Contrary to popular belief, it does NOT require a large upfront investment to start a successful online business. What you lack in funds can be made up for with a little ingenuity and this post will show you how to start a business with no money whatsoever.
But first things first. You have to be determined. And when it comes to determination, you have to be willing to persist with your business for at least 2 years or more regardless of the outcome.
You also need to believe in yourself and understand that you are a person with unique abilities who others want to learn from.
If you possess both of these qualities, good things will happen and it won’t cost you a cent.
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A Personal Story
When I started my first online business, I completely lacked confidence. And I wasn’t willing to take any risks whatsoever UNLESS I knew that I was going to succeed.
As a result, I hesitated on the sidelines for many years until my wife became pregnant and decided to quit her job. Finally, the threat of losing half of our income gave me the kick I needed to just say F!@#$ it. Let’s do this!
So with just $630, my wife and I started an online store selling handkerchiefs that made over 100K in profit during our first year. HANDKERCHIEFS! How insane is that?!?
Today, this same store makes well over 7 figures and to be honest, it still feels completely ludicrous to me.
And with MyWifeQuitHerJob.com, if you told me that I was going to make over 1 million dollars blogging last year? I would have told you to get the heck out of town!
Editor’s Note: If you are interested in learning how to start your own online store, click here to take my FREE 6 day mini course on ecommerce.
Also if you’re curious, you can click here to check out my little online shop.
In fact, the mere premise of making significant money selling handkerchiefs (or blogging for that matter) is so ridiculous that I’m often challenged by my readers as to whether my success was a direct result of luck and circumstance as opposed to skill.
Did I just happen to stumble upon a small niche that no one else was into?
Did I just get lucky that no one was selling these types of linens online?
And the answer is yes. Luck certainly did play a part. It always does. But you have to put yourself out there in order to take advantage of it.
Today, I want to address the readers of MyWifeQuitHerJob.com who are currently on the sidelines with very little money. I want to address those of you who have no idea where to begin but want to start your own business someday.
How do you convince yourself to begin? How do you lay the groundwork for your future business if you don’t feel ready? Today, I’m going to teach you how to start a business with no money. And here’s how I would do it.
Start Gathering An Audience
Before I started my blog, I used to think that no one would care about what I had to say. And as a result, I had extremely low expectations when I first decided to start a blog over at MyWifeQuitHerJob.com. To put things in perspective, I didn’t think that anyone would read my blog except for close friends.
But then something surprising happened. Very few of my friends took an interest in my writing. And instead, complete strangers started emailing me about my experiences and my philosophies on life.
I started having conversations with random people and these random people and I started to become friends. And before long, I had a bunch of regulars reading my blog.
Note: This was the complete opposite of what I expected to happen!
- I expected many of my friends to take an interest in what I was up to.
- I expected my friends to be 100% supportive of everything I was working on.
- But I did NOT expect total strangers to care at all. After all, why would people care about some random Chinese dude on the Internet?
The truth is that people care about what you have to say! You just have to find the right people to talk to!
Put Yourself Out There
But the only way to find these people is to put yourself out there!
Even if you have no money, there are a variety of ways to create a following.
For example, there’s this Asian kid I follow on YouTube who has over 1 million subscribers to his channel. His name is KevJumba.
Kevin started out by posting silly videos of himself dancing online. Then, he used a cheap webcam to record himself talking about his beliefs and his philosophies on life. Things started out slow but year after year, he started gathering more and more followers to his channel.
And over time, he developed a huge following. Because of YouTube, he now makes a living creating his own films and producing his own movies!
Here’s one of his very early videos below which I found hilarious! As you can tell, it’s not professional. And the quality of video isn’t amazing. But the guy put himself out there!
Here’s the thing.
Kevin was only 18 years old when I started watching him online. And you would think that a 30 year old dude would have no interest in what an 18 year old would have to say. But Kevin was spunky, funny and I liked his attitude.
Not only that, but the reason I followed Kevin had nothing to do with the production quality of his videos (which were pretty bad early on). There was just something about him that resonated with me and I wanted to know what he was up to.
This is exactly what you need to do!
Choose Your Medium
Even if you have no clue what business you want to start later on in life and even if you have no money, you need to put yourself out there.
I started MyWifeQuitHerJob.com by writing on a consistent schedule about life, family and ecommerce. People found me via search, social media, word of mouth and my readership gradually grew over time to where it is today.
Once I developed an audience, making money became an afterthought.
When you have a large group of raving fans interested in what you have to say, the money will come. Trust me on that.
The hard part is finding and gathering your fans.
Today, we live in a day and age where you have lots of options depending on what you want to do. I personally chose to start a blog but there are many other low cost options to choose from.
- You can pull a KevJumba and start your own YouTube channel for free.
- You can start a podcast and create your own personal radio station
- You can start an online store
- You can create a compelling Facebook fan page
- You can start a blog for under $5 in under 5 minutes
- Here’s a list of 52 ways to make money
- Here are 40 more ways to generate some cash. You have no excuse!
Gather And Retain Your Followers
Once you’ve developed your fan base, it is essential to retain them as you continue to build your brand.
In the case of MyWifeQuitHerJob.com, 99% of my early readers would come, read a single article, and then leave forever. So instead of missing out on a potential regular, I started gathering email addresses using a service called Aweber.
Editor’s Note: I am no longer using Aweber and if you are looking for a good email provider, read my post on Drip Vs ConvertKit Vs Aweber Vs MailChimp
In return for a reader’s email address, I would give away a free 6 day mini course on ecommerce. And 9 times out of 10, that reader would stick around after the mini course to check out my new articles and updates.
In fact, I have readers on my blog who have stuck with me for over 8 years(you know who you are) and I’m very thankful!
The key is to retain your existing audience while simultaneously attracting new fans. This way, your audience count has no where to go except up.
One thing that I like to tell my friends is that my blog is like a stock that only increases in value. As long as I keep doing what I’m doing, it can only get better, not worse.
I’ve Got An Audience Now So What?
Once you’ve gathered a small group of raving fans is when the fun begins. And it is infinitely easier to start a business when you already have an established base of potential leads.
Using my blog as an example, if I ever wanted to develop an ecommerce plugin for Shopify or BigCommerce, I could instantly gather a user base of customers by sending word out to my email list and blog.
I could also leverage my audience to gather ideas for products to sell even if I had no idea what to create.
When I launched my annual ecommerce conference, The Sellers Summit, I instantly sold out of tickets because my loyal fans wanted to attend.
The possibilities are endless!
Case Study: How To Make $4K Without A Product To Sell
Here’s a real life case study of a student in my Create A Profitable Online Store course who built a small audience and started making money right away with online webinars
Arree Chung is an artist who writes and illustrates children’s books for a living. And as we all know, you can’t make real money as an artist right? Wrong!
First off, Arree is Chinese and I have no idea how his parents allowed him to become an artist as opposed to an engineer, lawyer or doctor but that’s besides the point:)
Arree is a talented artist with a unique skill that other people want to learn. So one day he decided to give an online tutorial on how to create a children’s picture book from scratch.
He simply emailed his list of less than 100 people, gave a one hour long online webinar and made over $4000 in one shot.
He didn’t have a product but his presentation was so compelling that people were willing to pay him for a course that he hadn’t even created yet. Crazy right?
Here were his exact numbers for the webinar that day…
- Arree emailed a list of 80 people
- 60% of the people who attended his live webinar purchased his class
- He generated $4315 WITHOUT a post followup sequence
- He didn’t have a website
What’s funny is that when he first told me about his webinar, I was very skeptical. I didn’t believe that there were people out there willing to pay hundreds of dollars to learn how to create a children’s picture book. But apparently I was wrong.
If you stop and think, there are over 7 billion people in this world and somewhere out there is someone who will pay to learn from you. But you’ll never reach these people unless you try.
Remember, you don’t have to be an expert to charge for your services. You just have to be helpful and provide a benefit.
After all, what does it mean to be an expert anyway? As far as I know, there’s no “expert” credential or placement test:)
We are all “expert enough” and that’s what matters.
So take some time to document your skills and start spreading your knowledge.
A Veteran Entrepreneur’s Take On The Fastest Way To Make $5K Starting From Scratch
Recently, my buddies Greg Mercer, Mike Jackness, Scott Voelker and I got together on my podcast to discuss how we would personally make $5000 as quickly as possible starting from complete scratch.
And guess what? All of our answers were all over the map which just goes to show that there are many different ways to make money online. Enjoy the episode!
Having An Audience Is The Key
Overall, making money is infinitely easier if you have an audience and it doesn’t cost any money to build one. So if you take away anything from this post, please remember this…
Start creating something today and put yourself out there!
It doesn’t have to be anything fancy. Take your smart phone and start recording videos about your philosophies on life.
Find something that you are good at and start talking about it. Put together some tutorials about a recent skill you have acquired!
At first, you will be skeptical that anyone will be interested in what you have to say. But there is always someone out there who will care.
You just have to find the right audience. (I’ll bet KevJumba had no idea that he’d be attracting people almost twice his age to his YouTube channel).
The point is that you’ll never know unless you try.
Start gathering an audience now and you will have the courage to start your own business someday. I guarantee it!
Ready To Get Serious About Starting An Online Business?
If you are really considering starting your own online business, then you have to check out my free mini course on How To Create A Niche Online Store In 5 Easy Steps.
In this 6 day mini course, I reveal the steps that my wife and I took to earn 100 thousand dollars in the span of just a year. Best of all, it's free and you'll receive weekly ecommerce tips and strategies!
Related Posts In Entrepreneurship
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- Think You’re Not Good Enough To Start A Business? Read This…
- Why You Don’t Have To Follow Your Passion When Starting An Online Store
Steve Chou is a highly recognized influencer in the ecommerce space and has taught thousands of students how to effectively sell physical products online over at ProfitableOnlineStore.com.
His blog, MyWifeQuitHerJob.com, has been featured in Forbes, Inc, The New York Times, Entrepreneur and MSNBC.
He's also a contributing author for BigCommerce, Klaviyo, ManyChat, Printful, Privy, CXL, Ecommerce Fuel, GlockApps, Privy, Social Media Examiner, Web Designer Depot, Sumo and other leading business publications.
In addition, he runs a popular ecommerce podcast, My Wife Quit Her Job, which is a top 25 marketing show on all of Apple Podcasts.
To stay up to date with all of the latest ecommerce trends, Steve runs a 7 figure ecommerce store, BumblebeeLinens.com, with his wife and puts on an annual ecommerce conference called The Sellers Summit.
Steve carries both a bachelors and a masters degree in electrical engineering from Stanford University. Despite majoring in electrical engineering, he spent a good portion of his graduate education studying entrepreneurship and the mechanics of running small businesses.
39 thoughts on “How To Start A Business With No Money. Here’s Exactly What I’d Do”
Me and my sister plans to start our own blog in the future. And I would love to read about how to start a blog for under $5 in under 5 minutes!
It looks like you already have a popular blog:) No lessons needed
Kate, do it NOW. 🙂 NOW. 🙂 Please! Do it now. Do not wait for some unknown future time when you think you will be ready, or better prepared. You have the momentum NOW because your idea is fresh and exciting. Your enthusiasm will propel your action. When ideas come to you, record notes to yourself on your phone or a notebook, then transcribe those notes for your blog content folder.
I have read that writers write. Every day without fail. Do that now. Put your daily writings into a blog folder and add to them daily. You will possibly see a trend emerging about what you write about the most- that will be your main niche, your particular area of interest.
You will also be accumulating material to post on your blog. One of the absolute hardest things for bloggers to do is to product content. You will have your content already! Please, Kate- do it now. As someone smarter than me once said, “Take massive imperfect action.”
Absolute best wishes for your success!
One of the most encouraging and practical pieces I’ve read; that addresses the plight of the ‘wantrepreneur’
Thanks for a great post, Steve…
Thanks for sharing these wonderful tips. I have been blogging for some time and is still trying to make it materialize. Your tips are always helpful.
Thanks you Felisa. Glad it was helpful
Interesting article, great for getting people off the sidelines with the potential out there. So many types of online business, I think that can cause overwhelm sometimes.
By the way, did you know you’ve got a photo of the British deputy prime minister Nick Clegg on your website? He’s the guy on the stage with the yellow background (which is the colours of his political party, the Liberal Democrats). You probably don’t know who that is. Timely, as the British are about to go to the polls in a few short weeks.
Ha. I did not know who that was. I just picked a Creative Commons photo from photopin. Thanks for letting me know.
This post is what I needed. I had saved up some money to attempt a business and while it wasn’t much, it was a start. Then my girlfriend became very sick and is unable to work so literally every penny I have goes towards bills and expenses now. I was never afraid of failure to start because I’ve read so much about starting small so that if it fails, you can try something else, but at this point, I can’t afford to lose a dime. I still have plans to start a business someday but was slowly losing motivation, so thanks for this post, it came at an amazing time. Hope all is well!
Thanks Matt. When you have no idea what you want to do and when in doubt, put something out there and gather a following.
Tell that story of your struggles, but try putting a positive spin on it. I’m helping a friend of mine who is a Venezuelan refugee in Columbia document his struggles and create a YouTube channel. Not sure how it will turn out but it’s real.
Great post Steve, I like that your entrepreneurial journey is something that everyone can relate to. Like you, I have found it interesting that the people you expected to be your audience aren’t usually the ones who become your audience. Goes to show how important it is to keep an open mind! Keep your lessons coming Steve!
Thanks for the kind words Suzanne. I was most surprised by the lack of interest from my friends and family. But bottom line, they were not my target demographic.
Hwllo Steve,i wanna thank you for your mails.I’m still looking for product that can sell in Nigeria.I have about $300 start up capital.i already know about alibaba.pls enlight me on what product i can start up with
Thank you! This makes a lot of sense and it is less intimidating. I have a couple of ideas for projects that I want to do and I really need to just for it. I really enjoy your blog!
The biggest things is you need to start doing something, whatever it is. Too many people never start, so they never finish.
Even walking house-to-house with a lawnmower can pick up $100 fairly quickly.
So true. This post was my way of saying exactly what you just said:)
Hi Steve. One of the things that you develop as you grow old is the ability of getting to know (feeling) when you are in front of a good person. And that is what it feels along the readings on your different posts. That, and of course the appreciation of the good advices. So, congratulations on your posts but also on being a good person, choosing the right paths even when you were clueless and being able to share and desire good things for everyone else.
Hi Javier. Thank you so much for the kind words. Really appreciate it.
hi Steve, I’m one of those who’ve been motivated by your posts. Thank you so much for sharing your wealth of knowledge, just keep the good work going, kudos!!!
Fear is a huge stopper, the second one after the lack of confidence and laziness, I guess. The point it, every person is individual and unique, so prior to standing out with any idea or skill you have, you should first think about the other point: are you the one who is interested in keeping this contact, because once you start, it’s possible that you’ll become responsible and even committed to keeping relations to all the audience you’ll gather. Not everyone is ready for this commitment. I can say from my personal experience, if you don’t feel like selling it out (whatever it is, either your skills, some product, or any lifestyle or philosophy you want to share), probably, it will be a waste of time and energy. Not everyone are good in building social networks, and I’personally, consider it a disaster that so many feilds in our life depend so gratly on the way we socialise (for example, your credibility today depends on your social networks, don you think it’s fare? here’s an explanation ) That doesn’t mean you will have to give up. I personally, from time to time have an extreme desire to make a start-up and become truly confident that it’s something the world has been waiting for so long. But in some time I realize I can’t make it because I just don’t have any energy to promote it properly. I’m an introvert, it has side effects). Anyway, my point is, if you think of any start up, it’s silly to have fear or lack of confidence, for sure, and being laze is unacceptable as much as the lack of discipline. But! If your start-up simply don’t coincides with your individuality, with your passions or simply, you r way of socializing, probably, you’ll just hurt yourself by spending time and efforts on something you actually don’t need.
Thanks Steve. This really helps get rid of the fear of pushing “publish.” I’ve only visited your site a few times, but so far this post is the most encouraging thing here in getting me to pursue my goal of creating and sharing my own philosophies through my own site. Thanks friend. You are awesome.
ha ha, nice driving,
almost like me when my father tried to learn me to drive his Honda Accord, 8 years ago 🙂
I love this! This was me. When I first started out my thoughts…my friends will be my biggest supports. Hmmm…that didn’t really happen. Then I jumped in with a blog, but had no fan base. I’m now stepping back and building my fan base on social media as I slowly write to my blog. And the biggest key…believing in myself and bring consistent. Great article and a great reminder for me!
Thanks Steve, very helpful post !! 🙂 🙂 🙂
This is my opinion dear friends:
James 1:5 says
If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.
And Steve gives great insight and wisdom!
Your capture pop ups ran me off.
Hi, I have a disability, I’m a hard worker and I work at a drop-in center for people with various types of disabilities. I’ve worked for many years in a wheelchair. Every morning its painful to get of bed but it doesn’t stop me. I absolutely love my work. But it doesn’t pay a lot. I went online today and searched and searched until I found your page and I must say I found it very interesting. I would really appreciate any idea’s to help me on my journey for 2018.I would like to do something that is outside my comfort zone and if it helps me to generate another form of income allowing me the freedom to live life a bit more comfortable then I am happy with that.Thank you. Tere
Steve, very proud to count myself as an early fan. I may not always comment, but I am here, still following you after all these years (almost a decade??)
Your friend in Toronto,
I’ve been following you for a long time and I love your writing!
When you were still working a full time engineering job, did you ever worry about how the content you posted or the image that you presented to the world might reflect poorly on you at your old job if they didn’t approve of it?
Not sure if this was something that you struggled with or not…
If you are a college student or a graduate person who doesn’t get a job so don’t be panic and be positive about what you want to do in the future.
7 key steps toward starting your own business
What an awesome story, very inspiring!
Thanks for sharing. Great work!
If you try to appeal to everybody, you’ll end up appealing to nobody. keep posting such a knowledgeable blog.
Whatever work you do, nothing comes easy. One needs to put maximum efforts, may be it is blogging,online store or anything.
It makes sense that you should try to retain your customers by keeping track of their email addresses. When my uncle opens an online store, he wants to be able to reward the customers that will end up coming back to buy more of his products but he doesn’t have a lot of experience when it comes to managing an online business. Perhaps he should consider hiring a professional who can show him how to maintain loyal customers.
I love your blog and just discovered your youtube channel. I’ve been hesitating on pulling the trigger on expanding my business. Here’s what’s up. I have a small but growing audience on YouTube but at the moment I’m sort of stuck. I should probably say my channel’s 100% entertainment. I’d like to start a blog but I’m really concerned I won’t have enough to write about, that I’ll run out of content, ideas. I’d also like to start an online store but I definitely don’t want to have inventory or mess with logistics. Finally, and most importantly, my online persona is completely autonomous from my real identity. IOW I don’t wish to reveal my true identity for personal, family and safety/security reasons. Can I realistically be (as) successful (as you) with an online business given these factors?
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