Our business started from an idle conversation with a friend over a cup of tea. Both of us were ‘stay at home mums’ frustrated by the lack of genuine work opportunities for women with school age children. We both wanted to work but were unable to find anything that fitted around school hours, school holidays, child sickness, etc. but still paid enough to make it worthwhile! It’s undoubtedly the age-old conundrum of women – how to balance work and childrearing, how to earn enough money without compromising on your children’s upbringing.

My friend and I decided to start a business together from home. However, neither of us had money to invest in starting a business; all we had was ourselves, a PC and a willingness to work hard. And believe it or not, it is possible to start a business on a shoestring – here are six pieces of useful advice for anyone thinking of starting a business from home:

1. Work for free/swap: it sounds ridiculous, after all you’re going into business to make money, not to work for free! But this is how we started – and it works! We went on relevant chat forums (see below) and offered our services for free for a specified length of time, or for a certain project, in return for a review to put on our marketing material. The companies we worked for for free all went on to be regular paying customers and gave us great reviews to enable us to market our work to other people.

2. Get free advice: from free blogging seminars to free sales workshops – if you look for it, you will find it. We live in a rural area but even so we were able to access free business start-up advice and mentoring. Search the internet, you will be amazed at what you can access for free that will help you jump start your new business.

3. Chat forums: can be great for getting your first customers. We signed up to relevant business related chat forums: to get advice from other entrepreneurs; for market research purposes – to float new product/service ideas to see how popular they would be; and to offer our services for free in return for reviews (see above). People on these forums are amazingly kind and supportive to new entrepreneurs and you will be surprised just how much you can learn for free.

4. Create your own website: vital to any business in this day and age, a professional looking website is a must. Of course you can spend endless amounts of money on an all-singing, all-dancing site but all you really need to get you going is a simple site with no frills. You can literally buy a very straightforward ‘website in a box’ package which allows you to set up your own website with zero technical knowledge.

ID-10036042Setting up a website yourself is easier than you think

5. Free software: from free word processing packages to free html editing software; once again if you search for it, you will find it! There is no need to go out and spend lots of money on premium software packages – most business start-ups can manage very easily with free software, we certainly did!

6. Don’t spend-out on marketing material: our initial business idea had radically changed 6 months from start-up, making our lovely (not so cheap) business cards and flyers totally obsolete. Your business idea will most likely change and evolve too, so although it’s fun designing business cards, logos and flyers, don’t print too many or they may end up languishing in the cupboard indefinitely!

Some of the most successful UK companies have started out on a shoestring, don’t let having a small starting budget stop you from setting up a profitable business.