7 Steps to Successfully Start a Business With No Money

Author: Karoki Githure

Karoki Githure

Karoki Githure

12 min. read

Updated June 7, 2024

Are you the type of entrepreneur who has big ideas and the drive to bring them to life, but feels held back by a lack of funds?

Many people just like you dream of getting into the world of self-employment by owning their own business.

Unfortunately, some people end up completely putting off their ambitions. The pressure to quickly generate revenue to cover startup costs — or get outside financing like a bank loan — can feel overwhelming.

But is it really impossible to launch a business without any startup capital? The answer might surprise you.

Can I start a business with no money?  

Yes, you can start a business with no money. You just need to be strategic and patient in your approach. Here are a few things you should do before you dive into the startup process.

Keep your job 

Sure, your idea is exciting. Don’t get carried away. Immediately quitting your job and registering a sole proprietorship is about as risky as it gets.

So start slow. Best to run the business as a side hustle in these early days, whether that’s after work or on weekends. You should also be realistic about the commitment required. Going on the path to starting a business will require making compromises in other areas of your life as you balance this new venture with your day job.

Your job will ensure your livelihood isn’t relying on the success of your business. Besides, you can save your business’s profits to fund costs that might arise as the business grows. Keep doing what you’ve been doing for a living with the aim of working hard and smart on your business. You can decide to leave your job when the startup can pay you.

Read more:The 10 best side hustles to fund your startup

Tap into free resources 

Whether you need to fully outline your business structure, write a business plan, create a marketing plan, research licenses and permits, or even register your business—there’s likely a free template, tool, or article out there for you to check out.

You can also use free trials for paid business tools. This will give you an idea of the overall functionality and help you determine if it’s worth eventually investing in.

Downloads: Bplans free business resources

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Network, network, network 

Sometimes it really is about who you know. If you’re starting a business with limited resources, consider how you invest your time. Forging networks by interacting with people in your industry is a great way to learn from entrepreneurs on the same journey as you.

Even if your concept is unique, it’s still worth networking with other entrepreneurs. Talking to people who have been down a similar road will help you learn what it takes to run a successful startup.

Seminars and webinars, events, conferences, social media groups and online forums can also play a huge role. Connecting with a local SCORE affiliate or Small Business Development Center can keep you updated on workshops and events near you. Even Reddit groups for entrepreneurs and small business owners (known as subreddits) can provide a ton of free knowledge from entrepreneurs who have walked in your footsteps.

How to start a small business with no money

You’re likely still asking yourself, “So how can I start my business with no money?” Work through this seven-step process to go from idea to full-fledged business with little to no funding.

1. Identify your business idea 

The foundation of a business is based on strong ideas. So It’s only natural that identifying your business idea is the first milestone in your entrepreneurial journey. Start by brainstorming and writing down your potential options. Pay attention to how you can be of service to customers by offering a solution that doesn’t currently exist or is better than existing options.

Analyze the ideas you have. How passionate are you about them? What talents do you have? Would your skillset make it successful? 

Is there anything your family, friends, or colleagues say you’re good at or come to you when facing a particular problem? Narrow down to the one that stands out and catches your interest.

Below are some pointers that can help you find your business idea:

  • Examine your marketable skills or experience that can be turned into a business.
  • Analyze existing businesses’ unmet customer needs so and identify opportunities to fill the gap.
  • Is there a product/service that you wish existed?
  • Look at existing products and services think about how to improve or add value to them
  • Investigate other markets to see whether your products/services are needed there.   

Idea generation is also one of the areas where AI tools like ChatGPT and the LivePlan AI Assistant really shine. If you’ve got some ideas written down, try feeding them into an AI tool and see what it provides as an output. 

Just remember, it’s your job as an entrepreneur to sort through those outputs and separate any good ideas from bad ones. AI is a collaborator, not a replacement for your own ideas.

Read more: 17 ChatGPT prompts you can use for starting a business in 2024

2. Conduct market research 

Understanding the market is crucial to determine your business idea’s potential in the real world. So once you have an idea, start conducting thorough market research on the industry your business idea aligns with. This will give you an idea of the overall market landscape and how your business might perform.

Identify your potential competitors and what they’re doing. Your main aim is to determine whether you have a more innovative, better, and cost-effective way of doing things. By studying your competition, you’ll find out whose business idea has holes. You can also figure out a unique value proposition for your business.  

Research your potential customers as well. Understand their occupations, age, education levels, and locations. Study their current buying habits and whether they’re willing to pay more for better quality products/services.

This is an area where AI is less helpful than idea generation. It frequently gets facts wrong. Say you’ve noticed that many seniors in your small town lack access to services, so you plan to start a grocery and prescription delivery business in your small town. AI doesn’t understand the unique market dynamics of your geographic area, so any information it gives you is unlikely to be helpful — it may even make up information.

You’re better off reading through online reviews of similar types of businesses or surveying people in social media groups. Post a questionnaire in the groups your potential customers have joined. 

Talking directly to potential customers can shed light on areas where their needs aren’t fulfilled. The information you gather will help you understand your target customers’ types of purchasing habits, needs, and preferences.

3. Create an MVP and test your idea 

Whether you’re selling a product or service, testing the idea with no cost or the least cost possible is advisable. A minimum viable product (MVP) is a bare bones version of a new product with core features to test its viability in the market. The purpose of an MVP is to see the early customers’ experience with the product and use the feedback in further developments.

You can create a website for your product/service and check website metrics. Use low-cost or free websites and web analytics tools available. Include an option for email signups/preorders for more information to gauge their interest. Track basic metrics like: 

  • Website session duration
  • Traffic source
  • Number of visitors
  • Average time on page

You should also tap into the power of social media. Create a post, page, or short video about your product or service, share it on social platforms, and see how many people are interested. Their interactions, comments, views, shares and reactions should give you some indication about how your idea is being received.

Another way to get this feedback is to conduct a crowdfunding campaign. If they’re interested in investing after using the product/service, then that’s a good indication that the business idea is worth pursuing. Even if you don’t get the funding, their feedback will guide you on which areas to improve.

You can also do it the old-fashioned way and offer your services in your neighborhood for free. Set up in a public area where you expect your ideal customers to congregate, inform them about your business and ask for their honest review of your performance. 

Keep in mind that your intent is to determine whether the idea is viable or not. If things don’t go as you had hoped, use the feedback to reflect on what areas to improve on, or if the idea isn’t worth pursuing at that time.   

4. Develop a plan 

You’ve learned a lot about what you’re getting into by this stage. Based on the information you’ve gathered, it’s time to outline your business’s current and future goals. You need to have a business plan to organize the direction of your business.

If you don’t know how to write a business plan, use this free online template. Bear in mind that it will be your resource in starting the business. So make sure it’s a short and actionable plan. However, include your statement of business operation, product/service description, and market analysis. 

A good business plan also helps you set short-term and long-term goals as well as eventual startup costs. It will be a roadmap for your next steps, help you keep expenses low and decide whether to invest more capital or pursue funding.

5. Set up a payment method 

Be ready to receive payments any time an opportunity arises. You don’t want someone to agree on buying your product or service, only to lose them because you haven’t figured out how they should pay you. So determine how you’ll receive payment and set those systems up before becoming operational. 

When deciding which methods to use, compare their price, features, flexibility, security, and functionality. If you’re running an ecommerce business, you’ll want to read reviews of online payment systems and apps.

The best fit for your business depends on several factors such as the size of your transactions, popularity, customers’ preference, and age, among others.

6. Focus on organic communication 

Another critical aspect of starting a business with no money is spreading the word about your product or service to your customers. You’re obviously not trying to invest a ridiculous amount of money in your marketing efforts. So it’s best to focus on organic options as part of your initial marketing strategy

Create a website

Launch a website for your business and utilize free SEO tools to research the most valuable keywords in your industry. Use your results to create search-optimized pages that describe your product or service, provide an overview of your reason for starting the business, answer frequently asked questions, and provide sales and contact information. Putting your physical address on the contact page is a good way to rank in search engine results when someone conducts a regional search.

Make sure your website has a blog section where you publish optimized content regularly. Take advantage of free content marketing courses to hone your skills. Similarly, free digital marketing courses can teach you which method works depending on the business.

Tap into social media

From Instagram to TikTok to LinkedIn, social media is everywhere. So you should take advantage of these (mostly) free tools to create social media pages that showcase your business. 

Use social media posts to drive traffic to your website or online shop. Respond to the comments written by your customers, and participate in social groups or forums. This is a great way to start building an audience and engagement naturally. Just keep in mind that it will take time and effort to maintain.

You should also prioritize the social media channels most likely to resonate with your customers. For example, Instagram is a better tool than LinkedIn for clothes designers since it’s more suitable for sharing photos.

Read more: Got a bad customer review? Here’s what to do next

7. Explore funding options 

If your business reaches the point where you need funding or extra capital for growth, it’s time to explore your funding options. If you have enough savings, you can inject that into your business. However, if that’s not the case, consider other funding options.

The most traditional and obvious option for small business owners is to apply for a bank loan. However, it’s also worth exploring grants from federal, state, or regional agencies. There may even be private grant options from larger organizations. These are typically grant programs that cater to specific demographics such as minorities, veterans, and other underrepresented small business owners.

Not interested in traditional funding? Leverage crowdfunding sites to raise funds in exchange for the product/service, debt, or the purchase of small shares in the idea. The ideal stage for crowdfunding can be the testing phase. 

Friends and family are a common source of financing too. However, be professional and agree on a payment plan to avoid ruining your relationship.

If you’re in more of a startup environment, angel investors and venture capitalists may be your best option. These are primarily used by businesses looking for quick funding in exchange for ownership equity, royalty payment, or convertible debt.

From starting to growing your business 

The amount of starting capital doesn’t determine the success of a business idea. In the initial stages of executing your business idea, it’s best to stay lean and avoid unnecessary expenses. However, as the business grows, there comes the point where that can’t be done anymore. 

Planning for this moment will help ensure that your idea doesn’t run into a cash flow crisis — something that can happen even to businesses that are popular and generating revenue.

If you’re prepared to do what it takes to ensure your business runs smoothly, you’re on the right track. And if you’re committed to starting a business with no money, download our one-page business plan template to quickly start creating your own business plan.

Brought to you by

Create a professional business plan

Using AI and step-by-step instructions

Create Your Plan

Secure funding

Validate ideas

Build a strategy

Content Author: Karoki Githure

Karoki is a freelance content writer and blogger with experience writing about entrepreneurship, business, freelancing, and self-development. Apart from writing, he loves a little bit of adventure and creating beats/instrumentals on his digital audio workstation (DAW).