How to: Start a Business with Little or No Money

- December 17, 2012 4 MIN READ

How to Start a New Business with Little or No Money

Savvy entrepreneurs faced with a shaky economy are understandably more fiscally cautious when launching a new business venture. Today, investing a great deal of money in a start-up can be a risky choice and, for some, it’s not even a possibility. However, that reality shouldn’t stand in the way of your career goals.

The following tips provide guidance on how to start a business without investing a great deal of cash off the get-go.

Finding the Right Workspace

There aren’t many start-up businesses that demand high-end office space initially. Therefore, rather than pouring whatever cash you have into a physical workspace, save it for other expenses. Instead, consider working from home while you get off the ground. For most small companies, the nerve center of the business is a computer and telephone anyway. Therefore, armed with a laptop and cell phone, you can really work anywhere. If the distractions of your home life make working from home impractical, consider conducting business from a library desk, coffee shop or some other low-key locale with free WiFi.

On the other hand, if office space really is a must for you, don’t rush into a long-term lease without some assurance that your new venture has staying power. Instead, consider subleasing a single office from an existing business, or team up with other like-minded entrepreneurs to share the risk.

If your dream involves selling items that you produce, you should definitely test the waters in a variety of different retail formats before you commit to opening your own store. Today, that’s easier than ever thanks to the Internet. While websites like ebay.com are generally regarded as a forum to sell new or used items that the seller no longer wants, it can also be a vehicle for artists, craftsmen, designers, and other purveyors of unique goods to sell their materials. Etsy.com is specifically designed as an online marketplace for individuals or small businesses to sell their work.

In addition to electronic sales efforts, the retail-focused entrepreneur can also start by selling products at markets, retail coops, and at stores owned by others. All of those options will help reduce costs while you build a loyal following.

Anyone that has ever worked in the food business knows that opening a restaurant is not only difficult and time consuming, but it’s also extremely expensive. Before shooting for that goal, aspiring chefs can start by catering out of their own home, or working on location at clients’ homes preparing special meals. If you’re almost ready to open a restaurant but not quite ready to take on all that risk, a new trend involves opening “pop-up” restaurants that have a limited menu and a limited lifespan. That strategy can help generate buzz about your talent, which could help build the confidence and the following you’ll need to open a permanent restaurant.

Enlist Your Friends’ Help

The technical aspects of starting a business shouldn’t be taken lightly. To protect yourself from liability and to create a sound organizational structure, you should carefully consider incorporating or setting up a limited liability company. In many states, you can do that yourself online through the Secretary of State or other corporate division of the state government. Several websites offer corporate formation services, but they do charge fees.

If you’re not comfortable handling the legal aspect of business formation yourself, ask an attorney friend for assistance. And if you can’t negotiate a discounted fee (or, better yet, a fee-free favor!), offer an exchange of your services or products. The same goes for the financial side of starting a new business. If you don’t have any accounting or financial background, you may look online for some basic guidance. Getting inexpensive professional advice from a friend or family is another inexpensive option.

Embrace a DIY Marketing Strategy

While budding business owners may have an urge to recruit a team of the most talented (and expensive) marketing and advertising professionals to promote their brand, a new business can benefit from a healthy dose of DIY to start spreading the word. If you have friends with graphic design experience, consider cashing in on a favor or negotiating an exchange of services. And if that doesn’t work, you can create your own logo at sites like LogoYes.com.

Don’t invest a great deal of money upfront on a professional website. If you don’t have enough cash to create a basic, but professional website, focus on social media initially. Social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter will allow you to reach a potentially large audience for free. Using Etsy.com and ebay.com is another inexpensive way to reach potential customers.


As valuable as social media and other forms of marketing can be, sitting behind a computer and hoping that your message will reach potential customers/clients is not enough. Instead, you should take every opportunity to get face time with influential individuals in your industry. But don’t worry about trying to impress colleagues with extravagant lunches or dinners; it’s perfectly acceptable to meet for a simple cup of coffee, which won’t break the bank.

Getting Investors

Networking will be an essential part of your business plan if all the tips listed above aren’t enough to help you get your company off the ground. If money really is an issue, consider pitching your idea to individuals who might have available funds to invest in your venture. That way, others can front the capital to help you get started, while your initial investment is the sweat equity involved in making your dream a reality. Kickstarter.com provides an online platform for individuals to solicit funding for their creative projects, ranging from art, design, music, and film.

Regardless of your financial situation, starting a new business in an uncertain economy can be a tricky proposition. However, by planning wisely, you can overcome the inherent challenges of beginning a new company in a difficult economy. In fact, you can reach your goal even if you don’t have start-up money or, if you do, without exhausting your savings.

Thomas Ford leads the marketing team at www.123Print.com. The website offers customizable print products for business and life situations, and has everything needed to market a business, where you can make your own business cards and design other promotional items that combine high quality and customization with an affordable price.