Is it possible to start a business with no money?

James Headspeath
Chief Marketing Officer
Pop Up Business School
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When I left business school in 2012, I’d have laughed at the suggestion anyone could start a business with no money. After all I was this fresh faced kid with a marketing degree and I thought I knew it all. I was going to be a millionaire by the age of 30. And of course I had a seventy-page business plan to show it.

In 2013, my view of starting a business shifted fundamentally from believing you needed a rigorous plan, lots of cash and a team of high-net-worth individuals backing you. I was introduced to a company called Popup Business School. In a nutshell, they teach people the skills to start a business without any funding or a business plan. Of course at the time I was a little skeptical. However, after spending time getting to know them and sadly watching my own sports nutrition business crash and burn I began to realise they were talking a lot of sense. Since then I have actually joined the School and work there full-time as their head of marketing.

I am still frequently asked how you can start a business if you have no money. It’s a fair question and one that I asked plenty of times too. However, I honestly believe anyone can start any business right now with no money. And, here are some examples of businesses that you can start right now for nothing and how you can go about doing it.

1.  I want to start an app

Starting an app may seem like an expensive undertaking, but it doesn’t have to be. How can you start an app business for next to nothing? I would approach someone with the technical skills and offer them equity in the business. You could take 51% they could take 49%, for example. If they believe in your business idea they will happily often take a percentage. I’ve worked with plenty of technical people in the past that I can’t afford to pay and paid them in equity. Make sure you shop around as some people will be put off and only work for cash.

2.  I want to start a catering business

At first glance there seems to be no way in which you can start a catering business without money. But there is. Begin by getting orders or at least 50% of the money upfront. After all there’s nothing worse than making meals and having to throw them away. 

I have met a lot of entrepreneurs over the years that have set up catering businesses and this is the exact business model I’ve advised them to follow. We worked with a lady called Dolores John at one of our events in Reading. She managed to successful set up her own Caribbean pasties catering business using this model and now caters for all kinds of events including weddings. 

3.  I want to start a plumbing company

I have been asked by plenty of tradespeople how they can start up with no costs. After all, they often need resources to begin the job. However, there are plenty of ways they can start up without any resources. One is for tradespeople to hire the tools they need for a job. There’s no point in spending a fortune on equipment you only need for specialist jobs. The client is going to be none the wiser and your wallet will thank you for it too. Like with the previous example, make sure you get paid up front.

4. I want to start a cafe

Now you’re thinking there’s no way you can start a cafe without any money. But again there is a way you can do it and save yourself a big loan in the process. Try approaching existing cafes near where you live and ask if you can use their premises during closing hours. The owner of the premises takes a cut in your profits, but it means you don’t have to pay for a premises, equipment etc.

5. I want to start an escape room

Admittedly, we have only had one person on our course ask us how to do this. Like with the previous examples, it is probably quite hard to imagine how you could start an escape room with next to nothing. But, of course, there is a way to do it.

A student of ours called Katie Falcon-Uff wanted to start an escape room. She funded it by selling the tickets in advance for the event, so getting the money up front. She also formed a partnership with a hotel to provide a location and convinced them not to charge her as it would bring in extra customers to the bar! To find out more about Katie’s escape room business check it out here.

As proven in the examples above you can start a business with no money. The ‘traditional’ model of starting a business by getting funding is a thing of the past. You can either offer equity in your business or you can get people to pay you for your product or services upfront (as many businesses do!). You can use the resources you already have around you with your current employer or find someone else to piggyback off.

Understanding how to startup without getting yourself into debt is crucial to your success. So many businesses go bust every day due to cashflow problems and if you are starting off in debt from day one then you have an uphill battle ahead of you. If more people focused on selling their value before they created it then we would see a lot fewer business failures.

About JamesH88

About JamesH88

James Headspeath is currently head of marketing at Pop Up Business School. For more information on starting up your own business on a shoestring check out of the
Popup Business School Startup Guide

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