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How to start a business with no money

Chasing your entrepreneurial dream doesn’t have to start with huge lump sums and investors. In this article, we’ll look at some ways you can up your skills and unlock your potential with no money.

Finding ways to make money in South Africa when you’re also trying to make ends meet can be difficult – even for the most optimistic and hard-working among us.

Figuring out how to start a business with no money at all can be very daunting, but the good news is that there are options for you. From making money online in South Africa to kasi business ideas, there has never been a better time for starting a business in a country that rewards the entrepreneurial spirit.

In this article we’ll show you not only how to start a business with no money, we’ll also show you ways to make money in South Africa that will inspire you to keep chasing your entrepreneurial dreams, Mzansi-style.

First things first - invest in yourself

If you don’t have bucks for airtime, a laptop, wheels, or a clear idea of where to start, begin with yourself. Investing in yourself is the most valuable investment you can make. But what does that entail?

  • Identify your passions and skills. The Japanese call this concept "Ikigai," loosely translated as a "reason to wake up in the morning." Your Ikigai combines four elements: doing what you love, what you excel at, what the world needs, and what you can be paid for. True fulfillment lies at their intersection, so why not start with this template in mind? Your chances of success will increase when you focus on something you excel at and enjoy. Free online quizzes and skills assessments can guide you.
  • Take yourself seriously. Investing in your personal and professional growth may involve seeking guidance from experienced mentors. It might mean taking on jobs to pay for workshops in your field of interest. Investing in yourself can also mean showing up. Get dressed, face the world with confidence, and take yourself seriously. If you don't, how can you expect others to?
  • Keep costs low. You could use free WiFi at restaurants, or public library computers if you don't have a laptop. Watch free educational videos on YouTube to expand your knowledge - you don't need a university degree to learn about topics that interest you. The key is to be resourceful and work with what you have. Try to keep overhead costs low during the planning phase.
  • Your network is crucial. Seek advice from elders and collaborate with ambitious individuals. Share your ideas with those around you. You might try bartering products with people in your neighborhood or organizing a car boot sale where people pay you a fee to come and sell their second-hand goods and appliances. Build up your revenue as you bootstrap your business by working with what you have already.
  • Solve a problem. Identify opportunities in your neighborhood or desired industry. Successful businesses often provide solutions to existing problems. Determination, resourcefulness, and a solid business idea can help you start a business without much capital. Let's transform that 'five tiger' (R50 note) into an 'iklipa' (R100 note) with examples of South African business hustle that started from the bottom.


Kasi business ideas

Mzikhona Mgedle is the founder of Langa Bicycle Hub in Langa informal settlement, just outside of Cape Town. Mzi started organising a “bike bus” where Langa residents who worked in Cape Town’s city centre could cycle safely to work together.

Mzi started by using his bicycle to deliver essential items to Langa residents, cycling down side alleys to homes inaccessible by car. He was soon able to create jobs for others repairing and selling upcycled bicycles, as well as offering bicycle lessons.

Langa Bicycle Hub is now in partnership with Langa Safety Patrol, as Mzi and his business help promote a safe and inclusive cycling culture for Langa and its residents.

Pick and Choose Wholesale is an online business based in Stellenbosch that offers you the chance to start your own business selling second-hand clothing, by buying a bale consisting of upwards of 20 pieces for as little as R500. That works out to R25 for a jersey that you can easily resell for upwards of R75!

Typically how the bale industry works is that used garments (or factory over-runs) are collected around the world, sorted according to condition, style, and seasonality, and then packaged into bales where they are exported to countries, like South Africa, where there is great margin for wholesale and then retail.

This is how founder Danneel Stone began starting a business when he needed extra money. He spent R1000 on a bale and once he’d recovered his money he bought a full-length mirror, bought another bale, set up his stall at markets, and hasn’t looked back since!

His business helps local communities and other entrepreneurs by supplying complete bales filled with high-quality garments for a very affordable price.

woman sat at laptop

Promote yourself on freelancing platforms

If you simply don’t have the time to get out there and attend markets, you can still engage with your local community online. So long as you have an internet connection, you can work from anywhere and make money online in South Africa.

Your hours are flexible and you stand a chance of reaching a much greater audience as your business starts to grow. And if you’re still unsure as to how to get your name and business offer out there, why not start by joining a free online talent platform?

Upwork and Fiverr are good examples of popular online job sites that connect freelancers with business clients from all over the world. Here’s how it works:

  • Register. Creating an account is free for most platforms and with Upwork in particular you get 10 free credits per month that you ‘spend’ when applying for jobs that may interest you. Registering will force you to provide information about your skillset and areas of expertise, as well as your CV (work history). This is another opportunity to articulate your talents!
  • Search and Match. You then get to browse listings as they come in and submit your proposal (including your proposed rate) for the jobs that seem like they’ll be a good match for your skills.
  • Communication, Payment, and Reviews. Once you’re hired, communication and payment are all handled via the platform, and when you’re finished you leave each other reviews. Much like an Airbnb experience or dating app!

South Africans can take pride in knowing that they have a reputation on the global stage for being hard workers. Our cost of living is also cheaper compared to other countries, often allowing us to be highly competitive in our bidding when compared with the freelance citizens of other countries who perhaps can’t afford to work as cheaply as us.

South Africans also possess a good command of the English language – usually an important requirement when communicating with a client.

man signing contract

Make use of small business loans and grants

If you have the entrepreneurial spirit but don’t have the financial support to match your enthusiasm, there are some options available to you. Small business loans and grants could help set you on the path to starting a business.

The first thing you’ll need to do is put together a strong business plan that showcases why your idea will work, as well as your commitment to making it a reality. This will also help you focus your idea, as you are encouraged to answer some tough questions and think through all the possible outcomes.

Consider opening a line of credit with a bank, where you only pay interest on the amount borrowed. If you don’t think you’ll qualify for traditional banking finance, then a microloan can provide you with a small, short-term loan amount to facilitate cash flow.

If you’re a startup with big ambitions to scale, then the Venture Capital (VC) or angel investing model is what you’re after as you use a small business loan as a strategic business tool to grow your idea.

Business in South Africa is constantly expanding, with new small businesses popping up every day to address the needs of its Mzansi citizens. To cater to market demand, business grants from non-profit organizations, government departments and private foundations are often available in emerging industries. The great news is that if you meet their selection criteria, very often these grants don’t even need to be repaid.

We wish you luck on your business adventure and encourage you to work smart and stay focused on the prize of starting your own business – even if it is with no money. We’re here to help you if you need support along the way!

Stuart Wood

About the author

Stuart is Editorial Manager at He has worked as Editor for a B2B publisher, Content Manager for a PR firm, and most recently as a Copywriter for Barclays.