This Is How You Start a Business Without Money

It took zero dollars to start my first successful business. And if I can do it, so can you.

You don’t need to put money into a business to get it off of the ground. Seriously.

When I started, I didn’t even have an LLC. And here’s what I learned.

Starting a business is all about perceived value.

That’s the feeling, sense, idea, that an idea is worth something. It’s why professionals wear certain kinds of clothes, or brands like Apple use design or a sales person gives a firm handshake. They give off the perception of trust or reliability or beauty.

I’m not talking about actual value, meaning you have a live product you’re delivering or the service you’re providing. That’s for another post about execution.

What we’re talking about now is how you can help people see what you can do for them and their business before you do it. And that is called selling.

When you start a business it’s all about employing words that move people and help them see value. In short, you use words to sell.

And you don’t need to be a sales person to sell. We’re all selling. When my child is trying to convince me to buy him that Lego set, he’s selling. When we tell our friends about this great product we found, we’re selling. We just don’t know we are. Selling is the communication of the value of an idea. In other words you’re communicating perceived value. You’re making the listener feel something is worth an investment.

The best thing about all of this is words are free. They only cost you the time to make them work for you, which does take effort and thought. But it’s well worth it because if you do you can actually kickstart your business.

See, to start a business doesn’t require actual value at first. You don’t need a product or actual service, or money. You just need words. Painting a word picture in such a way that your intended audience hears it and sees what you’re talking about is key.

That’s how most businesses start, with stories, analogies, vision statements, ideas all brushed with words. Convincing customers that your idea is worth buying. That’s how you start a business without money.

But before you do that, the first person you need to convince is yourself; you need to utter the words that you can start a business. That will make a difference. It’s likely the difference between you succeeding or not. For, if you aren’t convinced by the idea, no one else will be either.

I remember doing that, actually saying the words, “I’m starting a business,” out loud to myself. It was odd, strange, but absolutely necessary. Somehow it made me more committed to and convinced that starting my own business was doable and not as stupid and crazy as I first thought. I had to perceive the value myself before I could get anyone else to the see what I saw.

And then something magical happened.

In small sushi restaurant, nestled on street on one of NYC’s quieter corners, my business started over decade ago through a conversation with a friend. He was a client at a previous job, but we kept in touch and had lunch regularly, usually sushi. Over some simple rolls and sashimi he and I became friends. He even became a mentor.

And one cold wintery day, while sipping on some steamy miso soup, he asked me if I could help him “market his hotel.” I said, “I believe I can but let me think about it and get back to you in a week or so with an idea.” And in that time, I looked at his hotel’s website and it was awful. So when we met back up I told him that he needed a new one and I could make it happen. He liked the idea.

Ideas are powerful. They spark something in us. They illuminate the mind and help us see the possibilities. And ideas are communicated through words. And if your idea resonates, which means the intended hearer can see what you are proposing in their mind’s eye and its viability, they will perceive your idea as valuable. They will say something like, “Wow, good idea.” And you know what? They will pay you for it.

Sharing ideas is selling without feeling like you’re a sales person. You’re just giving someone an idea.

But then where did my friend and I go from there?

He asked for a proposal. And I started writing. It wasn’t the longest document. Only a few pages. But it was filled with descriptive language of what the website would look like and what it would do and what I would deliver and the value it would bring and of course I added the price. And then I sent it.

Don’t underestimate the value of the written word. When something is documented, it legitimizes an idea somehow, making it more tangible. That makes perceived value feel just a little bit more actual. And that’s exactly what you need. But again, you haven’t spent a cent by doing that. You’ve only used your time and words and a little sweat equity.

And after he read my proposal we met back up a week or two later to discuss it. He was ready to move forward so we shook hands; and after he paid me the first installment I started work.

Anyone can do this. When I started I didn’t have any expertise. I didn’t even have the words to articulate this concept of perceived value then. So just by reading this you have a head start.

You don’t need money to help others see value. And when you understand what words are worth, your business will start making money and you’ll see perceived value become real value for you.


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