By Ja-Naé Duane
When I was in my twenties, I launched my first business with only $100. Wild Women Entrepreneurs (Wild WE) was my platform for revolutionizing how women entrepreneurs built their businesses.
I was a struggling opera singer with a dream to turn my vocation into a career. Through hard work and my newfound community, I made it happen. I have performed around the world and currently serve as voice coach for some of the most talented vocal artists in America. All with no money.
Wild WE also took me deep down the entrepreneurial rabbit hole. I’ve been launching and growing businesses ever since. In 2016, McGraw-Hill published my latest book on the subject. The Startup Equation: A Visual Guidebook to Building Your Startup is the first-ever visually based, choose-your-own-adventure guide to the ins, outs, ups, and downs of turning one’s passion into a pro‑table small business.
You launched a successful business through the force of your own will. So what if you don’t have the financial capital to fund a marketing push and operational expansion? No excuses!
Here are three ways to get it done without any money.
- Personify Your Brand
Branding legend Walter Landor said, “Products are made in a factory, but brands are created in the mind.” Factories cost money.
You’ve already got your mind, so put it to work. Figure out what your brand’s personified essence is. If your brand was a person, who would that person be? Customers don’t form loyal relationships with brick and mortar; they form them with people. Your brand must present as a person. Answer the following questions with brand-as-person in mind:
- What is your brand’s personality type?
- How does your brand act on a typical day?
- How does your brand get along with its customers?
When I launched Wild WE I didn’t do a professional branding until after I’d taken on clients. at was a mistake. Sure, I had a great feel for my brand, but that’s a lot different than nailing it down on paper.
Eventually, I was able to nail down a personality characterized by excitement, along with dominant, lively, socially bold, and imaginative behavior. Nail down your brand’s personality before you do anything else. Doesn’t cost a dime.
- Build a Community
As an opera singer, I had the voice. What I needed were opportunities to use it. Individuals network. Since small businesses are usually extensions of the individuals who founded them, business-to-business networking is surprisingly easy.
After taking the time to build a community through Wild WE, my partners and I were able to help each other grow our existing customer base and scale. No need to pay for high-end marketing reports. Collectively, we had a treasure trove of information. We simply shared what we knew with one another.
Small businesses are also well-positioned to barter with each other. at can be anything from designing a new website or mobile app to a shared delivery service. When I was running Wild WE, one of my partners was a local coffee shop. (Let’s just say they had snappy content and I was extremely caffeinated).
Your community should also extend to your customers. Actively recruit customers to serve as brand evangelists. ese are the people who promote you for free in conversation and on social media. Customers cross over to evangelists when you have earned their loyalty and given them a powerful and meaningful experience with your brand.
Ask yourself the following questions as you set out to build and leverage your network:
- Which of my partners can expose me to new customers?
- Which of my business expenses could be shifted to bartering relationships?
- How can I craft a compelling customer experience that will ignite customer loyalty beyond reason?
Wild WE was started with only $100. But it was also launched with a tremendous amount of social capital. That’s something that’s hard to quantify on a balance sheet, but it is invaluable to small business owners. Social capital is something you can build and leverage. Get out there and do it!
- The Beauty of Barter
I am a HUGE fan of the barter system, particularly when it comes to growing a business. Apparently other people feel the same way, as there is a large movement of college students who have begun “swap days.” These students have organized exchange days where they bring old clothes or assorted goods to a central location, survey what others have brought, and arrange trades.
You can engage in similar practices by finding barter-partners on Facebook or Craigslist. Consider what you have to bring to the table, and what you need in return. Both partners should feel like they are getting an even trade, otherwise the system fails. I once needed to have business cards printed, but I was very limited on funds. So, I approached a printer with the offer of a free ad on my website in exchange for cards. Grateful for further visibility, the business gladly accepted, and I walked away with 500 fresh business cards without dropping a dime!
You’ve got the drive to grow your business, but no money to do it. Stop with the excuses already. Put in the work (all it costs you is time) to personify your brand, build a community, and barter. The choice is yours. Start today!
A version of this article originally appeared at StartupEquation.com.
Ja-Naé Duane is Founder of The Revolution Factory and co-author of The Startup Equation. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.