With the explosion of digital tools, would-be entrepreneurs have more opportunities than ever to fund their businesses.
It's absolutely possible to start a business with no money, or at least with so little you'll hardly miss it. If you're ready to apply hard work, ingenuity, and resourcefulness, your business can be up and running in no time.
Here are some tips on how to start a business with no money.
Vet your business idea
If you're starting a business on the cheap, chances are you envision eventually putting money into your idea, even if you're going to reinvest the proceeds.
"Before you put money in your business, make sure you validate your idea within your trusted circle," says Fahim Sheikh, owner of SaaS company Trellis. "Sometimes, we think we have a great idea, but when we explain it or pitch it to others, we often realize that the concept may be a tough sell."
Despite the startup costs being low, it's essential to make sure your idea has legs that will make it worthwhile to sink not only your time into but also your eventual earnings.
Tap into free resources
While there are many high-cost business training options, there are even more low- and no-cost resources that can teach you almost everything you need to know.
Start with internet searches and a trip to your local library to search out free, quality business advice. You can get more customized business advice for free by working with a volunteer mentor from SCORE.org, a nonprofit partner of the Small Business Administration. Have your mentor help you choose a business model that can use digital platforms to grow and scale affordably.
You can use online platforms to avoid spending a lot on fancy trappings that you don't need at first, such as using WordPress to make a free template website instead of paying a designer for a custom build of your own.
Network with communities of support
There's no need to go it alone as you jump into entrepreneurship. And in fact, joining in-person and digital communities of like-minded peers can be an incomparable help in moving you forward.
"You can attend events and trade shows where prospective investors can be found," says Eliza Nimmich, cofounder and COO of Tutor The People. "Through social networking platforms, you can even access different online communities where you can find helpful advice and support to bring your company to life."
Tapping into the knowledge, advice, and even funding that others offer can be done without spending almost anything, though it's important to have a lot of congeniality and goodwill in the bank.
Live on personal savings
If you're planning to quit your day job to work on your business venture full time, you'll need a source of income. At first, you'll want to reinvest most revenue back into the business' operations and growth.
"What it comes down to is you take your little bit of money, and you wear all the hats," says business advisor Bob Hunter, operations director at Oxford Pierpont. "Any money that comes in, you put back into the business, thus multiplying the money that you're getting every time."
Eventually, the business revenue will grow to the point that it can support you, but it's a good idea to build up some personal savings to live on until then. Just make sure to keep that money separate from your business accounts.
Look for alternate funding options
If you're not interested in bootstrapping, or if you've grown to the point that a cash infusion is worthwhile, consider seeking outside funding. While traditional business loans may be available, there are a variety of other options to look for.
Friends and family
This source of money for your business is exactly what it sounds like. Would Uncle John or Cousin Sally like to invest? Family can be generous, but the situation can get prickly. Proceed cautiously, and make sure you have a clear, written agreement in place.
Incubators and accelerators
These programs help high-potential businesses grow both with guidance and mentoring and with an infusion of capital. Incubators are for very new companies, while accelerators help established early-stage companies grow.
These programs tend to be intense and time-intensive, and participants usually give away some percentage of equity in their company in exchange for the assistance.
Grants for business ventures are few and far between. Those that do exist are typically geared toward supporting members of disadvantaged communities, like women business owners and entrepreneurs of color. Look for these grants from government entities, both at the federal and state levels, and from community development corporations.
Crowdfunding involves asking potential customers to give you money upfront in exchange for the promise of special treatment in the future, whether that means they're first to get the product or they're treated to something extra.
"The way entrepreneurs collect funds to finance their new ventures has been transformed by crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter," says Mat Scott, owner of Termite Survey. "You can get individuals to invest in your company, whether you want to market a new software instrument or set up an organic noodle bar."
While it may seem daunting to start a business with no money, if you truly have a passion for what you're building, you'll find a way to make it work. Be savvy about what tools you use, network actively, and seek funds in various places to make your dream a reality.
All it takes is a little ingenuity to get your business off the ground.
Find out more about Starting a Business