How to start a business with no money

Female photographer starting a new business with no money

What do Apple, Subway, Virgin and Dell have in common? These businesses were all started with next to no money. If you've got an idea for a business but no spare cash, here's how you can get it off the ground

Starting a business with little or no money may not be easy but if you can find a way to create a revenue stream without start-up funding then you'll know you've found a business model that works. Here are five ways to get started.

1. Start slow with a side hustle

Starting small and scaling up is a tried and tested way to start a successful business. A side hustle allows you to keep your day job so you're not reliant on your new venture for an income. It means working evenings and weekends but it takes the pressure off while you find out if there's a market for your business idea. It also allows you to find out if you enjoy running a business. You could even try out a couple of different business ideas before you take the plunge and leave your day job.


2. Take advantage of freebies

You can find office furniture, computer supplies and other business equipment on sites like FreeCycle or look in the Freebies section of Gumtree. When it comes to building a website, sites such as Wix, Squarespace, Weebly, WordPress and GoDaddy and HubSpot offer free templates and you don't need to be an expert to create a professional website.

Market research is another important step on the road to starting a business. Desk research can cost nothing - analyse your competitors' websites, check them out on social media and see if there is a gap in the market for your idea. You can ask friends and family to try out your product and give you feedback.

Your friends and family can also be a good source of skilled labour; ask around to see if anyone can help with photography for your website or creating a logo. If you do need you pay for professional help, freelancer sites such as PeoplePerHour, Fiverr and Upwork allow you to keep costs to a minimum.

3. Choose the right business model

There are lots of businesses, especially services, that are easy to set up and have low start-up costs. These include: gardening, cleaning, tutoring, dog walking, writing and graphic design. Just about any professional consultancy - such as marketing or IT - can be established for very little outlay. And if you already have a hobby that you are passionate about such as photography, or a trade that you work in such as plumbing, then you're halfway there. You've already got the expertise and the equipment that you need to start working for yourself. What's more, the majority of these business ideas can be run from home, so you can keep your overheads to a minimum.

4. Sell online

If you want to start a business selling products, and you don't have the money for premises or to build your own ecommerce website, then your best bet is to start selling on platforms like Amazon, eBay and Etsy. These massive online marketplaces do a lot of the work for you by getting your products in front of their considerable audiences.

You don't even have to make your own products - dropshipping allows you to sell goods which come directly from the manufacturer or the wholesaler. With dropshipping, you can launch an ecommerce business without having to pay for lots of inventory; you only pay the manufacturer when the item is sold. It means you can also test out different products with no risk. Another option is to use Fulfilment By Amazon where Amazon takes care of storing and sending out your stock as orders come in.

5. Market your business for free

There are lots of ways to market your business for free using online tools and social media as well as good old-fashioned networking. It's worth using every tool at your disposal when you are starting out to get your business in front of your target audience.

Social media is a great place to start. If you're starting a professional consultancy business, you'll want to sign up for LinkedIn and use it to reach out to prospective clients. Instagram, Twitter and Facebook are all fantastic tools to help you spread the word about your business - whether you are selling to consumers or businesses. The key is to make connections with influencers as well as potential customers.

There are lots of other ways to improve your visibility online for free. Start by making sure you're listed in all the free online directories as well as Google listings. Search engine optimisation (SEO) is also vital if you want to get your website close to the top of the rankings. Make sure your web copy includes the keywords and phrases that people use when they are searching for a business like yours. It's also worth reaching out to journalists on your local newspaper, radio or TV station to tell them about your business - if you can suggest a good angle, an interesting story or a photo opportunity, you have a good chance of getting some free publicity.

What does the * mean?

If a link has a * this means it is an affiliate link. To find out more, see our FAQs.