How to Start a Business with No Money: Do You Want it Bad Enough?

Do you want to earn extra money by starting your own business? Do you have little to no cash available to help start one? Read PT's ideas for businesses to start with no money and what to do once you get it going.

Want to improve your finances by adding more income to the mix?

Start a business.

Wondering how to start a business with no money? Do you think you need small business funding to kick things off? BS! Sure there are some types of businesses where full ownership will be limited if you can't come up with your own capital to fund things (e.g. a franchise).

But don't think for a second that you have to possess a lot of cash to get a business up and running. In fact, some of the best businesses can be started with little or no money whatsoever. You just need to choose the right kind of business or be willing to start slow and grow it.

Don't take my word for it: listen to any episode of the Part-Time Money podcast. Most of these businesses were started with little or no money.

Still not convinced? Before you consider taking out a loan to fund your new business venture, watch the video below. It features Mark Cuban, a self-made billionaire and business owner, who talks about funding a startup.

How to Start a Business With No Money

So how exactly do you start a business with no money? Don’t let the lack of funds be the reason you don’t move forward with your entrepreneurial dreams. Once you have a clear vision and confidence in your idea, you can work on finding the money to get started.

There are also many business ideas that require little to no startup capital. However, you’ll probably still need to cover some expenses. Below are some ways you can start building cash flow so you can get your business off the ground.

Keep Your Day Job

While having a big idea and going for it are great, being practical is what pays the bills. Don’t quit your day job with stars in your eyes and throw yourself into growing a business. Believe it or not, keeping your day job will make it more likely you’ll succeed.

Here’s why: if you have a steady source of income when you start your business, you’ll be more likely to take risks. While it may be hard to balance both your full-time job and your business for a while, doing this will help you scale your business faster and give you the security to try new things.

Related: 5 Things to Do Before Starting a Business

You can also use your income to invest and grow your business at a faster pace. Once you get your business off the ground, transitioning from an employee to a business owner will be a lot easier. Take the time to build a solid foundation so you can set yourself up for long-term success.

Use Services to Generate Cash Flow

If you’re looking to start a service-based business, you don’t need a lot of cash flow to get it off the ground. Just set it up and start marketing your services. Product-based businesses, on the other hand, requite up-front capital to get started.

Related: How to Make Six Figures a Year as a Freelancer

Even if you don’t have the funds to start your product-based business today, don’t despair. Consider providing services to generate cash flow and fund the product side. This can be something related to your product idea such as consulting or an entirely different line of business.

The extra cash flow can help you save up faster to build your product prototype and start testing. Just make sure you draft a timeline and create a budget to help move your product business idea along.

Put in Sweat Equity

No one is going to be as invested in your business as you are. You have to have the drive and hustle to work around the clock and make your dreams a reality. Chances are you’re going to have to get in the trenches and make things happen.

Do whatever it takes to build a solid base for your new venture. Get on the phone, knock on doors, make connections, go to tradeshows – whatever will move the needle in the right direction.

Getting in the trenches also means making mistakes. This is actually a very important part of building a new business. Mistakes are how you’re going to learn what works for you and your business – and what doesn’t.

All the time spent laying the groundwork will also make it easier for you to onboard new hires. Since you have first-hand experience of what it takes to succeed in your business, you’ll be able to show your employees how to be successful.

Build a Prototype

Before anyone is willing to invest in a product-based business, they’d want to see an example of the product. This is where building your first prototype can be very helpful.

Having a prototype also lets you test and troubleshoot potential problems before trying to go to market with your idea. Even large, multi-billion dollar companies build prototypes and test, test, test.

Having a poorly made and badly thought out product is a surefire way to lose your customers’ trust. Do the best you can to build a test product and perfect it until you have the best version possible before you go to market.

Consider a Business Startup Fund

If you have a business idea but you’re not quite ready to get started, try building a business startup fund. To get started, open a separate account and label it with the name of your business idea. This will remind you why you’re saving every time you transfer money.

Related: Small Business Finances: The Key Financial Pillars of Building a Start-Up

You can set aside some funds every paycheck, use part of your tax refund, your year-end bonus, and so on to add money to the account. Set a target amount and keep adding to it every way that you can. Consider getting a side hustle to quickly grow your savings.

Research Small Business Grants and Local Funding

As a small business, you may qualify for a grant to help you get up and running. The Small Business Administration works with different organizations to provide federal financial assistance if you meet certain criteria.

In order to qualify, you’ll have to fill out and submit an application. Even if you don’t qualify for the grant, you may be matched up with funding programs that can help you finance your startup. In addition, check with your Chamber of Commerce about any local programs that help small businesses.

Consider Crowdfunding

If you think your business could appeal to many investors, consider going the crowdfunding route. Platforms such as Kickstarter have changed the way money is raised to fund new business ventures.

There’s definitely a strategy behind running a Kickstarter campaign. Do your research and talk to other business owners about their experience of running a successful crowdfunding campaign.

Provided you have a vision that will resonate with a large group of people, this could be a good way to secure funding.

Apply for a Small Business Loan

While a small business loan should not be your first choice to finance a startup, it could certainly be an option. There are a number of loan programs designed to help first-time entrepreneurs get their business off the ground.

Related: Should You Take on Personal Debt to Fund Your Business?

To explore your options for a loan, start with the Small Business Administration, which operates the loan programs offered by the U.S. government. You’ll have to meet all criteria before your loan application is considered for funding.

Business Ideas that Require No Money

Many service industry businesses can be started with nothing. For instance, you could start a dog walking business. All you need is time, your two feet, and a way to get the word out. Start a lawn mowing or house cleaning business. Tell your clients you have to use their tools and products.

Start a moving company. Tell your first client that you need them to rent a moving truck. Start a food service business. Tell your first client they need to provide the funds for the first trip to the grocery store. Sure you're not going to attract every customer with this approach. But you don't want every customer. You want just one! …for now.

Read more: 20 Unique Business Ideas (That You Can Start Today!)

I have to plug online businesses here as well because that's what I have. There are some minor costs of starting an online business: domain and hosting.

But most online business software is open source (i.e. free) these days, so as long as you have a computer and Internet connection, you can start to build your online business.

Related: 6 Online Resources Every Freelancer Should Use

Some ideas include blogging, social media marketing, SEO services, and so on.

I will plug freelancing as well. Freelancers don't even need a domain or hosting. Just hustle. Open up a PayPal account, start hitting up the freelance job boards and get to work building your freelance business.

Related: 21 Online Job Search Sites to Find Your Next Job

Don't limit yourself to just your own time and skill though. Make plans to own a freelancing business where you use your connections to start hiring freelancers of your own.

Invest in the Business Once You Have Cash

Obviously, a lawn mowing business would fare better in the long run if you had your own equipment. Use some of the money you initially earned from those first jobs to buy equipment. The same goes for any business. Borrow until you can buy. Then buy more when you need to expand.

As PT Money grew, I started spending money on marketing, improved hosting, and freelancers to make this a better business. Truthfully, I probably waited too long to start reinvesting in this business.

Related: Make Sure It’s Legal: A Cautionary Tale on Starting Your Own Small Business

Don't be like me. Take more chances early on and reinvest in your business. Especially if you're still hanging on to that full-time job.

Additionally, there are legal considerations for running a business. Some businesses need insurance, legal services, etc. As soon as you can afford it, get insurance to protect you and your customers.

Related: Do You Need Insurance For Your Internet Business?

How to Market Your Business with No Money

Forget business cards, classified ads, and the telephone book for now. Who still reads that stuff anyway? Market your business for free online.

Use craigslist.org, set up a Facebook page, email all of your friends and family to help get the word out. All you need is one initial client and you'll get the ball rolling. Do a kick-ace job with that first client and they'll send you more business.

Get 1 Customer -> Do a Great Job -> Ask them to Refer You -> Do a Great Job Again -> Repeat

There are people in this world who would love to help you get started with your business. People love the upstart entrepreneur. Just put yourself out there, tell people what you need to get started, and then overwhelm them with your service and skill.

Related: 3 Ways to Teach Your Kid Entrepreneurship (No Lemonade Stand Required)

Once you have some cash rolling in, use it to legitimize your business and grow your business into something that can sustain you.

The Bottom Line

While starting a business may seem intimidating and costly at first, there are a number of options that require no capital to get going. Don’t let a lack of cash stop you from making your business idea into reality.

If you still need some funding to get the ball rolling, consider some of the ideas above for accumulating enough savings. There are many different ways you can start a business with no money and hit the ground running without having to take out a loan.

Just don’t quit your day job just yet. Establish a strong foundation and build a solid customer base before considering going full-time with your startup. Once your business is humming along, reinvest some of the profits into scaling it to the next level.

Did you start your small business with little or no money down? How did you do it?

Comments

  1. I don’t know if many other’s have the same situation as me. I have a great idea for a unique business that I know will make money, a real good business plan and many people supporting and wanting this place open. my problem is my past relationship caused my credit to go bad. I have been improving it for the last 4 years now he is gone, but banks do not see a personal side they see a number side. I am a hard working mother of five children so I live pay check to pay check. If I don’t have thousands of dollars investors turn their back. I am determined to make this work, but finding the money resources have been impossible. Any suggestions for my situation?
    thanks,
    One determined mother to make a better life for her children.

  2. opem source is not necessarily free. just sayin’

  3. Crystal O'Connor says:

    Agreed! There is a lot to learn and yes, a learning curve….but to NOT start an internet business …one of the greatest opportunities ever!…is incomprehensible to me….but hen again….I’ve always had an appetite for a challenge and a fun experience.

  4. I would agree that starting an online business is great thing to try if you don’t have alot of capital. But just because the amount of money you need to start up is low, doesn’t mean its not going to be alot of work. But, if you are willing to work there is alot of opportunity on the internet right now. I’ve been making a good living online since 2006 and things are going pretty well. There is definitely a learning curve for new people, but if you put in a few years of hard work, you will get there.

  5. Thanks for the feedback! I personally started an online business with $10 that it took me to register a domain name. I have to say that it took longer to build my business with no capital and a slow revenue stream, but it was worth it in the long run. Learning to make due on a shoestring budget is hard, but a great learning experience for new entrepreneurs.

    • Jeevan Bhandary says:

      Can I know the idea of what type of online business did you started???

  6. Philip Taylor says:

    Wow. This is comment of the year, aj! Thanks for sharing your story. I’m so happy that you guys have found something that makes your family happy and prosperous.

  7. It is funny you mentioned lawn mowing business…that is exactly what my husband did.
    We iive in a small rural community so the jobs are scarce, and without anything other than a high school diploma, my husband’s options were slim. He has worked many different types of jobs, but most were temporary gigs, then the rest of the time he was working in at a fast food job. Needless to say he was not very content with that.

    The idea to start up a lawn care business came up after he had started doing a couple of small lawns for some elderly people that were friends of the family. Soon they had recommended him to others and when he realized that there was so much demand he decided to start his own business full time.

    We had bought a house with a large yard so we also had purchased a nice heavy duty Craftsman rider, and he had the weedeater & push mower so he had all the equipment he needed to start up except for a truck. He bought an old used truck for $800 and drove that for 2 years. He worked by himself the first year, but had to have a helper for the 2nd year because the business had grown so much. It has been 5 years/seasons now and each year gets better & better.

    He makes way more now in the 7 or so months of working for himself than he did when working a dead end job all year long. He gets the winter months off to pursue other projects (mostly doing home improvements on our home) & he doesn’t have to deal with anyone other than his customers. No more coming home complaining about people he had to work with or such…Now he is so much happier, which makes the rest of the family happier too. That makes it all worth going through the first 1 or 2 lean years to get to this point.

    I now know of several people who have taken that leap and started their own very successful businesses. You just have to be smart about it and have a safety net or backup plan. Learn to use what you already have – skills, tools, networks, etc. and build from there. It has changed our lives & our outlook…We feel more in control of our lives & future.

  8. HI,,,
    Nice post i think this is a IT year and mostly people used to work promote their business via web-site by marketing their business. I think this is best source for marketing point of view.

  9. Dr. Timothy Lawler says:

    Funny you mention that you have learned from your competitors. I was just reading the other day about a word that encompasses that concept….”cooopertition” (cooperation with competition). It is an interesting concept. For instance, travel sites, such as kayak.com, that have other sites, such as orbitz.com in their searches. Orbitz is in direct competition with Kayak, but it builds credibility for Kayak to include Orbitz. That in and of itself helps build loyalty. You have to love the world we live in. Thanks for the quick reply to my comment. Take care.

  10. Philip Taylor says:

    Excellent tip, Dr. Lawler. My success in online business is definitely a product of my relationships and the things I learned from people who are essentially my competitors. If I was starting a business from the ground up, I would definitely do lunch with someone already having success there.

  11. Dr. Timothy Lawler says:

    Great post, and I agree with you. I also have an online business, but I would also recommend to others about learning from those who have succeeded first. At the very least, ping a few questions off of those that are currently doing what you might want to do. For instance, if you want to start that dog walking business, shoot some emails off to a few dog walkers. You can just Google “dog walkers” and post a question on their blog or shoot them an email. In this world of technology, people and businesses are at your fingertips. Use that resource and educate yourself the best you can about anything that you want to pursue. It will help you succeed in the long term. Keep up the great posts!