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How to Start a Business With $0 (Or Pretty Close)

Tom Drake
Tom Drake
at MapleMoney

Learn about what businesses you can start with limited to no startup capital.

For aspiring entrepreneurs, owning a business is a dream. However, it remains a dream for many because of the realities of funding. It costs money to start a business. If you are already a small business owner and looking to expand, you might be held back by a similar concern: You don't have the funding to take your company to the next level. The good news is that it is possible to start or expand a business for free, or pretty close to it, if you are strategic in your thinking and take advantage of the right industries and resources out there.

How to start a business with no money

Starting a business with limited resources is similar to starting any other company. You will likely need to follow the same standard steps to becoming a successful entrepreneur which can include, but are not limited to:

  1. Conducting market research to determine a minimum viable product.
  2. Performing a competitive analysis.
  3. Choosing a business name.
  4. Writing a business plan.
  5. Following the applicable legal requirements.
  6. Choosing your vendors.
  7. Marketing your business.

You will also want to build a business website and/or a social media presence to better reach your target audience (e.g., Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter, YouTube, etc.), especially if you are starting an online business. 

Businesses you can start with little to no money

Many businesses with low overhead costs can be started on a shoestring and then scaled up. There are business owners who have started small, working out of a home or online, and then expanded and had to hire more workers and find a larger location. If you are looking to get started for less, here are a few businesses that are relatively easy to start with a small amount of capital: 

Freelancer

Any freelance business comes with low overhead. Whether it's freelance writing, graphic design, web development or software coding, your skills can get you started with your own business. All you need is what you likely already have – a computer and access to the internet. Over time, build up your clientele and hire others to do some of the work. It's easy to scale a freelance business up to include scores of workers. 

Consultant

If you have knowledge and skills others can benefit from, become a consultant. There are medium-sized consulting firms that started out with a single person. Today, technology consultants are in demand. If you have a skill, you can teach it as a consult and found your business based on what you know.

Handmade craft seller

If you have an artsy or crafty side, you can use that to start a business. Turn your crafting hobby into a business by making items for sale. If you are an artist, you can create beauty others are willing to pay for. As your business grows, hire other talented people or find other ways to produce what you need. 

Caretaker

Whether you are taking care of the elderly or providing a pet-sitting service, this can be a low-cost way to start a business. Successful pet hotels and hospice businesses often start with a single person, growing over time. 

Cleaning service

If you have household cleaning supplies, you can start a business taking care of others' homes and offices. As your business grows, you will need to buy more supplies and hire more workers. If you focus on quality work, there is a good chance that you can establish a well-known cleaning company, all without a big expenditure upfront. 

Virtual assistant

Help others with a variety of tasks, from sorting through email to improving social media presence online. You can get involved with scheduling and other tasks that allow others to better manage their own businesses. As you gain more clients, you can hire additional assistants and even get your own assistant to help you.

All of these businesses have the potential to scale rapidly. Eventually, you'll have to put money back into the business or it won't be successful, but you can quickly grow, with the low initial overhead providing you the savings you need to invest capital when it's time to expand. 

Finding funding for your business

Although starting your business may require little to no money, there is a good chance you will have to pay for something along the way – especially if you are expanding. There are several resources you can take advantage of to help fund your business.

  • Business grants. Business grants are essentially "free money" given to help fund businesses. However, they often come with requirements and stipulations. Business grants are competitive and can be difficult to win, so it is best that you only apply for grants that you directly qualify for (e.g., business grants for women, business grants for minorities, etc.)
  • Business loans. A business loan is a type of financing offered by a bank or alternative lender. Business loans are easier to obtain than business grants, but they often come with hefty interest rates, fees and repayment terms, so do your research before choosing a small business loan. To get approved for a loan, lenders will generally consider your credit history, years in business, annual revenue and ability to make payments.
  • Friends and family. If you know someone with enough capital to help fund your venture, present them with a business proposal to help finance your startup. Keep in mind that doing business with family or friends can get messy, so be sure to set clear boundaries on expectations.
  • Crowdfunding. If you don't feel comfortable asking a specific person to help finance your business, you may consider raising money through crowdfunding (raising money from multiple donors). There are four types of crowdfunding: donation, debt, rewards and equity.
  • Save money. As your business starts to make money, you can nestle away as much money as possible. Eventually, you will hopefully have enough saved up to expand your successful business.

Resources for expanding your business at a low cost

If you hope to expand your business for a low cost, that is possible with the latest in technology. There are several ways you can leverage others to get good value for your business without breaking the bank.

Free marketing tutorials

If your business has an online presence, Neil Patel's Quick Sprout is a great source of information on getting more traffic to your site. He's also created a guide that highlights some other experts in online marketing made simple.

Crowdsourcing

One of the best ways to expand your business is with the help of crowdsourcing. There are a number of resources that allow you access to workers at a low cost. You can get help with content creation through sites like Upwork. If you are looking for even higher quality work that might be more regular, sites like Skyword and Contently can connect you to content creators that can free you up to focus on other aspects of your business.

Crowdsourcing works well in other ways as well. If you want to redesign your website, turning to a resource like 99Designs can allow you low-cost access to ideas and people who can get the job done. Fiverr is another great resource, whether you are looking for audio, video, content or social media help. You can get help with marketing and other tasks by outsourcing to these low-cost resources.

Don't underestimate the benefits of outsourcing mundane tasks that are taking up a great deal of your time. If you want to expand your business without spending a lot of money, you can find virtual assistants around the world with good skills and a willingness to work. You can outsource tasks like accounting as well, using resources like Gusto and Due.com to stay organized with your invoicing and payroll.

Low-cost payment options

If you are interested in expanding your business and accepting a variety of payment options, you can use devices like Square and PayAnywhere to accept credit card payments. For a low cost, you can turn your smartphone or tablet into a point-of-sale device. This allows you to grow your business without buying a lot of costly equipment, especially if your business has mobile aspects. These types of tools work especially well for service businesses like salons, spas and massage therapists, but they can be adapted for almost any type of business.

Video conferencing

Finally, don't overlook the resources available to help you stay in touch and expand your business worldwide. Zoom allows you to make low-cost calls around the world, saving you money as you look for new clients and customers. Services like GoToMeeting can make it easy to hold video conferences and training with people in remote offices, cutting down on travel costs for your business. It's easier to focus on expansion when you don't have to spend money on traveling around the globe. 

Related Article: Will Work for Funding: 7 Ways to Finance Your First Small Business

Technology provides many opportunities for you to start a new business or expand your current business without huge expenditures. While you'll always need to spend money to make money, the amount you need is smaller, and the returns can be bigger than you expect.

Additional reporting by Skye Schooley.

Image Credit: FlamingoImages / Getty Images
Tom Drake
Tom Drake
business.com Member
See Tom Drake's Profile
Tom is a financial analyst and personal finance writer. His personal finance expertise has been sought out and featured on Forbes, Globe and Mail, MoneySense, and Inc.. He can also be found on his own sites, including CanadianFinanceBlog.com and CreateHype.com.