Is it Possible to Start a Business with Little to No Money?
The short answer is yes. The key is to select the right kind of business model and roll up your sleeves. The good news is that it is absolutely possible. Here's how...
In terms of business model, service businesses usually do not require any investment in manufacturing infrastructure, nor do they require any inventory that chews up working capital. Instead, services startups are the types of businesses that require a good dose of humility and hard work. While these business models are not as scalable or repeatable as tech-based businesses, you can still achieve significant leverage through employees, and your ROI (return on investment) will be higher and faster due to the little to no up-front investment.
I've spent decades as an entrepreneur and advising entrepreneurs and I could go on for days on this topic, but consider the following examples of entrepreneurs that I personally know that should encourage those with nothing more than a heart to serve:
One man started a window cleaning business with less than $100 in sponges, squeegees, rags, and cleaning solution. His operation grew into a company that netted him a six-figure income, all while allowing him to work from home with his family – which was important for him.
Another entrepreneur started a pool cleaning company with less than $200 in supplies to put himself through grad school and he ended up hiring someone to manage it after graduation. The company continued to provide him with income for over 30 years, freeing him up to pursue many other projects and opportunities that he otherwise could not have followed without the ongoing earnings from the company.
In another pool cleaning example, an entrepreneur that had lost everything in a previous failed venture, bounced back and with a spirit of humility and cheerful diligence, moved to a new city with literally no money, and bought a few pool cleaning supplies. He went on to build a pool cleaning route and sold it for over $50,000 just ten weeks later. He told me he didn’t even have enough money for a direct mailing campaign, so he just went door-to-door to build his customer base. He then kept doing that over and over again, realizing that he was really good at building a route of customers and that there were plenty of existing pool cleaning companies that were not that good at growing that would happy buy a route from him. He could build and sell about four routes per year.
In another case, I called a yellow pages ad for a company to clean out my HVAC vents and ducts. The hard-working immigrant that showed up to do the job had only been in the U.S. for 18 months, having arrived from Eastern Europe with nothing more than the shirt on his back. Yet, he was busy supervising three crews that day he was at my home with an average billing of $2,500 each. He had started out cleaning ducts by hand and saved enough money to buy sophisticated wet vacs out of his initial earnings. His only other investment over time was a used service van per crew (he already had three only 18 months in) and cell phones so he could direct the crews' work.
In another case of marveling at the simple business model of someone I hired for my home, I hired a man that worked with his sons to replace several window screens. Just a few hours after showing up, he drove away several hundred dollars richer, having installed several window screens at around $40 each. His only investment was a slick little mobile screen cutting and framing machine he had picked up at Home Depot for a few hundred dollars. His supplies consisted only of rolls of window screen material and aluminum frame that he cut to measure onsite with a power hacksaw.
One Saturday while I was working in my yard, a man stopped his truck and jumped out to tell me that he noticed that I had a dent in one my cars in my drive way. Maybe I'm just a sucker, but he had a good sales pitch about how much cheaper he was than a body shop and thirty minutes later he drove away with $200 in his pocket and I had a job well done. His tools consisted of two different types of dent pullers, two different styles of hammers, and a drill. His supplies included putty and several grades of sand paper. I must admit, he did a really good job. For the final painting, he referred me to an auto paint store to pick up a small can of matching paint to finish it off myself. He worked for an auto body shop during the week, but he said he could easily pick up an extra thousand dollars or two every Saturday when he cruised neighborhoods as he was doing that day. That equates to $4k to $8k per month if he worked all four Saturdays – that’s not just chump change for an hourly auto body worker with an entrepreneurial spirit.
In another case, a pastor started a home health care business with his family. They converted old farm outbuildings on their small farm into living quarters and earn $12,000 per month to house and feed four elderly clients (the state pays them $3k/month/client). The family cooks and cleans for their clients and have plenty of time to pursue other projects and opportunities.
Another entrepreneur started a restaurant supply and repair company with absolutely no money by offering to repair commercial kitchen equipment to customers that paid him in advance so he could buy the necessary parts. That business has since grown into a $50 million business with operations in several states that he eventually sold. Prior to selling, he enjoyed a net income of over $3 million per year while checking in periodically from his condo in Hawaii. His ROI was infinity, having built a very valuable business out of nothing.
A young married couple from Eastern Europe landed in the U.S. with $1,500 in their pocket and no educational credentials. After trying their hands at a few odd jobs, they got down to only fifty cents. They bought a Coke and sat on the curb in a mid-sized Midwestern town in a moment of despair and shared the Coke while discussing whether or not they should return home. With a common resolve they vowed never to return, borrowed $150 from a friend, and continued to soldier on. They walked past a Karate studio and noticed that it was full of kids and looked like an interesting business that didn’t require any training other than knowing Karate. They both got cleaning jobs, fastidiously saved money, and enrolled in the school to be trained. Once they both got their black belts and had saved enough money to buy a franchise, they relocated to a large metroplex to a very high income suburb and started their own Karate studio. They now run one of the most successful Karate franchises in the U.S. and are amazingly successful. Their customer service is phenomenal and they are now both 5th degree or higher black belts and the husband just won a national tournament in sparring. So not only do they have a successful business, but they are literally among the most successful and talented in their entire industry. It was only 9 years ago that they were sitting on a curb, having spent their last fifty cents.
The list goes on and on, including lawn service companies, cleaning services, etc.
Here’s the consistent theme in these stories:
The entrepreneur(s) started with very little money
The entrepreneur started out performing the service themselves and then hired others, training them to do it their way
The entrepreneur did not wait for customers to come to them, but they went out and sold directly
The entrepreneur did not have an MBA or any formal business training (in fact, that kind of training would likely not have humbled them enough to start off as they did)