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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16 Replies to “How to Build A Business When You’re Broke”

  1. I think it’s smart to utilize the resources you have now knowing that money is tight. I know many people who go balls to the wall, but burn money quickly and are financially stressed. They thought fancy this or hiring for that service would be best, but I think you work your way up that ladder.

  2. Yep, still working ny way up. I could have chose to shell out big bucks to get started, but I wanted to focus on the real reason I’m here and that’s to hustle for every darn dollar and opportunity that comes my way…

    1. No need to shell out! We’re proving that. Hustle+smarts= a win in my book!

  3. I started my own business two years ago. I gave the business my laptop and found a cheap office space. It took $5000 of my savings to start, and has used more of my money since then. It still takes some of my money that I earn from my 9-5, but eventually it will let me leave the 9-5 without worrying how I will eat every month. I miss my laptop, but I got myself a chromebook to hold me over at home until I get her back.

    1. I’m impressed you’re still going! Most small businesses fail in two years, so you’re onto something. Keep on keeping on!

  4. Woot! I’m cheering for you over here. We’re bootstrapping our own endeavor, the expenses of which I’ll share later this year. To get the biz started, we picked up extra client hours to cover the startup costs and ended up with a little buffer while I work on the second course. I absolutely love having a business! ????

    1. I really like being my own boss, though my client list is pretty small these days. Buffers are so necessary- that’s why I haven’t quit my catering job yet

  5. Thanks for sharing your journey! I love what you said about only taking projects that add value. It is so easy (for me) to get excited about a job and say yes before really evaluating the net income and value to your life. Keep writing!

    1. Thanks Christina! I feel really strongly about that value aspect. Money is very important, but I want to earn it in a way that matters, and leads to future earnings!

  6. I’m so glad you’re lending your voice to the PF and FIRE blogosphere! Something you said in here really struck me, essentially defining yourself as broke. And that made me sad for a sec, because I hope that’s not something you see as essential about yourself. It’s a temporary state of affairs which I know you’re going to get beyond — not that that lessens the stresses and sacrifices that come with it right now! It’s just not who or what you are as a person.

    I’m still so impressed that you cut the cord on the nonprofit job and are making your freelance career happen! Sending you lots of good vibes for continuing growth and success! xoxo

    1. Thank you! I mean, the fact of the matter is that I am pretty broke right now, and always have been. But I do see it as a temporary thing- or at least I want it to be a temporary thing! It’s hard to really believe that I’ll build up real money. But it was also hard to believe I’d ever pay off my debt. Now I’m debt free and I more than quintupled my net worth in a year. So amazing things are happening!

  7. Cool, this is so exciting, Kara! I agree that much of the content out there in the world is terrible — but luckily for the world, you’re out there making it better, article by article!

    Also, love your new profile photo. 🙂

    1. Thanks Sarah! I’m trying to contribute the good stuff. I feel like my new photo coneys just how magical I really am, hahaha 🙂

  8. So glad to hear you are off to a good start. It is my dream as well; not to work for someone else. I am not ready to make that change yet but hope to be able to do it in the next few years.

    1. You’ll get there! I think you’re in a good mindset for it.

  9. […] However, your number one commitment needs to be your startup. It’s going to eat up a lot of your time, money, and energy—be prepared. Make sure that everything else in your life is in order before adding in this […]

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