.

Here are some great product businesses that started out selling something else:

  • 3M – Started as a mining company. From that they went on to sell sandpaper, then masking tape, the “Scotch Tape”.
  • Microsoft – Started out by doing sporadic software development gigs.
  • 37signals – Started out as web designers before they have created products like Basecamp.

Here are more than 30 service businesses you can start today without any money:

  • Dog walking
  • Virtual assistant
  • Website designer
  • Handyman
  • Pet sitting
  • House sitting
  • Wedding/Party/Event planner
  • Personal chef/ Caterer
  • Car detailing
  • Rent a room through AirBnB.
  • Mobile mechanic
  • Personal coach
  • Fitness trainer
  • Professional organizer
  • Tutoring
  • Window cleaning
  • Landscape service
  • Power washing
  • Windshield repair
  • Bookkeeping
  • Executive search
  • Computer support
  • Office cleaning
  • Copywriting and proofreading
  • House painting
  • Moving service
  • Trash removal
  • Residential cleaning
  • Child care
  • Photography
  • Videography

Make it public.

Don’t keep it a secret. Tell as many people as you can. Call your friends. Explain it to your family members. Make it public. Telling people will help you in several ways. For starters, it will give you extra energy. In addition, it might help you land some of your first customers. People in your network could make valuable introductions.

Ask for help.

Nobody can succeed alone. Especially, if you are starting a business with no money you will need all the help you can get.

Asking for help can help you several ways:

  • Some people in your network might be entrepreneurs who could give you some pointers about starting your business.
  • You could find a cofounder.
  • A friend, family member, or coworker could teach you skills you don’t have.
  • You might find free office space.


Barter your own skills for office space, products, equipment, or services you need but can’t afford. Bartering is also a great networking tool.

Join a mastermind group.

Joining or starting a mastermind group can help you save a lot of money in the long run. It gives you an opportunity to learn from other entrepreneurs. Instead of paying an expert or a consultant for advice you will interact and learn from other entrepreneurs.

Although many mastermind groups cost money you can start your own for free. Look for people who are at a similar stage in business. If you are starting out, you don’t want to build a mastermind group of business veterans. When you are starting outreach out to people who are also interested in starting a business and those who have been in business for less than two years. With that strategy, you will have enough diversity in the group to make it interesting for everyone.

It helps if you are in the same city, but you can build virtual mastermind groups and meet through Skype or Google Hangout.

Here are some of the greatest benefits of mastermind groups:

  • You give and get support from people with similar goals and ambitions. Being an entrepreneur can be a lonely place. Get the support of others.
  • Learn from those who had some of the same or similar business challenges to yours.
  • You can get different perspectives.
  • When you are part of a mastermind group your network grow exponentially. The group’s network becomes your network.
  • You can ask for help with problems you haven’t faced before.
  • Your fellow members can keep you accountable.

Invent something and license it.

If you are an inventor, you could license your patent to a company. In licensing deals you normally get a percentage of sales. The best way to license your invention is to seek out manufacturers. Technically, it is called licensing your patent rights.

You want to start out by developing a list of manufacturers. Look for those that are already making products in your target niche. One or two manufacturers is not enough. Identify at least 25 potential manufacturers.

You can find manufacturers by looking at product packaging, online research, networking, and visiting trade shows. Libraries have excellent resources to locate manufacturers. Thomasnet, WikiMachine, ManufacturerUSA are possible resources too.

Reach out to manufacturers with a short message about your invention. Provide enough information to trigger interest, but don’t overwhelm people with data. LinkedIn can be an excellent resource to find the appropriate contact person.

Consult with an experienced licensing attorney before you enter negotiations. Ultimately, the licensing agreement will include details about upfront payments, exclusivity clauses, percentages, and infringement issues. You could really do yourself a major disservice by entering into an agreement without professional help.

Partner with an entrepreneur.

Many businesses are started by solopreneurs who quickly become overwhelmed. Most entrepreneurs would want you to buy yourself into a business partnership, but there are still ways for you to do this with little or no money.

You could find a business where the owner is about to retire. The owner of the business might want to sell the business, but the reality is that most business never sell.

The most common reasons businesses don’t sell are that they are:

  • Priced unrealistically high.
  • In a downward spiral by the time they are listed for sale, and potential buyers look at the business like a falling knife.
  • Relying too much on the business owner. Potential buyers fear that the business will not survive once the current owner leaves.

Another option is to find a business where the entrepreneur is either too overwhelmed or simply burned out with the business.

Find a co-founder with money.

Many successful businesses are started by two or more founders. With two founders you will also improve your chance of success.

Tell people in your network that you are looking for a co-founder. Team up with someone you trust. It’s a bit like getting married.

You can search for potential cofounders through:

  • Friends, family, and family friends.
  • You classmates from college and high school.
  • Past coworkers.
  • Local startup networking events.
  • Business meetups.
  • Former business partners if you have been in business before.
  • Working in a co-working place.
  • Teaming up with a customer.

Get paid fast or upfront.

When you start a business with little or no money, getting paid fast is crucial. Nothing will help your cash flow more than getting paid up front. Late payment, net 30, 60, or 90, slow payment will hurt your business.

You can get paid fast several ways:

  • Ask for at least 50% payment upfront.
  • Offer incentives to pay early.
  • Show up in person, if your clients are local.
  • Send invoices at least once a week.
  • Ask your customers to pay with a credit card or electronic bank transfer.
  • Fire customers who are chronic late payers.
  • Set up automatic payment.

Get a credit line.

Businesses are commonly funded by lines of credit. You might end up using a credit card to help you with your cash flow. The key with credit lines is it is no substitute for revenue. Use credit lines only as a temporary measure not as an alternative to making enough money to pay your bills.

Use crowdfunding.

At a time when 98% of the business plans are rejected by VCs and accredited investors, crowdfunding offers a great alternative for entrepreneurs. Crowdfunding requires a lot of effort and dedication, but is a great option, especially for consumer product businesses. The great thing about crowdfunding is that it gives you access to capital without giving up equity.

Crowdfunding can help your business in several ways:

  • It’s free!
  • Crowdfunding reduces your financial risk.
  • Fast access to capital.
  • It enables you to pre-sell.
  • Crowdfunding is easier than getting VC or angel investment.
  • It gives proof of concept. If you don’t get funded, perhaps your idea isn’t as great as you thought it is.
  • Your crowdfunding campaign can serve a marketing tool.
  • Your investors can help you improve your product.
  • The “crowd” can provide great word of mouth marketing.
  • It can build a loyal following.
  • It’s free PR.

The most popular crowdfunding sites are:

  • Kickstarter
  • Indiegogo
  • RocketHub
  • FundRazr
  • GoGetFunding

Apply for government programs.

Apply to the Small Business Administration (SBA) and other government agencies for help and funding. There are business financing options for women, veterans, and minorities.

Enter business plan competitions.

Advertise your business for free.

If you are willing to put in the work, there are several ways you can advertise your business for free or no money. The most important part of getting free advertising is that it requires sweat equity.

Here are some of the most common free advertising options:

  • Submit guest blog posts to relevant blogs. You will get a free link back to your own site.
  • Order free business cards from Vistaprint – Most importantly pass them out.
  • Develop strategic partnerships with businesses who serve the same customers you are targeting. It will enable you to cross promote each other’s business.
  • Set up a free WordPress website.
  • Submit your business to Google Local.
  • List your company in free directories related to your niche.
  • Offer an introductory free consultation or free evaluation.
  • Host an event. Recruit sponsors to cover your costs.
  • Create a Facebook Fan Page.
  • Frequent forums where your customers hang out.
  • Network with others and get free word of mouth marketing.
  • Ask friends, family, and people in your network for referrals.
  • Make connections and promote your business through social networks like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and the like.
  • Build your email list from day one. Email is still one of the most effective marketing channels.
  • Include your website, Facebook page, and Twitter handle in your email signature.
  • Write an eBook or a report and use it a promotional gift item.
  • Comment on blogs with a link back to your own website.
  • Learn about Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and use it to drive free traffic to your site.
  • Develop an iPhone or Android app for free and include your branding within it.
  • Post an ad on Craigslist.
  • Write articles relevant to your niche and distribute them to article directories.
  • Publish press releases. Prlog offers free press release distribution.
  • Wear your ad. Print your brand, URL, and phone number on your T-shirt, so when you are out in public people will see.

The above list might seem overwhelming at first, but it is doable. Take it one step at a time. Be systematic. Track and measure your results. Rinse and repeat the ones that give you the best results.

Avoid get rich quick schemes.

There are countless cases of “get rich quick schemes” both online and offline. They promise you everything you want to hear. Quick and easy money with little or no work. It simply doesn’t exist.

Don’t believe stories about overnight success. They are simply myths.

Here are examples of real success stories, and none of them is the overnight kind:

  • Milton Hershey started 3 unsuccessful candy companies before he started the Hershey Company.
  • It took Bill Gates 6 years to land his first contract with IBM.
  • It took Steve Jobs 20 years to become an overnight billionaire.
  • It took Biz Stone 8 years to come up with the idea for Twitter.
  • It took Steve Martin and Jim Carrey 10 years of stand-up gigs before making it big.

Nothing will hurt your chances for success more than believing in the – false – idea of overnight success. You are doing yourself a disservice believing it. Most businesses take years of development before they become successful. Expect to spend years to build your business instead of days. Persistence is key.

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George Meszaros is the editor and co-founder of Success Harbor where entrepreneurs learn about building successful companies. Success Harbor is dedicated to document the entrepreneurial journey through interviews, original research, and unique content. George Meszaros is also co-founder of Webene, a web design and digital marketing agency.