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Running your own business comes with freedom, flexibility and, possibly, great financial success. However, starting a successful business can be expensive. What if you have a great idea but no savings? Luckily, there are many ways to start a business with no money.
Read on to explore businesses with no startup costs, plus learn how to create your business plan, seek funding and successfully establish your business.
1. Come up with a business idea
Some businesses are easier to start than others. Starting a bakery, for example, requires special skills, a passion for baking and a lot of overhead costs. But there are plenty of ventures that require no money upfront.
To tap into one, think about the skills you already have and the resources currently available to you. Your work doesn’t have to be something you’re incredibly passionate about, but it should be something you are competent in and can enjoy.
For example, if you have specific skills in writing, management, design or any kind of content production, you may be able to freelance as an individual. If you have broader skills like being extremely organized or good at multitasking, you may find that something like dropshipping works best for you.
Don’t be afraid to explore an idea, going so far as to develop a business plan, before deciding if it’s right for you. Seeing the big picture next to the expected day-to-day intricacies will give you a good idea of what a business will be like to operate and if it can be successful.
Below are some common businesses that require no upfront investment to get started:
Dropshipping is when you act as an intermediary between customers and a supplier without first purchasing or keeping inventory yourself. By building an online storefront, you can offer items to your customers that your supplier has agreed to provide to you at a wholesale price.
Photography is a growing field and there are many people and places who will want your services. Weddings, birthdays, concerts and corporate events all often involve a paid photographer. If you already own a camera and possess some basic photography knowledge, it can be easy to start your photography business.
Pet sitting and house sitting only require your time and attention. While certification isn’t required, pet owners and homeowners alike may want to hear about any prior experience you have providing care for pets.
The main qualifications for pet sitting are loving animals and being responsible. You can join a company that already provides pet services, find an online community that caters to pet sitting or build your own brand as an individual.
Providing personal training or fitness coaching does not require a degree or certification, and by making your services available digitally, you don’t need to pay to rent a space or equipment. The bulk of training income comes from one-on-one workout sessions, which can be done remotely or by selling fitness plans online. If you find a place to monetize video content, you can also leverage tutorials and workouts.
There are a whole host of services that you can provide as a freelance worker. If you enjoy writing, you can find work designing courses, developing social media captions, writing articles and supporting many other kinds of publications. The same goes for any other marketable skills like graphic design or even project management.
2. Create a business plan
A great business plan will prepare you for successes and failures by outlining your entire business from top to bottom. Potential investors will want to see your business plan, so they know they are making a wise investment with a good chance of returns.
Make your business plan successful by being straightforward, easy to understand, using clear charts and visuals and using industry-specific research. It is important to include:
- An executive summary: This provides a big-picture look at your business plan, including organizational structure, product or offerings, marketing strategy and financial projections. Make sure to also include a mission statement for your new business.
- Market analysis: Conducting a competitive analysis will help you review what other similar businesses are doing to be successful. Look for trends and themes that you can follow as well as opportunities to improve your product or offering. In addition, look for gaps in industry offerings that you may be able to fill.
- Customer profiles: Outline the key demographic you will target and how your products or services will uniquely meet their needs, including the competitive advantage you will offer them and how you will reach them.
- Company structure: Describe how your company will be structured and who will run the business. Include an organizational chart to show how every new member will contribute to the business. Include information on your leadership team’s qualifications. Identify if your company will be an LLC, a partnership or a type of corporation. Learn more about business structures here.
- Financial projections: Including financial projections for your business will help convince investors that your business will be successful. Forecast how your business will perform over the next five years, with specific breakdowns at the quarterly or even monthly level for your first year. This is a good place to use clear charts and graphs to effectively share the research you’ve done.
- Supporting documentation: Include resumes for your key employees, analytics reports and patent or trademark documentation and product images to support the claims you’ve made in your business plan.
3. Seek funding
If you have a business idea but need capital to get started, you’ll want to seek funding from other sources. Every business has different needs, so first, determine exactly how much funding you need. Once you have a fundraising goal, you can determine which sources are best to pursue.
- Self-funding: Sometimes referred to as ‘bootstrapping,’ self-funding can refer to money or loans you get from friends and family, your own savings reserves or even withdrawing from accounts like a 401(k). While this gives you the most control over your business and earnings, it’s also risky. Often, you must pay these types of funds back with little guarantee you can.
- Venture capital: Investors provide venture capital funding in exchange for a stake or role in the company. Some may want an executive position, a seat on the board or other involvement in your business. Venture investments typically apply in rounds and are subject to change based on the success of the company.
- Crowdfunding: You can appeal to potential customers who would like to support your business by launching a crowdfunding campaign. Each crowdfunding platform has specific rules and takes different percentages of what you raise, so make sure to read the terms carefully. Donors will expect something in exchange for their money, usually a prototype of your product or some other kind of gift.
- Small business loan: Connect with banks and credit unions to begin the process of applying for a small business loan. By applying for your loan with multiple financial institutions, you can compare rates and offers to find the best loan for your business. A lender will expect to see a business plan, an expense sheet and your financial projections.
- Small business administration (SBA)-guaranteed loan: If financial institutions are worried about the risk associated with your fledgling business and you do not qualify for a traditional loan, look into SBA-guaranteed loans instead. Learn more about SBA-guaranteed loans here.
4. Define and build your brand
Market research can help you identify what similar businesses are doing in your industry, but now it’s time to use that knowledge to differentiate what you do. Your business’s brand encompasses everything from what colors you use in design and advertising to what values you think are important to your day-to-day practice.
Once you’ve reviewed the brands of competitors, you should sit down and think about what you want your brand to be. For example: Is it cool and hip? Reliable and safe? Low-waste and environmentally conscious?
Whatever you want your brand to be, make sure to take the following factors into consideration:
- Name: Your brand name is very important. It should give customers a sense of what you do and how you want them to feel about what you do. It should also be distinct from your competitors and easy to spell and remember.
- Audience: Know who your potential customers are and make sure you’re speaking to them. For example, if you’re targeting older customers, you shouldn’t use popular slang in your messaging.
- Purpose: Defining your purpose not only provides clarity to your customers but also to yourself and any employees. Answer why you do what you do and what is important about your product or offering.
- Voice: Brand voice is how you talk about your brand. Do you want to brag about how good your services are? Do you want to back your product with lots of research? Finding your voice helps support the other factors you’ve already defined for your brand — including your audience and purpose. Create a style guide that outlines your company voice, including what and how you communicate to customers and how you do not.
- Look: Likely the first thing you think of when you imagine a brand is how it looks. From what kind of colors a brand uses to its logo to its font choices, a visual brand is an incredibly important part of how customers associate your product with your business. Create a style guide that defines your brand’s color scheme, logo usage and graphics templates, for example.
5. Test your business idea
Once you’ve written your business plan, secured funding and defined your brand, it can be tempting to open your business up to the world. But before you do, try a smaller-scale launch that allows you to test your processes and offerings.
Start local or build a simpler version of your product to troubleshoot for any roadblocks before moving into production. Be sure to survey customers during your testing period to see how they feel about your offerings and your brand. Don’t forget to ask about your customer service and overall experience.
Positive signs it might work
If people are excited about your offerings and want to know more, that’s a good sign. Carefully review the feedback you’ve gotten from friends, family and customers during your test launch. If you can, connect with other experts in the industry. As you evaluate the success of your soft launch, ask yourself:
- Have I improved an existing product or offering?
- Did I successfully solve a problem?
- Is my business sustainable?
- How many people can afford to purchase my product?
- How can I better speak to the needs of my customers?
The answers to these questions will help you envision the future success of your business, and will determine what changes you still may need to make for a successful final launch.
Scaling the idea in the real world
Once you’re ready to grow your business, you’ll need to strategize how to maximize your sales while minimizing your costs. Reflect on your test launch to better understand your customers and their needs.
Common scaling mistakes include:
- Scaling too quickly.
- Prioritizing short-term goals over long-term goals.
- Overlooking the efficacy of your processes and systems.
While growth focuses on increasing revenue, scaling focuses on making your business agile and efficient. It requires looking internally at your business as much as it does looking outward at your customers. To do so, think about tools that can help you scale, including:
Most of these types of software have free versions available for budget-conscious businesses. Many also offer free trials to help companies get started with no startup costs.
Persisting through adversity
There will be roadblocks the work through as your business grows, but they can be overcome. Common mistakes in small businesses are:
- Failing to properly price services or products.
- Not asking for help.
- Being too optimistic when setting goals.
- Misunderstanding potential customers.
If you encounter any of these challenges, don’t give up. Try performing a SWOT analysis to identify your business’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.
Then set SMART goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound. Once you’ve analyzed your challenges and set new goals, you’re ready to move forward.
6. Market and grow your business
Once you’ve established your business, identified your customers, evaluated your processes and needed tools to successfully scale and prepared to adapt to challenges, you’re ready to grow.
There are many different ways that you can market your business, reach new customers and improve brand recognition. Grow your new business with the following marketing ideas:
- Get listed:Set up your business details on Google so that customers can easily find your website, hours and other pertinent details.
- Go social: Determine which social media platforms are most popular for your target customers and establish a presence there.
- Get involved: Make sure to engage with any relevant online communities where you can become a subject matter expert by sharing on relevant topics and sharing your business’s offerings.
- Provide expertise: Expand your reach by going out into the community in person. Attend relevant trade shows or offer your expertise in webinars and workshops.
Frequently asked questions (FAQs)
Yes, you can start a business with no money, but it often requires you to find funding elsewhere. Businesses that have no start-up costs will eventually cost money in order to grow, including advertising, market research or building a website.
The cheapest businesses to start require no start-up costs and depend wholly on services or products you can provide as an individual, including freelance writing, dropshipping, personal training, pet sitting or other personal skills like photography, design or working as a personal assistant.
To start a business, you need a solid business idea. Start with market research before finalizing your idea. Use that research to develop a business plan that will help you find funding, choose a business structure and prepare to launch.
Finally, you’ll need a business name and the necessary licenses and permits to legally register your business.