How to Build A Business When You’re Broke

I think it’s a very human trait to want to leave an impact. It’s in our genetic code to want to build something that we will be remembered by. The Maya built pyramids. Alexander the Great named more than 20 cities after himself. We want to create, to build something of our own.

Today it’s less about founding a city, and more about building a business. We have start-ups all over the place, and over 1.5 million Americans are self-employed. There’s a deep urge in today’s environment to mold something yourself.

I’m right smack in the middle of building my own business right now. I’m building my brand from the ground up, bootstrapping like a son of a gun. I’m not in debt, but I don’t have a lot of money. I often say that one good car wreck would wipe me out. So I feel qualified to talk about how I’m going about building a business while being broke.

Most people who are able to start their own companies, or build their own lives are working from a place of some kind of privilege. This article from The Financial Diet is a nice take down of some entrepreneurial myths. Maybe it’s just societal (i.e they’re a man, and men get more start up funding than women), or their parents float them the start up cash they need. I’ve spoken about my own privilege, and that certainly plays into my ability to go after this freelance career.

I saved up some money before I quit my non profit job and became freelance full time. I saved over 5K in my Emergency Fund, and I saved just over 2K in my Fuck it Fund. I’m also still employed as a part time caterer.

That’s it though. That’s all she wrote for my finances, and that saved money is not solely for my new business. That money is there for emergencies, like a car break down, not a new printer. That money is for rent, for food, for gas. That is not a ‘start your business’ fund. That’s a ‘continue to be able to survive’ fund. 

In essence, I’m starting this business with zero capital. It’s important to note here that my overhead costs are also zero. I already own my laptop, and pay for the internet. I paid for two years of registration for my domain name in January. I’m mostly working from home.

Business is more than just dollars and cents though. It’s networking, portfolio building, bookkeeping, and content creation. Those can add up quickly, and you can easily justify them to yourself under the guise of ‘growing my business.’ Buying a ticket to a networking event, grabbing drinks with someone who knows someone, getting that Pinterest perfect home office– that will suck you dry in a hurry.

I think I’ve been getting around some of these money traps with a degree of success. I’ve paid all my bills since going freelance, so there’s that as my proof. 🙂 Here’s what I’m doing to build my business without spending a ton of money.

Work With Others- This one kind of has two meanings. Yes, I am trying to collaborate with other people on projects, and that’s incredibly important. I take it very literally too. I literally try and do work sessions with other freelancers. Meeting up at coffee shops and working quietly with someone I don’t know very well has become my new jam. I work better with the peer pressure of someone else being there, and it gives me a chance to build relationships with new people!

Spend With Your Time, Not Your Money- Since I don’t have any money, I can’t drop a bunch of it on new gear, or endless cups of coffee at coffee shops. The thing I do have much more of is time. By planning my time more deliberately, I can do more. I can volunteer my time with causes I love, or take a few hours to learn about a subject I want to write about. By putting more time and effort into things that can come back to me in paid gigs, or introduce me to someone interseted in working with me, I’m investing in my business.

Add Value- I’ve realized there is a TON of content out there, and much of it is terrible. I know that I’m not the best writer around, and I don’t expect the world to stop each time I hit ‘publish’. However, when I do hit publish, it’s because I feel I have something to really say.

I don’t follow a regular publishing schedule on my blog. I write when I want to share an experience, or helpful lesson I’ve learned in my personal finance journey. I believe in my voice and my perspective. I think adding a voice of a young, single income, low earner voice to the pf blogosphere is important; so I write. I take the same approach with my freelancing. My projects have to add value. It helps me by building a stellar portfolio, and it cuts down on the crap that’s getting shoved out there.

Anyone else started from the bottom? (#Drake) I’d love to hear other’s thoughts about building their businesses!

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