Growth / Planning & Strategy

How to grow your small business with little to no capital

Bamidele Onibalusi

Updated: Dec 21, 2023 · 8 min read

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There just might be some truth to the saying “Money makes the world go round,” but what are the implications of this for the growth of your small business.

According to data from Intuit, 64% of entrepreneurs start their small businesses with just $10,000 in capital. It’s not surprising, then, that 82% of businesses fail due to inconsistent or insufficient access to cash.

If you’re like most small business owners, it's safe to assume that you have access to little or no capital; with all the aspects of your small business competing for your limited resources, it goes without saying that you have limited or no capital to spend on growth.

Here are some effective ways to grow your start-up with little or no capital:

1. Leverage guest blogging the smart way

One powerful techniques you can use to grow your small business when you don’t have money to spend is guest blogging.

Guest blogging can be a powerful way to grow your small business if done strategically. Not only is it free to employ, but there are also blogs that will pay you to write for them. There are actually two forms of guest blogging that small businesses can use to ensure growth:

  • Direct guest blogging: This is done by guest blogging with the sole aim of generating traffic, leads, sales, or clients. With this approach, the results of your guest blogging efforts are directly tied to individual guest posts and as a result you’re mostly going to target highly authoritative and high traffic blogs and media publications.
  • Indirect guest blogging: In this case, you’re guest blogging for the indirect benefits. Usually, this is either to get backlinks to boost your SEO efforts, to get brand exposure, or to get social proof that can help your small business growth.

Regardless of which approach you use, it's important to be strategic about your approach to guest blogging. You should make sure that you:

  • Only submit guest posts to relevant and highly authoritative blogs and publications. Regardless of whether you’re using the direct or indirect approach, you’ll only get the best returns from your guest blogging efforts if the blogs you write are relevant and highly authoritative.
  • Properly track results from your guest blogging efforts and focus on repeating what works; this is especially important when using the direct approach. You want to measure the results you’re getting from individual blogs and guest post types. If a particular guest post type yields more results than usual, do more of it. If a particular blog/publication yields more than average result, you can write for the same publication again and again.
  • It's also important to realize that guest blogging is a numbers game; it doesn’t matter whether you’re doing it for direct results like leads/traffic or for indirect results like SEO, the more you do the better the results you can expect.

2. Look into partnerships, affiliates and joint ventures

While one of the bigger challenges you will face in the early stage of your small business is lack of access to an audience that wants your products or services, there are people with an audience ready and willing to pay for what you have. These could be industry leaders, social media influencers, bloggers, and email marketers in your niche.

An easy way to ensure quick growth for your small business is by identifying these key players with your audience and forming partnerships and joint ventures with them. It most certainly won’t be easy in your early days, especially when you have little to offer, but it can be very profitable if done right.

One method I used to grow my online business in its early days was by partnering with people who have newsletters that have my target audience. In a particular instance, an influencer with a big email list once invited me to write a guest post for his blog. The guest post yielded over 400 visitors, which I found impressive. Since this particular influencer hasn’t been updating his blog regularly, and realizing that he particularly liked my guest post, I made him a deal: I’ll write five posts for his blog for free in exchange for his sending an email to his list about me. He agreed, and this resulted in several hundreds of new subscribers for my blog.

You could strike partnerships by offering content for free, your services for free or at a discount, or offering the potential partner something he/she will find difficult to resist.

3. Leverage virality to ensure customer growth

When you have little or no money to spend, your ability to leverage virality can determine the success or failure of your small business. While we have numerous examples of start-ups that became successful mainly by relying on virality for growth, perhaps no example stands out in recent times more than Dropbox.

Dropbox leveraged virality by doing some very simple things:

  • Users were offered a basic service for free and had to pay a fee for full features.
  • For users who weren’t ready to pay for full features, they could progressively unlock more features by referring others: up to 500mb additional storage per user referred up to a limit.
  • Inviting people to use Dropbox’s product was quite easy; users were encouraged to integrate with their social channels and were provided with a simple “copy and paste” option they can use to invite people via email.
  • Right from the get go, people that were referred were invited to also invite their friends to take advantage of referral benefits. This created a form of “viral loop” and kept the referral system going.

Thanks to this strong referral system, Dropbox went from 100,000 users to 4 million users in just 15 months—a 40 times increase, essentially doubling their user base every three months.

As a small business, setting up a kind of referral system that encourages virality of what you have to offer doesn’t have to cost you much; simply think about implementing a kind of setup similar to that of Dropbox.

4. Supercharge your email list building

While many small businesses obsess over stuff that might not have much long-term value for them such as sponsoring major events like the Super Bowl or increasing ad spend, available data shows that seemingly little stuff like maintaining an email list can make a big difference.

Many small businesses do not have an email list, yet email has routinely come out on top as the most effective marketing technique when both online and offline mediums are put into consideration. In fact, the average brand using email marketing reports a ROI of 37:1 from their email efforts while the most successful brands report a ROI of 42:1. In other words, for every $1 you spend on your email marketing efforts you can expect a ROI of $37. That’s impressive and unbeatable by other marketing channels, but you can only expect such results if you do email marketing right.

Here are some ideas:

  • Offer a sign-up incentive: As basic as this seems, offering a sign-up incentive could mean the difference between experiencing slow email growth or rapid email growth.
  • Segment and target your messages: While it's tempting to send the same generic messages to all subscribers due to how easy that can be, segmenting your subscribers and sending them targeted messages can be quite rewarding. According to research by MarketingSherpa, sending targeted emails to a segmented email list as opposed to sending the same message to all subscribers can boost conversions by up to 208%.
  • Work on your subject lines: The success of your email marketing efforts rests a great deal on your subject lines. Your emails are useless if they don’t get opened so a great deal of time and effort should be put into your email subject lines.
  • Don’t underestimate the power of follow-ups: Most people won’t pay heed to your offer based on just your first message. In fact, if you only send a single email to promote your offers, you’re going to be missing out on a lot of business. The Marketing Rule of 7 says that most people will only pay attention to your offer after coming across it at least seven times. So you want to make sure you also send follow-up emails to promote your offers.

5. Multichannel marketing

When you have little to nothing to spend on marketing, you should all the more ensure you have a well-optimized multichannel marketing system. Data shows that the average shopper engages with brands using eight different channels during the shopping process.

In other words, you want to ensure a clear integration of your online and offline marketing channels. More importantly, you want to make sure you’re on every channel where a significant percentage of your potential customers can be found and that each of these channels are properly linked and used to promote each other.

To ensure multichannel marketing success, it's also important to do the following:

  • Ensure you’re taking advantage of mobile platforms and channels; in most verticals, more people now use mobile than use desktop.
  • Ensure that your messages are consistent across channels and that your messages can be easily linked to your brand (due to their format, design, and look and feel).
  • Tap into the power of interactivity; when users are involved and encouraged to interact, they're more likely to tell others about your brand and aid your business growth.

About the author

Bamidele Onibalusi is an entrepreneur, freelance writer, and founder of Writers in Charge. When he isn't busy working for freelance clients, he is showing other writers how to get freelance writing jobs.

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