January 15, 2023
Maybe you’ve never started a business before and you’re like “helllllppppp! I have no idea what I’m doing!”. Or maybe you have in the past, and now you’re like “I forgot how to do this with no money!” I hear you, and I’m here to help. As someone whose business started both 1.) accidentally and 2.) in my bedroom during the pandemic while I was on unemployment, I mean it when I say that I lived it. Here’s everything you need to know about how to start a business on a budget.
But quickly, a rant—
I am genuinely so annoyed that this kind of content never came across my desk back in like 2017-2019. (I know it existed, but I never found it!) Back then, I was searching high and low for something to support my acting career that didn’t involve serving food to entitled New Yorkers. And knowing what I know now, I’m sooooo annoyed that it took me until 2020 to find the online space.
That’s why, when I write this kind of content about how to start a business on a budget, I’m so incredibly passionate about it. Because I know there are so many people out there that could 100% be doing this too!!!
ANYWAY. I digress.
Some Reasons You Might Be In This Situation
If you’re anything like I was, you might be flat out be broke and looking for something fulfilling to do that will also pay you. In fact, I bet most people who are starting a biz are in this situation, so, hello, most people! 👋
Alternatively, you might be waiting to test out an idea or proof of concept before you invest heavily into it. (More about that here!) Or, maybe you don’t even want to monetize your idea, but you have a passion for it and want to share it with the world.
Luckily for you, this blog post is gonna walk you through all the resources you need to get your thing off the ground with very little capital.
A Little Inspo for You: Famous Success Stories
Before we dive into the resources, I also wanted to sprinkle in a little inspo, because this sh*t is totally possible —at every level. Here are a few folks who started their businesses with little-to-no budget:
- Jenna Marbles: we all know her! But in case you don’t, here’s the tea—she started making Youtube videos in 2010 as a way to share her sense of humor and connect with her audience, initially producing her videos using a webcam and basic editing software. Now, she has grown her channel to over 20 million subscribers and her net worth to over 8 million.
- Airbnb: Did you know that Airbnb started with two roommates who just wanted to make a little extra cash? They had the bright idea to list a few air mattresses in their apartment as an affordable option for design conference attendees in San Fransisco. Now, Airbnb is—well, you know Airbnb.
- Apple: started in Steve Job’s garage.
- Marie Forleo: simply started creating content online and hosting small little workshops.
- Lady Gaga: attended NYU and started performing in small little clubs post-grad.
Like.. you get the gist. Starting a business on no capital is 1,000% possible. (Also, if you’re curious about the step-by-step process of how I started my business, that’s all laid out here!)
How to Start a Business on a Budget: My Best Resources for Actually Getting It Goin’
When people ask me “how do you start a business with no money?”, these are the best tips, tricks, and tools I’ve got. (Beware: they do require a little blood, sweat, and tears. But if you’re in a situation where you have more time than you do money, these options make great solutions to otherwise expensive problems.)
Utilize Low-Cost (or Free!) Tools and Resources
The best thing about the internet right now is that everything is accessible. Truly—they say we live in the information age for a reason, and people are giving it allllllll out for cheap, as long as you’re willing to put in a little legwork. Here are some examples of low-cost tools & resources you might use to get started:
- Website Templates: need a website, but don’t have 5-15K to dish out to a designer? Understandable. Luckily, there are so many gorgeous, high-converting website templates out on the market right now that take the guesswork out of website design. And the best part is that most of them come with video tutorials about how to customize them to your business (hint: mine do too, and unlike many of them, mine ALSO come with tutorials on SEO—shop mine here!)
- Social Media Templates: you don’t need to hire an in-house graphic designer if you know how to utilize programs like Canva, and know where to find beautiful social media templates (like on Creative Market!). Simply replace your content & images and you’ll have gorgeous, on-branded posts for your IG feed, Facebook, or anything else.
- Legal Templates: hot take—you don’t need a lawyer when you’re first starting a business. You just don’t! There are countless contract & legal templates on the market that work beautifully for smaller endeavors. These are my favorite—crafted and penned by TikTok famous lawyer, Erika Kullberg!
Teach Yourself the (Easy) Necessary Skillsets
I’m telling ya—nothing is more empowering than knowing wtf is going on in your business. In fact, when people start outsourcing tasks right away, it stresses me out. I’m like—what happens if the person you’re outsourcing to quits on the spot, and now you’re responsible for that task?
That’s why I’m such a big supporter of learning all the important skills in the beginning, and then outsourcing those tasks when you no longer have time (or it’s no longer proving fruitful for the biz). And luckily, there’s an online course for just about every single thing you ever need to learn.
Also, quick note about online courses: I know they get a bad rep on the internet sometimes because many of them are extremely scammy. But if you know which ones to purchase, they can be suuuuuper helpful. Here’s a blog post I wrote about how to tell which ones are going to be worth your $$!
So without further ado, here are some things I think every business owner should learn how to do themselves in the beginning:
- Bookkeeping: and I know what you’re gonna say—”I know nothing about finances & numbers!” Here’s the thing—bookkeeping is just a fancy term for categorizing your income & expenses. That’s literally it. For context, when I was 20 years old and had just graduated acting school, the owner of the restaurant I worked at hired me to do the bookkeeping. I learned everything on the spot. I was 20 years old. And just graduated from acting school. (And I’m not weirdly good at math or anything.) If I could learn it, you can too. I use Quickbooks to track all my expenses because it makes things easy, but you could also start on a spreadsheet—here’s a resource from one of my bookkeeper clients!
- Content Strategy: you don’t need to hire a social media manager or strategist when you start your business. In fact, it’s better if you learn how to do it yourself first, so that you can start to get a sense of what your audience cares about. There are tons of courses online to learn content strategy, but I just love watching Rachel Pedersen’s TikToks. She’s incredddddibly smart, and entertaining too!
- Copywriting: sure, you could hire someone to write your website copy, all your emails, all your instagram captions, etc. But that’s gonna be expensive, and when you’re just starting your business, it’s probably not an option. One thing no one told me about business ownership is just how much writing there is. Like—it’s kinda crazy! I’m writing ALL THE TIME! I’m writing as we speak! BTL Copy is the BEST resource on the internet for all things copy, whether you want to download all her free guides, take a stroll through her blog, or devour her weekly newsletter every Tuesday morning. But I highly recommend her copy course, Site Series—it’s the most comprehensive course on the internet for learning how to write sh*t that sells.
Download, Read, Watch, and Listen to All the Free Content Under the Sun
Learning new skills is more accessible than ever before. So when people ask me how to start a business on a budget, I’m like, you are living in the right time! No matter what you want to learn, do, or sell, there’s definitely a podcast, Youtube channel, free guide, free webinar, blog post, TikTok, Reel, IG account, or free course for that.
Hot tip: create a new Gmail account specifically for downloading all the free info. (You’ll likely need to fork over your email address in exchange for a lot of the free guides / courses you want to learn from.) Then, keep all of it in that account, and come back to it when you need it! You can learn about things like:
- Passive income
- Writing a book
- Becoming a social media manager
- Using ads on your blog
- Starting an email list
- Creating actually good content
- … and sooooo much more!
The list truly goes on and on. (In fact, sometimes it can be overwhelming. But if you commit to learning one thing at a time, you’ll be shocked where you can find yourself 2-3 years later.)
Utilize Low-Cost Marketing Methods to Drive Organic Traffic
When we talk about marketing our new businesses, social media usually comes into the conversation pretty early on. And with good reason—platforms like Instagram and TikTok are incredibly helpful in getting eyeballs on your work. Buuuut, they’re not the only way to get more eyeballs on your stuff! Here’s two more channels I love utilizing that drive a lot of traffic for me:
- My email list: I’m not kidding when I say that my income doubled when I committed to sending a weekly email newsletter. Sure, I have to devote 2 more hours of my week to that specific task, and it does take a lot of creative energy. But to DOUBLE my income? I mean, sure, 2 hours seems reasonable for that. There are free ways to start a newsletter, such as using a platform like Mailchimp. But Mailchimp famously sucks, so I highly recommend using something like Flodesk instead.
- Blogging: it’s not dead, ya’ll! (Here’s a whole blog post I wrote about that, too, if you’re interested.) Once you learn how to optimize your blog posts for SEO keywords, you can learn how to rank higher on Google and get more eyeballs on your work for free. More eyeballs means more potential for $$, so, get those eyeballs!
Make Trades with Other New Business Owners
This is a great way to get expert help if you have more time than money. Let’s say you’re a photographer, and you need a website. You might find a web designer who is also early in their business, and offer to take brand photos for them for free in exchange.
I’ve traded websites for personal training, group coaching programs, SEO strategy, photos, you name it. And while I have to be a lot pickier now about the trades I make, trading was a great use of my time when I was just getting started. Utilize this trick for mutually beneficial collaborations!
… and That’s How to Start a Business on a Budget!
Have you ever gotten to the bottom of a blog post and realized it could have been 4 different blog posts? That’s how I feel about writing this, right now. 😂
But seriously, this was the most comprehensive list of resources I’ve ever put together in a blog post, so I hope you found something useful! Also, who would I be if I didn’t say: if you’re just starting your business journey and are looking for a badass website to help you nail your first year in biz, check out my website templates. I also offer a service called Website in a Day where you can get a designer website in literally one single day!
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Hi, I'm Sarah Kleist.
Brand & web designer, personal brand strategist, and marketing educator obsessed with the power of connecting with audiences.
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