Start Your Own Business for $100 or Less

Know the competition. Don't worry about reinventing the wheel. Chances are you're going to provide a service or product that already exists. That's OK. There are multiple banks, coffee shops, clothing stores and restaurants on every street. There are thousands of doctors and dentists in every major city. It's wise to know your competition, but don't be intimidated, especially if you offer a quality product or service.

Create marketing materials. You need a marketing plan to target the right people about your business. Because you aren't going to run expensive newspaper ads or Super Bowl commercials, think free and inexpensive.

Web site. When you're looking to buy something -- from a haircut to a custom cake -- you likely hit the Internet. So even if you're not selling online, every business should have a Web site. Before you decide on a name for your business, check the availability of domain names, because it could affect the name you choose.

A Web site can cost as little as $10 a month and many hosting companies offer free site-builder templates to get you up and running in a few hours. Register.com and GoDaddy.com are two services I've used.

Google's AdWords program is an affordable and measurable way to attract visitors to your Web site. Sign up for free and set a budget for how much you want to spend to appear in search results when Google users look for content related to yours.

Network

Print business cards and flyers. I use both VistaPrint.com and GotPrint.com for high-quality printing at affordable prices.

Phone system. If you worry about your kids answering your business calls but you don't want to install a dedicated phone line, consider a service like RingCentral.com to have calls routed to an 800 number with voice mail exclusively for your business starting at $10 a month.

Use free social and business networks. Facebook, LinkedIn, MySpace and others are valuable tools for spreading the word about your business.

Establish mutually beneficial partnerships. Recently a "Good Morning America" viewer asked me for ideas on how to spread the word quickly -- without spending a dime -- about her new pet massage business. I suggested partnering with the most popular pet store in her area to host in-store events every Saturday where owners could bring their animals for on-the-spot mini massages. It's good for the store because it brings new and existing customers into the shop, and it's good for attracting awareness -- and customers -- for this new pet massage business.

A cake baker might offer to do fundraisers for her kids' school. She could talk to wedding vendors about offering affordable alternatives to new brides. She can visit local coffee shops with samples of her baked goods to persuade them to carry her stuff.

Generate free media coverage. One of my favorite new resources is Help a Reporter Out, which enables anyone to sign up for a free e-mail alert, delivered three times daily, listing the immediate needs of writers and producers from major TV and print outlets to blogs and books. By registering for the daily e-mails, you can respond to queries from journalists that relate to your business and your expertise -- without hiring a publicist to do the work for you.

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