This year and the next might be some of the best times in history to start planning a business. If you have product ideas but don’t have the extra cash to invest in them, don’t worry.
There are a handful of different resources and strategies out there for you to launch a product without spending much of your own money. This can allow you to diversify your income in the future if there aren’t as many opportunities in your current field due to economic conditions. Here are six resources and strategies to launch a product if you’re broke.
1. Apply for Equity-Free Funding Programs
In the last few years, many places around the world have started to offer equity-free financing for businesses. It’s typically a process where you apply a business idea (whether you have progress or not) and some judges evaluate your proposal. If you win, you can receive investment money that’s anywhere from a few thousand up to $100,000 in some cases.
Winning one of these competitions can also connect you to other free resources for growing a business. A few U.S. cities to consider applying are St. Louis, MO, Richmond, VA, and New York City. The Arch Grants competition in St. Louis has the largest amount of funding out of those three at $50,000.
The only catch for some of these city funds is that you may need to live there in order to receive the funding.
Before applying to one of these, it’s important to protect any intellectual property, like a prototype. Consider getting into the patent process before publicly disclosing anything so your ideas are protected.
2. Use Pro Bono Legal Services
Even if you don’t know anything about patents and protecting ideas, that’s okay. There are thousands of attorneys who volunteer to provide pro bono services (meaning without charge) through various nonprofits. Normally, filing a patent might cost you upwards of $20,000, but these types of programs can get costs down to just the filing fees.
This is by far your best option if you don’t have enough money to hire a lawyer. Don’t attempt to file a patent by yourself, since there are a lot of parts that only an attorney is qualified to handle. You will probably end up running into a lot more headaches down the road if you try to go it alone.
The U.S. Patent and Trademark office has a really helpful interactive map of the U.S. showing each pro bono service by state. Most of these should be able to work with you remotely and not require many office visits.
3. Work from Home
Whether there is a pandemic or not, you should try to stick with doing things at home. It’s tempting to want a professional-looking office space to go to every day, but working from home will save you a boatload of money.
Plus, working from home might be the future for most companies anyway. Doing work on your project at home also reduces the risk of accidentally exposing the idea to someone else in an environment like a co-working space.
4. Use Free Software to Build It
When it comes to building a physical product, there’s no shortage of free resources out there for doing it. In the area of design, consider using either Fusion 360, Solve Space, or DesignSpark Mechanical. All of those are either completely free or free until your invention is earning you more than $100,000 annually.
They are all computer-aided design software, CAD for short. You can use any of those to design a physical object on your computer and eventually print it out with a 3D printer. The computer you use for creating digital objects does need to be reasonably new with a powerful CPU, RAM, and graphics card, or it may have trouble running the software.
You can find a lot of videos online that show how to create things, no engineering degree needed! When you land on a design that you want to hold in real life, you will also have a lot of options.
5. Use Makerspaces and Other Fabrication Services
Many communities now have low-cost facilities that you can use for 3D printing, woodworking, and other jobs that need heavy-duty equipment. These are typically shared spaces, so it’s best to get into that patent process discussed earlier before exposing your designs to the public.
Most of them are easy to join and fees are pretty reasonable, usually around $60-$100 per month. They also offer classes to teach you how to properly use the machines. Alternatively, you can work with one of the many services that does the 3D printing for you.
The way those work is you send them the files from the CAD software and they 3D-print your object, then send it back to you. The only downside is it may take a lot of back and forth for you to end up with a design you like. When dealing with a makerspace, you get to just go and use the machines yourself.
6. Launch a Kickstarter or Indiegogo Campaign
Thousands of entrepreneurs have raised millions through the different crowdfunding platforms. You could do the same if you can get creative with pitching the product to your potential customers. The rules say that you don’t need a video for Kickstarter campaigns, but ones that include a video “tend to succeed at a much higher rate,” according to the company.
Make sure you come up with compelling incentives for people to want to support you. These are usually in the form of giving people a unit of the product or something else for contributing a certain amount of money to you.
As people give more money, you offer more incentive. A current (and very successful) Kickstarter campaign for a new type of cooking skillet has six levels of incentives. The first one does not offer anything material, but the second level results in supporters getting one product once it’s ready to ship.
Videos on both platforms range from low-budget to high, so your phone camera should work fine. The important thing is being creative about it and really conveying the value so the community will take interest and help bring your product to life.
The future might be uncertain right now, but we also have more tools and resources than ever to create. Don’t hesitate to start planning if you have a great idea for a product. Your future customers will thank you.