Starting a business with no or little money

I have no money to start a business

Many people struggle to overcome the funding barrier. They want to start a business, make loads of money – but have neither the capital nor the skills to get going. I personally encourage people to start hustling from within their skill set and what they love, as this will sustain them when the going gets tough. But if you have little or no money, this can be greatly challenging.

Let’s talk about what you can do – and how you can do this.

It IS possible to grow your business without money. 

Choosing your low-cost start-up cautiously

I received an email from a potential client with a ‘groundbreaking‘ idea that will cost millions to build. They didn’t have funding but believed their idea was the best thing since sliced bread will change the world. But they didn’t have funding. The problem was the solution was too big. And for big problems with big solutions, you need lots of money. Or funding. I pointed him to my articles here and here on funding, as he was stuck on getting the whole solution built the way he wanted it.

When starting a business, you need to pick something you love, care about and into which you are willing to put the time and energy. I know that people tell you to start a blog or become a software developer – but don’t decide based on money. Your decision should be geared towards who you are.

Opportunities for low money hustles

We need to rethink our hustle ideas if we don’t have cash – of if you’re frugal like me and don’t want to spend money on things you don’t have proof that it will work. Remember, this type of proof can be obtained through testing your business idea or business concept through validated learning and client interaction long before you build anything. 

There are opportunities out there, but we will need to be flexible and test our ideas carefully to align with our budget and skillset. 

A services-based small business can help you to move your business forward – where the currency is time and not money. Examples of this line of business include web design, copywriting, consulting, fashion consultant and wedding events planner. 

Businesses that require products/inventory tend to be quite costly. The cash needed upfront can also kill a business even before it gets started. Though this can work for low-cost startups, this is generally more challenging – and you will need to get creative in solving problems. 

What really matters

When I consult startups and small businesses, I find that they often spend money and effort in the wrong places. One company spent millions to test if its idea would work without finding a product/market fit. Don’t do that!

Finding out what really matters to your customer is exceptionally important. If you don’t know, ask them. If they cannot tell you, run a couple of tests to see what will work. This is called validated learning. Here are some examples, to make it practical:

  • Run a Google ad campaign to see which unique selling point the customer really wants
  • Show them slideshow mockups and ask them questions about what they see. It doesn’t need to be perfect!
  •  Ask them questions about their frustrations and troubles concerning the problem that you want to solve. Don’t tell them your solution yet!

Don’t try and solve all your customers’ problems. Start with one small problem.

Are you wasting your money?

The question is not can we build it, but should we build it

I believe that wastage is the number one way we lose money. Though the intentions are pure and honourable, I find that, as in the story above, we spend most of our money in the wrong places. Here are some of my top money-wasting areas:

  • Spending money on branding (logo, website, business cards) rather than client acquisition
  • Setting up legal structures too early as “I need to be ready”
  • Building a digital product without proof that it will work or having stock available in case there’s a rush to buy it.

I know it’s awesome having something in your hand to show a client – and in many cases, a minimum viable product or prototype can do the job.

Test everything – trust no one. 

Making decisions with little money

Small businesses are agile. They can quickly change their mind about what they are offering in case they find that their offering isn’t solving a customer’s need. 

When you add little money into the mix, it becomes vital that you make small, incremental decisions based on fact. When making a decision in your small business, you need to have facts on paper, rather than a feeling.

The issue here is that we cannot distinguish between fact and assumption. Here are some of my favourite business assumptions:

  • “Everyone will love my product”
  • “I know this idea will work – I just know”
  • “We will have 2 000 000 000 000 customers using this service [in a year’s time]”

When confronted with statements like these, I tend to ask the simple question to see proof of these assumptions. How did you test the assumption with your existing customer?

Admin, accounting and structures

We often neglect admin and paperwork early on in our business – that is until SARS come knocking, or customers start asking for things like statements, estimates and invoices. I recommend doing a little bit of research ahead of time on the things that you would need. For example, in the IT services industry, you might be required to keep track of a few invoices, but this grows as your business grow. 

Make sure you dedicate time to do your admin – whether it’s product/inventory management or checking if all invoices were paid. 

You will also need to schedule a time to match your income and invoices sent!

Sage recently added FNB bank feed integration (article here), which can help cut back on your admin. Remember, less admin means more time to focus on your business!

Remember – you don’t need a Pty Ltd to do business. For now, you can use what you have, and once you reach a goal you set for yourself (or when it becomes necessary), start getting the infrastructure in place. 


You don’t need money to make money – but you need to be innovative and creative.

It takes 20 years to make an overnight success.

As your business starts to take shape, you might need funding to help cash flow – or you might be able to use capital saved. Whichever route you take later in your business, make sure that you start building your future today.

Get going!

Happy investing!

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