I recently caught up with co-owner and marketing mastermind behind Boston co-retail space For Now, Kaity Cimo. She runs the space with friend and business partner Katharine ReQua. They opened a year ago and have played home to over 80 brands in that time.
How to Start A Business with (Almost) No Money
That’s it! You’re over the 9-5, you’ve had enough of doing your job AND everybody else’s, and frankly, you’re just ready to spread your wings and see what you can build.
And you know what – why not go for it? Fly away, you glorious rare bird! #YOLO
You’ve got a solid idea, you know there’s a market for it, and you’re confident you can totally OWN this CEO thing while providing some real value. All signs point to giving this entrepreneur gig a try.
But…maybe you and your bank account are on different terms. And the thing is, money is kind of essential for doing, well…anything, especially if it’s business related.
And if you’re like most people, you probably don’t have a side hustle piggy bank packed with wads of cash just waiting to fund your next venture.
That’s why, unfortunately, business fail before they even have a chance to get off the ground. And isn’t it such a shame when the reality is that it doesn’t take as much money as you might think to open up shop.
Fortunately, in this post we’re ready to teach you how to start a business with little-to-no money.
Estimate your needs
🎶Can you pay your bills…? Can you pay your telephone bills…? Can you pay your automo-bills…?🎶
Well, can you?
All of your expenses are the first thing you need to consider when estimating your startup costs. Especially when starting a business with no money. And you want to be as accurate as possible here – your goal is to know EXACTLY how much money it will take to keep your business afloat.
You need to consider things like:
The type of business you want to start
Starting a business presents its own challenges, let alone starting a business with no money. And depending on the type of business you have, startup fees can vary.
It doesn’t take as much upfront cash to start an online business as it does to say, open up a storefront. And for that matter, it doesn’t take as much funding to open an ecommerce store selling hand-made items as it does to run and operate a brick and mortar shop.
So having a good idea of the type of business you want is a pretty good first indicator of the ballpark fee you’ll need to launch.
But we’re not done yet.
What about licenses?
You’d be surprised how many hidden fees you’ll run into when trying to start a business. An especially unwelcome expense when you’re starting a business with no money.
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But people often discover they need licenses and permits to be able to lawfully operate under certain conditions.
Now, obviously you need a liquor license if you want to sell alcohol.
But what if you want to establish your business as an LLC? There’s a fee for that.
What about starting a repair or handyman service? Yup, depending on where you live, you might need a license for that.
Got dry-cleaning on the brain? Better get your permits before you start storing and dumping all those chemicals.
There’s a surprising number of permits and licenses you might need to lawfully or just professionally run your business. And you guessed it – you’ve gotta pay for all of them.
If you’re a freelancer or consultant, you might be a one-man-show. All Barnum – no Bailey.
But the more employees you have under the big top working, the more expenses you’re going to have. And that’s just counting salary (which goes without saying that you get what you pay for in terms of quality. So keep that in mind when you’re deciding on wages, too).
A few other employee fees that come to mind are:
- Benefits (Not just health, either. Think PTO, 401K, company perks, etc.)
Because the truth is, the total cost of an employee can actually be almost one and a half times more expensive than their base salary.
Don’t forget tools and software
Ok, so the tools and software you’ll need are going to vary by business, and unfortunately we can’t list every single possibility – you’ll have to do a little independent digging for that.
But we can identify a few programs most business owners, and especially independent ones, need to help their businesses run more smoother than a baby’s bottom.
Marketing is a really (REALLY) important step in the life cycle of any business, but especially when it’s new. Because your product can have all the bells and whistles, and literally be the most useful thing in the world. But if people don’t know about it, they can’t buy it.
You’re going to need to get the word out about your brand and these days digital marketing is gaining an edge over traditional marketing as more tech-savvy users enter the market.
At Ampjar, we focus on helping brands and businesses grow through email marketing, but other avenues like social media marketing, PPC, content marketing, and SEO are equally important. And to manage those things, you’ll likely need some project management and marketing software.
Taxes. Ya hate ‘em. Ya gotta do ‘em.
And when you run a business, things tend to get a bit more complicated than filing like you’re used to as an employee so it’s a good idea to get a firm handle of them right off the bat.
Consider a tax software like Quickbooks or hiring an accountant.
Computers and hardware
Do you need pricey gadgets to operate or produce your product?
That might look like a camera, ring lights, and a mic if you’re vying for a YouTube career, but if you’re an artist, maybe you need fancy digital tablets and drawing tools.
And what about your employees? Do you need to provide phones and computers for them? Or will they need hardware to work? Like walkie-talkies or POS systems?
Are you fully stocked?
Or ingredients? Supplies?
Whatever it is that you’re selling…do you have it or what you need to make it? (We’re looking at you and those shake machines, McDonalds.)
You’ll need an initial inventory to get started. And that means more money to make that initial investment. So pretend it’s new math and spend more time than you wanted thinking about this one – this is where costs can sneak up on you.
Consider everything you need to have in your inventory in order for your business to run.
Are you going to sell personalized baby blankets on Etsy? Awesome! But make sure you have fabric, sewing machines, trims, and anything else you need to make one on-hand. Once your customer puts in an order you want to be able to start working on it and get it shipped ASAP.
Hair stylist? Gotta have hair products, tools, and probably access to water and electricity.
Regardless of industry, there’s probably something you need to stock up on before you can get started.
Doh! – Insurance
Oh, our favorite additional fee, insurance, how we love thee! Let’s count the ways:
- Worker’s Comp
How to cut costs
“Cool. Everything’s expensive. Weren’t you supposed to be telling me how to start a business with NO money?”
Yes. Relax. Didn’t you read the intro? ⬆ Let’s talk about cutting costs.
So we’ve spent the last little bit talking about the overhead costs of running a business. Now let’s talk about how to cut them.
Stick to essentials.
If you’re an independent consultant, you don’t need employees, or even technically an office. And if you can run your business from your home you can get started as close to free as possible (although you won’t be able to get away from some fees like licenses, lawyers, LLCs, etc.)
But you can find other ways to cut costs even if you can’t run your business from home. Things like:
- Limiting your number of launch products
- Hiring employees with skill sets to handle multiple roles
- Renting equipment when it’s cheaper than buying
- Negotiating rent fees
- Incentivizing employees
- Outsourcing for one-time projects instead of bringing on a full-time employee
- Researching sales or sponsorships on hardware, tools, and supplies
I think I can! I think I can!
You’ve heard the phrase, “Pick yourself up by your bootstraps”. And that’s exactly what it means to bootstrap a company.
You play the long game, save up as much as you can, and run your business based on those savings plus your initial sales.
This is a strategy you can take once you figure out your total budget, like we talked about above.
A word of caution, though. It’s a good idea to overestimate your budget as many new businesses lose money before they profit. You’ll want to factor a nest egg into your estimation.
Ok, so your business model needs employees and you can’t get around it. That’s fine – there are still steps you can take to at least reduce staffing costs if it’s not possible to eliminate them.
Yeah, you still have to pay a fair rate. But hiring remote workers means you don’t have to have an office to house them, and it cuts down on operational expenses. But there are TONS of benefits to having a remote staff, several of which are super cost effective:
- Increased productivity means you’re likely to get MORE work done by remote employees
- Increased employee retention cuts down the high cost of replacing employees
- Staff already at home means decreased sick days and time off
Side note – Ampjar is a fully remote team – if we can make it work, so can you!
Ok, but what if I’m REALLY broke?
You’ve managed to find every available area to cut costs, you nailed down some sponsorships on hardware, and you’ve gotten VERY intimate with your piggy bank – but you’re still a little short on cash.
There are a few tried and true methods to raising money that don’t involve selling cookies door-to-door.
Crowdfunding has become increasingly popular and it’s also a really cool way for fans to feel like they’re part of the process of helping to create something.
If you have a solid business plan and you’re confident in your supporters, ask them to help out!
But advertising and marketing can be technical and confusing, so you might want to hire a marketer or copywriter to help you create a campaign that will be as effective as possible.
Or you can cut out the middle-man altogether and find someone to fund your business through an investment.
If you go that route, do your research on the different kinds of investors to see which one makes the most sense for your company. They all have different pros, cons, and operational structures so it’s important to understand each and how it’ll relate to your business.
Family & friends
It’s ok to lean on your support system. Especially if your startup budget is relatively low.
But if you feel uncomfortable asking for money, consider offering incentives or hosting a fundraiser. We love these casual ideas to get family and close friends (and maybe even some fun-loving locals!) involved:
- Recycling drives
- Penny drives
- Car Washes
- Host paid events (concert, party, etc.)
No, don’t go sell the Heart of the Ocean grandma Rose left you – we’re not suggesting you go treasure hunting through your family heirlooms.
But that gently used bag from last season? That game you beat last year but haven’t played since? The exercise bike you bought on January first that’s STILL covered in cling wrap?
Business you can start for under $1K
Feeling motivated but need some business ideas to get the wheels spinning? Check out these businesses you can start with no or little initial funding. For many of these jobs, you just need a computer and your time.
Talented at art, sewing, designing templates, or general crafts? Open an Etsy shop or online store and start selling.
Offer in-home services
Love pets or have childcare experience? Consider starting a pet-sitting, cleaning service, or nanny business that you can provide from your customers’ homes. Perk: All the good boys and baby kisses you can handle!
Repair or trade business
Got a skilled trade or service you provide? Carpentry work can be done right from your craft shed and delivered to clients.
Dropshipping requires almost no startup fee, although it tends to earn less money than wholesaling.
You can consult on just about anything that you’re an expert at. Social media, law, PR, operations, risk management.
If you’re skilled at organization, scheduling, and data entry, virtual assisting can be a reliable and flexible gig.
Did you start a company all on your own? What tools, tips, and tricks did you use to start a business with no money?
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