At one time or another we have all thought about that moment when we take the plunge and go out on our own. For that fleeting moment (or hour-long daydream) we are literally living the dream.
We are our own boss, we are masters of our own universe, we spend our days working on something we love so much that it doesn’t even feel like work. People look up to us, come with us, and we would never be like that awful boss we have in the real world, right?
Reality hits hard when the rent is due, and the utility bills fire in through the door (if you are over 30) or into your inbox (if you’re a dreaded millennial… congrats on putting the avocado toast down long enough to even dream of a future though!).
So how does anyone start a business with no money?
It’s an impossible job, surely… well this writer can tell you from personal experience that everything about starting and running your business is “impossible” regardless of your start up budget. Having no money to get going is the first of many, many, many, many, hurdles you will face if you take that leap.
Having said that, there is a reason we think of starting a business as “living the dream” so if you feel that you are ready, here are a few tips I wish I had been told at the start of my startup journey.
Just START!!! Do it. Now. Something. Anything. Write a list, jot down an idea, cost something up, just get it out of your head, on to some paper and make it real. It might sound like a cliché but that first step is the hardest.
There is always a tomorrow, there is always a reason not to. Just start. If you get this bit ticked off you are already ahead of most people who are still dreaming. You are on your way towards living the dream.
2. Fail to plan, plan to fail
Do your research. This could be around your idea (if you have one and trust me this isn’t always a given) it might be industry research, competitor research, market research, skills and requirements research. The point is get as knowledgeable as you can about where you believe you are headed.
This is your map! The journey you take will undoubtedly change as you face hurdles or obstacles along the way, but without your map you are more likely to get lost.
Don’t be disheartened if you don’t have some lightbulb moment idea. Starting a successful business doesn’t have to involve re-inventing the wheel. Perhaps the research you need to look into are trends for the year ahead, consumer spending habits, travel demographics or opportunities in a downturn – this will lead you to your idea.
3. Skill up or share the burden
Lets face it, we all have weak spots or things we just cannot get our head around. I personally cannot present to save my life. My business partner cannot fathom the numbers in the monthly financial reports. So we can’t fully expect to build an empire on our own.
But, fear not. We are living in the future my friends. Training and skill sharing is available at the push of a button. The internet is a buzz with courses, videos, instructions and web series, pod casts and interviews, the list of completely FREE resources is endless…. There is no excuse other than, “I’d rather do something else” than to learn.
Alternatively, if you feel you need actual help with your new fledgling business then share the burden. OK so you don’t have cash to pay for services, but do you have something more valuable to offer? Part of your dream! If you know people or can find people that will bring a genuine, ongoing, landscape changing value to your business then bring them into the fold.
Share the dream, share the work, and share the reward.
I can attest that a partner or two are worth more than their skill sets when you are setting up a business!
Don’t shoot for the moon in a minivan. Be realistic about what the first version of your business is. You should always have the dream, the long term, the big picture goal in mind. But, what is the first step? What is the absolute bare minimum that you could launch that would satisfy the question, what is your business?
This is where the Minimum Viable Product (MVP) concept comes in.
Is your dream business is to open a Mexican Restaurant? One that’s bigger and better than any Mexican restaurant to have ever existed? Then, what is the first step to getting you there?
Perhaps you launch a take-out menu via a local central kitchen, taking orders over social media to see if there is even an appetite for your product (pun very much intended).
If the dream is a car sharing app that will put Uber out of business, perhaps version one looks more like a whatsapp based booking schedule with local taxi firms to test the logistics of your new service.
The point is your MVP is the bare minimum. Minimal Viable Product to say that you have launched, you exist and ask, what do you think?
To quote one of my favourite sayings, if you are not embarrassed by your MVP/Alpha then you didn’t launch quick enough.
5. Proven concept
Run your MVP – be manual, do it yourself, commit your time over all else. There is no going to the pub, you are probably going to miss your cousin’s birthday and get used to the cupboards looking a little bare, your shopping schedule is all out of whack.
Just get those first few sales, get them done, make them consistent and prove your business works! When it works and you can prove it, the next bit becomes a lot easier.
We don’t all have a guy on the inside at SoftBank or a proven track record when it comes to securing funds. But, we all have the opportunity to raise in some form or another. There are so many options open to an early stage startup founder. Especially to someone who has a proven concept under their belt.
- Family and friends
- Angel investors
- Institutional loans/funding
To go in depth into each of these areas would require more time so check out my other article on early stage fundraising here. There are always options if you pitch well and have a viable, profitable concept you can demonstrate to potential investors.
7. Find a way
This is the most important part of taking that leap. To head out on this journey expecting it to be the dream from day one is naive. Keep going, step by step, use your map, and gather resources. Restructure, replan, pivot, change, fail, fall, get up and do it again.
Always learn a lesson with each fall. Then try again, and again, differently, slightly faster, slightly slower, in a different colour, for a different price. Make deals, negotiate, work hard, do it yourself, forget lunch and do a course.
Regardless of what you want or need, you’ll rarely achieve it without some sweat and tears. Continue to surpass obstacles that stand in your way, stay focused, and you’ll find the right path forward. Because if you don’t keep fighting for what you want, someone else will and you’ll be left in their dust, resentful and full of self-blame.
Ultimately, when we are talking about starting your own business, time, commitment, creativity, and hustle all outweigh your budget. The equation is quite simple: time + commitment + creative thought + hustle = financial and business success.