How to start a business without money ... and in five steps

When you don't have to invest ... invest your time and your intelligence.
How to start a business without money ... and in five steps
Image credit: Depositphotos.com

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12 min read
This article was translated from our Spanish edition using AI technologies. Errors may exist due to this process.
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

STEP ONE: THE MOMENTUM

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In my case, the impulse started one morning, at 3 in the morning. I looked at myself in the mirror, my face wet, breathing noisily, like Darth Vader in pajamas. I was angry. I was disappointed. I was confused. Above all, he was afraid.

He didn't know how he was going to get out of this one. I was terrified. And it was not for less -or at least he believed-. Until a few hours ago ... I had a job. The salary was good and the future looked fabulous.

But everything turned to nothing when I received the dreaded call: the main investor in the business, after a terrible year in Colombia, decided to cancel the project in Mexico. Thus, without further ado. Goodbye. Thank you. Good work and see you later.

Yesterday he was "director". Today he was unemployed . Suddenly that impressive title that adorned my little cards seemed inappropriate and ridiculous. The truth is that he was the director of nothing.

To make matters worse, my wife was pregnant and huge debts haunted me. That night was a very bad night. I prayed - stammered - before trying to go back to sleep.

I already knew that my wife trusted me; and that he saw in me a man capable of providing for the home. That should have been a cause for reassurance; but at that moment it was a heavy piano on my chest. I didn't want to fail him ... but tonight I doubted everything, especially myself.

Only one question was floating in my mind as my eyelids closed. If I was a supposedly educated man, prepared, with a career, mastery ... How did I get to this desperate point? One of two: either the world was a fraud ... or I was.

The next day I did what I had to do. I organized my resume and sent it to everyone I knew, applied to some online positions, made several calls. After a few days without an answer, my calls became more desperate. He was willing to work on anything to make it to the next fortnight. After two weeks of attending various job interviews, without success, I was already questioning everything: my ability, my intelligence, my preparation ... everything . What could I do?

And in my own business? For me the drive was desperation, but it doesn't have to be that way. You could even start a business without leaving your current job. What moves you to start a business? When the urge hits, heed the 5 minute rule and move on.

STEP TWO: CHIP CHIP

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The situation took on desperate tones. I thought that if I couldn't find a job, I would have to start a business. It is not like this? Whatever. I looked online and in magazines about good business to get started. I found hundreds of business opportunities, products and franchises ... but all required some type of investment: 20 thousand, 30 thousand, 100 thousand or more. But when one does not have money or work, it is impossible to think of those amounts. Also, whatever money he could receive, he soon disappeared in basic necessities: food, doctors, rent ... and in paying past debts.

I thought about taking out another loan, but it would be impossible - and also seriously irresponsible - to borrow more. I thought about selling my car… but they would give me very little for it and I really needed it.

The answer came from Salvador, a good friend (with whom he would later write a book, precisely, about entrepreneurship and personal finance). “You don't need money to start a business,” he told me, “you need an idea. If you don't have money, invest your intelligence and your time ”.

I returned home agreed with this idea and sat at a table to put ideas on paper. That day, nothing was off the table. I thought about washing cars, tutoring, walking dogs, and painting houses. I didn't know how to do any of these things , but I thought it would be a way for me to move around and start "something" temporary, where I got a serious job. I could not come up with an idea that would excite me.

A new inspiration came from my wife: “You have always told me that you like to write. Why don't you do some business with that? Indeed, I have always liked to write and I even had a very advanced first novel, but that would not give me money for long, even assuming someone wanted to publish me. But the idea made me rethink everything. I was asking myself the wrong question!

Until then I was wondering where can I earn easy money? And I still couldn't find a way out. But my wife's comment made me change the question. The new question, the correct one, was: There are some things I know how to do well. How can I make money from these things?

This new question cleared the way because it left out thousands of impractical ideas, and limited my options, making my choice easier . That same afternoon, I decided that I wanted to start a writing and copywriting business . There was still a lot to do.

And in your own business ? Ask yourself the right questions and find your talent: the things that you know how to do well and that you like. My thing was writing, but perhaps your thing is animals, computers, sports or cars. Do not look for "a good business" but build a good business from who you are. And now, start where you are .

STEP THREE: LAUNCH THE BOAT INTO THE SEA

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When I made the decision and shared it with my wife, our creative juices started to flow. I had almost no money, so we did everything at home. In one morning we came up with a name for the business, made a simple logo, opened a Facebook page and a free site on Wix. We also devised a “menu” of services that it could offer and we priced it.

This was all new to me, and I set prices that I later learned were too low. I also did not consider many services that I would later discover as important. But we already had what they call in entrepreneurial jargon an MVP, a “minimum viable product ”; something I could start promoting, selling and working on.

That day in the afternoon I sent a message to all my contacts by mail and on social networks. Perhaps, in total, about two thousand people. To all my friends, acquaintances new and old, and even people I didn't remember. I sent them all. The email was very simple:

“Hello, how nice to greet you! I am Francisco and I am telling you that we have just launched these new services. If you have creative writing, editing or proofreading needs, don't hesitate to call us! ”, Then a kind farewell and… SEND! And then ... wait.

Fortunately we didn't have to wait long. The next day a first customer arrived (who needed a brochure) and then another (who needed a website). The first week we charge 3,000 pesos for two services. It was still little, but it was something. We could breathe. We were in business!

And in your own business? Do not wait for the ideal moment, or until you have everything assembled and planned perfectly. Right now, the perfect is the enemy of the good. Try to have an MVP and then make changes and iterations according to the response of your market. Stay open, be flexible, and listen to your customers.

STEP FOUR: SYSTEMATIZE

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The first months were learning . Still our earnings were low (but they helped us get ahead). We discovered new needs, new niches, and products that we could explore. We started offering advertising copy services, social networks, translation and strategic communication. Each client brought a new problem that we had not thought about before. Then we gave ourselves to the task of investigating, learning and solving what we put on the table.

Little by little we were finding our space in the market , and leaving behind the products and services that required us a lot of time and little profit. Clients - thank God - kept coming and within a few months it became evident that we needed more hands on the business, better management systems and systematizing processes.

We also thought that we could be a company with a human sense, that would help people. We launched a call for writers who could work from home: housewives, men who take care of their children and people with some type of disability. At the end of the year, we went from one collaborator (myself), to eight collaborators with flexible times. We also launched programs to help people in need, doing our bit, no matter how small.

That involved us implementing payroll, tax, customer control and process control systems to ensure that everything went smoothly and in order. We learned to hire, train and sell. We made a lot of mistakes and we learned from them; but most of our clients accompanied us during the process.

And in your own business? This third step is the most difficult in the leap from self-employment to a formal business, because it involves delegating functions, investing, trusting people and “letting go” of direct control of all steps of the business. Find systems that work for you and find people you trust who want to work. Little by little you will find your answers.

STEP FIFTH: GROW

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Once the systems started working, I found that my hands were freer. In the beginning I spent all my time doing the essays, even the simplest ones. Now, with a team of writers, I had brain freedom to rekindle the creative drive; think about new clients, bigger projects and look for new business for my business.

Eventually we were able to serve larger national and international clients and launch new lines of products and services that attracted new clients. We open a publishing division. The business today has different areas, different sources of income, managers and operators that work even when I am not present. That is to say: it is a real business and not self-employment. Later, in effect, they offered me an excellent job, which I still maintain today. I accepted it because I liked it, and not just because I was desperate. As the business goes on, I can attend to both.

We are still very, very far from the Forbes 500 lists. We are still an SME with a great desire to continue growing. But, above all, I no longer be the way I felt that day at 3 in the morning. I have other concerns, but I have freedom, I live where I want, I do what I like and I can't stop dreaming. I'm tired? This sold out! But it is a burnout of the one who knows that he is in the right race.

I have had the help of fantastic people in my family and outside of it and, in addition, my family has grown quite a bit. Trust me, it's worth it.

And in your own business? It recognizes that there is a market and space for all types of companies, products and services. Don't be afraid to grow up. Sure, it's scary and sometimes lazy. But on the other side of fear is freedom. It is freedom and passion (not money) that move the soul of true entrepreneurs.

Your first business may not lift, but if you have invested your time and your intelligence, then there is no way it is a total loss. You will have grown, learned, undertaken and faced. You are not the same as before. Time to start again! Once you have learned to undertake, you will not be able to stop doing it.

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