• Jo

Starting a business on a shoe string budget

So you have the great idea, want to start making money from it but haven't got the budget? Don't let this put you off. It may take you a little longer to achieve your goals but it is better to start and give it a try than not at all. Otherwise you'll never know!

When I started SciRecipes I had little to no money. I've compiled a list of ways that I saved money from the first couple of years of setting up. I hope that they provide some inspiration for anyone that is worried about not having the capital to turn their idea into a business.


Accounts and taxes

If you are not a numbers person (like me) then this task can seem daunting. However it is important that you understand what you're doing and make sure you pay the right amount of tax at the end of the financial year. Unless you can afford to pay an accountant to do that for you then you're going to have to do it yourself.

You can sign up to emails from the HMRC here. They have weekly webinars that will explains various parts of the tax code and offers support in the form of forums.

Most banks will offer twelve months of free business banking so start your account when you are ready to accept payment to make the most of your free year.

Taking payment

Depending on the business you want to set up you may have different methods for taking payments. I knew I would be using a mix of e-commerce and marketplace so needed something that was adaptable. I also wanted to be able to take card payments whilst working at a market.

I chose to use Square over other payment methods. This was mainly because there was a way of taking card payments from people in person that only required my phone and an app. Square took a slightly higher percentage cut this way but because I couldn't afford the card reader I had no choice. Once I made a few sales I had enough to buy the reader and the percentage Square took went down slightly.

If you choose Square they offer a £1000 free processing referral fee. Here is mine. If you use it we both make £1000 (in the first 180 days) without Square taking a fee.

Legal stuff

This is really important to get right as you could find yourself in a lot of trouble and stopped before you've really begun.  I have found that lawyers will offer free sessions at local libraries or networking events so keep an eye out.  Get your questions ready and be prepared because you may only get ten minutes with them.

Check out Gov.UK to find out more information.


There are entrepreneur accelerator programmes up and down the country now.  They are great for meeting people who are in the same position of just starting up and setting out to build a profitable business.  NatWest bank have just released an online programme that is a precursor to an in-person accelerator.  It is called Business Builder, is fully funded and can be done at your own pace.

SEO (Search Engine Optimisation)

I chose to build my own website from which to sell as it gave me a chance to personalise the content.  There are some great platforms to choose from and most  will offer things for free to sign up.

A big thing that will optimise how you get found on search engines will be getting your SEO right. I'm still working on this so I know that I have got more to learn! Put simply, working in the background of your webpage are keywords. These need to be chosen carefully as they will need to match what your customers are putting into search engines to look for something that they need in order for them to find you and your product.

Google have created a series of online learning tools to help. It is called Google Digital Garage. They also have in-person workshops so head along if you can.

Social Media

Downloading the apps and signing up for business accounts are all free on most platforms.  I am not a social media marketing whizz and it is something I am learning along the way.  Posting pictures and content for customers is a great way of marketing for free but getting it in front of the right customer is not easy.  I never really used hashtags all that much in the early days but I made a New Year's resolution in 2020 to try and work on it.  And it is paying off with more likes and shares from people other than my friends who are trying to help support SciRecipes.

Try not to use the same hashtags all the time. Pick them depending on the content that you are sharing. Have a look at what others are using and see what is trending on a particular day or week. This will help get your brand visible until you start making some money and can afford to run ads.


Competitions are a great way of getting your product and brand out there.  Even if you don't think you will win just entering means that there are people reading about your brand.  Hopefully you will be shortlisted and you have the chance to pitch or sell at events.

Some competitions have an entry fee but not all of them. Start with the ones that are free until you can afford to enter. I can highly recommend the Theo Paphitis' Small Business Sunday competition. You just need a twitter account and follow a couple of rules. Once you win you will have access to a great entrepreneurial community.

Branding and Illustration

I am going to admit right now that I had some experience in using digital illustration software whilst drawing geological maps at university and I get that not everyone will be in the same position. Because of my previous skills I decided that I would try and do all my own branding and illustrations. It meant that I didn't have to pay anyone but I also owned all the copyright.

To convert my skills I watched a few YouTube videos to learn how to draw and colour in all the drawings I created for my recipes. I have a dual screen monitor set up in my office so I was able to watch the video on one screen whilst I followed the steps in the illustration software on the other.

If you are ever stuck just have a go at searching online and selecting the video tab. There will be videos for all sorts of things when it comes to starting up.

Office Space

Co-working spaces are popping up all over the place now. Whilst most will charge to use their space full time you may find that for a few hours a week you can use it for free.  You will find people who mostly work from home that enjoy coming along for a coffee and a catch-up.  If you're ever stuck on something then turn up and ask, there will usually be someone who has had the same problem before.

When money is really tight and the bus fare seems expensive then find some online networking groups. Some are hit or miss and it depends on how they are managed but it will give you access to a group of people that you can turn to ask for help.

Inspiration and Ideas

I have spent some time managing my Facebook feed so that I see posts from pages that provide a lot of inspiration, ideas, events, competitions etc.  But I do like to try and take a break from it now and then.  For me that involves going to the gym to train.  I've started to listen to podcasts whilst I am there.  For some reason if my brain is listening to spoken word I focus less on how out of breath I am getting!

I great podcast I have found is called The Disruptors and can be found on the BBC sounds app. It features people who have started up and created successful businesses but more importantly the lessons they learnt along the way.


Whilst you are setting up your money is going to be needed in five different places at the same time and you are going to have to prioritise how you spend it. Sometimes the decisions is made for you as there will be a legal requirement you have to follow and pay for. Other times it will be a risk and you have to hope that it pays off. You will be bombarded with advice but only you understand your product, the problem it is meant to solve and the audience it is meant to reach. Weigh up the options and make a sound judgement. It may sound scary but making your own decisions and creating your own business is one of the best parts of starting up!

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