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How to Start a Business With No Money

There’s something very powerful about the idea of starting a
business, but what can you do if money is a major obstacle? Many
businesses require significant capital expenditure, and if you don’t
have the funds to begin your venture, that will be an issue. All is not
lost though — with some creative thinking and a slightly different
approach, you can “bootstrap” your business with very little cash.

Bootstrapping is the discipline of starting a business
with very little upfront cash. It means you don’t typically take
out loans or investments or get VC funding. Instead, you rely on
limited personal savings and revenue created by your business to
grow it. Bootstrapping has created many successful businesses — Dell,
HP, Apple and Microsoft all started with very little cash, and now
they are some of the biggest companies in the world.

There’s something very powerful about the idea of starting a business, but what can you do if money is a major obstacle? Many businesses require significant capital expenditure, and if you don’t have the funds to begin your venture, that will be an issue. All is not lost though — with some creative thinking and a slightly different approach, you can “bootstrap” your business with very little cash.

Bootstrapping is the discipline of starting a business with very little upfront cash. It means you don’t typically take out loans or investments or get VC funding. Instead, you rely on limited personal savings and revenue created by your business to grow it. Bootstrapping has created many successful businesses — Dell, HP, Apple and Microsoft all started with very little cash, and now they are some of the biggest companies in the world.

Here at Incfile we know a thing or two about starting a business. Since 2004 we’ve helped over 100,000 business owners, and now we’re here to help you. That’s why we’ve put together this guide to starting your own business with no money. Read on to find out exactly where to start, what to do next and what questions you should ask to give your new, bootstrapped business the best chance of success. We’ll cover:

  • Why a lack of money shouldn’t stop you
  • What to expect from starting a business
  • Choosing the type of business to start
  • Finding examples of businesses that don’t need much money
  • Learning the art of bootstrapping
  • Developing your business model and business plan
  • Getting the right legal structure in place
  • Setting up your business operations
  • Complying with rules, regulations and taxes
  • Maintaining your business

Why a Lack of Money Shouldn’t Stop You From Starting a New Business

Starting a business is one of the most powerful things you can do. It’s an opportunity to create unique products and services, bring your ideas to life and create something truly valuable for your customers, employees, suppliers and peers.

A lack of money doesn’t stop you doing any of those things. It might mean you have to manage operations more carefully, pay closer attention to finances, drive your product to market sooner and slow down your expansion plans, but none of those areas alone will kill your business.

In fact, the discipline of founding and growing a business with very little capital will teach you important lessons about financial control, decision making and the art and science of being an entrepreneur. True, some business options will be off the table...but with a little creative thought and a lot of planning and dedication, there’s every reason you will succeed.

What to Expect from Starting a Business With No Money

As a new entrepreneur, here’s what you can expect throughout the lifecycle of starting, running and growing a business with a lack of finances!

  • There will always be too much to do and too little money: You will need to balance time, effort, money and outcomes on a constant basis.
  • The biggest issue you will have is cash flow: You will need to minimize and strictly control costs. You must manage your finances on a daily basis and quickly build up a financial buffer.
  • There is lots (and lots) of competition: Some of them will have money, some of them won’t. Competition is a fact of life and shows there’s a demand for what you’re offering.
  • There are plenty of people out there who can help: And they don’t all cost money! Although you can pay for professional help, taking part in online discussion groups, meetups and networking events can often get you some good advice for free.
  • Getting your idea and product or service fit right is essential: Although you won’t be risking as much financially, you should always spend at least as long researching and validating your idea as you do on setting up your business.
  • Grow organically: Without the cash for big marketing efforts or customer pushes, you should grow organically and sustainably instead.
  • Learn from your mistakes: You'll make plenty of them; just make sure they’re not irreversible.
  • Expect to be stressed and anxious: A lack of money is stressful. Until you see sustainable success, expect some sleepless nights.
What Are the Main Challenges for an Amazon Seller Entrepreneur?

Choosing the Type of Business to Start With No Money

The type of business you start will be constrained by your lack of capital, but you still have hundreds of options available. Although bootstrapping is a major factor in the type of business you choose to start, there are several other factors at play.

What Are Your Current Skills, Interests, Expertise and Experiences?

Go into a field you already know something about. Choose a business type that aligns with your expertise and insight.

Can You See Yourself Doing This in 10 Years?

If you want to run a business for the long-term, think five or 10 years out. Can you still see yourself doing it after all that time? What will success look like to you then?

What Are the Main Challenges for an Amazon Seller Entrepreneur?

Have You Researched the Types of Businesses Out There?

This part of the process is where you want to spend most of your time. Extensively research and take a deep dive into the various types of business you could start. You could try:

  • A creative and design business like freelance writing, running an Etsy shop or starting a marketing agency
  • A professional services business like accounting, real estate, law, architecture or consultancy
  • In-home services like with-no-money, yard maintenance, building, painting or other trades
  • Technical businesses like web design and creation or software and development
  • ...and many more

Types of Businesses You Can Start With Little or No Money

Here are some great examples of businesses that don’t need much capital to get going.

Strong research abilities
Creative Businesses

You can sell your creative services. If you’re a painter, illustrator, writer or designer, you can make money providing products and services to individuals and businesses. Whether you work on a freelance basis or you sell products, neither needs much capital to set up. You can sell crafted items through portals like Etsy, sell freelance services through Upwork or Fiverr or sell your designs through print-on-demand services like Cafepress or Zazzle.

Good math skills
Home Help and Trade Services

People always need help around their homes, and they’re happy to pay for it. You could try dog walking, with-no-money, yard work, babysitting, landscaping and more. You’ll only need to put a little money out for basic supplies; if you're great at your job, you’ll soon have repeat clients. If you have a trade you’re trained in, you can leverage that into a business too. You could become an interior designer, carpenter, builder, plumber, electrician or another type of tradesperson.

Powerful attention to detail
Selling Goods Online

While most retail requires you to buy stock and inventory up front, you still have a couple of options for getting into ecommerce. Dropshipping allows you to sell products that are shipped directly from manufacturers to end customers — you don’t pay until the order is made. You can also get into affiliate marketing, where you send people to another website to purchase something and get a commission on any sales you refer.

Excellent forecasting abilities
Using Your Knowledge

You may have other types of knowledge you can turn into a small business. Perhaps you know how to code and develop, or you can design and build websites. You might be a social media expert or a great blogger. You could look into tutoring and teaching. The internet has lowered the barriers to starting knowledge-based businesses, and they are a great place to start if you're low on capital.

Excellent forecasting abilities
Consulting and Expert Advice

If you have insight, expertise and experience that’s useful to others, you could get work as a consultant. If you have an extensive background in a particular field, think about the type of advice and services other people would be willing to pay for.

Excellent forecasting abilities
The Gig Economy

The gig economy also provides plenty of opportunity for starting a small business without much capital. If you have a spare room, you can rent it through Airbnb. If you want to drive, there’s Lyft or Uber. For local tasks, you can try out TaskRabbit or set yourself up as a personal concierge.

There are many other great lists for startups that don’t need much money.

The Art of Bootstrapping

If you’re going to bootstrap your business, you’ll need to learn the art of the hustle. Here are some tips for making your money go further, keeping costs down and generating that all-important revenue.

Strong research abilities
Stay Away From Loans and Debts

If possible, don’t go into debt to start your business. That means no putting expenses on credit cards, taking out a bank loan or remortgaging your home. Likewise, try to avoid borrowing money from family or friends.

Good math skills
Launch as Soon as You Can

You need a business model that lets you get your product or service out there as soon as possible. You don’t need to be perfect before you launch; you just need to be “good enough.” Work out what “good enough” looks like, and when you have a product or service that meets those needs, put it into the world. You can always refine and adjust toward perfection later.

Powerful attention to detail
Understand Where Every Penny Is Going

Make sure you understand exactly how you’re spending money. Review your finances every day, including your income, spending, cash flow, emergency savings and more. If you don’t need to spend the money, don’t spend the money.

Excellent forecasting abilities
Maximize Your Return on Investment

Only spend money on activities or things that are going to either help you create more revenue or reduce your costs. If an expense isn’t going to accomplish either of those things, don’t spend the cash. You will also want to prioritize your expenses and put off non-essential spending for as long as possible.

Excellent forecasting abilities
Know Your Profit Margins

A healthy profit margin is essential to your success. Work out exactly how much money goes into the products and services you sell — that includes the base cost, packing, shipping, distribution, customer service and more. It also includes shared costs that your business is responsible for like utilities, rent, software, hardware and other areas.

Excellent forecasting abilities
Work Out Your Personal Budget

Your business has to make enough money for you to survive, and that means you need to take money out as a salary you can live on. Calculate exactly how much money you need to live, and work that into your business as your minimum salary.

Excellent forecasting abilities
Don’t Outsource What You Can Learn Yourself

If you don’t have money to hire others, you will need to learn skills yourself. Fortunately, there are lots of great courses, videos, interactive guides and books to teach you almost any talent. Again, you will want to prioritize the areas that will have the greatest beneficial impact on your business.

Excellent forecasting abilities
Partner With Other Entrepreneurs

If you need expertise but don’t want to do something yourself, look for other small businesses with those skills and see if you can exchange services. Entrepreneurs are often happy to barter — perhaps you can get a designer to build a website for you if you take care of their social media marketing.

A Business Model for a Bootstrapped Business

All businesses need a business model, which represents the way you will generate sales, provide services and make money. Think about your business model now, because it’s better to have that in place so you can start acquiring customers and generating revenue from day one. This is particularly important when you’re bootstrapping; creating revenue almost immediately is critical.

You will also need to look at financial projections for your business. What are your expected sales and revenues? What is your profitability? How much money will you keep in the business to grow it? How much will you pay yourself and others? If you can, try to plan your revenue out for the next month, three months, year and two years. Work hard to minimize expenses and maximize profits.

What Are the Main Challenges for an Amazon Seller Entrepreneur?

Write a Business Plan for Your Business

Business plans do vary slightly, but they should cover the following areas:

  • 1An executive summary with the most important points from your business plan
  • 2 Your goals and what you hope to achieve with your business
  • 3A description of your business, background information and context
  • 4A market analysis and likely demand
  • 5An overview of how your business is structures
  • 6our business model
  • 7How you will market and sell your offerings
  • 8 Financial projections, revenue and profitability
  • 9 Appendices

Choose the Right Business Structure and Register Your Business

Now you have all the background information for your business, it’s time to make it into a reality. That starts by choosing the right structure or “legal entity” for your business. In the U.S., there are four main business structures. They are:

Choose the Right Business Structure and Register Your Amazon Business

Sole Proprietorship

This is the "default" business
structure and is what your
business will be if you decide
not to create a more formal
structure. We don't
recommend this type of
business as it doesn't give
you the legal protections you need.

Limited Liability

Limited Liability
Company or LLC

The most common type of business entity. An LLC is fast, simple and inexpensive to setup and maintain. It protects your personal finances and assets and is a great way to start your real estate

Series LLC

Series LLC

This is a special type of LLC entity that's only available in certain states. It allows you to create "mini" LLCs, each with their own limited liability and separate assets, under the umbrella of a master LLC.

S Corporation

S Corporation

This is a more complex type of
business and isn't generally
recommended for smaller
organization.

C Corporation

C Corporation

These are the largest and most
complex types of businesses
and are far more than the
average entrepreneur or
business owner will need.

For more information on the advantages and disadvantages of different types of businesses, please see our in-depth guide. If you’ve still got questions, we’ve answered them to help you choose the right business structure.

In most cases our recommendation would be to create an LLC. We’ve got a complete guide to everything you need to do and we can set one up for your business. LLC formation does vary from state to state, but we’ve got you covered, wherever you are.

Setting Up Your Business and Business Operations

Once you've legally created your business, you’ll need to get some other things in place.

Location of your business

Setup a location to run your business from. To keep costs down, you will likely start by working from home, a shared workspace or even a coffee shop.

Equipment

Get the equipment you need to run your business. Ideally you should already have everything you need, but you might be able to beg, borrow or buy secondhand.

Marketing

You will likely focus on word of mouth and referral marketing in the beginning since it’s low cost and can create good buzz around your business.

Software and processes

Establish the various software and business processes you need to run your new venture in the most efficient, optimized way.

Our Start a Business Checklist will get your business going in the best possible way.

Conclusion

We hope this guide has shown you that starting a business with no money isn’t just possible, it’s practical. You can start with nothing and build something unique that will make a powerful difference in your life and the lives of all the people you touch.