I recently did an interview about how to build a business up from scratch with little or no money and I used my own story as an example.
Here are the steps that I took.
This process helped me build my business with $0 in startup capital.
Hopefully you can learn from my experience and make it even better.
Step 1: Moonlight Until You Find Something That Works
I’m a big believer in not spending until I’m earning so I started my company while working at a venture capital firm in Toronto. I used my site to drive traffic, expose myself as an expert, and drive leads for the venture capital firm. I was driving thousands of people to my website and began to wonder if there was a way to monetize that traffic beyond lead generation for the venture capital company.
I found out about Google AdSense and put it up on the site as an additional revenue generator. In my first month (January 2005), I made $8.38 – not much to write home about.
Step 2:Â Tweak, Tweak, Tweak
Too many entrepreneurs jump full in with no plan and no proof that your idea will work. It’s always better to tweak the concept while you already have some sort of stability in your income. I wasn’t about to go full time making $8.38 a month.
My next step was to learn as much as I could about how to better optimize my ads and how to drive more traffic to my site. I read every ebook, blog, newspaper article, and website that I could get my hands on. There were a lot fewer resources than there are today. I learned as much as I could in the extra time I had and implemented the ideas I learned. Slowly I started making more and more money.
Step 3: Go Full Time
I looked at how much I was spending on my apartment, food, entertainment, etc and once I started to hit that revenue number with my website, I jumped ship and did my business full time. It wasn’t a lavish lifestyle by any stretch but I wouldn’t have to worry about paying my monthly bills. I knew that if I was able to build a site in my spare time that could support my entire lifestyle, then if I gave it a full go, I would be able to do much much more!
Step 4: Get Free Help
As your typical entrepreneur I wanted to grow very quickly and took on too many responsibilities. I was doing manual data entry when I should have been doing more value-add work. But that manual work still needed to get done. The solution? Get free interns. I started with foreign language interns. They were basically university students who came to Canada on a student visa for work experience but they couldn’t get paid for the work. I couldn’t give them too many communications projects because English was their second language but I was able to unload a lot of the work off of my plate.
The next free help I got was from high school students who were on a co-op term. I was able to give them more tasks where they were able to connect with partners and customers because they were fluent in English. They sounded very young on the phone so they usually stuck with email.
Step 5: Hire Part Time Help
At some point you’re going to need more skilled labor than the free interns. They were a stepping stone to help you grow and take some of the work off of your plate but you’ll eventually get to the stage where you need people who don’t need as much hand-holding. But you don’t have enough money coming in to support both you and them. The solution? Hire part time workers. The first guy I hired was for one hour per day to update my database. He worked for me for five hours per week which was much more easy to manage. I wasn’t going broke and I got a skilled worker to help me grow my business. It wasn’t as fast as I would have liked, but it was growing nonetheless.
I hired people to create code for my website, write articles, do marketing projects, edit content, sell advertising… almost anything you can think of. But they were all part time to start. I had an entire organization running with people working only a couple of hours per day. The good thing was that they worked every day… so every day we made progress forward. I found people using elance as well as hired friends and family who wanted to help as well as make an extra pay check. At one point I had eight part time people working for me.
Step 6: Hire Full Time Help
Just like you eventually outgrow your interns, you will also eventually outgrow your part time help. At some point you’ll realize that it’s too much work to co-ordinate all the various part time staff and you need more from them. Some may be able to step into full time roles while others will not be able to commit to more hours because of the other jobs they have. You’ll likely end up having less workers but will get more work done. For example, when I hired my marketing manager, he was originally one of the guys working for me on a part time basis. By hiring him I ended up not needing four other people who were working with me in marketing related positions part time.
Step 7: Figure Out Your Job Description
This is where I’m at now. What is it that I love to do and who do I need to hire to take over the jobs that I don’t want to do anymore? In January I brought on two new full time people to free up more of my time. When you’re first starting a business you end up wearing all the hats but as you grow I believe the whole point of entrepreneurship is to do something you love doing. If you have the opportunity to design the perfect job, why not go for it?
I would love to hear your thoughts on how you’ve built your business up or how you plan to do it if you had a $0 budget.