How To Start A Business With $0

Growth ChartSometimes you need money to start a business.

It can be an advantage.

I have a friend that went into an industry that was equipment heavy. You needed capital to invest in the machinery needed. Not many are willing to do it, but that offers an opportunity. It’s a bigger risk, but possibly bigger reward. The more money needed to enter the less willing people will be to take you on in the future.

But there are businesses you can start for no money. The trick there is time and energy. And getting knocked down. Begging. Working long hours. all kinds of things. I like to focus on businesses where people are least likely to want to get dirty.

Remember the show¬†Dirty Jobs? So many of those people have great job security. They do something others demand and they don’t have to worry much about competition. They invest time and energy in a lot of cases. They don’t need money.

But let’s break it down to business types. Not specific businesses, but types.

Here are some businesses you can start for no money and a few tips on how to get started with each.

1. Service Business

Think back to when you were a kid. Even a lemonade stand required money. You could do it for $0 of your own money by taking an investment (see #4). Your parents or grandparents maybe chipped in with a donation to get you started.

But what other businesses do kids start?

Often they start service businesses.

They mow the lawn. They use the customer’s equipment and fuel and get going.

They shovel the driveway. They use the customer’s shovel.

Rake leaves? No problem. Use the customer’s rake and bags.

Wash the car? Absolutely. The customer Primes the supplies and provides the water and hose and the kid jumps in.

You can take a cue from a kid and start a service business. Anything that others don’t want to do themselves. It could be because they don’t know how to do it, but need it. Or it could be that they just don’t want to do it. They don’t like it. It’s a waste of time for them.

You can start small with your price and work up. Go around to 20 businesses on main street. Ask them if you can build them a website for free. When the first one agrees go online and figure out how to make a website. The customer will pay for the domain, hosting and maybe the theme, but you’ll set everything up.

Use that as your first example. Use that example to talk to 20 more businesses. Now charge for this website.

There are a number of services that people need. People and businesses. Look through the job listings. See what tasks are included in job descriptions. Pick one that appeals to you and reach out to businesses offering to do the task for them.

You’re in business.

2. Partnership

I’m fascinatd by the way David Geffen went about building businesses. He was driven to make money. He’s said that he didn’t necessarily follow a passion, but his passion was money and he looked for a way to do it. I guess he was interested in the entertainment world. So that’s a passion. He thought movies and theater, but he got advice to go into the music business, which became very profitable during Geffen’s rise.

Geffen started in the mail room at an agency, but worked his way to learning the agent game. Then he put his time into one artist. She wrote songs. David pushed them. They sold the publishing together for a couple million.

Even as a new millionaire Geffen didn’t invest his own money into his next business.

He went into a partnership with Warner Bros. records to launch Asylum Records. Warner put up all the money. They did the distribution. Geffen handled the rest and they split the profits 50/50.

Not a bad deal for either.

A couple years later Warner bought Geffen’s 50% share and he was a multi-millionaire.

He later did the same thing with Geffen Records in 1980. He got another company to pay the costs and split profits. There were no profits for five years. Then Geffen had to do things on his own, but things quickly turned around and he sold his 100% stake for mega millions. Even in that deal the partner fronted many of the startup costs.

He partnered again with DreamWorks SKG, but that time it was more of an outside investment deal. More on that later.

Arnold Palmer kind of set things up similarly. He focused on creating a brand for himself. People loved him. They knew the name Arnold Palmer and Palmer knew that his brand was worth quite a bit.

He let businesses come to him with money and ideas. Palmer went into business with many. He never or hardly ever put up money himself, but often got a share of profits.

No upfront money.

Now, in both of these cases there was hard work involved. Both Geffen and Palmer had to work incredibly hard for not putting up any money upfront.

If you want to get into a partnership and don’t have money you’ll need to bring someone else to the table. That’s usually hard work.

3. Client First, Delivery Second

Here’s a cool idea. Sometimes, usually if you have some experience, you can get a client first and use the upfront money they give you to fund the startup costs of your business.

Gary Vaynerchuk did this with VaynerMedia. Now, he had to work hard to build a business. It was his dad’s. Then he worked hard giving his time to understand social media. He proved that he knew how to work social media and branding.

He took that to a couple big businesses and offered to handle their social media efforts. One paid him upfront. Then Gary used that money to bring on staff and get started.

It’s possible, but again you’ll have to do some work to get to this point. You’ll have to prove that you’re worth giving money too.

4. Investment

Similar to the previous one is getting investment.

Your parents invested in your lemonade stand by giving you money to buy the supplies. Investment bankers gave David Geffen and his partners money to start DreamWorks SKG.

Obviously to get investment you have to prove that you’re worth investing in. You might have to work in a job for 10-20 years and prove your worth for a salary before you can go out on your own and take on investment.

And when you take on investment you’ll usually have to give up ownership or pay back the investment with interest. Obviously that’s a loan.

But it’s like anything in life. If you can make more with the money than it costs to get the money then it’s worth taking it every time.

5. Arbitrage

This is buying something when it’s underpriced and then selling it for the correct, higher price.

You might need some startup money for this, but you could start by selling what you already own.

Take flipping cars.

Start by selling the car you have. Then use that money to find a car sitting on a corner in town that underpriced. Wash the car. Maybe put in a new battery. Maybe vacuum it. Get it looking really good. Then take some pictures and sell it on Craigslist for more than you paid.

You’re in the car flipping business.

This ins’t just with cars:

  • Clothes
  • Antiques
  • Toys
  • Machines
  • Sports gear
  • Furniture
  • Appliances
  • Houses

So many things. It might take a few misses to learn, but it’s worth it. You’ll find where the biggest gains can be made. Look in the areas where people don’t want to spend their time and effort, but where there is demand.

People want reliable used cars, but there aren’t many around. And they don’t want to do the work themselves. Opportunity.

People want sporting goods for a good price. But they won’t fix it up themselves. Opportunity.


There are definitely ways you can start a business for $0. You have to get a little creative sometimes. You definitely have to be willing to put in work and effort. You’re basically trading your time and energy for the money you’ll get in return. Try some of the ways above and there is really no limit on the number of businesses you can start.

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