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Out of a job or underemployed? Here's how to start a business with no money

Published:Sunday | January 1, 2012 | 12:00 AM
Cavalee Freeman

Cavalee Freeman, Guest Columnist

With an unemployment rate of 12.3 per cent and periods of economic instability, many of Jamaica's young people find themselves with college degrees, a mountain of student loan debt and no job. Alternatively, others find themselves underemployed or trapped in dead-end jobs with no alternative source of income.

Given the dismal employment outlook islandwide coupled with a significant decrease in overseas employment opportunities as a result of the world recession, many Jamaicans are forced to start their own business ventures as a way of generating income.

With the emergence of technology and the World Wide Web, there are many ways to create additional income or substitute your income completely.

There are several characteristics and factors to consider when exploring entrepreneurship as a means of sustaining ones economic livelihood.

Let's talk about the characteristics that one will need to survive as a business owner with little or no funds. First and foremost, entrepreneurs will need creativity and an unconventional approach to all things business.

Those who are resistant to the status quo and able to think outside of the box will most likely succeed. Finally, you will need to commit yourself to the process.

Chances are, if you plan on doing the rain dance while waiting for that perfect job or better pay to come along, you will probably be in the same position you find yourself in 20 years from now.

You will need to have an optimistic attitude and work extremely hard, but the rewards will be great in the end when you find yourself making a trip to the bank to cash your first self-employed check.

Challenges notwithstanding, you will certainly reap the fruits of your labour for many more years to come.

Budding entrepreneurs should be able to identify niche markets. A niche market is a need for a particular product or service that is not being addressed by mainstream providers. The key to identifying a niche market is to find customers who are easily accessible, the market should be untapped or underserved and fast growing.

Identifying your niche market will require a great deal of thought and ingenuity. Jamaica maintains a service-driven industry, so you should think along these lines of starting a service-driven enterprise.

Niche markets

There are a multitude of niche areas you can explore. Here are two basic examples of niche markets: Many small business owners are not able to maintain regular full or part-time staff but still have a need for a secretary to carry out specific administrative functions. An entrepreneur may develop a business that will service specific administrative needs of a small business owner by providing 'virtual secretarial services'.

A virtual secretary is one who provides administrative functions while working from home.

At the very basic, this type of businesses would initially require Internet connectivity, a telephone, a computer, an answering machine and a telephone book to get started.

If you know a few overseas manufacturers looking for ways to increase their market for the goods they make, you could start a home-based import/export business. The import/export agent is the middle man who brings the products of the overseas manufacturer to local market.

The international trade market is unlimited and there are hundreds of manufacturers looking for foreign distribution for various types of products including specialised food items, housewares, tools and electronics. Anything can be readily imported or exported if there is a consumer demand.

Resources to learn of trade missions to Jamaica or locating overseas manufacturers wanting to do business in Jamaica include the Jamaica Chamber of Commerce, JAMPRO and the respective embassies. There is no need to exclude manufacturers of countries who do not speak your language.

If you are doing business with a manufacturer from a country such as Belgium where French is an official language, you can always use an online translator on the Internet which is free of charge.

This type of businesses would also require a telephone, Internet, fax machine, computer, answering machine and a telephone book to get started.

Once you have identified your business idea and niche market, you will need to assess how best you are able to service your market - reach your customers - with the least amount of start-up capital.

You do not need a high priced sales person to market your product or services. A great way to get customers for your business is by partnering with companies who have an existing relationship with your target customers and allowing them to promote or attract new clients for you.

The trick is to establish mutually beneficial partnerships with these companies.

Just think of it like bartering. Barter is a method of exchange by which goods or services are directly exchanged for other goods or services without using a medium of exchange, such as money.

After obtaining several clients from your partner companies you could easily begin to see a steady stream of revenue from your business. In essence, your business equity would be replaced by your ability to establish contacts.

You do not need any start-up capital if you let your customers fund your working capital.

Although this may not work for every business model, it is possible with most service-driven models. For instance, if you have a service-driven business enterprise, you may be able to collect upfront fees, such as subscription fees, from your customers while meeting your costs at a later date. This way, you are able to build up a sizeable bank account which may become your working capital.

Once you have an established customer base it is important to keep your overhead costs low in order to experience greater profit margins.

Gone are the days when business owners needed lavish offices, with elaborate telecommunications systems.

A virtual office is essentially a 'pay on an as-needed basis' office.

VOs are cost-effective for start-ups, giving business owners the ability to maintain a professional appearance but at a budget-friendly cost.

A good starting point to obtaining a virtual office space is at the government-run organisation, the Jamaica Business Development Corporation.

Cavalee Freeman is a recruitment specialist and account director. Email: