While I  don’t completely write off the various investment/funding business models, I do have a larger respect for the art of hustle and the adaptive mindset of the true entrepreneur. I’m a big fan of bootstrapping business models and their success stories of small wins that lead to big victories. Looking at the small things, or the ability to make more of something from next to nothing,  is a great exercise to use to help you hone in on the important things.  That said, the big challenge is this: if you only had $10 to start a business, what would you do? What would you focus on? How would you go about it?

Read on to see some of our recommendations  on how to start a business with little more than lunch money. Be sure to chime in and comment with your own ideas as well.

What you’ll need to get started:

  1. 1 laptop with wi-fi fast enough to view the web.
  2. 1 smartphone (Android/iOS) of some sort.
  3. 1 Bootstrapping, BAMF, ready to hustle, work, wheel and deal kind of attitude.
  4. A knack for social engineering and working with social/human capitol.

I will assume that you already have Internet access, a smartphone, and a laptop with wi-fi of some kind. Else, you can visit your local library to get web access to get started, or beg and borrow one from any number of people. Laptops are even given away for free on Craigslist, so try there as well.

Getting Started:

$10 Setup

  1. You’ll need a base of operations on the web. I am a WordPress evangelist, self-hosted ideally, but you can get started with a free blog at www.wordpress.com. This starting point, however is temporary. You may consider some more visually stunning starting points that can be built quickly such as flavors.me, sidengo.com,
  2. A Gmail account. Not Yahoo, or Live/Hotmail account. Go with Google. It’s easier to organize your life and leverage an account. Case in point, check out our filter pack.
  3. Google Voice account– A fully functional phone system that can screen your calls and forward to your cell phone during business hours.
  4. FREE personal business cards from moo.com. NOT TO BE CONFUSED WITH THOSE CHEAP VISTAPRINT CARDS! You can order multiple sample packs from your various email addresses. Yes, you’ll only get a few, but I bet you’ll be damn careful about who you hand your cards to. *Big Boy Biz Tip: Treat your business cards like a Golden Wonka ticket and your potential clients will to. Don’t be so eager to litter and fill every hand.
  5. A verified Paypal Account tied to a checking account.
  6. A square up account + Dongle to collect funds in person.
  7. An account with sellwire. SellWire let’s you easily upload sell digital goods through paypal by providing you with the download link.
  8. A Google analytics  account.

Ideal Setup (Cheap Modifications You Can Probably Afford)

  1. Own your own name on the web “yourname.com” This is an essential purchase.
  2. Pay for hosting with Bluehost and do the 1 button WordPress self hosted install.
  3. Install Google apps for your domain so that you have all the glory of gmail, with the professional looking email address “firstname@yourname.com” looks a heck of a lot better than purplefishrainbow454@hotmail.com
  4. Standard or Luxe Cards from Moo.com. Again, the Wonka rule applies. These are expensive and the great thing about that is simply that you’ll be reminded to hand them to real potential prospects and bridges, the command respect as long as they are matched with the appropriate personal presence.

Take an Inventory and Understand Your Assets -What Do You Have?

1. Your vote/word and opinion. It may be illegal to sell everywhere else but the web. Find things you love and give them praise and support in exchange for a little social capital. Trade for referral, testimonials, money (though I challenge you to have some integrity), likes, whatever you have to do to add social proof to your personal brand. Write reviews of things you love, and be gracious but firm and authentic when speaking about the things that you don’t.

2. Network: friends, family and connections. Don’t underestimate your network. You have connections to people whom others find valuable, as potential vendors, clients, customers and connections. Even if they are mere bridges to other connections you have them. The real strength of your network lies in the quality of the relationship. Focus on assessing the people whom you really know and interact with and those who relate and interact with you on a regular basis. You can’t count on a twitter following/facebook like to help you change a flat, so take an accurate assessment.

3. Knowledge, skills, talents, etc. You can combine talents and tap into a niche or identify a need/opportunity. Aside from your physical strengths, you should assess your positive character strengths and emotional intelligence as well. Take the free VIA positive characteristic test to get a sense of your character strengths.

4. Stuff-Materials and tools that are handily available. You may be sitting in a room full of stuff you can sell, tools you can use to fix or build something else.

What To Do:

1. Start as a consultant. Poof your a consultant! 

Not so fast. Let’s make this look good so you don’t come off like a tool.

  • Choose a specific title – avoid business consultant, life coach, IT, etc. The more specific you are about an area you want to focus on and can really help people on, the better. Better to be top of mind when it comes time to address a specific challenge, than lost in a sea of vagueness. Take it from a guy who spent 10 years as an IT consultant. I’ve had clients tell me “I didn’t know you did that” and call somebody else. Your title is your first opportunity to be creative and establish a niche. Choose wisely.
  • Charge an amount you can be proud of; either a fixed rate that would support your lifestyle, or at least $100 per hour. ALWAYS be up front with fees. A client should never have to ask how much something is or have to call you to find out. While you can always send an invoice via Paypal, for random gigs, Square up is a hustler’s best friend, making easier to collect payment on the spot via the dongle and your smartphone.
  • What is the core value you provide, and how are you qualified to provide it? This has nothing to do with education and certification but if you practice answering these questions well, it will go a long way towards your success in establishing a firm client base. What you do: ” leverage my wisdom and expertise in (chosen area) to help (type of business) accomplish (some specificgoal or business objective often mentioned in the industry). You may expand to share your qualifications, but this should get you started.
  • Once you’ve done all these things, you can now go print some business cards with your new title, Google voice number, email, etc.

2. Build rapport and strengthen your network. Build a Following. Follow and invite (interesting) people with content (of value) to guest post on your page.

Here are some tips:

  • Start writing, blogging, sharing ,reviewing connecting and marketing around your subject area.
  • Create an account on meetup.com and regularly attend free events that are in your wheelhouse or area of interest.
  • Join groups on LinkedIn and Contribute regularly to discussions.

These last two tips require interacting with real people who are tied to their real identities. The value of these relationships and discussions (especially In Real Life meetups) vastly exceeds that of the virtual klout alone. The goal is not the highest score on the video game or simulation of the business world. Some basic objectives to pursue are: great revenue,  great people working with and around you, great reputation, and in whichever order you prefer.

3. Sell Digital Goods. Produce digital content of value that you can sell: Write a guide, makes some videos, finish your book, whatever. You can post downloads with price tags and receive automatic payment through Paypal using SellWire.

4. Ask for reciprocity. Asking people to return the favor usually pays off. Playing on the guilt or principle of reciprocity, you can do first for others and get a lot of value in return. Ask for reviews, testimonials, video testimonials, free services, etc.

5. Measure what matters. Social capital is good, real revenue is better. Add Google analytics to your site. Track the links you share with bit.ly. I value web visitors over the rest of the metrics because the website earns a higher percentage of attention focused on the business. It’s important to track the small wins but pay attention to the metrics nearest conversion/purchase/real engagement. Hint: That is not a follow, like, +, or retweet.

Make it a game. Double your following e.g. twitter followers, facebook likes, most importantly your web traffic, each day.

6. Be Visual, Persistent and Interactive. A picture is worth a thousand words and the better you are with visual and written communication the more successful you can be.

How to Escape From The Mediocrity Of the 95%- This is where you spend the $10

Some of these tips may seem generic, but they’re rarely pursued. The difference is in the level of effort, authenticity and style you put into it.

I will add here, that you should pursue a free education on the web to cultivate the following skills to shine brighter and better than most:

  • Learn how to create GREAT web content and copy. visit copyblogger.com search for infographics on Google, etc. Be familiar with useful statistics from places like PEW Internet Research and Good.is,
  • Learn how to represent yourself visually in STUNNING and WONDERFUL ways. Post only the best photos of yourself and dare to show off a little authenticity and personality in your photos. Learn how to quickly generate or locate EPIC images that your audience will remember.
  • Make EXCELLENT contributions to discussions. Read what the top minds are saying and form your own opinion. The magazine rack at the local book store is free to peruse last time I checked. Try Harvard Business Review, MIT Sloan Management Review, Inc., Psychology Today, Popular Science, Mental Floss, etc. Throw them in a blender, apply them to your area of focus.
  • Demonstrate your PROFOUND abilities. Stop undervaluing yourself. You know what your strengths are. Share them with the world whether they’re related to your work or not. You never know, it just might land you your next gig.

Tip: To quickly find the best content on the web I recommend installing the stumbleupon toolbar for chrome or firefox, and turning on the feature to highlight recommended content in Google search results. That way you can limit your search to content that other real human beings enjoyed. This will save you hours of scouring the web and lead you to much richer content.

Visual, Persistent and Interactive

In 2008, Autodesk did a study on how the brain determines value, and their findings were that it came down to 3 things: what is visual, persistent and interactive. Apply this knowledge to your personal branding. What about your web presence is visual persistent and interactive. How interactive and visible are you? Raise the bar! Studies also show that people are far more likely to value images that evoke intense emotions. So, that corporate mug shot you have plastered across every profile on the web won’t cut it. Personality and authenticity evokes emotion.  Capture yours visually.

For $10, I’d throw my money in some great photo and video apps like splice, vimeo, snapseed, camera+, halftone, toonpaint, and great panoramic shots with PhotoSynth. These apps and other free apps like instagram and so on, can quickly transform the ordinary into extraordinary and evoke the emotional connection that leads to a lasting impression. Check out this video: 50 Quick Photography Tips to help you along the way.

It may sound absurd at first, but compelling photography, videos with good lead-in lead outs and good content, bring the crowds and attract potential customers. Oh, and since you’ll probably only spend about $5 in camera apps. I’d spend the other $5 on a fiverr.com gig for someone to create a video lead in/lead-out for your youtube submissions.

What should you capture? Yourself:

  • Helping others, either through work, for fun or with family.
  • Living your life authentically- afraid of the visual here? All the more reason to make yours a life you can be proud to share.
  • Being The Change/Walking the Talk. Demonstrate and share your authentic personality and lifestyle.  Pursue that higher authentic self, the self that breaks the molds of  societal and corporate expectations. Be yourself and you will attract people that you’ll enjoy working with. People don’t want to subscribe or do business with another workaholic drone.

In my opinion, especially for beginners and small businesses, you should start by pimping out your personal brand, and we’ll touch on that a bit here but cover it more extensively in a separate post. The point I’d like to stress beyond the helpful tips is simply this: The brighter you shine the more people will want to soak in your light. No matter what you do, as long as you look good/interesting/entertaining doing it, people will probably be curious and want to get involved.

Lastly- If you don’t want to blow your wad in the app store,  here are 2 books that will help keep your head in the game or in the clouds for those who aren’t of the cloth.

The 4-Hour Workweek

The $100 Startup

-Honorable Movie Mention- Checkout How To Make It In America: The Complete First Season