If you’re like millions of Americans, you dream of starting your own business. But of course, there are dozens of obstacles that may keep you from actually doing that. You might not have enough motivation, for example, or time to actually see the work through; or you might not even have a solid idea to begin with — yet.
But where most people get stopped cold is their realization that it takes money to start a business — money they don’t have.
Still, consider: There are loans, grants, and other fundraising options, like crowdfunding, available to get you what you need; so money is not a good excuse not to start a business. And, beyond that, there are certain types of businesses you can start with almost no cash.
What it takes to start a business
Your first step is to explore what it takes to formally “start” a business, and which of those items cost money.
- Planning. You’ll need to come up with a business plan and financial model, of course, but you can do this on your own, for free.
- Business license. If you’re planning on creating a partnership, LLC or corporation, you’ll need to file some paperwork — but it probably won’t cost you more than a few hundred dollars, depending on what licensing you need. The Small Business Administration has plenty of resources to help you figure out what you need, how to obtain it and how much it will cost.
- A domain name. You’ll need to invest in your online brand early on; while I suggest going as professional as possible, you could also use a bare-bones approach to launch, if yours is a minimum viable product. Often, a catchy domain name is all you need to define your brand at the start, and one can be bought for as little as $10 (if you can find one that isn’t taken!). I use GoDaddy to buy domains.
- A website. Website builders these days are free and intuitive to use. You won’t expend anything but time to build your first site. I recommend starting simple with a widely-used website platform, like WordPress.
- Marketing. While marketing has a reputation for being very expensive, there are actually a ton of really effective tactics that can be performed with only an investment of your time. Social media marketing, SEO and content marketing all fit within this category — and, honestly, those are really all you need. For help, see The Definitive Guide to Marketing Your Business Online.
- Equipment. Equipment, offices and other tangible assets are cash killers, but not all businesses need them. Some businesses don’t require any of these things, as I’ll explain shortly.
- Products. Finally, all businesses need to sell something, which usually means some up-front investing. However, many services can be performed with an investment of time rather than money.
Types of businesses to start
So, which types of businesses can be started without a heavy financial burden in any of the above areas?
1. Personal creations
First off, there are personal creations, like arts and crafts. For example, if you’re a painter, you could sell your works of art with an investment of nothing more than art supplies and your own time. Platforms like Etsy, eBay and Amazon cater to creators and make it easy to turn a profit from your work.
2. In-home services
Services don’t cost you any money up-front because they’re intangible goods. And if you’re working in people’s own homes or neighborhoods, you won’t need a physical headquarters for your business. For example, you could start a babysitting service, a dog-walking or pet-sitting service or something like landscaping or snow-plowing.
3. Repair or skill-based services
If you have a specific skill, you could use your skilled labor as the main revenue driver for your business. For example, if you’re a handyman, you could cater to homeowners who don’t know much about home repairs.
Just like in-home services, these types of gigs don’t require you to have a physical establishment and don’t require you to invest in anything up-front, except perhaps the tools or equipment you’re going to need for the job, which will vary in cost.
Many workers think about becoming entrepreneurs only after getting several years of professional experience under their belt. Think about the industry you’re in, and how much you’ve been able to learn in that time. Up-and-coming professionals, or startup business owners will likely be glad to pay you for your expertise. Consulting is a service that costs only time to produce, but can be highly valuable as a career opportunity.
The idea behind resale is simple: You acquire products and sell them to other people. You can use dropshipping or wholesaling to acquire these goods. With dropshipping, you’ll ship directly from the manufacturer (and turn a lower profit), but you’ll need almost no startup cash. With wholesaling, you’ll need more money and space up-front, but you’ll end up with more control and more money.
Of course, you could also piece together your own miniature business through micropreneurship and shared-economy opportunities. For example, you could drive for a service like Uber, or rent your home out through AirBnB or find similar services that make use of what you’ve already got.
After you get your business started and start earning revenue, your lack of startup capital will become less of a problem. You can reap the profits from your venture and reinvest them, or use them to start an even bigger business.
Hopefully, you now realize that you don’t need a lot of up-front money to start a business. In fact, you can start one for almost nothing. You just need to know what types of businesses work best in that model.
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Related: 100 low cost business ideas