When starting a business, finding an idea is half the battle. The other half is funding it.
If you have a great business idea but you don’t have startup capital, it doesn’t mean your path to entrepreneurship is over. There are plenty of ways to start a business—even if you have no money to invest.
This guide shares how to bootstrap your own business with minimal cash. The goal? To start making money you can later reinvest into growth. From validating your idea to making your first dollar, here’s how to start a business with no money.
8 steps to starting a business with no money
- Find a free business idea
- Write a business plan
- Lean on the entrepreneur community
- Choose a business name
- Create a brand
- Launch a website
- Validate ideas with preorders
- Source funding to grow
1. Find a free business idea
The first stage of starting a new business is developing an idea. If you’re ready to become a business owner but don’t have any personal savings or other funding sources, here are six creative business ideas you can start with no money.
Dropshipping is a popular business model for entrepreneurs looking to start a small business with no money. This is a low-investment startup idea because you don’t need to hold inventory to sell products. Vendors will only charge you for inventory when you sell it, and they’ll even ship it directly to your customers.
“As a master’s degree student, I didn’t really have much disposable income, so I decided to learn how to dropship,” says Zaid Shahatit, founder of Fighthaus, on his own foray into entrepreneurship.
To find success with dropshipping, start with sourcing trending products and market them to potential customers using organic marketing tactics, like search engine optimization (SEO).
Start a service-based business
The easiest way to start a business with no money is to sell your services. Even if you haven’t mastered a specific skill, start by identifying the things you know how to do better than most people. “Since you don’t have the capital yet, start with the things that you have, like your experience, knowledge, skills, and resources you own,” says Kei Nishida, owner of Japanese Green Tea Co.
Package your skills and resources into a service business, such as:
- Freelance writing
- Virtual assistant services
- Social media marketing
- Handyman services
- House cleaning
- Dog walking
- Personal shopping
- Bookkeeping services
Many entrepreneurs write off these small business ideas because they fear they’ll earn minimum wage. But service-based businesses can be lucrative. Some freelance writers make six figures annually within two years of running their business.
Start a print-on-demand business
If you don’t have cash upfront to invest in inventory, try a print-on-demand business.
This is the process of private-labeling products such as tote bags, t-shirts, or ball caps and selling them on a per-order basis. Print-on-demand companies will print your designs onto inventory and ship to the customer on your behalf.
“We started with a print-on-demand service, bringing initial operational investment to $0. Essentially, we were just a website to start off with—to validate the idea,” says Katheriin Liibert, co-founder of #muhoov.
Much like dropshipping, there are minimal costs associated with starting this type of business. There also are no storage costs to contend with when selling print-on-demand products, making it a worthwhile option if you’re looking to start a business with $0.
Sell handcrafted goods
Prefer a more hands-on approach to starting a small business? Turn your hobby into a side hustle by selling handcrafted goods through your online store or marketplaces like Etsy. Things to make and sell can include:
Katrina Bell is one entrepreneur who took this approach when starting a business with no money. Now the owner of The Copper Bell, Katrina chose to sell candles because of the ease of the business model. “Candles do not have a steep learning curve, do not require any government oversight and regulation, and can easily be made in larger and larger batches,” she says.
A business you start with no money doesn’t have to stay small. Reinvest your earnings into your business and watch it grow. “Most of our profits have been reinvested in inventory and in advertising. We’re trying to grow at a healthy pace so that we don’t have to rely on outside investments,” says Francois Mathieu, co-founder of Hojicha Co.
Katrina’s own low-investment business thrived during the COVID-19 pandemic and she now produces candles from a commercial space.
Sell digital products
You can create and sell digital products with just an internet connection, making them a superb way to start an online business with no money. Start by identifying an area you have more knowledge in than the average person. Package your ideas into a digital product, such as:
The beauty of digital products is that they’re scalable. Create them once and sell them multiple times on Shopify using the Digital Downloads app. It’s no wonder so many entrepreneurs use digital products as a way of making passive income.
Become a social media influencer
To become an influencer, start by building your social media presence on a popular platform, such as Instagram or TikTok. Once you have built an account with as few as 1,000 followers, explore these opportunities to make money with no upfront investment:
- Affiliate marketing. Promote products from your favorite brands and earn a percentage commission when your followers buy it.
- Sponsored content. Get paid to partner with brands who want access to your audience.
- Selling merchandise. Add your brand name, logo, or catchphrase to merchandise and sell it using print on demand.
Creator Emma Chamberlain started posting videos on YouTube back in 2017, and has since built a massive following. She launched her first direct-to-consumer business, Chamberlain Coffee, to monetize her internet fame just two years later.
2. Write a business plan
A business plan is the blueprint for how you’ll grow your business. The contents of yours will depend on the low-cost business model you’ve chosen. But generally, a business plan includes the following:
- Company description. An overview of the company you’re about to start, including the business model and legal structure.
- Business model. Decide if your business will be an LLC, C corp, S corp, B Corp, or sole proprietorship.
- Market research. Include demographics that your target market shares. For example, will you sell directly to the consumer or via wholesalers? How does this compare to competitors?
- Products and services offered. You’ll make money by selling one of these. Explain what the product or service is and why people will buy it.
- Marketing strategy. Explain how you will promote your business to reach your target market, be that through social media, advertising, or email marketing.
- Logistics and operations plan. How do you intend to get your product or service into the hands of your paying customers? This could be dropshipping suppliers, third-party logistics companies, or printing labels yourself.
- Financial plan. Detail how you intend to make (and spend) money. Include your financial needs, costs and expenses, balance sheet, and cash flow projections.
💡Tip: Need help writing your business plan? Try a free business plan template.
3. Lean on the entrepreneur community
Many entrepreneurs before you have started their businesses with little more than pocket change. This community can offer plenty of hard-earned lessons to share with newcomers. Some ways you can get free advice include:
- Attending networking events
- Signing up for virtual and in-person conferences
- Joining online networking groups
- Finding a business mentor
4. Choose a business name
The next stage in starting a business is to choose a name. This needs to be catchy, recognizable, and most importantly, not already taken.
Remember: The name you choose will serve you through the business’s lifetime. Make sure it’s one you love—and can see scaling with you—to avoid headaches down the road.
Once you’ve found yours, secure online assets that match the business name, such as:
- The domain name, for example, BRAND.com
- Social media handles, for example, facebook.com/BRAND
💡Tip: Use a free business name generator to get inspiration if you’re stuck.
5. Create a brand
Now that you have a business name, you’re one step closer to building a brand. But a brand is much more than a name or even a logo. Branding encompasses the following:
- Brand values and mission statement
- Brand aesthetic, including color palette and fonts
- Photography style
- Brand voice and tone
- Hiring practices
- Brand story
As a business owner, your brand guidelines will help inform your business strategy as you grow. A strong brand guides your social media marketing efforts, your hiring practices, and your communication style. You can create a brand with no money, using free resources like Canva’s free design tool or Shopify’s logo maker.
6. Launch a website
The process for starting a business from scratch has been free up until this point. While it’s possible to continue on the $0 path, the smartest investment you can make is an online store plan. A basic website serves as a landing page for your business online. Use it to educate potential customers about the products or services you sell.
📚 Read more: How To Start an Online Store in 2024 (10-Step Guide)
7. Validate ideas with preorders
Looking to sell physical products but don’t have the startup cash for manufacturing? Try testing your ideas with preorders. It provides cash upfront for you to invest in production. It’s also a great launch strategy for building hype around a new brand.
After conceiving the idea for Natural Girl Wigs while working a full-time job, Remi Martins created an Instagram page to showcase the products she wanted to sell. “I got feedback that people are interested in the product and there was a market for wigs specially made for natural-hair lovers,” she says.
Remi developed her product with a hair stylist and launched it through pre-orders.“We sold 50 products in the first 60 days of the business,” Remi says. “I eventually invested $1,000 in the business to purchase inventory and do marketing.”
8. Source funding to grow
Once you’ve validated your business idea and start making money, you can also reinvest profits, apply for small business loans, seek out angel investors, or run a crowdfunding campaign.
Research shows that 29% of small businesses fail because they run out of cash. To survive and thrive, some entrepreneurs look for startup capital—extra money they can use to invest in inventory, marketing, or hiring their first employee.
Options to fund your new business venture include:
- Crowdfunding. This approach to raising money takes small amounts of cash from a large number of people. Ask regular people to invest in new businesses through platforms like Kickstarter.
- Friends and family loans. Do you have a personal support network that can back your new business idea? Ask them to invest cash into your startup.
- Small business loans. Get larger amounts of money through a lender to go toward payroll, inventory funding, or marketing.
- Capital investors. These come in the form of angel investors or venture capitalists. Both provide cash for small businesses in exchange for an equity stake.
- Small business grants. These are one-off lump sums of money given to small businesses with specific criteria. Most small business grants don’t need to be paid back.
Alicia Ho started her photography business, Precious Ones Photography, with $0 after her hobby of taking photos of her children garnered attention. “Friends and family took notice of my work, and I began taking on clients and making a small amount of money,” says Alicia.
When she was ready to scale, Alicia found a local non-profit organization that offered loans and scholarships for young entrepreneurs. “It was the best step forward for my business,” she says.
You don’t need money to become a business owner
If this guide teaches you anything, let it be this: You don’t need upfront capital to start a business. Many entrepreneurs have created successful businesses from scratch—oftentimes with no outside funding. A great idea, commitment, and an entrepreneurial spirit will get you further than you think.
How to start a business with no money FAQ
What is the easiest business to start with no money?
Dropshipping is one of the easiest ways to start a business without money, since you only pay for inventory when a customer buys it. There are no warehousing fees or excessive product manufacturing costs. And, since it’s an online business, you can make money from home.
What business can I start without capital?
Print on demand is an online business idea you can start without capital. Create custom designs using free online graphic design software, and use a service like Printful to add it to merchandise. You’ll only pay for manufacturing costs when a customer orders the product. Other businesses to start with no upfront capital include social media marketing consulting, freelance writing, or starting a service business.
How much does it cost to start a business?
The cost to start a business varies greatly, depending on the type of business you choose. Some businesses require a lot of money upfront to pay for things like retail space, while others require only an internet connection. It is possible to start your own business with no money using business models like dropshipping, print on demand, and selling digital products.