Maybe you’ve heard the saying, “It takes money to make money.” But what happens when you don’t have much of it to begin with?
While the saying is generally true, it’s not as black and white as you might think. You can absolutely start a business with no money—as long as you have some patience, resourcefulness, and savvy. The capital you need at the beginning will also depend on the type of business you’re trying to start.
In this article, we’ll explore some of the best low or no-capital business ideas, how to create and launch your new business, and how to generate the funding you need to grow.
How to start a business for free in 6 steps
1. Find no-cost business opportunities
Of course, some business ventures will require a lot more money upfront than others. We’ve put together a list of ideas that require little or no capital. Hopefully one of them will get your gears turning.
Create a service business
Do you have certain skills, talents, or specialized knowledge that you can capitalize on? What about things you wouldn’t mind doing for a living? Try selling your services. Here are a few ideas:
- Freelance writer, if you have good grammar and a knack for putting words into text.
- Social media marketer, if you can build and execute a marketing campaign.
- Virtual assistant, if you’re organized, detail-oriented, and moderately tech savvy.
- Handyman services, if you’re good at fixing things.
- Less specialized services, like house cleaning, dog walking, or car washing.
Sell handmade goods or digital assets
On the flip side of a service-based venture where you’re selling your skills, consider a business where you sell the physical fruits of your talents. Maybe you’re a seamstress, a furniture flipper, a woodworker, or a candle dipper.
You can also sell digital assets, like ebooks, online courses, and templates or workbooks.
There are plenty of places to sell these items, like Etsy, Amazon Handmade, or Facebook Marketplace (just to name a few). You can also create your own online store on an ecommerce platform like Shopify, though keep in mind that you’ll need to pay a small monthly fee for your store.
Start a dropshipping store
Want to start an online business but don’t want to deal with manufacturing, storing, and shipping your own products? Dropshipping is the answer.
In this business model, you source your products from manufacturers. When one of your customers places an order, you submit the order to your manufacturer, who handles all the shipping and sends the package directly to your customer. You never need to handle your own inventory.
Check out all the dropshipping apps available through Shopify here in the Shopify marketplace.
Start a print-on-demand store
Print on demand is technically a form of dropshipping, but it deserves its own section. With print on demand, you offer pre-made designs that can be printed on various items, like t-shirts, coffee mugs, phone cases, tote bags—you name it.
When your customer places an order through your website, you’ll send the order to your print-on-demand manufacturer, who will print the items on the spot and ship them directly to your customers. No handling inventory.
The Shopify marketplace has plenty of options for connecting with print-on-demand services. When it comes to designs, you can purchase pre-made designs, make your own if you have design skills, or hire graphic designers from sites like Fiverr or Upwork.
2. Write a business plan
While not all businesses have a business plan, this can be an important step for having a clear, linear outline you can follow and hold yourself accountable to. It’s also necessary if you’ll be looking for funding now or down the line—investors will want to know your business model, goals, and how you plan to achieve those goals.
Here are some things to include when writing a business plan for your new business venture:
- Company overview. Include your business model and structure, team, the products and/or services you’ll sell, and your plans for logistics and operations.
- Market research. Use data to support why your business is a good idea and why it will succeed in the long run. Also scope out your competitors and info on the general industry and niche.
- Financial plan and marketing strategy. What’s your plan for making money in the short term and in the long run? If you want funding, state how much you’re looking for, how you’ll use it, and how it will contribute to long-term growth.
Check out this business plan template for a step-by-step guide.
3. Create a brand
Now comes one of the most exciting—and sometimes the most nerve-racking—parts of being a small business owner. You get to craft your brand into whatever you like.
Here are the basics you need to build a killer brand:
- Business name. Something catchy, descriptive, and ideally unique.
- Brand story. Who are you, what do you stand for, and what makes you stand out? Weave all aspects of your brand story into your branding and marketing materials.
- Logo. Make it eye-catching and interesting, but don’t overdo it. Simple and clean is always a good way to go. Try Shopify’s logo maker.
- Brand style. Create a “brand book” that outlines your brand’s color palette, fonts, imagery style (photography, illustrations, visual styles, etc.), and tone of voice.
- Marketing assets. Now that you have your basics, make sure you keep everything consistent across all of your assets, from your website to social media marketing accounts to online ads to print materials like posters and business cards.
4. Build a website
Starting a business from scratch has been a wallet-friendly process so far. But let’s be real: building a website is a smart move. Your website will serve as the virtual hub for your new venture—a space to showcase your offerings and educate potential customers about what you have to offer.
If cash flow is an issue, you’ll be glad to know that Shopify’s Starter plans cost a mere $5 per month after the initial free trial. For such a small cost, you’ll get the tools you need to create a professional website and make your first sale.
5. Validate ideas with preorders
Starting a business from nothing is a journey of trial and error. You might have some winning ideas, while others might fall short of your expectations. But, there’s a simple way to reduce the risk of failure and still get cash flow: preorders.
For example, let’s say you have an idea for a new line of sneakers. You want to execute it, but you’re not sure if the product will sell enough to cover your investment in inventory. So, you offer preorders for your shoes. You create hype and buzz by posting photos and videos on social media and explaining the eco-friendly materials you use. Customers can order the shoes before they’re available in stores.
The result? You get cash upfront to invest in production, a sense of exclusivity is created, and you can test the waters before jumping in headfirst. Customers love preorders because they get to try something new before the crowd and feel like they’re part of a select group.
6. Seek funding to grow
Starting a business with limited funds can be challenging, but there are several options to secure funding.
According to research, nearly a third of small businesses fail because they run out of cash. To avoid this, entrepreneurs can seek out startup capital to invest in inventory, marketing, or their first employee. Options include:
- Crowdfunding: This involves collecting small amounts of money from a large group of people. Platforms like Crowdfunder, SeedInvest, and Kickstarter offer investment opportunities to regular people in exchange for perks such as pre-orders or equity.
- Personal loans: You may also seek financial support from friends and family through personal loans. These supporters may be willing to offer you a loan in return for a small equity stake or an interest-based return.
- Small business loans: For larger funding needs, consider using alternative lenders, such as Shopify Capital. These lenders offer cash to fund inventory sourcing, payroll, and marketing, enabling you to scale your business quickly.
Don’t let lack of cash hold you back from entrepreneurship
While money is, obviously, a helpful asset for starting a successful business, you can certainly make it work with good old-fashioned bootstrapping. Whether you choose to sell services or crowdfund for your business, you can get the ball running without thousands of dollars to invest upfront.
The key is to get into scrappy entrepreneurship mode—work hard, be persistent, and leverage as many resources as you can think of. The more creative you can get, the better your chances of succeeding.
How to start a business with no money FAQ
What business can I start without capital?
Dropshipping is a business idea you can pursue without capital. Find suppliers willing to ship directly to customers and use a platform like Shopify to list them for sale. You’ll only pay for an item when someone orders the product.
What is the easiest business to start with no money?
Although there are a range of businesses that can be started without money, print on demand is one of the easiest. With print on demand, you avoid excessive warehousing fees and only pay for inventory when a customer orders it. Plus, there are user-friendly tools you can use to create your products—no need for complicated design software.
How much does it cost to start a business?
In the initial year, small-business owners typically expend an average of $40,000. However, it is possible to start your own business with no money selling digital products or using a business model like dropshipping.