Posted: Thu 7th Oct 2021
Short on cash and trying to start a new business? Testing and launching your idea doesn't need to break the bank.
This blog explains eight ways you can start up with little to no money. The aim is to get you thinking about the different ways to launch a business.
We've highlighted resources that can help you learn more.
Barter and ask for free stuff
What skills can you offer? Do you have expertise that could help other business owners?
Whether it's taking Instagram photos or building a cash-flow forecast, you can try to exchange services with other business owners.
You'll get the help you need and build useful relationships for the future. Start networking and think about how you can offer value.
Learn to ask for help
People want to help, so make it easy for them. If you need advice or support, start small and put effort into the relationship.
One approach is to start building a relationship by asking a simple question. Explain why you want to talk to that person – flatter them.
Make it easy for them to help you by being specific. If you ask a business owner how they managed to be successful, they may offer some tips, but there's so much to cover and it's hard to know where to start.
You might talk to a marketeer about how they identify social media influencers in a particular sector or ask the owner of an e-commerce business how they work with Chinese manufacturers.
That could be an email with three short paragraphs or a quick conversation at an event.
Get free business support
Enterprise hubs have been set up to support emerging businesses. It is free to work with these organisations and they can signpost you to the grants that are relevant for your business.
Scotland: Gateway Offices
Wales: Enterprise Zones
Northern Ireland: Local Enterprise Agencies
England: The Local Enterprise Network
Build something as a partnership
Partnerships give you free or low-cost access to resources you need. Think about other businesses or organisations that have equipment or space you can use.
For example, there are lots of venues that aren't being used all the time, providing space to run events or fulfil orders.
Think about how you can offer value to these organisations. For example, a café might give you free space for a meet-up during quieter periods because people will buy coffees.
You might be able to promote someone's business through your marketing or volunteer to help with one of their projects.
Start with a side hustle
Launching a business while you still have a job provides financial stability and gives you the opportunity to test your idea and see if it's viable.
Ronke Jane Adelakun ran Cultureville as a side hustle for 12 months before quitting her day job. That gave her the time to build a brand, develop marketing channels and save money.
Start with little (or no) stock
It's difficult to get the cash together to buy significant amounts of stock.
One approach, which is sometimes called the flywheel, is to start small and invest profits back into your inventory. Keeping up with orders will take careful planning, so it's important to keep your overhead costs low and monitor inventory levels relentlessly if you go down that route.
One option is to start advertising your service before it's built. Create a simple web page or form explaining what you offer and collect enquiries rather than orders. This will help you understand potential demand and can be fed into a waiting list for your launch.
Crowdfunding websites like Kickstarter take this to the next level by letting you take payments for a product you're developing.
Think about different ways you can offer your product or service too.
You might want to open a café, which requires a big investment. But perhaps you can start by catering someone's event or running a pop-up kitchen in a pub to earn money and learn about your idea.
Start building your marketing channels
Building email marketing lists, blog traffic and social media audiences doesn't cost anything. The earlier you start the better.
Not only will you have marketing channels ready when you launch, but customers who get involved early on will become advocates and can provide valuable feedback.
You can leverage that following to build relationships by promoting other people's businesses or collaborating on content too. You might even get enough traction for bigger businesses to give you support for free.
Start talking to potential customers
The most important thing you can do is talk to potential customers as early as possible. And, it's totally free!
Find out their challenges and what they want from your service or product. Start by talking about their experiences; don't pitch your idea until you learn more because you'll bias their answers.
Whatever route you decide to take, it's important to take that first step.
Launching a business might seem like an insurmountable task, particularly when you don't have the funding or network to back it up. But you can start learning, create a simple business plan and talk to customers for nothing.
Access support to start your business
Visit the StartUp UK hub for resources that give you the education and inspiration to get started on your entrepreneurial journey.