This topic is near and dear to me, as someone who has been alarmingly broke at least a couple times in my adult life (and if you don’t fall into that category, too, I don’t know if I even trust you). But believe me – you can get a business started with literally nothing but your brain and an internet connection.
I won’t get into the nitty gritty of my tale of woe, but my transition from full time employment to self employment was less than graceful and less than voluntary. Long story short, I ended up 6 months pregnant with my second child, with no eligibility for a second paid government maternity leave and my only past employer having gone down in flames with nothing to show.
So, girl, I promise you that within the space of 48 hours of realizing my work was gone and my family was growing and I had to figure out something fast, I went through about a thousand potential ideas, from giving strange men on the internet fashion advice to taking pizza orders over the phone all evening to delivering flyers before the crack of dawn.
But as the panic wore off, I remembered my own advice: work from home, but only for profit. Making minimum wage (or less, for most of these types of odd jobs and commission-based shadiness) was just going to mean our family going deeper and deeper into debt as I failed to pull my weight. I used a lot of my new-found free time and read books, blogs, internet courses, anything I could get my hands on to tell me how to start the business of my dreams. If you’re looking to start a business, honestly, you’re going to have to do the same sort of research and soul-searching and lots and lots of hard work to be a success (sorry). But here are some ideas to get started, before you give up and start hitting the pavement with your resumé and abandon your real dreams:
Idea #1: Take your current job and go freelance
Degree of difficulty will vary, but I’m having a hard time thinking of a job that truly cannot be turned into a solo business. I’m a graphic designer, so it lends itself to that more easily than others. My co-blogger here, Jill, is a marketing professional, and she learned quickly that people would pay her for marketing strategy on a contract basis – without holding her hostage in an office for 8 hours a day. My sister takes blood from patients at a hospital…hmmm, maybe that one isn’t a great fit for freelancing (unless you can corner the vampire market?). More often than not, though, if you get creative, you can find a way to take your existing work skills and offer them to many different clients who maybe don’t need someone like you on staff, but could sure use your help once in a while. To get started fast:
- Throw together a website for as cheap as you can (hint: the stronger your tech skills, the cheaper this will be, but engines like Squarespace and Wix make it extremely easy to make a nice looking website by yourself for a fairly reasonable rate)
- Clearly communicate what you can do and how great you are at it, and start networking and hussling everywhere you can.
- Check classified sites for people looking for what you’re offering, if you’re having trouble finding any clients to get started.
- And remember – you don’t have to stick to local! Most of my clients are hundreds of miles away from me, and it matters not one bit.
Idea #2: Take your hobby and go freelance
Don’t like your job, for reasons other than “it’s a job”? That’s cool! Don’t continue to do it for your new business then, by all means! The great thing about hobbies is you likely already have the know-how and equipment to start a business doing what you love, whether it’s photography, carpentry, cake decorating, or dog walking. Not sure where to begin? Look at people who are already doing your hobby professionally. What skills do they have that you don’t? What do they do that you like/don’t like? Do they have any certifications or qualifications listed on their website that you think may be important to you getting into the same thing? Chances are you can jump in and make some money right away, even as you’re still working on improving your skills (spoiler alert: you will never feel 100% confident with your skills, and you will always still be learning).
- Focus on self-improvement, without being afraid to start because of a lack of self-confidence.
- Make sure you give an accurate idea of the work you are able to produce: this might be a portfolio of your work, or just a written statement of the limitations of what you can offer (eg in the dog walking example, if you can’t handle large, uncooperative dogs, SAY SO).
Idea #3: Make something and sell it
This works best if you already have a creative hobby and some supplies for it. Do you make gorgeous picture frames out of scrap wood? Paint stylish pet portraits? Knit adorable hats for babies? This might be a slow-growing way of building income (and might barely turn a profit at first), but it at least gets a trickle of income coming in, and with some slick DIY marketing and lots of word of mouth, you can make a good little business out of your crafting hobby.
- Etsy is wonderful for getting your work out there for next to nothing (I have a neglected Etsy store myself, and my monthly bill is usually $0.01)
- You will likely have bigger sales and get new customers more easily by getting into craft shows – although there will likely be a more substantial fee to pay for the privilege of selling there.
Idea #4: Start a drop-shipping business
Want to resell someone else’s product, but don’t want to convert your spare bedroom into a warehouse full of cheap junk from China that you’re desperately trying to move on eBay? That’s fair. The margins will be smaller, but a drop shipping arrangement requires a lot less initial investment and a lot less work. “Drop Shipping” refers to an arrangement where you sell an item that is not in your possession, and the manufacturer or another reseller who actually houses the inventory fulfills the order and ships the item to the customer. This means a lot less management on your end, and also means that you collect the customer’s money before you pay the manufacturer, protecting you from risk if the item doesn’t sell. This can be as simple as you want (eg sell some handbags on eBay, have the manufacturer ship them to customers) or more complex and personal (eg design some really cool t-shirts and leggings, set up your own web store, and have a service like Printful make them to order).
- Margins are thin but risk is virtually non-existent, unless you overspend on ineffective marketing or spend a lot to develop your own ecommerce site.
- You can always pivot your business later, and start taking on inventory to get your margins up once you know you’ve got a good system in place to sell it.
Idea #5: Become a Virtual Assistant
Again, this can be about as complicated as you want it to be. You can try to a go of it alone, designing yourself a slick site and taking out ads to attract potential clients. Or, you could simply sign up with an agency, tell them your skills, and let them match you to projects.
- VA is a particularly great project for anyone with experience in an office administration type roll, who is highly organized and has strong communication skills.
- Other good skills to have are research, transcription, event or travel planning, and social media.
Pay is typically hourly and dependent only on what you can convince clients you’re worth.
Have you started a business with little to no money to invest in it? Tell us about it in the comments!