Overcoming the challenges of starting a hustle with no money

Hustle with no money – no wastage, no problem!

I used to work for a medium-sized corporate. They spent (my guestimate) R 30 million on a project that never saw the light of day. We, as entrepreneurs don’t have this amount of money to waste, so being strategic and innovative is vital in being profitable. 

Whether you’re a one man show or have a business partner, to run/start a business with little capital means you will need to manage wastage. Time, money, energy and customer engagement should be targeted with purpose and intention. 

Is the issue really money?

I find that, often, the challenge is not money – it is action, creative problem solving and finding a way when there seems to be no way. But does this mean that money is never the issue? Well no. Some industries require intensive capital and lots of red tape. Take for example the restaurant industry. You have red tape, legal paperwork and licenses and need lots of money for equipping the kitchen and eating area. And then you get startups like eatwith where you can eat at people’s homes – and it bypasses all the red tape! 

Depending on skills, contacts and experience it might be worth exploring other options. Yet, for those who show the tenacity, it can play out in their favour. Below you will find examples and experiences of overcoming challenges with no funding.

Inventory and stock

When the demand for your product goes up, cash flow can be a challenge – especially when you constantly are trying to balance your supply. At this point, many business owners seek funding to scale their businesses. 

Though this might make sense, you need to realise that you are giving away a part of your business – you’re losing control! If you prefer to keep control, there are other options available to you:

  • Consider pushing up the price until the supply and demand reach an equilibrium
  • Decide to stay small for now and deepen your roots. Once your foundation is well established, you will be able to scale easier.

Overcoming regulations and red tape

When things go wrong, the government needs to add laws to protect its citizens against themselves and others. Examples include:

  • Strict financial laws to guard against scams such as MTI that stops us from getting high ROIs from our investments
  • Licensing for opening restaurants to avoid food poisoning
  • Public transport regulation – taxis need to either be metered and licensed or part of a taxi association. 

We might be led to believe that certain markets are impenetrable – but again, are we willing to go the extra mile to find innovative solutions to overcome this? The best way to explain how this can be done is through a few examples:

  • With Uber, you can have your own taxi shuttle service without too much paperwork.
  • Airbnb does not own any properties and allows you to rent out your rooms without a lot of the red tape.  

 I know – why am I using the well-known examples? Well, it does show that it can be done. 

What about funding?

I quite often get a message like this: “We have an amazing idea, but we need a coder to make the idea happen”. Though noble in intent, the issue is that there is absolutely no movement – no momentum in their business. Investors favour businesses that have momentum already, and they can add fuel to the fire with their cash injection. 

For this reason, I encourage founders and small business owners to build something and get a single paying customer, purchase order or contract that a customer will pay for their product or service.  Once there is momentum, people will be willing to invest. Here are some ways I have personally helped people to work with what they have first:

  • I had a customer that couldn’t sell his software solution. I encouraged him to do a simple PowerPoint dashboard to show the customer how his solution will look like.
  • A customer wanted to build a million rand mobile app. I suggested setting up a WordPress website and driving traffic to get sign-ups for his service before he builds the app.

In the startup community, another great example is Groupon. They started by setting up a WordPress site and taking orders for their local pizza place. The owner manually sent the vouchers out!

Am I against funding? Nope, not at all.

I am against premature funding. 

Finding customers

Many people have a product ready to be bought but cannot find the market. We know about finding a product/market fit. The basic idea is to find where your product fits into the market. In the case of startups, this could be a possibility and happens often. This issue is that with little or no money, you cannot afford to sit with inventory that is not moving or try to find the market, which could take months, if ever. 

For this reason, it might be worth your while to first find a market and then do research. This should include what the market buys, why they buy it and the habits that goes with it. Habits and frustrations can be invaluable in creating and building a product/service. 

The lesson is this: don’t build the product first. Find the market first and build your product for it.

If you do not have a market, you will not make any sales.


Risk is a big challenge when starting a business with no money. For example, if you’re offering complex system integration to financial institutions, you might personally be held liable. You might also risk litigation and legal action in some cases if you make some serious blunders. 

Though not all risks can be mitigated, here are some options to consider:

  • Have well-defined terms and conditions that explain your liability. This needs to be signed before any work can be done. 
  • Choose your battles and industry – if you don’t want big liability, choose your industry and the problem you are solving wisely.
  • Make sure you cover all your ends with do due diligence. Offer excellent customer service and don’t fight with customers online. 


I believe that challenges are there to be conquered. We shouldn’t let the constraints that money put on our hustles stop us from hustling. 

We should see red tape and politics as a stepping stone in our journey to build our empires. Don’t think of it as a barrier to entry. If we can overcome it, we can prosper.

Happy investing!

Sources consulted and extra reading

  • Effectify – Do I really need funding?
  • FrugalLocal – How do I get funding for my business or side hustle?
  • FrugalLocal – Starting a business with little or no money