“I’m just so tired of working for someone else and making them rich,” lamented my friend Mitch.
“You should start a small business on the side,” I replied. “Then, once it’s big enough, you can quit your job.”
Mitch shook his head glumly. “I don’t have enough money to start my own business, so I’m stuck.”
I get so frustrated when I hear people say that. Now don’t get me wrong. I admit that having substantial cash to begin a new business can be very helpful. But having a lot of money on the line also means you’re taking a bigger risk.
The truth is, money just doesn’t matter all that much when it comes to starting a business. I know from firsthand experience that it’s possible to start a profitable business with virtually nothing.
When I began my entrepreneurial career, I was a college student living at home with my mom. And while there was enough money to pay the bills, there wasn’t much more than that. I had a part-time job, but I was desperate to find a way to make more money. And though I had zero start-up capital, I had no trouble starting a pool service business. Before I knew it, I was earning three times as much as I had been making at my part-time job.
That business made over $100,000 its first year. Since then, I’ve started more than 20 profitable enterprises with under $100 in initial capital. So having minimal capital should never stop you from starting a new business. And it shouldn’t stop you from marketing your business either.
Some people assume that they need to throw around big piles of cash in order to “properly” market a business. But a little creativity can go a lot further than money. Here, for example, is one zero-cost strategy I used…
When I was looking for ways to promote my ballroom dance instruction business, I discovered that most cable companies have a public access channel that’s available to almost anyone in their viewing area. And there’s more to public access TV than nutty shows like “Wayne ‘s World.” If you create a format for a show that’s informative, it can become quite popular and bring in lots of business.
Keep in mind that cable access is supposed to benefit the community, so the cable companies can be finicky about too much blatant self-promotion. But they do allow you to say who you are or what company you’re with, so people can find you.
One exciting thing about these shows is that the cable company bears the expense of producing them. For my show, I brought on guests and gave them a dance lesson on the air. I would arrange to have my guests meet me at the cable company’s studio, where they had a director, three camera operators, and other stage help to produce the show. And I didn’t have to pay anything for it.
You’d be amazed by how many people watch cable access. I was getting stopped on the street by people who were excited to meet that “dancing guy” from television. The show increased my business by about 25 percent. (I know that because I asked every new client how they heard about me.) And remember, I got this bump without spending a penny.
Not only did I get a steady stream of new clients, but having a television program gave me more credibility as an expert dance instructor. I began including the fact that I hosted a local ballroom dance TV show in my marketing materials, and I mentioned it whenever a prospective client asked about my credentials.
Almost anyone with a business that has a local customer base can take advantage of this strategy. If you’re an attorney, you could have a program where you answer call-in legal questions. If you sell real estate, you could interview guest experts on your local market. If you’re a copywriter or public relations specialist, you could provide information to help small businesses get more out of their advertising budgets. If you’re a marriage counselor, you could work with couples on the air. If you run a restaurant, you could give cooking lessons. The possibilities are endless.
If you’re interested in having your own local cable access show, here are the basic steps:
- Contact the cable companies in your area to find out about their local access programming.
You’ll want to know about any rules and regulations they have. If there are any costs that you’ll have to cover. When they shoot and how you get a slot on their schedule.
- Come up with a format that will be entertaining but also have the potential to bring you business.
Interacting with guests on your show is a good way to demonstrate your expertise. And you won’t have any trouble finding local experts who will be excited to appear on television. Getting the exposure will often be enough of a payment for them. Or maybe you can do what I did and give your guests free instruction in your area of expertise in return for their participation.
- Plan the show.
A half-hour can be a long time if you don’t plan it out well.
When professionals plan a television program, they plot it out visually on a “storyboard.” You can use a similar, though less formal, tool.
Let’s say you will be producing a 30-minute show. Take a piece of paper and draw a horizontal line across it. Mark off five-minute increments, and then write in what the audience will be seeing during each of those increments. The first five minutes will probably be your introduction. The next 10, you might spend interviewing guest number one. The next 10, you might spend with guest number two. And then you’ll give a five-minute closing.
- Do it!
Most of the cable companies that produce public access programs are used to working with people who aren’t experienced, and they can help you a lot.
Help them by making sure that you and your guests arrive on set early. Have an outline of the show for the director, so he understands what will be shot. Bring any props or other items you might need on the air. And if you’re going to be interviewing your guests, be prepared with a list of questions.