Q: How can I start a business on a shoestring budget?
A: Reader questions on how to get a business up and running on a shoestring budget have certainly run the gamut. "How can I start a temp agency?" "How do I start a magazine?" "How can I open a retail store or tanning salon or small diner?" "Where do I even begin in the start-up process?" Although your business interests vary, here are a few start-up principals that can help you start any business on a shoestring budget:
- Begin with a profile book. Libraries and bookstores are loaded with book series that profile a particular type of business. The Globe Pequot Pressoffers more than 15 titles in its How to Open & Operate a ... series. Titles include How to Open & Operate a Communications Business, How to Open & Operate a Bed & Breakfast, How to Start a Home-Based Mail-Order Business, How to Start a Home-Based Carpentry Business and more. Also refer to books that profile multiple types of ventures. Small Business Profiles (Gale Group) provides step-by-step guidelines for more than 100 business ventures. From these types of books, you'll glean essential information on startup costs and requirements, self-evaluation, financial projections and management, marketing and contact listings to people in the trade.
- Visit your city's "first-stop" business information center. A first-stop office can provide you with information packages about licensing, permits, your particular business type and running a business in your state in general-the packages are usually free. They also provide you with links to local Small Business Development Centers, Federal Information Centers and special entrepreneurial training and financing programs. Check the government section in your phone book for a center near you.
- Take advantage of industry freebies. Before you dip into your piggybank, make sure you're not about to pay for something you can get free. Take advantage of free computer access to databases and software at your local Business Information Center. Pick the brain of business veterans through free e-mail counseling offered by the Service Corps of Retired Executivesand through the SBA Answer Desk. Learn how to set up your books through free programs and resources offered by Uncle Sam. Request a copy of its latest offering, Small Business Resource Guide-CD 2000 (publication 3207), by calling (800) 829-3676. Get sample packages of office products, software working demos and stationery or paper samples direct from manufacturers. Avery Dennison (800-252-8379), offers labels you can sample for free.
- Put your creative energy to work. Your biggest challenge as a shoestring entrepreneur will be to graduate from a cash-dependent to a wit-dependent businessperson. It's the only way shoestringers make it on a thin budget. Be prepared to create your own funding strategies. Earn extra cash by participating in focus groups, working odd jobs or selling unused items in your home. Solicit the sponsorship support from companies that could loan you items from their product line. Your best creative financing tips will come from seasoned entrepreneurs. Look for opportunities to schmooze with others in your industry, such as through a subscription to an online discussion group. You'll be able to listen in on their success strategies and ask questions in a nonthreatening setting.
Follow these pointers and you'll find yourself on the pathway to the business of your dreams.
Kimberly Stansell is an author, entrepreneur and businesswoman in Los Angeles. She has a knack for turning her desires into reality with little or no money and helps others do the same in her book Bootstrapper's Success Secrets: 151 Tactics for Building Your Business on a Shoestring Budget (Career Press). For more business-building tips and resources, visit her Web site, www.kimberlystansell.com.
The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author, not of Entrepreneur.com. All answers are intended to be general in nature, without regard to specific geographical areas or circumstances, and should only be relied upon after consulting an appropriate expert, such as an attorney or accountant.