How to start a business with no money?
People young and old complain that they want to start a business but have no money. If you have a viable business idea don’t let the lack of capital stop you.
You might be asking “What type of business can I start with no money?”
Here are some brands that started with almost nothing:
- Whole Foods Market – In 1978 John Mackey and Rene Lawson saved and borrowed money from friends and family to open their first store in Austin, Texas. After getting evicted from their apartment, the two lived in their first store.
- Apple, Disney, Google, Harley Davidson, Hewlett-Packard, Lotus Cars, Mattel, Yankee Candle Company all started in garages.
- Nike – Founders, Philip Knight and Bill Bowerman started selling training shoes from their car trunk.
- Dell – Michael Dell started out as a dishwasher, making a whopping $2.30 per hour. Dell started selling PC out of his college dorm.
Keep your job.
Starting a business is risky. Starting a business with no money is even riskier. Don’t jeopardize your family’s financial well-being. The longer you keep your job the less pressure you put on yourself. When you start your business, you are not ready to walk away from a steady paycheck. It’s true that you’ll have to work harder, but you can keep paying your bills as you grow your business. Once your business starts to generate revenue, you can start thinking about transitioning out of your job.
Stick with something you know.
Build on your passions and experiences. Instead of trying to start a business in a niche outside of your comfort zone stick to something you know. Build your business on your skills and knowledge. It is true that you can learn new skills, but it will take time. If you want to start a business quickly, you have to focus on what you can do now not years from now.
Learning new skills will require more time and additional expenses. You might have to take courses, get licenses, pay consultants, etc. Starting a business in a field familiar to you will give you additional confidence.
Do all the work yourself.
Starting a business with no money means that you have to learn to do things that you would normally delegate to an employee or an outside company. I agree that it’s exhausting to do all the work yourself, but you don’t have the budget to hire help. Doing everything yourself you will be able to put every dollar back into your business. It will be tough, but it is the only way to build up a cash reserve when you start a business with no money.
Offer a service.
Some of the best business you can start with no money is a service business. You can start a service business with practically no money. Instead of money what you need is the ability to knock on doors and make sales. Even if you ultimately want a product business, owning a service business can help you get there. Use the service business to finance your dream business.
Here are more than 137 service businesses you can start today without any money:
- Start a blog – I generate income several ways with my blog. You could also build your own business as a professional blogger. Click here for my step-by-step guide on how to start a blog. Once you have managed to drive traffic to your blog the sky is the limit. You can sell advertising, create your own products to sell. Get paid for sponsored posts.
- Aerial film photography – Do you own a drone? This could be your chance to turn it into an aerial photography business. They are widely used in the real estate market and many other businesses.
- Affiliate marketing – Affiliate marketing offers you a great way to earn a percentage of sales without having to create a product or maintain an inventory.
- Alterations and Tailoring – Providing alteration and tailoring service is a great side business. Word spreads fast when you provide a reliable service at a competitive price.
- Airport transfer service – There are many people who need greater flexibility when it comes to airport transfers.
- Amazon reselling – You can sell products on Amazon. You can import products to sell or buy low and resell. If you enjoy finding great deals and make a profit, Amazon reselling might be a good business for you.
- Antique refurbishing – The antique refurbishing market is a small niche, but with the right marketing you can build a loyal customer base.
- Art collector – This isn’t the same as shop till you drop. You have to know the value and the demand for the artworks you deal with.
- Babysitting – Babysitting isn’t just for teenagers. Market yourself as an Au Pair to target a higher-end clientele.
- Baking – You can turn your passion into a nice side business.
- Boat cleaning service – Boats are fun to use, but most people would rather have someone else do the cleaning.
- Bookkeeping – Help small businesses to keep their receipts in order.
- Brew your own beer – Many successful beer breweries started out by hobbyists.
- Buy and sell domain names – You don’t have to sell a domain name for millions for turning it into a successful business.
- Business consulting – If you have skills that help to grow or manage a business, there is a market for your service. Whether you are a bookkeeper, strategist, marketing expert, IT guru, there are businesses out there who need your service.
- Car detailing – Many people are willing to pay a higher price to have their cars detailed on their own driveway. This is also a great weekend business.
- Car flipping – If you know how to find a great deal and enjoy working on cars, this could be your opportunity to become an entrepreneur.
- Carpet cleaning – You can start your carpet cleaning business renting the equipment.
- Catering business – Starting a catering business requires a lot less capital than opening a restaurant.
- Cell phone repair – Many people are happy to pay to repair a faulty cell phone instead of buying a new phone.
- Childcare – If you love children, this might be a great business for you.
- Christmas light installer – Although this is a seasonal business, it requires very little capital to start.
- College admissions essay editor – A great business if writing is your passion. Be sure that your clients understand that you are an editor and that you are not going to write the essay for them.
- College counseling – You can guide pre-college age kids to help them prepare for what to expect in college. You could help them with admissions, financial aid, career advice, and other college-related topics.
- Commission only sales – There are many companies that offer commission only sales opportunities. If you partner with startup companies, you might be able to negotiate part ownership.
- Computer lessons – You can offer training on your computer, using free services like Skype or Google Hangout.
- Computer support and repair – Most small businesses can’t afford to hire a full-time IT professional. If you enjoy helping people with computer problems, starting an IT support service company might be for you.
- Content writing for websites – Great content is what differentiates websites. Many businesses are happy to pay a writer to create website content.
- Content marketing – Content marketing is the heart of SEO. Businesses who want to improve their search engine positions are your potential clients.
- Contract customer support – You could become the outsourced support department for several small businesses.
- Copywriting and proofreading – Businesses are happy to outsource proofreading to outside companies.
- Custom software consultant – When a company must have unique software created they call a custom software consultant.
- Accounting – Many small businesses outsource their accounting needs. Your accounting service will help companies keep track of their cash flow, generate reports such as P&Ls.
- Dance instructor – All you need is physical fitness and a keen sense of rhythm. A knowledge of different dance styles is a plus.
- Data analysis – Big data is big business these days. With the right skills, you can earn a fortune as a data analysis consultant.
- Debt reduction service – Good research skills can help you provide advice to people looking to reduce their debt.
- Develop a smartphone app – If you can learn the right coding language, you could develop a smartphone app without leaving your house.
- DJ-ing – DJ-ing can be a lot of fun. Play the music you love in a party atmosphere. If you don’t mind working most weekends, evenings and holidays, this might be your dream business.
- Dog walking – This is an easy job for dog lovers that gets you lots of mild intensity exercise.
- Drive for Lyft or Uber – As long as cars are not self-driving there will be a need for drivers.
- Ebay sales – Scouring discount shops for undervalued items and selling them on eBay can be a good way to turn a quick profit.
- Ebook writing – There are many ebook niches which can earn you huge sums of money. All you need is the ability to write and good research skills.
- Editing service – People require editing services for all sorts of reasons, from college students to businesses writing press releases.
- Elderly care – Many elderly people require carers to regularly check up on them. If you’re a people person, this could be a great business idea.
- Executive search – With the right knowledge, you can make big money helping businesses headhunt talented executives.
- Farmer’s market – You can sell your own products at various farmers markets within driving distance to your home.
- Fitness trainer – If you’re active and love to keep fit, you can make money helping others do the same.
- Fiverr gigs – You can sell almost any service through Fiverr. It can be a great way to make some quick income.
- Furniture maker – Custom furniture is in demand.
- Ghostwriting – Lots of people have great ideas for writing projects but don’t feel confident in writing it themselves. Ghostwriters execute these ideas and can make lots of money doing so.
- Google Adwords consultant – If you can learn how Google Adwords work, lots of companies will hire you to consult them on it.
- Graphic design – You can put your artistic flair to work and design logos and other material for companies as a graphic designer.
- Handmade jewelry – This is another business idea that can turn your creative side into cash.
- Handyman – A handyman does all sorts of odd jobs, mainly centered around repairing and installing things.
- Home appraisal – If you have the right knowledge and qualifications, you can offer your appraisal service to homeowners looking to value their property.
- Home inspection service – Before buying a home it is customary to hire a home inspector.
- House cleaning – This is a job almost anyone can do. Some people find cleaning quite relaxing.
- House painting – Anyone can decorate a home, but many people are too busy to decorate their own. There’s lots of work available for house painting businesses.
- House sitting – One of the easiest jobs in the world is house sitting. All you have to do is keep someone’s home occupied while they’re away.
- Human billboard – This is another easy job to execute. Human billboards stand on the street holding advertising for various businesses.
- Instagram marketing – Sign-up for a free Instagram account and learn what posts are most popular. You can then turn this knowledge into a marketing business.
- Interior designer – If you have good taste and an eye for design, homeowners can hire you to plan their home’s interior.
- Investment advice – If you have the right credentials, you can earn commissions and consulting fees as an investment advisor.
- Junk removal service – If you don’t mind getting your hands dirty, people are prepared to pay to have junk removed from their property.
- Landing page optimizer – Every website needs a great landing page. Many businesses will pay a lot to get the perfect landing page.
- Landscape service – If you’re the outdoors type, landscaping can be a great business.
- Massage therapy service – In this stressful modern world, there’s a lot of money to be made offering relaxing massages.
- Meditation instructor – Meditation is another way to escape the stress of the modern world. Teaching others how to meditate can lead to a stress-free business.
- Mobile bike repair service – Cyclists can put their repair skills to work with this job.
- Mobile hairstylist – Once you know how to cut hair properly, you can run your own business providing haircuts at people’s homes.
- Mobile make-up artist – Many people want make-up artists to visit them before big events, such as weddings.
- Mobile laundry service – Helping people save time by offering a mobile laundry service can be an easy way to make money.
- Mobile mechanic – If you know your way around a car engine, being a mobile mechanic could be a great business idea.
- Modeling – You don’t have to look like a supermodel to succeed in this business. Fashion brands and photographers require models for all sorts of different situations.
- Moving service – Moving requires a lot of physical labor. People are happy to pay for the help.
- Music instructor – Any musical ability can be turned into a business by teaching others how to play instruments.
- Niche marketing – Build a website around a niche. Market it and earn advertising income. Sell your own niche products.
- Mobile notary public service – If you have the right qualifications, offering your services as a mobile notary can be a very rewarding business idea.
- Office cleaning – Office cleaning requires no special qualifications, just hard work and professionalism. This is the perfect business for nights and weekends.
- Online dating consultant – Online dating is big business these days. Helping others find love can be a great business plan.
- Online news correspondent – You can provide your services as a journalist from anywhere in the world as an online news correspondent.
- Online subcontractor – Many companies are looking online to subcontract work these days. This can be a very lucrative business idea.
- Online training – Any skills you possess can be turned into a business by teaching others online.
- Patent a new idea – Listen to our interview with Stephen Key whose patented ideas have generated billions in sales.
- Personal chef/ Caterer – Culinary skills are always in high demand. People hire chefs and caterers for all kinds of special occasions.
- Personal fitness trainer – Active individuals can run a great business helping others keep fit.
- Podcasting – You can turn any passion or hobby into a business by making your own podcast.
- Presentation design consultant – If you’ve got a great eye for presentation and design, you can run a business offering consultancy services to others.
- Product distributor – Every company needs their products to reach consumers. Distribution is a huge industry that can be entered with relative ease.
- Proofreading – As long as you have a good grasp of spelling and grammar, you can run a business checking all kinds of written texts.
- Property manager – Many landlords are too busy or have too many properties to regularly check up on all of them. Property managers can run a successful business by doing this for them.
- Personal coach – If you’re an active and healthy individual with a big personality, you can help train people to achieve all sorts of physical goals.
- Personal chef – There’s big money to be made providing personalized cooking services.
- Pet grooming – Pet owners are willing to pay big bucks to make sure their little darlings are perfectly presented.
- Pet sitting – If you love animals, this could be a great business idea. All you have to do is look after pets while the owners are away.
- Pool cleaning – Most pool owners let their pools fester while they’re not in use. When the weather gets right for using the pool again, there’s a huge amount of work available for pool cleaners.
- Portrait photography – If you’ve got a camera and know how to use it, there’s a lot of money to be made doing portrait photography.
- Power washing – With power washing, the equipment does most of the hard work while you clean properties.
- Product photography – Businesses rely on product photographers to make their products look awesome. All you need for this business idea is a camera.
- Professional organizer – Busy people will hire others to organize their day.
- Programmer – If you have the right skills, programming is a hugely lucrative industry.
- Publish ebooks – You don’t even need writing skills to publish ebooks. There’s lots of profit to be made hiring ghostwriters to execute your ideas.
- Purchase an existing website – Buying an existing website can be a quick way to make money through the internet.
- Real estate sales – Real estate is a huge industry. Selling houses can be of the biggest money-making business ideas out there.
- Rent a room through Airbnb – If you have the room to spare, renting through Airbnb can be an incredibly easy way to make some extra income.
- Rent your car on Turo – This is another minimal effort way to make some extra income. When your car’s not in use, others will pay to borrow it.
- Residential cleaning – Anyone can run a successful residential cleaning business, provided they’re hardworking and professional.
- RV cleaning service – RV owners will pay others to make sure their vehicle is clean.
- SAT tutoring – The academically minded can make a lot of money helping students pass their SATs.
- Sell on Etsy – Etsy allows people to sell all kinds of creative products. This is a great business idea for indulging your artistic side.
- Shopping service – People will pay to save them the hassle of going out and buying products.
- Small business marketing consultant – If you have any experience with marketing, you can run a successful business offering consultancy services to small businesses.
- Social media marketing consultant – People with a good knowledge of sites like Facebook and Twitter can run successful businesses consulting others on how to succeed through these platforms.
- Start a Youtube channel – You can run a Youtube channel on any topic and potentially attract a global audience with your videos.
- Stock photographer – Stock photography services sell pictures for many different uses. You can make money taking pictures of almost any.
- Task rabbit – Workers can offer many different services through TaskRabbit and make money online.
- Tax preparation – Filing taxes can be complicated. If you know how to do it, others will pay you to sort theirs out for them.
- Teach English remotely – English is now the international language of business and travel. Students all over the world will pay for online English lessons.
- Teach DIYs – If you know how to carry out a task, others will pay to learn from you.
- Tour guide – Guiding tourists around your local area can be a fun and lucrative way of sharing your local knowledge.
- Translator – If you speak multiple languages, translation businesses can make a fortune.
- Trash removal – Removing trash is a dirty job, but it can also be a very lucrative business idea.
- Travel consultant – Organize trips to popular destinations.
- Videography – With a video camera and some directing flair, you can turn making videos into a business.
- Virtual assistant – People require virtual assistants to carry out all kinds of tasks remotely.
- Voice over talent – Whatever your accent, you can probably find work somewhere recording voice-overs.
- Website designer – If you have the necessary skills, web design is a big money field.
- Web development – With the right skills, all kinds of companies will pay for you to assist with web development.
- Wedding/Party/Event planner – This can be a fun business idea for sociable people with an eye for detail.
- Wedding photography – Everyone wants their big day to be recorded for posterity.
- Weight loss consultant – Helping others lose weight is a morally good and financially rewarding business idea.
- Windshield repair – Cars are expensive and car owners will pay a lot to fix them when things go wrong.
- Window cleaning – With a ladder, some soap, and a bucket, you can offer your services as a window cleaner.
- WordPress website consultant – If you know your way around the world’s most popular blogging platform, there’s lots of money to be made as a WordPress website consultant.
- Writing fiction – You can become a successful fiction writer. Check out our interview with Ernest Dempsey who sold over 12,000 books on the Kindle platform. We have also interviewed Joanna Penn, New York Times bestselling author, who sold more than 350,000 books.
- Writing greeting cards for businesses
- Yoga instructor – You can offer one-on-one yoga classes or give group classes.
Make it public.
Starting a business with no money means that you have to work hard to get the word out. Don’t keep your business a secret. Tell as many people as you can. Call your friends. Explain it to your family members. Make it public. Telling people will help you in several ways. For starters, it will give you extra energy. More importantly, it might help you land some of your first customers. People in your network could make valuable introductions.
Ask for help.
You might be thinking “I want to start my own business with no money, but I don’t know what to do.” Nobody can succeed alone. Especially, if you are starting a business with no money you will need all the help you can get. Reach out to small business owners. Many of them started their business with little or no money.
Asking for help can help you several ways:
Some people in your network might be entrepreneurs who could give you some pointers about starting a business with no money.
You could find a co-founder. Starting a business with the right co-founder greatly increases your chance for success.
A friend, family member, or coworker could teach you skills you don’t have.
You might find free office space.
Invent something and license it.
If you are an inventor, you could license your patent to a company. In licensing deals you normally get a percentage of sales. The best way to license your invention is to seek out manufacturers. Technically, it is called licensing your patent rights.
You want to start out by developing a list of manufacturers. Look for those that are already making products in your target niche. One or two manufacturers is not enough. Identify at least, 25 potential manufacturers.
You can find manufacturers by looking at product packaging, online research, networking, and visiting trade shows. Libraries have excellent resources to locate manufacturers.
Reach out to manufacturers with a short message about your invention. Provide enough information to trigger interest, but don’t overwhelm people with data. LinkedIn can be an excellent resource to find the appropriate contact person.
Consult with an experienced licensing attorney before you enter negotiations. Ultimately, the licensing agreement will include details about upfront payments, exclusivity clauses, percentages, and infringement issues. You could really do yourself a major disservice by entering into an agreement without professional help.
Partner with an entrepreneur.
Many businesses are started by solopreneurs who quickly become overwhelmed. Most entrepreneurs would want you to buy yourself into a business partnership, but there are still ways for you to do this with little or no money.
You could find a business where the owner is about to retire. The owner of the business might want to sell the business, but the reality is that most businesses never sell.
The most common reasons businesses don’t sell are that they are:
Priced unrealistically high.
In a downward spiral by the time they are listed for sale, and potential buyers look at the business like a falling knife.
Relying too much on the business owner. Potential buyers fear that the business will not survive once the current owner leaves.
Another option is to find a business where the entrepreneur is either too overwhelmed or simply burned out with the business.
Find a co-founder with money.
Many successful businesses are started by two or more founders. With two founders you will also improve your chance of success.
Tell people in your network that you are looking for a co-founder. Team up with someone you trust. It’s a bit like getting married.
You can search for potential cofounders through:
- Friends, family, and family friends.
- You classmates from college and high school.
- Past coworkers.
- Local startup networking events.
- Business meetups.
- Former business partners if you have been in business before.
- Working in a co-working place.
- Teaming up with a customer.
- Get paid fast or upfront.
When you start a business with little or no money, getting paid fast is crucial. Nothing will help your cash flow more than getting paid up front. Late payment, net 30, 60, or 90, slow payment will hurt your business.
You can get paid fast several ways:
- Ask for at least 50% payment upfront.
- Offer incentives to pay early.
- Show up in person, if your clients are local.
- Send invoices at least once a week.
- Ask your customers to pay with a credit card or electronic bank transfer.
- Fire customers who are chronic late payers.
- Set up automatic payment.
Businesses are commonly funded by lines of credit. You might end up using a credit card to help you with your cash flow. The key with credit lines is it is no substitute for revenue. Use credit lines only as a temporary measure, not as an alternative to making enough money to pay your bills.
At a time when 98% of the business plans are rejected by VCs and accredited investors, crowdfunding offers a great alternative for entrepreneurs. Crowdfunding requires a lot of effort and dedication, but is a great option, especially for consumer product businesses. The great thing about crowdfunding is that it gives you access to capital without giving up equity.
Crowdfunding can help your business in several ways:
- It’s free!
- Crowdfunding reduces your financial risk.
- Fast access to capital.
- It enables you to pre-sell.
- Crowdfunding is easier than getting VC or angel investment.
- It gives proof of concept. If you don’t get funded, perhaps your idea isn’t as great as you thought it is.
- Your crowdfunding campaign can serve a marketing tool.
- Your investors can help you improve your product.
- The “crowd” can provide great word of mouth marketing.
- It can build a loyal following.
- It’s free PR.
The most popular crowdfunding sites are:
- Apply for government programs/funds.
Enter business plan competitions.
Advertise your business for free.
If you are willing to put in the work, there are several ways you can advertise your business for free or no money. The most important part of getting free advertising is that it requires sweat equity.
Here are some of the most common free advertising options:
Submit guest blog posts to relevant blogs. You will get a free link back to your own site.
Develop strategic partnerships with businesses who serve the same customers you are targeting. It will enable you to cross-promote each other’s business.
Set up a free WordPress website.
Submit your business to Google Local.
List your company in free directories related to your niche.
Offer an introductory free consultation or free evaluation.
Host an event. Recruit sponsors to cover your costs.
Create a Facebook Fan Page.
Frequent forums where your customers hang out.
Network with others and get free word of mouth marketing.
Ask friends, family, and people in your network for referrals.
Make connections and promote your business through social networks like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and the like.
Build your email list from day one. Email is still one of the most effective marketing channels.
Include your website, Facebook page, and Twitter handle in your email signature.
Write an eBook or a report and use it a promotional gift item.
Comment on blogs with a link back to your own website.
Learn about Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and use it to drive free traffic to your site.
Develop an iPhone or Android app for free and include your branding within it.
Post an ad on Craigslist.
Write articles relevant to your niche and distribute them to article directories.
Publish press releases. Prlog offers free press release distribution.
Wear your ad. Print your brand, URL, and phone number on your T-shirt, so when you are out in public people will see.
The above list might seem overwhelming at first, but it is doable. Take it one step at a time. Be systematic. Track and measure your results. Rinse and repeat the ones that give you the best results.
Avoid get rich quick schemes.
There are countless cases of “get rich quick schemes” both online and offline. They promise you everything you want to hear. Quick and easy money with little or no work. It simply doesn’t exist. You can start a business with no money, but you can’t start one without hard work, strategic thinking, and patience.
Don’t believe stories about overnight success. They are simply myths.
Here are examples of real success stories, and none of them is the overnight kind:
- Milton Hershey started 3 unsuccessful candy companies before he started the Hershey Company.
- It took Bill Gates 6 years to land his first contract with IBM.
- It took Steve Jobs 20 years to become an overnight billionaire.
- It took Biz Stone 8 years to come up with the idea for Twitter.
- It took Steve Martin and Jim Carrey 10 years of stand-up gigs before making it big.
Nothing will hurt your chances for success more than believing in the – false – idea of overnight success. You are doing yourself a disservice believing it. Most businesses take years of development before they become successful. You can start a business with no money. Expect to spend years to build your business instead of days. Persistence is key.