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BY CHRISTINE FLAHERTY

Starting a successful business is no easy feat. It requires courage, creativity, and discipline – but it doesn’t always require a lot of money.

For example, take Matthew Osborn, the founder of “Pet Butler” – a dog waste removal company in Columbus, Ohio. In 1987, he was working two full-time jobs and making less than $6.00 per hour at each. Osborn had a wife, daughter, son on the way, and desperately needed additional income. After doing some research at his local library, and speaking to the county’s auditor, Osborn learned that there were approximately 100,000 dogs within 15 miles of his home. And with only about $150.00, Osborn started a poop-scooping business that made him into a millionaire. “I studied ways to scoop large quantities in the shortest time. I practiced with different tools, using ‘simulated dog waste’ to time how long it would take to clean a yard,” Osborn shares. And it paid off! Eventually, Osborn employed seven people, purchased a fleet of six trucks, served about 650 weekly customers, and banked approximately $20,000 a month. “I was making more money than ever before and spending most of my time with my family – doing the things I enjoyed,” he says. In 1998, Osborn sold his business after a lucrative 10-year run.

You might not be the pooper-scooper type, but you can also start a successful business on a shoestring budget.

Stay at Home
When brainstorming business ideas, consider options that allow you to work from home. Not only will you save money and time on a zero-commute, you’ll save a bundle on overhead costs (such as renting office space, paying for utilities, and connecting additional wireless services). You’re already paying a mortgage or lease, so why pay it twice? Also, the tax benefits of using a spare bedroom, basement, or kitchen table can be great. If you meet the IRS’ requirements, you can deduct a percentage of your home’s expenses (such as mortgage interest, insurance, property taxes, utilities, and repairs). 

Serve a Need
Budding entrepreneurs commonly turn to their “passions” for a business idea – but your passion shouldn’t be your only guiding light. It’s important to assess need. For example: You might be passionate about baking cookies for your community, but if there are already 20 million cookie- providers on your block, you’ll need to take a closer look at your business plan. However, a crowded market isn’t always a bad market. If you can find a significant need that isn’t already being served (maybe fresher and more affordable cookies), you might be on to something big! Whatever your passion may be, your business must serve a real (and commonly-shared) need. If your business doesn’t, you’re going to waste money trying to grow an idea that people don’t demand. Great (and financially savvy) entrepreneurs discover a societal problem, and find a way to profitably solve it.

Case in point: In 1982, 28-year-old Rebecca Matthias had trouble finding maternity attire that she could wear to work. Pregnant with her first child, she reasoned that other career-women were experiencing similar challenges. Subsequently, she launched MothersWork Inc. out of her home. Her company started as a mail-order business, and has grown into a multi-million dollar maternity clothing empire. Now named Destination Maternity Corporation, Matthias’ company is the world's largest designer and retailer of maternity apparel. Talk about filling a need!

Use Lowbies and Freebies
The Internet has its cons, but it certainly has its pros. For example, MyFax.com will eliminate the need to purchase a fax machine and an additional phone line. For only $10.00 a month, you can send and receive faxes through email. Plus, websites such as Xerox.com, Entrepreneur.com, and Microsoft.com offer a trunk-load of free resources. On these websites, you’ll be able to access free templates for legal documents, spreadsheets, flyers, PowerPoint presentations, stationary, business cards, newsletters, and a host of other things. And, of course, this will save you money. Thus, scour the Internet for low-cost or no-cost resources that aid your business.

Keep Learning
You don’t need to earn an MBA to launch a successful business. After all, we’re familiar with the long list of accomplished entrepreneurs who didn’t have a degree – Mary Kay Ash, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Walt Disney, Coco Chanel, and so on. But you need to do your homework ... and a lot of it.

Mistakes can be very costly; however, many of them can be avoided by studying the slip-ups and accomplishments of people in your industry. Read everything that is relevant to your business, and study the ins- and-outs of your craft. Some of your best mentors will be met in books. Biographies and autobiographies will give you a budget- friendly master class. They’ll allow you to have intimate conversations with great masterminds, teach you how to circumvent costly pitfalls, and permit you to profit from other people’s experiences. Therefore, never stop learning. By educating yourself, you’ll save time and money. c

 

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