Every budding entrepreneur wants to know how to start a business on a budget. It practically comes with the territory. Much of the time, people are trying to bootstrap their way into an alternative income stream or at the very least make a little money on the side. (See also: 5 Tools for Handling Your Receipt Trail from the Road) One of the main ways you can save money on any new biz is to spend as little as possible on your office or retail overhead. Here are some of my top tips for doing so.
Recommended: One of the most frustrating tasks for a business owner is keeping track of receipts, luckily technology has made this task easier. Currently I use an app on my iPhone that takes a picture of receipts and enters it in manually, ready for tax time. Shoeboxed has both free and paid versions, I suggest you try out the free one and see if you’ll need/want a paid version. You can see our Shoeboxed review here. [Added by Editor]
Hey, they’re not just for modern home design anymore. Some of the businesses I’ve seen run out of creatively-remodeled shipping containers over the years include an internet café, a burger takeout joint, a bar, impromptu office space and even an independently-run, second-hand music store in Fairbanks, Alaska.
I’ve written before about this money-saving vehicle alternative, but I think cargo trailers deserve an additional shout out when it comes to affordable retail space. First of all, they allow you to take advantage of typically underutilized retail space such as overly-large parking lots near employee-heavy businesses, can be run out of a parking space with municipal electrical access and can even be transported from site to site to participate in large events like state fairs, concerts and expansive farmers’ markets. You can also tow them behind work trucks for a cheap-to-launch mobile biz. Examples of how you can use cargo trailers for a small business include lunch trucks, specialty food sales, mobile pet grooming, minor home contract work and more.
One of the simplest ideas I ever saw using this overhead solution was a business that rented out shade umbrellas, portable cabanas and beach chairs by the sea. It was a biz they could tow to work every day, sit in the shade and work on their novel in between customer rentals and pack up in less than an hour to head home at night. With a busy enough beach, you could afford to hire a responsible teenager or two to run the gig for you and still have plenty of additional cash to pocket for yourself.
This is basically a miniaturized version of the above idea for people on an extreme startup budget or those who simply don’t want a larger cart or the expense of a towing vehicle. Granted, you’ll have to choose a less elaborate range of offerings in order to be able to roll with the size restriction, but that doesn’t mean you still won’t be able to make a little bit of extra cash on the side. Gourmet coffee stands, hot dog carts, artisan craft booths and even sundry shops featuring incidentals like lip balm and sunglasses can be operated using this simple, low-cost start up method.
Online Platforms Such as Hub Pages or Squidoo
If you’re looking for a work-at-home experience with your laptop and internet connection being the only startup costs, then online writing and affiliate marketing offer you an inexpensive, two-pronged business approach that you can grow at your own pace. Simply sign up for a writing account, followed by accounts with the allowed advertisers and sales entities such as Google Adsense, Kontera, InfoLinks, Amazon and even Ebay. Additionally, you can incorporate affiliate marketing efforts for individual retailers you have a relationship with when and if you deem it appropriate. People are making anywhere from additional spending money to a full time living on these platforms, and you can too. Bonus? There’s no need to take out a small business loan. In a pinch, you can even start writing at the library. So if times are tight and you find yourself in the middle of a difficult career transition, this might be the option for you.
It’s no secret that working from home can be a huge money saver. In addition to skipping the commuting costs and the need for an extensive corporate wardrobe, your office space is essentially free. Granted, you will have to count on a slight increase in electrical and water costs (provided you don’t have your own well), but this is peanuts compared to fuel, biz lunches out and increased insurance costs.
Alley Space Rental
If bar ownership has long been one of your dreams, you may want to consider the al fresco option. Two places I’ve seen this done extremely effectively are Bangkok, Thailand and Tampa, Florida’s Ybor City. Essentially, you operate your business like a beach bar, sans beach. Umbrella-covered tables, house plant street buffers, a few white lights and a bar area that can be secured by rolling down smaller versions of typical garage doors. A few tunes and the proper permits complete the business plan. This isn’t for everyone, but it is an option and can be accomplished with a fair bit of flair, if you’re willing to think outside of the box.
Starting your own small business doesn’t have to break the bank. Another thing to remember is that not every revenue stream has to equal the annual salary of the average hedge fund manager. Everyone has to start somewhere and this list of options gives you several affordable ways in which to do so.
A lifelong money cruncher who can squeeze a nickel ‘til it cries, Myscha is a syndicated columnist, best-selling author, and founder of Trek Hound and We Be Sharin’.