How To Start A Business With No Money (And No Debt)

By Zach Buchenau

Last Updated: December 2, 2021

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Are you wondering if it’s possible to start a business with no money and no debt?

I have some good news for you. These days–providing you have a good idea, a well-thought-out plan, and the right attitude–start-up capital isn’t as important as you might think.

I’d even argue that starting from zero, in many cases, can give you both a mental and entrepreneurial edge over your competition.

And that’s exactly why, for the rest of this guide, I’m going to reveal a few of my favorite strategies to help you start a business without any money or debt.

Are you ready to get scrappy and work your tail off?

Let’s get to it!

1. Start As Small As Possible 

Every business has to start somewhere. Bill Gates, for instance, started Microsoft in a garage with his buddy.

Just because you don’t have a fancy office space, flashy equipment, and a highly paid team of ‘experts’ to help you, it doesn’t mean you can’t build something that will become a roaring success. 

When you’re starting out, focus on the small things you can do for free.

You’d be amazed at the kind of results you can achieve with some elbow grease and creativity. For instance, in the early days, you can begin by doing the following: 

  • Set yourself up on social media and begin connecting with potential clients. 
  • Build a basic website for free using a template from a site like Wix
  • Convert a small space in your home into your office. 
  • Tap into your existing network and identify potential opportunities for collaboration. 
  • Register for a number of freelancing platforms like Fiverr and Upwork [if relevant to your venture] and begin pitching to clients. 

Methodically working through tasks you can do yourself (for free) at the start of your business venture, will not only help you gain wisdom and understanding as a business owner but also make the long-term reward that much sweeter. 

When you begin working with clients and start earning some money, you can then look to outsource particular tasks and use your earnings to bolster your business. 

Looking for more entrepreneurial tips and inspiration? Check out a few of our other popular posts:

2. Set Milestone Goals 

While we’d all like to become millionaires after six months, in most cases, that is a wildly unrealistic expectation—especially if you want to start a business with no money and no debt.

To be clear, I’m not telling you to dream small. I’m a big believer in setting huge and extraordinary goals for yourself. 

All I’m saying is that it’s better to focus your attention on smaller, more achievable goals along the way to achieving your bigger goals.

The benefit of these smaller, “milestone” goals is that every time you achieve them, it will help you build your confidence as a business owner and decision-maker.

For instance, let’s assume that you’re setting up a freelance writing business for yourself, and you want to eventually grow your business into a content creation agency. You might think about setting the following goals from the outset: 

  • “Complete one writing gig for free by the end of the first week and receive a testimonial that I can add to my website.” 
  • “Land two paying customers by the end of the first month and receive feedback that I can use to improve my business going forward.”
  • “Be active on two social media sites and build my audience to [x] number of followers by the end of first quarter.”

When you’re more confident and have a number of wins under your belt, by all means, feel free to get a little more ambitious.

How to start a business without money (or debt) | Be The Budget

3. Create A Growth Plan

Growth is essential to the success of any business. Seriously, if you don’t plan for growth, your business will stagnate.

Therefore, when you develop your initial business plan, be clear about how you will scale your operation as you increase your client base.

Your growth plan should be realistic, but it should also be ambitious. You will have to think about the following things when planning to scale your business: 

  • How will I price my products/services? Can I begin with a relatively low price and increase incrementally once I have a number of clients? If so, how often will I increase, and how much will I charge? 
  • Is there a certain type of client I would like to work with? For instance, do I want to work with long-term clients on larger projects? Or am I happy picking up smaller, shorter projects? Which fits best into my desired business model?
  • Will I eventually be able to outsource or delegate my work to others? If so, what kind of systems and processes do I need to put in place to ensure smooth and profitable growth?
  • What tools/resources/office space will I eventually I need to support my growth? Can I work from home permanently? Or will I eventually need to look for a workspace?

These kinds of questions will start to train you to think 6 to 12 months ahead in your business, which is essential when you’re trying to start a business without any money or debt.

4. Develop Well-Defined Systems 

A business is nothing without systems. If you don’t systemize your processes, your venture will steadily descend into disorganized chaos—which almost always ends badly.

When we refer to systems, we’re talking about the precise things you do within your business in order to both make a profit and maintain a quality culture. This could be anything from how you approach potential clients to how you start meetings within your organization, handle incoming orders, quality control your products/services, and even hire/fire your employees.

As a starting point, consider developing systems for the following core things within your startup: 

  • Social media/website/communications. 
  • Financial management, including invoicing, bookkeeping, banking, etc. 
  • Time management. 
  • Generating new business. 
  • Documenting existing projects.
  • Fulfilling orders or performing your services

The list could go on and on, but you get the idea. Your systems don’t need to be fancy either. Simple spreadsheets or step-by-step instructions in a Google Doc can work perfectly fine.

You don’t need to sign up to flashy apps that promise to do everything for you for a monthly fee—in fact, I highly discourage that when you’re trying to start a business without money. 

5. Get Active On Free Marketing Channels

Some people believe that it’s impossible to market your start-up without investing a huge chunk of money into a glamourous advertising campaign.

But that couldn’t be further from the truth!

You don’t need to hire the services of an agency to help you or even pay for promoted ads. In fact, if you get really good at marketing your business through social media and other free marketing channels, you may never need to pay a cent for marketing. 

The best way to develop your reputation and to find clients is to work organically.

For instance, you could create a blog, build a social media following, set up a YouTube channel, and begin creating content. You should also put together a simple (free) website, where you can direct people to find out more information about you or to get in touch.

As an emerging business within a particular niche, your objective should be to become a trusted authority on your subject matter.

The best way to do this is to create free online content that adds value to the lives or businesses of your customers.

Whether it’s a blog, social media, a YouTube channel, or a combination of multiple channels, think about what exactly it is your customers want to see and set about creating the necessary content. 

While it might take some time, once you develop some authority in your industry, you’ll be amazed at the amount of business that comes pouring through your door.

6. Find A Partner Or Angel Investors

In certain instances, there’s just no getting away from the fact that your business needs money. This is most likely to apply if you’re creating a product that you’re planning to bring to market.

And while it might be tempting to go to the bank for a loan to cover the start-up costs for their business, we’d urge you not to get yourself into debt. 

After all, if you get yourself into debt before you’ve even started your new venture, you’ll be starting from less than zero.

Instead of taking a loan, if you absolutely need money for your new business, think about finding a partner or angel investor. (Just make sure it’s someone of extremely high integrity.)

If you agree to work with a partner or investor, you will have to give away equity in your company, which many people will argue is a bad thing. While it’s certainly not ideal, it’s much better than diving headfirst into debt.

Instead of having to dig yourself out of a financial hole caused by debt, you can look for income-generating opportunities together with your new partner. 

To begin your search for an angel investor for your start-up, check out Angel List, which is the world’s largest start-up community and offers you the chance to connect with potential investors.

7. Be Patient, And Don’t Quit

When you start a business with no money, growth can (and will) take time. After all, you will be taking on a lot of the essential tasks of running the business yourself, as you won’t have the capital to outsource any of it.

As such, don’t expect your business to be an overnight success. 

Rather, business growth takes years to materialize, so you need to be as patient as possible during the start-up process. We would advise you only to start a new business venture if you’re willing to dedicate a minimum of 3-5 years to build it into a successful entity. 

When considering the long term, it’s even more vital that you celebrate small wins and recognize your daily achievements.

Winning your first client, launching your website, and receiving payment of your first invoice are all momentous occurrences for a new business, and you shouldn’t take them for granted. 

If you enter your new venture with the mindset that it’s going to take time and you’re willing to work on it, you give your business the best chance of success.

Whatever you do, don’t quit when things get tough—because they most definitely will!

The reason any successful entrepreneur is successful is because they were willing to stick with their business through the most difficult times. While the rest of the world would have given up (and achieved nothing) they persevered until they achieved greatness.

Follow their lead, and you will be rewarded in the long run. 

Bottom Line

There’s no doubt about it, starting a business with no money and no debt is challenging. But don’t let anyone tell you it’s impossible.

As long as you’re willing to work hard, live outside of your comfort zone, and treat your financial limitations as an opportunity for creativity, you can launch a successful business for free.

Just be patient, celebrate your wins, and work your butt off! In time, you’ll be amazed at the kind of growth you’ve achieved.

And when that day comes, I can almost guarantee that you’ll look back on your humble beginnings with nothing but gratitude and joy.


Zach Buchenau

About The Author:

Zach Buchenau is a self-proclaimed personal finance nerd. When he isn't writing about budgeting, getting out of debt, making extra money, and living a frugal life, you can find him building furniture, fly fishing, or developing websites. He is the co-founder of BeTheBudget, and Chipotle's most loyal customer.

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