Starting a new business often takes a lot more time than it does money. If you are short on cash (or even have no money at all) to start a business, it should not stop you from taking the initial steps now that won’t cost you anything but time.
Write a Mission Statement
Your mission statement is a great daily reminder to yourself about what it is you want to accomplish. A good mission statement is short, clear, and should embrace your core values. It should state who you are serving (your market), how you are serving them (your services or products), and what makes your business unique.
Write a Business Plan
It is the most basic of all steps, and it is one that many people skip. A business plan can help you map out your ideas and strategies and goals in a way that you can see the big picture and other people can understand your business. It is particularly crucial because lenders often want to see two things: a business plan and a feasibility study.
Conduct a Feasibility Study
Feasibility studies are a great way to answer your own questions, and questions investors will have about your business. For example, a marketing feasibility study looks at the market to assess competition, find niches, and will help you identify who might buy your products or services.
A technical feasibility study addresses how you will get your product to market (i.e., how your business will produce, store, deliver, and track its products or services.) A financial feasibility study projects how much start-up capital is needed, sources of capital, returns on investment, and other financial considerations. It looks at how much cash is required, where it will come from, and how it will be spent.
The more you know about your own business needs upfront, the fewer problems you will have in raising capital and getting started when you are ready to launch.
Where to Spend Your Business Start-Up Money
You don't have to invest big bucks in your business to accomplish these fundamental things. Here are a few low-cost things you can do to get started on the right foot.
Buy a Website Domain - Cost: $10
Even if you don’t have the funds to develop a website just yet, grab a domain with your business name. You don’t even have to pay for hosting to register a domain until you decide to build a website. If you are planning to build a site right away, budget about $10 per month for web hosting (Dreamhost.com and GoDaddy.com are two reputable shared hosting companies to consider.)
Get Business Cards - Cost: $25
Vistaprint.com is one of many online printing companies that offer cheap rates for custom business cards.
Need a logo? Need Help Writing a Mission Statement? - Cost: $5
Try fiverr.com. This is a free website that allows people to offer a wide array of services for only five bucks. Writers, web designers, social networkers, graphic artists, and many other creative professionals offer services here hoping to gain exposure and new business. It is a great place to get affordable help with many basic business needs or to try out other companies’ services before spending more money with them.
Buy Self-Help Books - Cost: Varies
If you don’t have money to talk to a business lawyer, buy self-help books. Nolo and “For Dummies” books are a great way to get step-by-step instructions on how to set up nonprofit organizations, corporations, social networks, your website – and help you understand just about everything there is to know about starting a business.
Find a Mentor - Cost: Free
If you are new to the business, rely on the expertise of a business mentor. A mentor won’t tell you what to do but will help you think through your problems and offer guidance to help you avoid future problems. The Small Business Administration is a great place to find a free business mentor.
Register Your Business Name - Cost: Varies
No matter where you plan to do business you will need to register or license your business with your state, county, and/or local municipality. If you are going to use a fictitious business name (sometimes referred to as “Doing Business As” or “DBA”) you may need to run an ad in a newspaper for a certain number of weeks before you can use the name.
Educate Yourself About Business - Cost: Free
Take online courses to help you learn about business. Edx.org offers free business courses from MIT, Harvard, Berklee, and many other higher institutions.
Start Building Social Networks Immediately
Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter are the staples of most business owners today.
Open a Business Bank Account - Cost: Varies
It may cost more than $100 depending on how much your bank requires as the initial deposit. Connect the account to PayPal or a payment gateway if you are starting an e-store or collecting money online. If you operate as a sole proprietorship, you can collect funds into your personal bank account, but that lends the appearance your business is small or even unstable. Whenever possible, it is always better to have a separate business account for checking and savings.