How to start a business with no money: 8 best ways to turn ideas into income

how to start a business with no money
Michelle Phan (L) started out with makeup tutorials on YouTube. Today, she reportedly has a net worth of US$50 million. Source: AFP

Starting a business with no money sounds like a dream, but it’s one with as many potential rewards and as there are risks that you should carefully consider. 

On the positive side, becoming an entrepreneur without having to invest any money allows you to test your ideas and concepts without financial stress. 

And there are people who have found success through this route — making the most of their creativity, hard work and luck.

In fact, founder Sara Blakely started Spanx in 2000 with just US$5,000 in savings. Twelve years later, she was named the youngest self-made female billionaire.

Best businesses you can start with no money 

One of the most high-paying options is becoming a content creator. This requires you to know social media well, build a niche audience, and create consistently valuable content.

If you can do this, you stand to make what the average YouTuber with at least one million subscribers make — around US$60,000 a year. 

Don’t know what to create content about? Try baking or even archery.

There’s a community for every passion. And with that, multiple ways to make money from it, like selling merchandise, affiliate marketing (earning commission for marketing a product or service), brand sponsorships and even participating in programmes like TikTok Creativity. 

All it takes is your time, creativity, and commitment to building a dedicated audience.

Another little to no-cost business option is podcasting, where connections are more important than capital. 

All you need is your voice, your smartphone and a monthly subscription to a hosting platform. 

If what you’re saying resonates with people, you can then venture into podcast subscriptions, donations, sponsorships, affiliate marketing and e-commerce.

Beyond podcasting and content creation, there are other ways to start a business with no money:

  • Sell unwanted goods
  • Help people with something you’re good at like writing resumes or repairing laptops
  • Offer marketing services to a company for no upfront cost but a share in the profits from the marketing
  • Learn how to code, make websites and sell them to small businesses
  • Find a buyer for a seller and you collect fees as a mediator

How to start a business with no money: 8 best steps to follow

how to start a business with no money

As you embark on the journey of how to start a business with no money, it is probably best to keep your day job to ensure you have a steady flow of income. Source: AFP

1. Keep your day job

While you can’t devote 100% of your time to your new business, it’s important to have a steady income and not have to dip into savings and rely on credit cards.

Entrepreneurs who maintained their day jobs while starting their businesses were more likely to sustain their ventures in the long run. 

Over 60% of successful entrepreneurs began their businesses as side projects while still employed. 

Apple started as a side project between Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak. The two worked at the now trillion-dollar company as they kept their respective jobs, working the night shift at Atari and as an engineer at HP.

As your business gains momentum and proves its sustainability, you can consider transitioning to full-time entrepreneurship, knowing you have a solid foundation to build upon.

2. Do market research

The first step to take when thinking about how to start a business with no money is to do research and understand the market.

How viable is your idea? Who are your competitors? What makes your product or service stand out?

Whether it’s speed, innovation or cost-effectiveness, understanding your competitive edge is key. 

And you can discover this by talking with friends, family and potential customers to understand their needs, wants and purchasing behaviours. 

Another key step is to use social media platforms to find online reviews of similar businesses to understand market dynamics better.

Realising a gap in the market and providing a solution is often the root of successful businesses. Studies reveal that businesses born from identifying market needs are more likely to thrive. 

In fact, over 80% of successful entrepreneurs attribute their success to filling a gap in the market. 

how to start a business with no money

If you do not have money to invest, it is best to pick a business that doesn’t require you to have capital instead of taking a loan and going into debt. Source: AFP

3. Choose a business idea that doesn’t require capital 

If you are looking for ways on how to start a business with no money, it’s best to venture into one that does not require capital instead of taking a big loan and going into debt. 

Opting for service-oriented businesses is a smart approach to starting a business with no money.  This is because services often demand skills rather than hefty capital.

Service-oriented businesses to consider include freelance writing, virtual assisting, social media management, graphic design, tutoring, bookkeeping, home organising and photography.

Plus, these are flexible and have little commitments, letting you keep your day job.

how to start a business with no money

If you are looking for ways on how to start a business with no money, start by creating a business plan. Source: AFP

4. Create a business plan 

Creating a business plan is crucial in launching a business with no money.

You may think you have all the details in your head and that’s enough. That is only a recipe for disaster.

Nothing beats a well-thought-out business plan to help you foresee potential challenges as well as clarify your business model, legal structure and market research findings. 

As you create your plan, clearly write down what sets your offerings apart.

It has been found that entrepreneurs with a comprehensive business plan are more likely to secure funding and experience sustained growth. 

The plan should cover a realistic and feasible approach to your business, ensuring your goals are attainable. 

According to industry surveys, businesses with well-structured and realistic business plans are more resilient in facing challenges too. This is because they’ve detailed their financial needs and projections.

how to start a business with no money

Make sure to do a trial run of your business to gain feedback and make improvements. Source: AFP

5. Run a trial 

Before taking the plunge into a full-scale business launch, running a trial is an important step when starting a business without any capital. 

This trial allows you to test the waters and identify challenges that may not have been obvious during the market research or planning phase. 

By getting feedback from your customers, you gain invaluable insights into areas of improvement for your offerings and services. 

Studies show that businesses that conduct trials before a wide-scale launch are more resilient and adaptable to the market’s demands. 

This trial phase is a practical learning experience, allowing you to work out any kinks and refine your approach.

how to start a business with no money

How to start a business with no money? Connect with the right people. Source: AFP

6. Network 

It’s not just about what you know but who you know that can make or break your new business

Building connections with industry professionals, potential investors, and fellow entrepreneurs can open doors to advice, introductions to influential contacts, promotion to wider audiences, and potential funding opportunities. 

Entrepreneurs who actively network are likelier to know who to turn to when they’re faced with problems — helping them weather these better. 

So get to those meet-ups, industry conferences, and trade shows — you never know you might just meet your new business partner or customer there.

7. Build an online presence

A strong presence online can make a big difference. Nowadays, people look for products and services online before buying anything.

Creating and posting on social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram cost nothing — making them a smart and affordable way to show your products or services to people around the world.

how to start a business with no money

Once you start to see profits you can begin to grow your company and hire employees. Source: AFP

8. Grow your company 

Many entrepreneurs initially operate on a small scale, wearing multiple hats to keep costs low. 

This involves handling everything from product or service delivery to marketing.

Starting your business as a one-person operation is a common and strategic approach, especially when you have no capital. 

However, consider growing your business as you achieve success and reach your initial goals — but don’t do it too soon and too much.

Research shows that scaling too quickly can lead to financial strain, with 29% of small businesses failing due to running out of cash

Therefore, expanding your business as you gain profits slowly would be best. This could involve casting your products or services to a wider market, hiring a few employees to boost productivity, expanding marketing efforts, or finding a larger workspace. 

While operating with limited capital, there may come a point where additional funds are needed for growth. 

Various funding options exist, such as crowdfunding through platforms like Kickstarter or Crowdfunder, where small amounts are collected from many people.

Small business loans provide larger sums for areas like payroll, inventory or marketing. Capital investors, such as angel investors or venture capitalists, can also provide funding in exchange for an equity stake.