The Basics of Starting a Business with Absolutely Nothing

laddersMany people hold off on starting a business because they figure they don’t have the money to start. But you don’t need money at all to start. In fact, the less you start with, the less you have to lose!

So starting with nothing should really make you pretty fearless!

I’ve always loved the brief story here of a guy who literally had nothing but a borrowed ladder to start with, yet was able to create a multi-million dollar business.

He didn’t even own the freakin’ ladder!

How is that possible? Was it all just luck?

Here’s how his story goes:

In 1987, Gary Schoeniger was broke and deep in debt. He had no cash. He wasn’t even sure he had any marketable skills. One thing he did know?

That he had no choice but to be a success. He was out of options.

So, one day he got into his 1972 Dodge with the banged-in door, borrowed a ladder that he strapped to the roof, and then went house to house offering to clean gutters.

From those lean and virtually hopeless beginnings, he eventually built the business into a multi-state, multi-million dollar construction management firm. But Gary says, along the way, he made every mistake in the book and would do a number of things differently if he could do it all over.

To me, this is incredibly inspiring. And it shows that most of the barriers people have to actually accomplishing their goals are self inflicted.

The Concept of Value

There are lots of things you can do to start a business when you don’t have any money. The key is to understand the concept of value, and realize what you can offer that is valuable. Usually, this is time, but it may also be skill.

Time is most common, since if you have no money it probably means you aren’t working, and therefore you have at least 40 hours free that would otherwise be filled with a job. So, all you have to do is trade your time for money, doing something someone else considers to be not worth their time relative to what they would have to pay you.

The guy in the story above used his ladder to clean gutters. This is a job most people don’t enjoy doing, so he was able to trade his time for their money to do the job. There are lots of jobs like this- cleaning the garage, pulling weeds, detailing cars, painting and so on.

To get started in any of these, you simply have to go out and solicit the work. Granted, this isn’t going to earn you a huge income at first, but as soon as you have developed a reputation, and gotten some money together, you can reinvest some of the profits in creating a more professional appearance, hiring a helper, etc. so you can grow into a full fledged business.

The other attribute you may have in starting from nothing is a skill. The idea is the same, but instead of trading your time directly in unskilled labor, you are selling your time to provide a solution. This may be something as simple as tutoring or teaching piano lessons, to something more complex like doing website design or computer programming. There are no shortage of places online to sell your skill, including by geography (craisglist) or by skill type (writer’s markets, programmer job boards, etc).

The advantage of selling a skill is that you can often command a higher hourly rate, so you will make more money faster than selling unskilled labor.

If you don’t have a skill, you can certainly spend some of your time learning a skill you can sell while you are still selling your unskilled time.

There main point is that no matter what your current startup capital situation, there is no reason you can’t start a business and grow it. You can always move onto something you would rather being doing later, when you have more cash to spend on launching that particular business.

What If You Have Money to Start With?

OK- so what if you have plenty of money to start a business- does any of this concern you? Well, it certainly could. How much faster would you reach your financial goals if you owned two successful businesses instead of one? Would owning two reduce your risk and diversify your portfolio so that if one ever ran into trouble with one you would have another to fall back on? Certainly.

Therefore, if you wanted to start a second business, and instead of using your own time, hire someone to do the work, you can still start very inexpensively. And, you can grow faster if you have more cash to spend, or you can simply let the second business build on it’s own while you run the first business.

Knowing how to start a successful business that can grow into a large healthy business even though it started with next to no capital investment is something that should interest every serious entrepreneur, whether they decide to try it out right away or down the road. Considering there is so little risk and potentially a very good reward, I don’t see any reason not to give it a try if you have an idea for a no cost startup you’d like to try.

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