How To Start a Small Business (With Little Investment)
When starting a business, finding a good idea that resonates with an ideal audience is half the battle.
The other half is funding it.
A great business idea with little to no budget to fund it doesn’t mean your path to entrepreneurship is over. There are plenty of ways to start a business with very little money. In most cases, all you need is an entrepreneurial mindset: patience, hard work, creativity, and the willingness to test new things.
In this post, I'm sharing how to bootstrap your own business with minimal cash. The goal? To start making money you can later reinvest into growth.
From validating your idea to making your first dollar, here’s the blueprint to starting a business with no money:
Step 1: Find a Business Idea
The first stage of starting a business is to develop an idea. If you’re unsure on what that could be, here are six creative business ideas you can start with no money.
Sell Your Expertise
The easiest way to start a business with no money is to sell your expertise. Even if you haven’t mastered a specific service area, having more knowledge than someone else means you have a skill to help them find a solution to their problem or pain point. Start by looking at the areas, hobbies, or skills you already have and are interested in. How can you capitalize on those skills to help someone else achieve their goals? Some ideas you might be interest in:
Virtual Assistant or Executive Assistant
Social Media Marketing
Business Organization or Business Management
Small Business Accounting
Personal Shopping or Personal Assistant
House or Pet Sitting
Home or Business Organizing
Write a list of everything you're interested in. The best investment will always be to start with a skill, expertise or knowledge set you already have, and double down on developing that skill. Do your research to find out the average cost-per-project, and the potential monthly & annual income for the service you're interested in. Many people write off these small business ideas because they fear they won't be able to sustain their lifestyle, but service-based businesses can be lucrative. Some freelance writers make six figures annually within two years of running their business. Social Media Managers have been know to make upwards of $30,000 per month.
Dropshipping is a popular business model for entrepreneurs looking to start a small business with no money. Simply create an online store and choose a dropshipping supplier like Amazon, DSers or AliExpress. When an order is made, your e-commerce platform will forward the order information to your supplier. It’s their job to pick, pack, and ship the order to your customer.
The best part about dropshipping is that you can get started with a tiny budget. Instead of buying inventory before it’s sold, and storing those goods in an expensive warehouse, vendors will only charge you for inventory when you sell it. For a small investment into a semi-custom brand & website design, you can sync your dropshipping company to your personalized website, create some social posts and voila! You've got a business. Check out my VIP Design Intensives to help you get started >>
Print on demand
Print on demand is the process of private-labeling products (such as tote bags, t-shirts, or caps) and selling them on a per-order basis. Suppliers like Printful & Printify will print your designs onto your pre-selected inventory, ship it to the customer, and charge you for their service after you’ve received the money from your customer.
With the global market for personalized products estimated to be worth $38 billion, capitalizing on the opportunity, even if you don’t have cash upfront to invest in inventory, is a no-brainer. Much like dropshipping, there may be minimal costs associated with starting this type of business, since you’ll only pay for inventory when a customer orders it. There also are no storage costs to contend with using the print-on-demand model, making it a worthwhile option if you’re looking to start a business with $0.
Sell handcrafted goods
Prefer a more hands-on approach to starting a small business? Turn your hobby into a side hustle by selling handcrafted goods through your online store, social media or marketplaces like Etsy or TikTok Shops. This can include:
While I would always suggest starting with a social media channel and your own website, testing your concept on places like Etsy is a great added space to sell in addition to your personal shop.
I've worked with a ton of handcrafted shops who started out on Etsy. With their ever-changing algorithm, ownership of their customer base, and wavering rules and regulations, I've seen numerous shops get closed down or blacklisted from the Etsy algorithm because they didn't adhere to rules like not sending sale alerts to past customers and adding links to join their email list (which you MUST HAVE when starting any small business). While I'm a fan of doubling down on a tried-and-true customer base like Etsy, I'm a bigger advocate for owning your entire business and never being solely reliant on a marketplace platform.
Bonus: To make extra cash when you’re just starting out, package your handcrafted goods into a subscription box. The consistent income you’ll generate from repeat orders can be reinvested into the production of new inventory, giving you startup capital without outside funding.
Sell digital products
Digital products are something you can create and sell with just an internet connection and some basic design knowledge, making them a super easy way to start an online business with no money. Start by identifying an area you have more expertise or knowledge in. Then, do some online research to see what problems people in the space are struggling with. Package your solution into a digital product, such as:
Worksheets or templates
The beauty of digital products is that they’re scalable. Create them once and sell them multiple times on your personal website or a marketplace like Creative Market.
Become a social media influencer
The word “influencer” has taken on a life of its own over the past decade. More people are making money through social media than ever before. All it takes is patience, social media knowledge, and interesting content to share—three things that can be done for free.
Start by building your social media presence on a popular platform, such as Instagram or TikTok. But don’t go in with the hard sell just yet. Followers can be monetized when they know, like, and trust what you have to say.
That leads to opportunities later down the line to make money through:
Affiliate marketing. Promote products from your favorite brands and earn a percentage commission when your followers buy it.
Blogging. Sell advertising space, post sponsored content, and promote digital products through your blog.
Selling merchandise. Add your brand name, logo, or catchphrase to merchandise. Use a Print On Demand software and ship it to loyal followers will pay to wear it.
2. Validate your ideas with beta-testing & preorders
Starting a business from nothing is all about trial and error. Some ideas will be a hit; others will not prove to be as popular as you first thought. Test your ideas with beta-testing or preorders. But how do you know which one to use to validate your idea:
Beta testers are the perfect fit for any service-based or online business. Create a wireframe for your service or offering and define who your target audience is. You can offer this beta service or offering completely free or for a super discounted rate, depending on your preference. Set an amount of beta-testers you can take on to test this service and start marketing your service or offering on social media, in your email marketing, or to friends & family who may be interested. Go through each step of your new service & offering, getting feedback and modifying it along the way. Once complete, ask for a testimonial, feedback and modify it down to get ready to launch.
Pre-ordering are the perfect solution for product-based business launching physical goods. It works by taking money for items you haven’t yet produced. It provides cash upfront for you to invest into production, builds hype, and creates a sense of exclusivity. People buy into the opportunity to try something new before the crowd.
3. Write a business plan
A business plan is the blueprint for how you’ll grow your business. The contents of yours will depend on the low-cost business model you’ve chosen. But generally, it includes:
Company description. An overview of the company you’re about to start, including the business model and legal structure.
Market research. Include demographics that your target market shares. For example, will you sell directly to the consumer or via wholesalers? How does this compare to competitors?
Products and service. You’ll make money by selling one of these. Explain what the product or service is and why people will buy it.
Marketing strategy. Explain how you will promote your business to reach your target market, be that through social media, advertising, or email marketing.
Logistics and operations plan. How do you intend to get your product or service into the hands of your paying customers?
Financial plan. Detail how you intend to make (and spend) money. Include your financial needs, costs and expenses, balance sheet, and cash flow projections.
4. Choose a business name
The next stage in starting a business is to choose a name. This needs to be catchy, recognizable, and most importantly, not already taken. Remember: the name you choose will serve you through the business’s lifetime. Make sure it’s one you love—and can see scaling with you—to avoid headaches down the road.
Pro Tip: Personal branding or naming your business after yourself is a great way to give you flexibility with your brand. Brands like Jenna Kutcher and Marie Forleo have doubled down on their services, offerings and personal branding by sticking to their name. This has allowed them to pivot and scale as their businesses and markets grew with them.
Check to see if your business name is already taken. Sites like Legal Zoom and Google Domains will allow you to see if the business names your considering are still available.
Once you’ve found your business name, secure online assets that match the business name, such as:
The domain name, such as BRAND.com
Social media handles, such as facebook.com/BRAND
An LLC in Your State, such as BRAND, LLC.
5. Launch a website
The process for starting a business from scratch has been free up until this point. While it’s possible to continue on the $0 path, the smartest investment you can make is in an online store. Your website is the virtual home for your new business—one you can use to educate potential customers about the products or services you sell.
If you’re super tight on cash, Wix Studio offers basic plans with hundreds of templated designs that you can modify to fit your business. While a great option to get started for little investment, be careful to research your audience, your business plan and your market to select the right template and tailor it to your unique business.
For a small investment, we offer a 1-Day or 5-Day VIP Design Intensive where we tailor one of our professionally designed templates to fit your business needs. This all-inclusive package will help you get a carefully curated website design, optimized and ready to launch, without the overwhelm.
So no, you don’t need money to start a business
If this teaches you anything, let it be this: you don’t need a big budget to start a business. You just need an idea and the courage to step out and make it happen.
Many entrepreneurs have created wildly successful businesses from scratch—oftentimes with no outside funding and on the side of a day job. A great idea, commitment, and an entrepreneurial spirit will see you further than you think.
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So grateful and glad you're here!
"Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart as working for the Lord, not for man." - Colossians 3:23