In 2001, I walked into a pawn shop with my 1-year-old son on my hip. Never having stepped a foot into a pawn shop before, I didn’t know what to expect and I was nervous and embarrassed to even be there. In my hand was a ring box. Contained in the box was a simple wedding ring of yellow gold and a small princess-cut diamond surrounded by delicate diamond chips. It’s what we could afford at the time we got married. In 1997, we paid $1500 for it – a fortune for two under-employed people. Now we were divorced and I needed money. Having already sold anything of value, I was simply trying to get enough from the ring to pay my rent which was due at 5 PM that day. They offered me $100. I left with the ring still in my purse and tears running down my face, not sure how I’d be able to better provide for my baby or me. God was gracious in those years and He brought someone to me who needed a nanny, plus I found more contacts for my little direct sales jewelry business. Along with a few miraculous interventions, I was able to scrape by and earn some money while keeping my infant son with me instead of needing someone else to care for him.
Over the years, it was desperation and determination that taught me how to start a business with little to no money, and I did it more than once.
Fast-forward a couple of years and my son is no longer a baby but just entering school age. My passion was always to homeschool, but as a single mother, it seemed an impossible challenge. I had remarried and unfortunately was in the middle of another divorce. As a result, I found myself in the same situation – unable to pay rent and looking for ways to come up with cash.
This time, instead of walking into a pawn shop, I walked into my landlord’s office and asked if there was anything I could do to work for my rent that month as I didn’t have any money for groceries, much less rent. It took a lot of courage to go and admit I was penniless and hopeless. I was already feeling like a failure in so many ways and I hated feeling like a beggar. But that moment of humility showed me I could start a business (other than a direct-sales business) that was fully my company and could perfectly meet my needs.
As my landlord would have it, they needed someone to paint a rental house. They offered to supply the paint and if I would paint the interior of the house, they’d cover my rent. So I did. The next week, they had another house. I painted it. Then they had a house that needed cleaning. The next thing I knew, I had a waiting list of houses that needed painting and cleaning. Not only that, but another realtor heard about what I was doing and asked if I would do the same for her. I earned enough to slowly buy better paintbrushes. Then, I was able to buy a ladder instead of borrowing one. Next, I purchased more cleaning supplies and made little flyers and business cards using Vistaprint. This little business provided for us for a couple of years – and even better, I could take my son with me while I worked!
Since that time, I have started 4 more businesses: all with little to no money. Granted, they are/were small, micro businesses but I started them and they met my needs while allowing me to keep my son my #1 priority. That being said, I have to give God the glory because I acknowledge Him in everything and know that He gave me ideas and opened the doors of opportunity for me.
The best part is that He’ll do the same for you. Certainly, there are tips I can share from my experiences to help you start a business, but before I share those, let me encourage you to ask God for help. Acknowledge that your help comes from the Lord, the Maker of Heaven and Earth, and ask Him for creative ideas and to guide your steps.
5 TIPS FOR STARTING A BUSINESS WITH LITTLE OR NO MONEY
1. CONSIDER WHAT YOU CAN DO OR WHAT YOU ALREADY HAVE
Remember, where you start isn’t where you’re going to finish. I hated cleaning. Hated it. Cleaning and painting houses was not my dream but it was meeting my needs. I had cleaning supplies and I had time. So I cleaned and painted empty houses used for rentals to pay my bills. I could have continued in the business and even hired employees because I had more requests than I had time for, but I hated cleaning so one day, I closed my business (because I could) and moved on to something else. The point is to start with what you have.
If you can’t think of anything, well, ask someone else to tell you what they think you are good at. Then go from there. Do you like to write? Ask a few small businesses if you can blog for them. Like social media? Ask a business owner if you can create some social posts for them. The key is to think of who wants what you have.
Still can’t think of anything? Ask God for ideas – then wait for Him to respond.
2. BE WILLING TO WORK FOR LESS (or free)
Until you are proven and have some testimonials under your belt, you must be willing to work for less. You don’t determine what your work is worth, other people do. That’s just how it is. Until you can afford to be picky about your customers, keep prices and rates low. Also, do more for less. If you have a chain saw, find out the going rates for local tree services, go around and offer to do some work for a lower rate AND include the cleanup and haul away service for free. (Just an idea). Write a blog post for free. Offer to do a couple of social media posts for a charity. Whatever you can do – donate your time or services and then ask for a referral (see below). Trust me, it won’t take long before you can start to charge more for your services.
3. GET (MONEY) SMART
Seriously, be active in learning how to manage your money while you’re out trying to start a business. Ideally, you want to get money smart beforehand, but don’t let it be an excuse to not start. Learn how to do a cash flow statement, read Profit First by Mike Michalowicz, and open a separate bank account IMMEDIATELY. Also, file the proper documents with your state. Visit your state’s Secretary of State website for information about how to register a business. Note: you can set up a single-member LLC for free. 😊
4. ASK AND BE OBSERVANT
This is not an MLM-kind-of asking that sends your friends and family scattering. When you’re starting your very own business, friends and family are usually more than willing to help. Ask if they know anyone that needs their house cleaned, needs someone to pick up groceries, trees trimmed, a custom portrait painted, would be willing to buy pies or cookies for the holidays, etc… Also, LISTEN to the conversations happening around you. What are people saying that they need/want/wish for? People will tell you what they want!
I have an acquaintance who quit his job to be a pastor – but, he still needed an income. A lady needed some trees removed from her property. His ears perked up and he offered to remove the trees for FREE (he was willing to work for less). He then took the trees and made some furniture, posted it on social media and friends bought them. Then, word got out and now he has a bustling business of removing trees for free, making furniture, and selling wood (which is in high demand at the time of this writing) that he can do within the time constraints he has within his ministry.
No matter what business I started, I ASKED everywhere I went, not in a creepy way, but something like, “Hey, do you know of…..” and then whatever I was looking for. Sometimes it was a connection or resource, it was rarely a sale. In fact, I never asked for a sale (except if they were specifically there for the purpose of buying). Instead, I asked questions that would eventually lead to a sale.
- “Do you know where I can find locally-made products or artists?”
- “Do you know of any realtors or construction companies that need a cleaning or painting person?”
- “If you hear of anyone needing help with their business, in general, will you let me know?” (That question is how I started Microbusiness Mentor!)
- “Hey. Is there a local networking group for [fill in the blank]”?
- “I’m looking for some side work and am good with Quickbooks. Would you let me know if you hear of anyone needing help with their bookkeeping?” (or change it to what you have or can do).
If you make a product that you want to sell, you can still put out “ask” questions to those you know but I want to add a couple of suggestions.
- Before you invest a lot of money into making items to sell – be willing to find out if what you make is good. This is really hard because as creatives, what we make is very personal. But I have watched over and over, people investing a lot of time and money into making items that just aren’t going to sell. I have some pretty big fails under my belt (ask me about my mugs some time)! Your spouse or grandmother don’t count as good feedback. Find a way to test your products before you invest money.
- If you do have a good product, start with Etsy. It’s free to sign-up and they take their 8% fee (5% selling fee + 3% credit card fee) AFTER you sell the product.
- Get saavy with social media. A retail product is a visual product and social media is made for you. It’s free, too. There’s lots of free training out there if you look for it.
5. PINCH PENNIES
You do NOT need lots of money to start a business. Pinch pennies everywhere you can! When I started my cleaning and painting business, I didn’t buy ANY supplies until I had brought in some income and had paid my rent, and bought groceries. Then, I bought a ladder and better paintbrushes. When I started my retail business, I started by showing my ideas to friends in their houses. Then, someone invited me to put up a table with my products at a holiday open house. From there I got an invite to set up a booth at a county fair. Soon, we were booked every weekend and bought an RV to live in while traveling. Finally, we sold the RV and opened a storefront. Every step of the way we only purchased supplies as we grew. Our first display was so sad. We used a table cloth from our kitchen, borrowed some plastic risers, and used empty boxes under the table cloth to display our goods. Then, I bought my own risers and my own table. After some more sales, I bought a tent, then we bought two tents. Then, we bought a trailer…you get the idea. We grew as our income increased.
You do NOT need all the fancy tools and supplies out there or a fancy website. Start with what you have and improvise. It’s so tempting to buy tools and resources to help you grow your business. They are probably great, BUT…until you are getting consistent income, don’t do it. I’ll slap your hand. 😉
There are MANY FREE options out there or perhaps you can borrow a ladder or plastic risers (as in my case) until you can buy your own.
Certainly, there are a couple of things I do recommend you spend money on: A paid CANVA account* would be top of my list. Another is money for networking lunches or to take people out for coffee and lastly, buy a copy of PROFIT FIRST.
You may have to purchase a few things but be cautious and wise, realizing that what you think you need to start, you probably don’t. Don’t let NOT having something stop you from starting.
There are many more ideas for starting your own business that can be personalized for your situation, and if you need help with that, you can schedule a private mentoring session (only if it’s within the budget!). Sit down, pray, and brainstorm. Ask friends to come over and brainstorm with you. You’ll be surprised what you’ll come up with.
But more than anything, I’m here to tell you that STARTING A BUSINESS WITH LITTLE OR NO MONEY IS POSSIBLE!
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