UPDATE: This starting your own business post was originally published on 23 September 2019 and updated on 14 January 2021.
If you’ve got a business idea and you’re ready to take the next step, don’t let a lack of cash stop you from pursuing your dream. Starting your own business with next to no cash is possible. Let’s explore how.
9 tips on starting your own business on the cheap
Ask anyone who’s done it — you can bootstrap your way into a self-supporting business if you have a good product or service. Here’s how to do it.
1. Start with a business plan
The first step to starting your own business is to write a business plan. It doesn’t need to be fancy or long, but a good business plan is your roadmap to success. It sets out your strategy and defines your direction. It can also increase your chances of securing financing and investment down the track.
As a start, your plan should include:
- Description of your target market
- A strengths, weakness, opportunities and threats (SWOT) analysis
- A one-page action plan
You can find step-by-step instructions on writing a simple, solid business plan here.
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2. Test your business idea
You might think your idea is brilliant, but do you know people willing to pay for it? Testing your business idea with a small group will show you whether consumers are interested in your product or service.
There’s no need to hire an expensive market research company — because you’ve already got free access to your market at your fingertips.
Join the same online forums or groups as your ideal customer. Introduce yourself and tell them about your business. But don’t give them the hard sell.
Remember, this is about market research and relationship-building. People will respond better if you’re honest and authentic.
Create a survey (Survey Monkey is free) and share the link with your online group. Most business owners have stood in your shoes at one time or another, so you could be pleasantly surprised with the help you receive.
Related: What is a minimum viable product?
3. Work out your startup needs
If your idea is viable, list what you’ll need to get your business off the ground.
To start your own business in Australia, you’ll need to register for an Australian Business Number. The good news is, this is free. You’ll also need to register your business name, but the cost is minimal.
Create a startup costing spreadsheet and list down all the equipment and expenses you’re likely to have. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
- Computer and software
- Stationery and office supplies
- Office furniture
- Phone or separate business line
- Domain registration, website setup and hosting
- Licences and permits
- Memberships and subscriptions
- Marketing and advertising
- Other equipment and supplies
It’s best to be accurate and note whether each cost includes or excludes GST. You can find a free startup costing spreadsheet on business.gov.au.
4. Be resourceful
It doesn’t matter what kind of business you’re starting, there will be some up-front costs.
But the trick is to be resourceful and minimise the expenses as much as possible. Use second hand office furniture, buy supplies when they’re on sale and use free resources like these:
Send invoices and track your expenses with Wave (free) or Xero.
Get free stock photos from Unsplash or Pixabay. Perfect to use on your website or blog.
When you’re ready to start building your audience or sending out eNewsletters, MailChimp is a crowd favourite.
Social media planners
Use the free version of Hootsuite to save you time and schedule your social media posts in batches.
Most online software companies offer tiered pricing, and the majority have a free (or low-cost) version with limited features.
5. Keep your day job
Reduce your financial risk by keeping your day job (even if only on a part-time basis). In the early days of starting your own business, having a steady income can be a lifesaver.
Sure, you’ll have less time to dedicate to your business, and you’ll have to work harder, but it’s far less risky than the alternative.
If you can, put savings aside each week in anticipation of your business launch. The extra cash will help out until it starts making money.
As your business grows, you’ll be in a better position to switch from your day job into your business full-time.
6. Ask family and friends for funds
Take the business plan and the market research that you completed in steps one and two and pitch your idea to family and friends. But keep it professional. After all, you’re asking for a small loan to help you get off the ground.
Remember to dot your i’s and cross your t’s. Have a written agreement that sets out the conditions of the loan and when you need to pay it back. It offers protection for both parties and shows that you take your business — and the loan — seriously.
7. Apply for small business government grants
Helping small businesses succeed has long been a focus across all levels of government. On offer is a range of grants and support programs suitable to businesses in different industries and stages of growth.
Keep in mind that you’ll need to meet eligibility criteria and some grants are competitive.
This means you’ll need to present a decent application backed by your business plan and market research.
8. Apply for a small business loan
If starting your own business with no money isn’t possible, consider applying for a small business loan. Lenders will want to see that you’ve got a solid business plan and a viable market for your product or service.
There’s a range of small business lenders to suit businesses of all shapes and sizes. Do your research and compare products. Look out for interest rates, up-front or ongoing fees and the flexibility to repay your loan early without nasty exit fees.
Getting a business loan is serious business, so get professional advice if you can.
9. Advertise cheaply
Forget about paid ad campaigns when you’re starting out. Instead, put in the hard yards and tell the world you’re open for business with these low-cost tactics:
- Map out a simple marketing strategy
- Open your Google My Business and Bing Places for Business accounts
- Set up social media accounts for your business, inviting family and friends to like and share them
- Build your own website
- Network online and in local business groups, offering advice when appropriate
- Start a blog and share articles, infographics and videos that are useful to your audience
- List your business in free directories like True Local or Yellow Pages
- Ask customers for reviews and testimonials, then feature them on your website
These methods take time to take effect, but once you’re rolling they start to amplify each other.
Go for it!
Starting your own business with next to no cash is possible. There’s no denying that it’s going to take time and effort, but you’ll get there.
It’s all about planning, being resourceful and working hard to bring your dreams to life. Be fearless!