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Big dreams, small wallet: How to start a business with little or no money

“Arrrggghhh!!! I told you so!” my husband told me in frustration. I murmured something about “not having enough money to pursue” and felt a rush of guilt, self-pity and frustration. This is a typical conversation we have every few months. The reason for my guilt and frustration – Between my husband and me, we have come up with more than 100 business ideas in the last few years.

How many did we actually act on? 1. Yep. Exactly 1! Every time we came up with an idea, we didn’t do anything about it because we didn’t have enough money nor enough drive to start a business. Then, a few months later, we would see someone else had a similar idea and the product was a smashing hit. We would have the above mentioned conversation all over again. I mean, what else could we do? We really don’t have spare cash lying around to start a business and we didn’t believe we had the time and energy to pursue it either. So we are destined for living with the frustration for ever, right? Up until a few months ago, I would have answered that question with an astounding “YES!”

No more.

The more I dig into learning about starting a business and making more income on the side, the more confident I have become to say – No, we do not need money to start a business or at least a majority of business ideas don’t require any capital to get started (some, like starting a franchise do require money, I will talk about how to get money for starting those kind of businesses in a separate post).

This year we are determined to act on some of our ideas. Did we come across a windfall? Nope. We are planning to start a business with no money or very little that we can cash-flow in our already tight budget.

As an accountability step, I’m going to map out each step on this blog , so you can see what we’re up to and give us feedback.

The first milestone for our experiment is – Find one business idea that will make us money.

As I mentioned earlier, we are very good at coming up with ideas. Do I think every one of them will make us money? Absolutely not. It is part of our groundwork to figure out which idea of ours will be profitable.

I am going about it by making a worksheet based on this chart I made in January


Like I mentioned, one of the reasons we never acted on any of our ideas before was the lack of money.  But the pie graph above helps illustrate other reasons for our lack of initiative.  Some ideas had a market, but we lacked the skills to bring the idea to market in a reasonable time frame, others we were good at but we weren’t passionate about so we didn’t act fast enough to capture the market, and soon, you get the idea.  So to prevent stumbling at the first step, this time we are going to start with an idea that comes out of an analysis like the one below:


Skills Possible business idea out of that skill Is there a market for that? Who do I think will buy from us? Are we passionate about it enough to do it day after day?
Carpentry Make Pottery Barn style furniture [Doing the market analysis and also analyzing the competition] People who want real wood furniture for Ikea prices Yes
Sewing Make cloth diapers [Doing the market analysis and also analyzing the competition] For people who are interested in cloth diapering but the initial cost is a barrier Not really.
Cooking Start a fusion restaurant Yes, currently there are no such restaurants in this area. But I have to find out whether people here are interested in such a cuisine. People who enjoy exotic cuisines, I have to niche it down further. Yes
Example #4


What did we expect from this step? At least one idea, completely planned out with market analysis (if there is a market, how much will people pay, who are the competitors, etc.)

Lessons learned in this step:

  • Give people what they want, not what you “think” they should have
  • Decide what we shouldn’t be doing.
  • Come up with some goals that are measurable.
  • Find a mentor or someone to keep us accountable

Cost for this step so far: None, just sweat equity.

I will be blogging about our journey – our success, failures, stumbling blocks, plans and results. After I complete the market analysis, I will write a detailed case study on what went into finding our winning idea. You can follow along to see if our idea will be a boom or bust. If you have any ideas you are kicking around and just procrastinating, please shoot me an email. I can share the approach I am taking and we can bounce ideas off each other. If not, you can wait to see how we come up with a profitable idea.

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Money Beagle

This is a very good layout of why many ideas never come to fruition. It sounds like now that you’ve identified this, you can use it as a tool to find a solution that will work for you in taking an idea and turning it into a functional business. I’m excited to see the steps as you go through them.



I’ll play!

Writing about Econ/PF/Politics – Passionate? Yep. Market exists? Kinda – people write about all three things for a living.

Good at? Haha, maybe the writing part, but I’m a horrible blogger. ‘Busted’ – thanks for playing!



My mother started a store in the height of The Great Depression without any money. In her eighties, she used to make handicrafts and sell them at open air ranch markets. There are entrepreneurs selling products at the swap meet, ebay and other online sites. Pick one of your ideas with a low entry point and go for it.


Andy Hough

This should be an interesting series of posts. I’ve long thought about starting a business but have never done it.


Pauline @ Make Money Your Way

That’s an awesome project, best of luck guys! There are tons of businesses you can start with very little money. In a medium sized town I would go for something that saves people time, like landscaping, pool cleaning, dry cleaning delivery… but it is not something to be passionate about, except the gardening maybe.



I am a theorist, I like to envision and think ideas that I should turn into a book, article, or a business, but its difficult to act on them. One reason is I do not have the capital to start the business.

But this morning, I conceived a big idea about my nation in W/Africa when I was brushing my teeth. I ran and wrote it down quickly and prayed about it. So, I am finding money and planning to fly home and start to execute the idea. It is an intellectual project and involves technology. In this category, I have very few competitors at the lowest level, not at the academic, intellectual, and technological level I will operate.

But I will need grant money to take care of living expenses for 12 months while I do the project . After 12 months, the sales and subsequent editions or volumes of the project will sustain the business. This idea when it becomes a reality, it will expose my nation the more, and attract many people to the nation. I pray God makes it happen, if, indeed, He put this idea in my heart.


jacob | iHeartBudgets

I like the idea of writing it out, and INCLUDING the demand portion. Just because I’m passionate about something, doesn’t mean there’s a market for it. I think I’ll make one of these spreadsheets for my wife and I :)


The College Investor

I love the diagram. I’m a firm believer that you can start a business with little or no money – that’s essentially how the internet works!


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