Many people don’t start an online business because they feel limited financially. If financials are holding you back from starting your own business, we have good news: You can springboard your startup with next-to-no money! In fact, you can achieve a lot with just a small initial investment. How does $100 sound? Do you think you can start a business with just $100?
The good news is, you can!
Many online businesses facilitate growth with minimal upfront investment. You might not be able to start the exact business of your dreams, but you can get something started—and that’s better than nothing. Plus, starting something small on a bootstrapped budget can grow over time and give you the capital to start the business of your dreams later on!
Still not convinced?
In this article, we’ll explain how to start a business with as little as $100.
- The types of online business you can launch with a small budget
- What’s worth investing your money in when you have little to start with
- The steps you can take (for free) to promote and market your new online store
Let’s dive right in!
How to Set Up an Online Business with $100
Step 1: Purchase a Domain Name ($10-$15)
Every business needs its own clean, professional domain name. If you’re unsure what a domain name is, it’s just your web address (or URL) that visitors use to access your website.
You can purchase a domain through many different domain registrars—we recommend .Store Domains, Namecheap, or Hover. If you’re planning to build your store on Shopify, you can also purchase your domain through them.
Depending on your chosen name, they’re usually quite cheap, coming in at around $10-$15 per year so they won’t set back your $100 budget by too much! Plus, they’re essential—you can’t have a website without one, so they’re a necessary cost.
Head over to your domain register of choice or Domain Name Search to see if your desired web address is available.
Step 2: Make a Logo ($20)
Next up, you’ll need a logo! If you don’t have the ability to make one yourself, you’re going to need another option.
Hiring a professional logo designer to create a logo for your brand is typically the best way to go, but it can cost hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars in itself. Instead, use services like Looka or Tailor Brands to make your logo instead! They’re cheaper than hiring a designer, but you’ll still get professional-looking and custom results.
Looka offers a basic logo png file for $20 which is a great starting point, or if you can stretch your budget a bit, they also offer a package with several format and file type options for $65.
Best of all, making a logo with Looka or Tailor Brands is actually free! You can test out their service and see if you like the logo creations before investing your hard-earned cash! So really, there’s no risk to trying it out.
Step 3: Set Up an Email Helpdesk ($9-$50)
Most entrepreneurs start their ecommerce journey using G Suite for Businesses or a similar mailbox system. But, as business starts to pick up and support tickets come in more frequently, it’s worth investing in a more advanced platform—like a helpdesk.
An email helpdesk allows you to allocate specific email accounts to individual members of your support team, plus you can also separate various support queries to help streamline your customer service tasks.
Advanced helpdesks often provide a live chat widget to enable you to provide direct customer support from your website in real-time and some even funnel all your support channels (like email support, live chat, and social media comments and DMS) into one dashboard.
If you want to invest in an email helpdesk, we’d recommend a handful of solutions:
- Hiver: Hiver is built on the Gmail/G Suite service, so it’s a natural progression for those already using Google’s standard mailbox. Starting from $14 per user, per month, Hiver allows you to run your customer support, sales, and projects from Gmail.
- Help Scout: Help Scout offers a super useful shared inbox to help keep your customer support team on the same page. You can send private notes to one another and tag colleagues in messages to draw attention to specific queries. You can even save replies to your frequently asked questions to speed up response times! Help Scout starts from $20 per month.
- Groove: Groove is very user-friendly. It lets your support team easily organize incoming requests, manage inboxes and accounts, and resolve issues within minutes—there’s no unnecessary complexity. The cheapest plan available is $15 per user, per month.
- Freshdesk: Freshdesk boasts an impressive shared inbox that converts all types of communication channels into support tickets. This enables you to provide omnichannel support from one convenient dashboard, including email, phone, live chat, and feedback forms. Freshdesk’s premium packages start from $15 per user, per month. But good news—this helpdesk also has an entirely free plan.
- Gorgias: Gorgias also provides a shared inbox. One of the benefits of this particular helpdesk is its automation features. You can automatically sort tickets into categories and assign them to the appropriate member of your support team. Gorgias is a more premium option, available from $50 per month, but they specialize in Shopify stores so they might be a good option to check out if that’s your platform of choice.
- Front: Front provides access to numerous team inboxes, allowing you to handle communications from several channels, including email, SMS, Facebook, Twitter, and your website chat. The starter plan is available from $9 per user, per month.
- Kayako: Kayako’s helpdesk comes with plenty of features, including tags, assigned conversations, collaboration tools, and canned responses. It also offers a live chat option. Kayako is available from $15 per user, per month.
Step 4: Get a Shopify Subscription ($29/month)
Next up, you need a way to actually sell your products online and one of the best ways to do that is on Shopify. It’s by far the easiest way to kickstart your online selling journey.
Shopify provides online sellers with everything they need to hit the ground running, including a digital checkout, payment processing, and website themes. Shopify merchants also get access to an intuitive dashboard to manage all their orders, products, customers, and settings.
You’ll be pleased to hear that Shopify also includes web hosting with its subscriptions so you don’t have to purchase your own! If you were to set up your online store on a self-hosted platform like WordPress/WooCommerce, you’d have to find and fund your own hosting which has some advantages, but it can come with challenges and a lot of upkeep, too.
So, just by using Shopify, you cover the majority of your initial startup expenses plus, you make it easier on yourself to actually start selling online.
Shopify’s Basic plan (which is a great option for most new businesses) starts at $29 per month. They also offer a 14-day free trial though so you can test it out before you commit, just to make sure it’s the right fit for you!
Note: To learn more about Shopify, check out our extensive Shopify Review.
Step 5: Instal Apps to Extend Shopify’s Functionality (Optional)
There are hundreds of apps listed in Shopify’s App Store and they can make your store more functional and more versatile.
Shopify in its most basic form provides all the necessities, but there are plenty of free and paid-for apps you can use to:
- Automate your business
- Enhance the customer experience
- Better customize your store
But, if you don’t have the budget, don’t worry. You can proceed without any apps, or you can install them at a later date.
But, if you do want to try out some apps, here are a few free ones to get you started:
- SEO Image Optimizer: This app optimizes images for search engine rankings
- Plug-In SEO: This app identifies SEO issues on your website and guides you through fixing them
- Kit: Kit helps you handle your paid advertising strategies—particularly your Facebook and Instagram campaigns
- MailerLite: This email service solution has a free-forever plan that provides all the basics you need to start sending newsletters and promotional emails
Step 6: Source Your Inventory (Without Any—or Much—Upfront Investment)
An ecommerce store doesn’t stand a chance if it doesn’t sell products that people actually want to buy. In this section, we’ll explain where and how to source inventory when you’re starting with a small budget.
Dropshipping is when you work with a third-party supplier that manufactures, warehouses, and ships the products you sell to your customers. Dropshipping is a great option for businesses on a budget because it requires zero up-front investment.
This is how dropshipping works: You purchase the product from the supplier when a customer makes a purchase from your store. Your supplier then ships the order directly to the customer. You never have to handle the product directly—so, you don’t ever have to purchase products upfront, manage any inventory, pay for warehousing, figure out shipping, etc.
Here are some of the best dropshipping apps to get the ball rolling:
Printful (No Membership Fee)
We’ve reviewed Printful in the past and found them to be one of the best dropshipping providers for print-on-demand apparel, accessories, and homeware goods. Their catalog includes t-shirts, hats, posters, throw pillows, mugs, totes, and much more. Best of all, there are no monthly fees for this service! You just pay for Printful’s products after your customers purchase them from your website.
Spocket (Memberships Start at $29/month)
Spocket is a dropshipping marketplace that allows you to search and connect with suppliers primarily located in the US and EU. Spocket makes it easy to build an inventory of high-quality goods. Plus, it’s simple to use and seamlessly integrates with Shopify. Spocket also has a free plan, with premium packages starting from $29 per month.
Gooten (No Membership Fee)
Gooten provides over 100 curated print-on-demand products. You simply add your photos or designs to their items and have them shipped directly to your customers. Gooten is very user-friendly, and again, free to use.
Create Your Own Digital Products
If you’re a designer, writer, musician, or social media expert, you may have the skills to create and sell an inventory of digital products. The advantage is that once you’ve created your digital product, you can sell it repeatedly without any extra effort or cost.
There’s a wide range of digital products you could sell via ecommerce platforms like Shopify. For some inspiration, visit Creative Market. Over there, you’ll find tons of template ideas.
For example, you could create and sell:
- Newsletter and email templates
- Website themes
- Photoshop templates
- Presentation templates
- Mockup templates
- Reference kits
- Photography collections
- Instructions and guides
The possibilities are endless. Get creative and think about how your skills could translate into a useful digital product.
Make Your Own Physical Products
If you have the skills and ideas, there’s no reason why you can’t make your own products.
This gives you complete control over:
- How much inventory you stock at any time
- The materials you use
- Your budget and how much you spend to make each product
But, this method comes with a few upfront costs, namely, your materials and labor. However, if you’re an artist, crafter, or creator of any kind and want to sell unique, personal items, this might be the best option for you.
Step 7: Market Your Online Business (For Free)
In 2020, digital advertising is predicted to hit $656 billion (globally) across all media. That’s a staggering amount of money. With so many B2B and B2C businesses investing in their marketing strategies, any new entrepreneur would be wise to also create and stick to a high-quality marketing plan (if you’re looking for your own marketing plan, try our 52 Week Marketing Plan).
Of course, a budget usually goes hand-in-hand with successful marketing campaigns because a little money allotted to paid advertising can bring in a significant return on investment. But there are ways to promote your online store for very little (if any) money.
How? Start with the following strategies.
Market Your Brand on Social Media
Social media is the bootstrapped entrepreneur’s best friend. Not only are social platforms free to use, but you’ll also enjoy plenty of creative control.
For example, as many as 89% of marketers use Facebook to market their brand.
Well, social media empowers you to interact with consumers on a more personal level. You can share testimonials and images, promote success stories, and invite your followers to share their experience with your products.
Each social media network has its own best practices and algorithms that you’ll need to figure out. But, with the right strategies, you can master any platform.
To start with, captivating visuals are a must-have to draw user’s attention. If you’re not blessed with design skills, look towards the Creative Market social media packs to spruce up your posts.
If you need help getting your social media marketing strategy started, check out our 6 Social Media Platforms You Should Be Selling On & How to Get Started post.
Use SEO to Your Advantage
Search engine optimization is vital. When you’re easily found on search engines like Google, you’ll secure a boost in organic traffic, which should correlate with increased sales.
To improve your SEO, you should write helpful, shareable, SEO-optimized blog posts targeting high-converting keywords. To kickstart your keyword research, use a free tool like Google’s Keyword Planner or for a more premium keyword tool, use our personal favorite, KWFinder (KWFinder Review).
To see how we leverage SEO to our advantage with our blog posts, check out our Content Strategy: The Ultimate Guide to Preparation, Production, Publication & Promotion post.
Set Up an Email List
Building an email list should be your highest marketing priority. Email subscribers are warm leads, so they’re far more likely to convert.
As such, email service providers are worth investing in further down the line. Here are some we recommend (and see a complete comparison of these email marketing platforms here):
- CM Commerce ($9/month): This app allows you to run email marketing campaigns in the background. The tool provides everything from subscription forms to email templates to email automation. Everything is managed by CM Commerce’s email marketing bot, Maggie. Maggie autonomously proposes campaigns and segments your customers. Just activate the workflows you want processing, and she’ll handle the rest. This app starts at $9 per month.
- FAM ($20/month): FAM specializes in automated marketing. It uses data points and artificial intelligence to generate high-quality email content for your store. It writes, designs, and sends emails on your behalf. Currently, this tool costs $20 per month.
- Klaviyo ($25/month): Klaviyo is a robust email marketing automation platform, with a focus on ecommerce merchants. You can create popups and forms to collect email addresses and utilize audience and behavioral email list segmentation tools. Klaviyo starts at $25 per month.
- Jilt (Free for 300 contacts or less): Jilt focuses on abandoned cart email campaigns which is a considerable part of any revenue-optimized marketing strategy. Jilt allows you to view how much revenue you’ve recovered thanks to these emails, so you always know exactly how much the app pays off. Jilt also offers lifecycle emails of all types to optimize your ecommerce email campaigns to comply with best practices. Best of all, Jilt is free for up to 300 contacts!
Running an email list long-term can actually be a costly investment, but most email services providers (like some of the ones above) offer free payment plans for small lists, so you should be able to start an email list for free (or at least for just a small fee) and then only start paying for it once it grows (and by then, you should be bringing in customers and revenue).
For more hacks to see how you can run a new business on a bootstrapped budget, check out our 9 Ways to Smash Operating Costs in Your Online Business post and our How to Take Advantage of Lifetime Deals: What are Lifetime Deals & Why are They Important? post.
Are You Ready to Bootstrap Your Online Business?
Starting a business isn’t impossible, even with next-to-no money. There are plenty of free resources to help entrepreneurs grow and succeed. All it takes is dedication and an entrepreneurial mindset. Hopefully these steps have helped you conceptualize how you can start your own business without much upfront investment. Good luck!
This article originally appeared in the A Better Lemonade Stand blog and has been published here with permission.