How To Start a Business With No Money

If you have a strong business idea and you’re prepared to work your socks off to make it happen, having no money shouldn’t stop you from starting a business and realising your entrepreneurial dream. Read on for things to consider, and top tips for finding funding.

Peter Adams, Hannah Harper Published on 04 March 2020. Last updated on 19 April 2021.
How To Start a Business With No Money

Starting a business with no money isn’t a walk in the park. You’ll need certain qualities – like determination, savvy, and a willingness to reach out to people – as well as a sound business plan. But assuming you have all these in the bag, read on for our suggestions on how you can start a business with no money.

Can you keep the day job?

This might not be the right option for all new businesses, and is obviously not applicable if you’re starting yours following redundancy. But if you do have a day job already, keeping it going – and starting your business alongside it as a part-time venture (read: evenings and weekends) – could be a smart thing to do. You’d continue to have money coming in, so you could boost your savings and get in a good position to perhaps take a risk or two further down the line. And if things don’t take off straight away, you’ll still have your job and income to tide you over until you can revitalise your plans.

Get feedback on your business idea

It’s important to get an objective third-party view on your business plan from people who know the market well. You can also get valuable feedback by trialling your product or service. Will it be useful, welcome, a positive addition to what’s already out there? If so, you could be onto a winner. If not, you might need to give it more thought.

Consider running a small-scale pilot amongst your target customers to see their responses. These insights into what’s working and what you’ve overlooked could prove invaluable in the long run.

Understand your market

What makes your business idea unique? What makes your product or service different from those of your competitors? How hard would it be for a rival with more money to simply copy your model and repackage it as their own? Be aware of what regions offer good opportunities and understand the ones in your area. Read our guide on the best business regions to start a business to find out more.

Make sure you identify trends and challenges in the market you aim to enter. Then work out how you’ll address them so that your company will become, and remain, profitable.

Develop a growth mindset

Those with ‘growth mindsets’ believe that people’s talents and abilities aren’t fixed and unchangeable from birth, but can always be improved and built upon. They display a willingness to learn, an interest in new things – whether skills, concepts, or activities – and a refusal to see setbacks as ‘failures’ or ‘endpoints’, choosing instead to view them as valuable opportunities for knowledge and growth, and a chance to practise resilience. They also aren’t afraid to change tack if the situation calls for it. It’s easy to see how a growth mindset would be a valuable asset to the aspiring entrepreneur – so if this sounds like you, keep going, and if it doesn’t, take heart – it’s possible to change your mindset, and it will be hugely beneficial to your business.

What can you get for free?

It often comes much more naturally to us to identify obstacles than opportunities. Starting a business with no money is daunting, but take a moment and think: what do I already have right in front of me? What resources are at my fingertips and won’t require me to spend a single penny?

Equipment

If your business idea involves equipment you can’t afford right now, platforms such as Gumtree, Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace allow users to offload unwanted items – which you’ll often be able to pick up for free. Freecycle is a fantastic grassroots non-profit platform where people ‘recycle’ underused possessions by passing them on to those who will value them more.

Marketing

The web is an oasis of free resources if you take the time to do your research. Sites such as Canva enable you to design your own marketing materials, and a simple Facebook page could be all you need to trade locally for the time being.

Free website builders such as Wix are great places to start if you’re set on having your own online domain. And as for social networking, well – you might be surprised by the sheer volume of trade you can generate with some savvy social posts.

Networking

Networking is an integral part of growing a successful business. The National Enterprise Network and Meetup often hold free creative and business development events.

Furthermore, the British Library Business and IP Centre has an unrivalled wealth of events and resources for startups across the UK.

Build up savings for expenses

It’s natural to wince at the prospect of dipping into your savings, but it’s a common practice among entrepreneurs.

When you design your business plan, be frank about your realistic expenses and revenue, as well as how long you expect it will take for that revenue to start rolling in. Every business is different, but doing what you can to save up a few months’ worth of living and working expenses will let you devote yourself to your startup without immediate financial anxieties.

Look for funding

A lack of access to funding is one of the main reasons half of new businesses fold within five years. If a shoestring budget is affecting the growth of your business, you might consider looking for funding – and there is a wide array of potential sources.

Apply for a small business loan

A small business loan can be used for almost any purpose, including as a source of working capital, a means of purchasing equipment or a way to fund premises, buy stock and pay for training. You can apply for a small business loan with a bank or online lender.

Friends and family

Keep in mind, you’re not asking for charity, and you’re not asking your nearest and dearest to fund some half-cooked harebrained scheme, either. Show them how much your business means to you and how solid your plan is. If you take your plans seriously, others will, too. Furthermore, encourage their feedback and even practise your sales pitches on them.

When you’re finally ready to launch, see if anyone will help you out with a small loan. We all need to ask for help from time to time, and your friends and family will hopefully be proud of what you’re trying to achieve.

Of course, borrowing from friends and family is not always possible, and if this is the case for you, you might decide to look for different funding opportunities.

Small business grants

Grants are the most sought-after form of funding because you don’t have to pay them back. They’re usually given for a particular purpose or project, such as expansion, employment or property improvements, and can come from local sources as well as regional, national and even continental.

Every small business grant comes with its own set of guidelines and eligibility criteria, and some have lengthy application processes because of the high levels of competition. If you believe in the profitability of your business, however, there’s no reason you shouldn’t be a good candidate.

To help budding entrepreneurs, we’ve compiled a list of over 200 small business grants available across the UK as a starting point to find funding.

Crowdfund

Crowdfunding platforms such as Kickstarter have changed the face of raising capital. Members of the public can now easily invest in businesses in exchange for a future buy-in or other rewards.

Now more than ever, budding entrepreneurs can appeal directly to their consumer base, both current and potential, and see their business flourish through the strength of community spirit.

Establish a credit line

A lot of banks and credit institutions offer startups a credit line that is a form of borrowing that could help with growth in the early stages of a business. A line of credit is a type of loan that doesn't just give one lump sum of funds in the way a traditional loan does. Like a credit card, you use credit when you need to pay for something that is financially out of reach. Just make sure you keep purchases to a minimum during this time, otherwise, you risk becoming bogged down in debt.

Angel investors

Angel investors are high-net-worth individuals who provide capital for startups. They are usually among the first people external to the company to do so. Unlike venture capitalists and outside firms, angel investors fund businesses from their personal wealth.

They often make excellent mentors, too, as many are former or current entrepreneurs themselves. Just think Peter Jones and his fellow Dragons.

Think about business incubators and accelerators

If your business plan is solid and ready to go, a business incubator may provide you with funding specifically designed to assist startups. Furthermore, some incubators offer shared administrative services and serviced office spaces. Many incubators are sponsored, some by colleges and universities, some by local or regional economic development organisations.

A business accelerator is similar to an incubator in that it can provide you with funding. As the name suggests, though, an accelerator expects a rapid response to its investment. An accelerator is intended for companies that are more established, compared to an incubator which aims to help at an earlier stage.

Consider a business accelerator only if you’re certain your business is ready to hit the ground running.

You can start a business with no money

The success of your business ultimately depends more on your attitude than the amount of money (or lack of it!) you start out with. A brilliant business plan still needs your hard work, determination, and creative thinking to blossom into a brilliant business. So double down, build your cash reserves, and expand your network. You may have to wait a while to be able to pay yourself – but imagine the satisfaction and pride you’ll feel when you do.


Image Source: Getty Images

About the authors:

Peter reports on a number of areas in the personal finance sector, with a particular interest in supporting businesses and individuals in the UK services industry. Read more

Hannah has been writing about money since 2013. Formerly a copywriter for Virgin Money, covering credit cards, mortgages, pensions, and more, she now writes on personal finance for NerdWallet UK. Read more

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