Why you don’t always need money to start a business

Some start-ups require a lot of capital to get going, but be mindful of which ones do not

Arab Money
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We hear the conversation over and over again: how it’s expensive to start a business, or find investor funding, and how those factors continue to discourage entrepreneurs in the Middle East. I don’t disagree with that.

Depending on the business you want to start, funding could be a make-or-break factor. If you want to start a restaurant, then, yes, you need a substantial amount of money, in addition to training, marketing expertise and lots of market research. But it shouldn't be always the case.

When I first ventured into entrepreneurship nine years ago, I rarely heard young people aspire to become entrepreneurs or consider entrepreneurship a viable career path. The words "businessman" or "businesswoman" were more common, and also a limited sort of business that one would venture into. A lot of those businessmen or businesswomen pursued a career in the family’s business or brought in franchises from abroad. We didn’t yet have a speciality coffee craze, home-grown burger joints, or even many local fashion labels. But that’s not the situation any more.

Entrepreneurs also don't necessarily wait until they graduate from school or college to start a career and their own businesses, and online platforms such as Facebook and Instagram have saved entrepreneurs a lot of money.

Home-grown labels are the big thing now. Emirati teenage entrepreneur and social-media sensation Rashed Belhasa is a great textbook example. He founded fashion label Money Kicks, which is stocked in leading retail outlets such as Robinsons, when he hadn't yet graduated from school, and whose merchandise regularly sells out.

Emirati founders of NAFS, an abaya and modest-wear label, stocked their designs online and on their Instagram pages before opening their store in Dubai Design District. They have now ventured into homeware accessories.

My point is that if you think creatively, and bring a new thing to the market, you can get away with less investment. For instance, if you want to sell silk scarves of your own designs, you don't really need a physical store any more. Your initial investment should go towards a small number of products, a designer who will create your packaging – and that's about it. Instead of a physical store, rent a booth in one of the may pop-up fashion exhibitions that happen around the UAE, for instance, or sell through consignment with a leading fashion store.

What I like about online platforms is that they can serve as a perfect place for trial and error as your business develops. You see what your customers like, dislike, where you get most of your orders from and learn from customers' feedback.

I always tell aspiring entrepreneurs that you can start many businesses with little to no start-up cash depending on their talents. What type of businesses could you start with no financial burdens? Lots actually.

If you are a talented writer, then demand for content, especially online content, is on the rise, and this is something you can be doing from anywhere around the world. Websites such as Fiverr are great for writers, editors and artists to conduct work on. The amount of money you can make depends on your unique voice and talent. For instance, I began writing for free for many publications, before I established a writing voice and now earn a respectable amount of money because of my passion for writing.

Another good source of income is making business out of your artistic talent. American Jamel Saliba, founder of fashion illustration business Melsy, is a great example. She began posting her fashion illustrations on Etsy, a website where many illustrators showcase their work, where she was discovered by big businesses. Since then, she has collaborated with Hallmark and has stocked her card designs across the United States.

Other great ideas with low to no start-up costs are consulting, resale, photography, video editing and website designing.

I love entrepreneurship and I love seeing more entrepreneurs in the field. Money shouldn’t be an excuse to stop aspiring entrepreneurs from pursuing this field, especially if what they want to pursue doesn’t require a huge amount of upfront capital. Start small and take it from there.

Manar Al Hinai is an award-winning Emirati journalist and entrepreneur, who manages her marketing and communications company in Abu Dhabi