Today Fred Lam launches his audio book, Starting From Zero, outlining the process he advocates for making money online, without any initial investment. Much awaited and much hyped, the book Is endorsed by Robert T Kiyosaki (of Rich Dad, Poor Dad fame) and is being launched for the exceptionally low price of $1.99.
Fred said he was encouraged to create the book after hearing from readers of another well-known book, The $100 Start Up, that many of the strategies in that book weren’t really doable for the promised ‘$100 or less’ price tag. So the new book promises to show you how to get that start-up going for zero dollars. It’s a big promise, and I haven’t had a chance to listen to the book yet, but I do know a little bit about starting an online business with no money, because I’ve done it.
Technically, you can start a business, of sorts, with zero dollars. That’s how much I spent to launch my current online writing business. While I’ve been writing (and getting published) on and off for many years (about 30), it was just over ten years ago that I decided to actually set myself up as a ‘proper’ freelance writer.
There are those who will argue that freelancing isn’t quite the same thing as starting a business, and they have a point, but what I started grew into my current online business that includes writing, publishing, various websites, content marketing services, and creating digital products. I started it from my kitchen table, with exactly 0 dollars and 0 cents of investment money. Here are the things I needed to get started as a freelance writer, and what they (didn’t) cost.
Because I already had one. I had recently returned to college and it was the one I used for schoolwork. It was old and slow and clunky and made me want to tear my hair out/throw it out the window/curse in wonderfully colourful ways.
If you read my essential tech tools post, you’ll know how unreasonably attached to my MacBook Air I am these days, but back then that simply wasn’t a possibility. My ancient Toshiba laptop was so annoying that I did a lot of my research and writing at my local library. Their computers weren’t state of the art either, but they were better than mine, and their internet connection was quicker. The cost of my library card? $0.
Research material $0
The free internet at my local library + the many thousands of books, magazines, and other publications there + helpful librarians = (you guessed it) $0.
I want to point out that I lived in a small town at this point. We’re not talking about a fancy library, but it was actually pretty well-stocked and didn’t charge for inter-library loans, so I could access almost any book I needed. Plus, they kept a lot of magazines on the shelves (not all libraries do) so I could research markets to send my work to as well as researching information to put in my articles. I emailed my queries and submissions though. Stamps cost money.
Time is probably the most important resource and at this point I had very little of it. I was studying full time, working part-time, raising two kids and volunteering at their school. I did NOT have a ton of spare time, so I progressed slowly, but I still progressed. I’d have gone faster with more time/fewer other commitments, but either way, you use what time you have and don’t stress about the fact you’re in tortoise mode for now, rather than hare.
My blog $0
My first blog ran on Blogspot, for free. Is this advisable? Not long term. But if it’s all you can afford right now? Sure, why not. My first blog is now defunct, and all my sites run on WordPress, hosted by the amazing Mom Webs. But that first year? And the year after that? It was Blogspot all the way.
Just so you know, if you start on Blogspot, or any other free platform, you CAN upgrade to a self-hosted site later, when you find the funds, and transfer your content over. The lovely tech staff at Mom Webs will even do the work for you.
Other free tools: $0
Because I didn’t have a start-up fund, I became the absolute Queen of finding free tools. It’s still one of my superpowers. I eventually compiled all those free tools into my now bestselling Kindle book Free Tools For Writers, Bloggers and Solopreneurs. I sell it for 99 cents, because if people are looking for free tools they don’t have a lot of money to spend, but readers tend to agree that it’s well worth the (almost) whole buck they spend on it. You only have to take a look at the 130+ reviews kind folks have left on Amazon, to see that.
So yep, I started my freelance writing business for $0. When I made some money, I reinvested it. Here’s what I started with:
A domain name – you can use it with your free blog to make it look more professional and make it easier to share.
Hosting – once my monthly income from writing was high enough to cover it, which doesn’t take long (plans with Mom Webs start at $5 a month, and you can pay quarterly so you don’t need a big upfront payment).
Education – free education you get online and from the library is great. But eventually you’ll up your game much more quickly if you start paying out for targeted online courses that quickly teach you what you need to know.
Once I’d invested in these few things, I didn’t invest in anything else for quite some time. Even now, I always think twice before splashing out. In business, as in life, you don’t need every new shiny object that catches your eye.