Answer by Andrew Burnett-Thompson:
I just got this in my daily digest. I won't add too long an answer, just to say I had a similar scenario to yours – not a lot of money, but I did have time. Also I have a skill in that I can write software.
In my spare time (before work 5am – 8am, after work 7pm-10pm) I wrote a piece of software which I now sell online. I did this with almost zero budget and canvassed to get my first sales before the product was even finished. I released early and got both interest and promise of sales before it was completed, so long as I could add X feature. A year on its selling really well and getting some competitors in a tizzy!
Rather than come up with an 'amazing idea which no-one had done before' I took an existing idea which I believed could be done better. Granted, I had the expertise to build this software, however I would say it is 90% sweat and 10% skill starting any business. Most don't bother because its really hard, not because they can't, and many do not realize that its not about the idea, but about doing something well that people want (regardless of whether existing companies do similar things).
There was a case study I saw on Mixergy entitled
Watch this, it's amazing. This is about a guy that started his own software sales business without having money or technological know-how. This is what he did (the process)
- He discounted selling to consumers in a recession and decided to create a business-to-business sales company. He researched job-sites to find which sectors were hiring. The rationale sectors who were hiring in a recession means they have budget to spend
- He canvassed local business in that sector he chose (which was Real-Estate lettings) to ask them "What do you hate about your job?" e.g. what pain points, what did they really not like doing.
- After time a recurrent answer would come back – real estate agents really disliked doing inventories for lettings. This process involved visiting several properties, taking photos, notes, then going back to the office and marrying up photos with notes into an Office doc which would become part of the contract. It was error prone, slow and frustrating work.
- He began to ask if software could help them, e.g. what if there was an iPad app that could do this for them? They of course said yes! He asked them if I build it, would you pay for it? Yes again!
- His next step was to then come up with requirements for this iPad app. I say again he had no techical experience but could design the pages / workflow of the application. He went back to his would-be customers and got their feedback.
- Over time a process of narrowing down the requirements by simply discussing with the customer what their pain point was and what they needed, he actually managed to design an application which was saleable. The next step was genius, he managed to secure several pre-orders from customers, a heavy discount if they committed to buy now. Using this funding he hired a team of developers to build the application.
The important point here (similar to my own story) is he sought early feedback to tell him if an idea was viable, he listened to what the customer wanted (and was willing to pay for) and only built it when he had good feedback.
If you create something people want, sales will follow, but your idea of what the customer wants is often very wrong, so actually seek potential customers first!
Hope this helps
So in answer to your Q – home website / software business is the lowest cost business to start up, but requires the most work 🙂