A successful entrepreneur shares her thoughts on business success and failure.

How To Start A Business With No Money


I often receive emails from those of you who want to start businesses with no money. Often, you want to start a business from home to make a little extra cash. It would be nice if it turned into a million-dollar money maker, but it doesn’t have to. Your goal is to explore a passion of yours and make a bit of money on the side…but you have no money to invest.

Typically, two major obstacles come up: time and money. I addressed time previously. Now I’d like to address how to start a business with no money.

First: Two Major Misconceptions

Let’s clear up a major misconception: It doesn’t take a lot of money to start a business — even a million-dollar one. I started my business just after quitting a job, with a few thousand dollars of severance pay from my job. The year after that, my parents gave me a $15,000 loan so I could expand my business. So I “started” my business with just over $20,000.

On the other hand, let’s clear up another common misconception: Businesses that are good ideas don’t necessarily blossom into multi-million dollar enterprises right away. In fact, in May 2003, nearly two years after I started my business, and 8 months after I received the $15,000 loan from my parents, my business made a whopping total of $461/month in revenue. I could have made more money by consulting!

But I wasn’t discouraged. I could see that our revenue graph was going straight up. My customers really liked me. I was making a difference in their lives by running a web hosting company whose owner actually cared about who they were and what sort of business they ran. I knew I was in the right place, in a growing market. So I stuck with it.

It took six long years for my hunch–that web hosting wasn’t dead–to be validated, but I stuck with it and achieved success.

How can you do the same thing (with no money)?

The Four Values that are the Core of my Success

  1. I worked every single day on my business. I’ve learned a key lesson when it comes to setting priorities: The night before, decide what one thing you can do on your business the next ay that will make you feel proud and accomplished to have performed it. It doesn’t have to be a lengthy task. For instance, one of my goals is to write a new blog post every week. This doesn’t always happen, but when I write a blog post, I consider that an accomplishment. With every post, I am building my personal brand, my subscribers, and I am getting recognition from other hard-working bloggers who enjoy my post. That’s enough for me to continue blogging. I consider every day which activities I can do to give me this feeling of accomplishment, and then I do those things — and ignore email, Twitter, and TV until they’re done!
  2. I set goals and hit them. You see my strong goal-setting mentality on this blog, as well. To engage goals for yourself, make your goals public. Also, the more specific your goals are, the better. Right now, my biggest financial goal is to have $1 million a year in passive income by the time I’m 30. Having that goal has helped me align myself with the resources I need to achieve it. Set specific and measurable goals, and set them publicly. Write a blog. Send your goals to your friends and ask them to kick your butt about them! Keep track of your progress. Figure out why you hit the milestones — or didn’t hit them. Just the act of writing down specific, time-based goals makes you much more likely to achieve them.
  3. I ignored lures of “instant riches.” Running a business takes a strong commitment. That’s why many “how to start a business” books emphasize starting a business in a field you’re passionate about, instead of starting something just for the financial gains. I enjoyed web hosting and technology, but what I enjoyed most was seeing those revenue graphs go up and the feeling of pride I got when happy customers sent me a thank-you letter. No “get rich quick” scheme will give you that same feeling of deep satisfaction. Stop flipping from one business idea to the next. Pick one, settle down, and make it work…even if it takes years for you to be able to quit your day job.
  4. I stopped listening to those who told me it couldn’t be done. Everyone has fears, and people enjoy bringing you down to their level. When I started my web hosting company, a friend was convinced I’d fail. Even years later, he denigrated my choice to run a web hosting business, asking me at one point: “What have you done? Pfft. You started a hosting company. Anyone can do that.” I dug a bit deeper, though, and found out the real reason he was downplaying my achievement: He had started a web hosting company around the same time as mine, and it had gone nowhere. He assumed, then, that since his hosting company was not successful, mine would never be. By acknowledging my success, he would have to acknowledge his own failure, and that was painful. (By the way, the story ends well: we are still friends today.) Who in your life is telling you you will fail? What fears of theirs are really hiding behind their words? Most importantly, why are you letting those other people dictate your success or failure?

Interestingly enough, when I outlined my plan for Inspiring Innovators to another friend of mine, he said words quite reminiscent of my friend who started the web hosting company that fizzled. I asked him why, and he admitted he had owned a content-driven membership site that had failed. “The customers didn’t stick around,” he said. I acknowledged to him that my business plan may change, but I’m also not listening to his predictions of failure for my business! I’m quite confident I will succeed, even if the game changes a bit along the way.

Notice, that among these traits (determination, persistence, specific and measurable goal-setting, and a willingness to challenge others’ beliefs), “money” is not mentioned. Neither is time. If you have the drive, the determination, and the willingness to succeed, you are much more likely to succeed – regardless of how much money you start out with.

How do you get started? That’s a forthcoming post. Please subscribe to see my ideas on how to get started creating a million-dollar business (or just a business that will earn you a little extra cash) from home. As always, I promise to be honest and blunt in my appraisals of many ways to “make money online.”

Recommended Reading:

  • 20 Ways to Make $100 A Day Online. You CAN make money online without being a geek! This is a comprehensive, 247-page guide to making your first dollar online. I bought it and devoured it. It’s one of the best “getting started” guides I’ve ever read on Internet marketing. As an added bonus, it’s written by top Internet marketing experts, not scammers. Well worth the price.
  • How To Make A Million Dollars. My earlier blog post emphasizes some of these same keys, as well as going into detail about negotiating and “multiple streams of income”.
  • Three Business Ideas That Will Help You Thrive During a Recession. What if the upcoming recession is an opportunity for you to make more money than you are now — and be happier to boot? Specific details about what types of businesses you can start that will benefit from a recession.
  • How To Make Money From Your Blog. Steve Pavlina details how he turned a $9 investment (in a domain name) into over $40,000 a month in revenue. (Hint: Not instantly!)


Welcome to erica.biz!

Photo of Erica Douglass

I'm Erica Douglass.
After selling my online business at age 26 for over $1 million, I created this blog to help you grow your own business quickly.

If you are motivated to change the world and want to learn from my successes (and failures!), please get my free business tips and join over 112,000 other monthly readers!

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