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How to start a business with no money

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If you want to be your own boss but you’ve got no start-up cash, don’t panic. Plenty of self-employed roles require little or no capital to get going. Equally, if you’ve got an amazing business idea and need money to get it off the ground, there are lots of ways to get funding. Here’s everything you need to know.

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Businesses that have little or no start-up costs

Services not products

Many self-employed professions don’t require much cash in the early days, particularly if you plan to offer a service rather than sell a product. 

However, most of these jobs require a specific skill set. Think about your current and past roles and what experience you have to offer. Your existing skills could allow you to set up as a freelancer or consultant at little to no cost. If you don’t have the right expertise, consider retraining to move into your chosen industry.

Examples of service businesses with low start-up costs include:

  • Freelance writing

  • Graphic design

  • Website design

  • Social media marketing

  • Virtual assistants

  • Online tutoring 

  • Bookkeeping

  • Consultancy

These unsecured and secured loans could help you grow your business, cover running costs or even fund a new company.

Online or digital goods

Selling digital goods means that you don’t need raw materials. You could write e-books, sell photos, monetise a blog or social media channel, or even create online courses. 

Real-world services

It’s not just the digital world where you can set up a business for free. You can offer plenty of ‘real life’ services with little or no start-up costs. For instance:

  • Pet sitting

  • Dog walking

  • Marking exams

  • Tutoring

  • Car washing

  • Ironing

  • Cleaning

  • House sitting


Selling online or in person typically involves start-up costs because you need to buy the raw materials and equipment to create your product. Even if you’re reselling things you find on eBay or in charity shops, you need stock to sell. 

However, one exception to this rule is something called dropshipping.  This is when you create an online store, but orders are sent directly from the supplier to your customer. That means you don’t have any inventory or delivery costs. Instead, you make money by designing, marketing and selling the products.

If you do want to make your own goods, consider taking pre-orders, which will give you the capital upfront. Crowdfunding can be another useful tool, as it allows you to provide exclusive offers and rewards in return for people investing in your business.

Marketing and advertising

Whatever business you choose, you need customers. That means you will need a marketing and advertising plan. Don’t worry – this can also be low- or no-cost. 

There are plenty of free website builders you can use when starting out, and you can invest in something more sophisticated when you start making money. 

Use social media, such as Facebook, X, LinkedIn, Instagram and TikTok, to your advantage. These platforms can be a great way to get your name out there and build a fan base. There are even Facebook groups like Lightbulb that connect entrepreneurs with the press so you can start looking for PR opportunities.

Personal recommendations and word of mouth are great ways to attract new clients. Ensure your customer service is top-notch, and get as much feedback as possible.

Tax and accounting

You can earn up to £1,000 from self-employment before you need to declare it to HMRC and pay tax. After this point, you must complete an annual self-assessment and pay income tax like any other self-employed person. You can do this on your own for free or pay an accountant to do it for you. HMRC has loads of help available to help you manage your tax returns yourself.

If you decide to incorporate and become a limited company, you will face set-up costs. You’ll also need to pay corporation tax and consider balancing dividends and income and paying both those taxes as well. At that point, things become more complex, and an accountant may be able to save you more than they cost.

Should you set up as a sole trader or limited company?

Free resources

Many free resources are available to help you start and grow your business. The following sites are good places to start:

Securing funding

If you have the perfect business idea but need money to get it off the ground, you need to find funding.

There are lots of different approaches, but they fall into three main categories:

  • Loans: where you borrow money and have to pay it back with interest

  • Grants: where you can apply for a free injection of cash if you meet the criteria

  • Investors: people or companies who will invest in your business, typically in return for a slice of the equity, or specific rewards and offers

Read about securing business finance

Don’t give up your day job

If you’re starting a fledging business, you will likely begin with little or no profits. You need time to build a customer base and might want to reinvest any money you make to help grow your company. 

One thing to consider is keeping your day job and starting your new business as a side hustle. This means you’ll have money to live on in those early years, and you can dedicate more time to your business once you know it will succeed.

Choose the best business bank account for your company with features including no set up fees.

About Sara Benwell

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