How to start a business with little or no money

How to Start a Business With Little to No Money

If you’ve thought about starting a business lately, you’re not alone. Americans are opening more small businesses now than at any other time in history.

In January 2024, the Small Business Administration (SBA) announced that a record-breaking 5.5 million new business applications were filed in 2023 alone.1 The same report included statistics about small business start-ups, including the following:

  • Black business ownership is growing at the fastest pace in 30 years, and the share of Black households owning a business has more than doubled, from 5% to 11% between 2019 and 2022.
  • Latino business ownership is growing at the fastest pace in at least a decade, rising from 7% to 10% between 2019 and 2022.
  • The number of women-owned businesses has grown dramatically. From 2019 to 2023, the growth rate of women-owned businesses was 94% greater than the growth of men-owned businesses.

Unfortunately, one of the biggest hurdles to starting a business is money. There are so many expenses to think about, including everything from registering your business to finding insurance to protect yourself. Despite this, it IS still possible to start a business with little to no funds.

What is the average cost of starting a business?

The average cost of starting a small business depends upon the type of business you’re starting. For example, it costs far less to start an online business than a brick-and-mortar one. Start-up costs may range from less than $100 to $100,000 or more.

Tips to keep start-up costs to a minimum

If you can obtain funding, you can spend a lot of money to start a business, but it’s also possible to start a company with little to no up-front investment. Here are some tips to help you learn how to start a business with no money.

Start your business while working full-time

Many entrepreneurs start a company while working full-time, although doing so requires a significant time commitment. You may need to work nights and weekends to get your new company off the ground, but you’ll benefit from a steady income while doing it. That means you won’t need to rely on your savings to pay regular expenses.

Choose a low-cost business

Some businesses cost significantly more to establish than others. While you may not be able to avoid some small expenses (more on that later), choosing a low-cost business can help you keep expenses low. For example, online-only businesses tend to have the lowest costs because you can run one without renting a business space. We’ll provide some examples of businesses you can start with no money later in this post.

Have a business plan and budget

A business plan is an overview of everything about your business, including what you do or make, who your target audience is, and how you’ll market your business to achieve your goals. A budget goes hand-in-hand with a business plan, spelling out how much money you have and what you can afford to spend.

Even if you’re starting a low-cost business, having a budget is essential. It can help you keep track of your expenses and monitor your growth.

Take advantage of free resources

Free resources are everywhere if you know where to find them. The Small Business Administration (SBA) has valuable references for people setting up businesses, including a full business guide and an online learning center.

Other resources to explore if you want to learn how to be an entrepreneur without money, include:

  • The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) has an interactive map of resources by state, including information about small business financing and regulations.
  • The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau offers resources for small business owners, including financing, credit, and special resources for minority, veteran, and women-owned small businesses.
  • The United States Department of Treasury’s website has an aggregation of links to useful resources for business owners.
  • The Small Business Development Center has a wide array of resources, including the option to find an SBDC near you for free business consulting.

You can also try searching Google for “small business resources near me.” You may be able to find local resources from your local chamber of commerce, library, or state business administration.

Examples of businesses with low start-up and operation expenses

Some examples of businesses you can start with no money include:

You can work as a freelancer in a variety of jobs and industries, including writing, graphic design, bookkeeping, accounting, and consulting. Many freelancers are sole proprietors who work from home.

Online retailer
Starting an online shop or business is something you can do from home. In many cases, there are no costs associated with setting up a shop, and fees are transactional, so you will only pay once you make a sale.

Service business
If you’ve got skills, you can put them to work in a new business. Examples of services you can sell online include everything from dog walking to marketing. (Note that some service business ideas can also be done on a freelance basis.)

Drop shipping
This business model involves selling items that are manufactured and stored by others. When you get an order, the warehouse fulfills it.

These businesses and many more are ones you can get going with a minimal investment upfront.

Tips to manage the costs of running a business

As your business grows, you’ll need to spend money in some areas. Here are some tips to help you keep costs low.

Create and use a business budget

It’s easy for expenses to get out of control when you’re not tracking your money and what you do with it. A budget for your business is a must, even if you’re a sole proprietor with no employees.

Your budget should account for every penny that comes in or goes out of your business. Remember that a budget should be a living thing, so revisit it frequently as your business income and needs evolve.

Research the market

It’s easy to waste money on marketing if you’re not sure who your target audience is. Marketing research may be time-consuming, but it can pay off quickly. Market research can provide demographic information about your audience, including their average age, income, marital status, etc. You can also learn about their interests, or psychographics, something that can be particularly useful in social media marketing.

Take advantage of discounts

You may be able to take advantage of low or no-cost (aka, freemium) products and services when you’re just getting started. Always start with a free trial if available, and if you must pay for business tools, check to see if there’s a discount for paying annually in advance.

Barter whenever possible

Bartering is one of the best ways to save money when you’re starting a small business. If you can find another company willing to provide you with goods or services in exchange for what you’re selling, you can avoid spending cash to get what you need. For example, if you own a catering business, you can exchange a catered lunch for help setting up your website.

Network With Other Business Owners

Nobody knows small business tips and tricks like a small business owner. Joining your local chamber of commerce or a networking group specific to your job or industry can help you get to know more established business owners. They may be willing to impart their wisdom or recommend software, tools, suppliers, and services that won’t break the bank. There may even be bartering or joint marketing opportunities to be found.


Starting a business can be done with a huge budget or with no budget at all. The trick to keeping costs to a minimum is understanding where and how to find low-cost or free tools to get your small business up and running. From there, you can scale up and spend money to grow your business once the cash is flowing.