By Yaneek Page
Question: I am 24 years old and in debt. I want to get out and I believe that starting a business would help. Long story short, I am the eldest of six children for my mother. However, I am the only one living in Kingston and in an effort to 'make life' I have wound up in debt. I had to get a job right after sixth form and is yet to finish university as I am currently on leave of absence due to financial constraints. I have sleepless nights to be honest. I thought about starting a chicken business in the country, restaurant, etc, but how do I get started? Am I being practical in spite of my financial situation? Help me please.
Businesswise: As sad as your situation is I was elated to receive your question. You've given me a timely opportunity to offer some hope, ideas and inspiration to thousands of youth, nearly 40 per cent of whom are unemployed, in a similar position and are desperately searching for a light at the end of the tunnel.
Let me categorically confirm that it is possible to start a business, get customers, generate revenues, cover your expenses and make profits - in this economy - with no money upfront. One of the biggest myths is that you must have money to make money. That single destructive fable has prevented many potential entrepreneurs from launching viable enterprises. I hope this article can change that.
Let me be clear - some businesses require significant start-up capital to get off the ground, but my point is that there are also worthwhile business ideas that can be launched without any financing. Before I give examples of such ideas, let me address the pessimists (who by now are complaining that I'm painting an overly rosy picture of entrepreneurship) by sharing some real experiences of entrepreneurs who have built businesses with no start-up capital in a down economy.
Shortly after the launch of my television series, The Innovators, in 2012, I read a wonderful blog post about the show. I was so pleased I sent a thank you message to the writer on Twitter. She responded with an offer, to boost the social-media marketing of the show. She then sent a detailed and impressive proposal outlining her plans to grow our online presence, etc. Her plan was accompanied by a list of her training & experience - here's what struck me most:
'Social Media Management; Website Development and Management (self-taught) - Approximately 1,000 hours of reading, practice and execution.'
Imagine that! 1,000 self-taught hours and all courses were available online, for free. The result is that she landed two contracts, received handsome monthly fees and did all the work from home. No office, no machinery or furniture, no stock, no start-up capital. She didn't even need to print a business card - we met and did business online. Importantly, she delivered. We now have a strong online presence on Youtube, Twitter and Facebook where we have nearly 20,000 fans. I've since referred her to many persons and she has steadily built an impressive clientele of companies and organisations.
Another success story I came across involves a lady who loved sewing. She became interested in making bags after getting a pattern from a church sister and figuring bags were always needed. Unfortunately, she had no formal training in making them and had no time or money to enroll in courses. She decided to explore YouTube, a popular video-sharing website, that has millions of training and self-help videos on how to make almost anything in the world. She watched many videos on bag making and started experimenting with different fabrics and styles. Eventually one of her creations caught the attention of a colleague who made an order and her clientele grew from there. She now runs a business with her husband making bags, lunch kits, hats and more. Many are centred on Brand Jamaica. There are many other examples I could share.
The key lesson from these examples is that starting a business with no money involves identifying a business opportunity, ensuring that there's a ready market, doing what you like, learning new skills if necessary, taking advantage of free resources (like the Internet) and employing creative no-cost strategies to attract customers. You can create a solid online business presence by building a free website and utilising social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, etc.
Ventures that lend themselves to limited start-up capital include blogging, ghost writing, refurbishing and repairs, virtual assistants, food, online training, cleaning services, staffing and more. Right now there are Jamaicans selling their services globally and earning in foreign exchange via websites like Odesk.com and Fiverr.com, which lists 'gigs' like Jamaican recipes, tour services, scenic pictures and even patois services. Business is not an easy road, but these are great strategies to get started. Every great journey begins with the first step.
Yaneek Page is an entrepreneur and trainer in entrepreneurship and workforce innovation. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, Twitter: @yaneekpage , Website: www.theinnovatorsbootcamp.com