6 Dirt-Cheap Ways to Launch a New Business

6 Dirt-Cheap Ways to Launch a New Business

The beauty of million-dollar ideas is that they're free. But building a business around one? Not so much. Sometimes it seems like you need a million bucks just to get your startup started.

Thankfully, just because times are lean doesn't mean you need a fat wallet. By leveraging a growing number of cheap and even free tools and services, you can plan, fund, house, market, and operate your new enterprise on a razor-thin budget.

6 Dirt-Cheap Ways to Launch a New Business

Planning

Planning

You know the old saying about "failing to plan," right? A good business plan can mean the difference between getting your startup off the ground and landing with a thud. For a mere $24, TheIdeaStartup will walk you through every step of building a business plan, complete with financial projections and intellectual-property protections.

If you want something a little simpler, check out these 500-plus sample business plans, which you can use for reference in drafting your own.

6 Dirt-Cheap Ways to Launch a New Business

Funding

Funding

Suppose you've devised the most ingenious iPad case/keyboard/waffle-maker combo ever -- a surefire seller. Just one problem: it's going to cost $75K for the initial manufacturing run. Ouch. What are you, made of waffles?

In the old days, landing that kind of seed money meant heading to the bank, hat in hand, and hoping for a loan. Today, you can line up ordinary-folk "investors" from all over the world -- people who are willing to help fund your product or idea based on nothing more than your pitch for it.

Kickstarter (which charges 5% of the total funds raised) is the best-known resource for this kind of "crowd-funding," but it's far from the only option. Be sure to check out ChipIn, Fundrazr, and IndieGoGo as well.

6 Dirt-Cheap Ways to Launch a New Business

Office Space

Office Space

The whole concept of an office -- a leased space in a single location -- is downright archaic. For a lot of small-biz owners, the office is wherever you crack open your laptop. Ask yourself whether you really need a fixed space, as that's one major expense most startups could do without.

Indeed, what better place to "start" than in your own home? With a few cheap and free improvements, you can turn any den, basement, or even closet into a perfectly serviceable home office. If that doesn't do the trick, any nearby coffee shop can double as office space (though do everyone a favor and use your "inside voice" when you're on the phone -- oh, and buy something, too).

Need something a little more spacious and/or permanent? Consider buying into an inexpensive coworking space, which is essentially an office co-op -- an open, collaborative environment comprised of other small-biz types. It's a cheap roof over your head, and a good place to network.

6 Dirt-Cheap Ways to Launch a New Business

Marketing

Marketing

Duh. Winning in today's startup world means leveraging social networks -- namely Facebook and Twitter. Start by turning your personal Facebook page into a business page, which, thanks to new Facebook tools, takes all of a few clicks.

When you're ready to turn that page into something slick and professional-looking, services like High Impact Designer and Pagemodo will help you build custom Facebook pages for less than what you spend on your daily coffee and muffin.

As for Twitter, LinkedIn, and the like, check out these real-world ways social networks can build your business. Need proof that this stuff actually works? Here's a Facebook success story worth reading.

If you need marketing materials -- a company logo, a Web site, business cards -- you can enlist a small army of professional designers to work on your project, but pay for only the one you like best. (I agree: this sucks for the designers, but if you have a limited budget, it's a hard option to pass up.)

6 Dirt-Cheap Ways to Launch a New Business

Phones

Phones

Talk is cheap -- until you get the bill for your business phone service. But what can you do? Every business needs at least one phone line, if only to field sales and/or service calls.

Start with Google Voice. It not only assigns you a new local number, but also routes calls to any and all existing lines you might already have (home office, mobile phone, etc.). It also provides voicemail that you can share, download, and receive via e-mail as transcribed text. And it's free! Here are 10 ways to make the most of Google Voice.

If you need something a little more business-savvy, voice-over-IP services like Grasshopper and Phonebooth offer features like auto-attendants, unlimited extensions, a toll-free number, and cheaper-than-the-telcos outbound calling.

On the other hand, if you're running a one-man show, maybe all you need is a second line. Line2 for Android and iPhone adds a new local number, ported existing number, or toll-free number to your smartphone. Rates start at $9.99 per month (unless you opt for a toll-free number, in which case they're higher).

6 Dirt-Cheap Ways to Launch a New Business

Software

Software

When the day comes that you're raking in six-figure profits, feel free to splurge on pricey software packages like Microsoft Office and Adobe Photoshop. Until then, there are countless free alternatives that give you all the productivity tools you need to run your business.

For example, instead of Office, choose open-source favorite OpenOffice or the slimmer, nimbler Lotus Symphony 3. Even better, try a cloud-based solution like Google Docs or Zoho. Need Visio? Use LovelyCharts instead.

In place of Photoshop, work your image-editing magic in Paint.NET -- or use a browser-based solution like Sumo Paint. And before you spend a penny on Norton Anti-Virus or another security package, find out how to keep all your work PCs secure with Microsoft Security Essentials. It's time to abandon the mentality that running a business means paying for expensive "business" software.