If you bought my Doll University book you know how I started my own business. However, my business has so many different branches and audiences I would guess most people aren't familiar with my "origin story". I started my current business without spending any money at all ~ that's right, not one dime! Given the number of people currently facing layoffs and economic insecurity I want to tell you how I did it so you can too.
As you may or may not know, in 1998 I was flying high. My husband and I just bought our first home and we were expecting our oldest son. I was working for a publishing company, a long-held dream, and exhibiting my fine artwork. I even made it into a juried exhibition at CAM, the Contemporary Art Museum, in Raleigh! Then one day, the very first day I was wearing "maternity" clothes (which were just size L clothes with elastic waists, I was so skinny back then), I got a call at work from the hospital. My husband had an accident at his job. It transpired my husband was lucky to survive and he did become disabled that day. Our combined salaries back then were just under $40K per year and that included $600 in overtime my husband made as an electrical lineman. He was out of work for three months on disability and afterward went into a desk job with no overtime opportunity. With our new house payment as well as a baby on the way things looked really dire.
My foray into selling dolls happened by accident. My grandparents cleaned a closet and found my mother's childhood Betsy McCall doll. It was a mess, missing half its leg and with its eyes fallen back inside its head. I decided to fix it for my mom as a gift and I started trying to buy dolls with the parts I needed on eBay. When I kept getting outbid on dolls that were in every bit as bad a condition as my mom's I knew I was on to something. I taught myself to repair dolls. I took the money I earned on eBay and bought boxes of dolls from yard sales, thrift stores, and eBay. Then I fixed them up and resold them. I just kept re-investing my money in more inventory and selling it.
My eBay story will work for anyone, with any product, and it's way easier now. Most people already have a smart phone and that's all you need. Go around your house and find things you aren't using. Clean your closets and you'll get the house cleaned while you "shop" for store inventory! Take photos of your stuff and put it up for sale. eBay and Mercari are two sites that will let you list for free and they will even give you a QR code when you sell something so you can take it to the post office for them to scan and print a label. So, you don't even need a printer! Poshmark will let you sell for free but you do need a printer. I know some people who didn't have a phone or printer but started a shop anyway by using the public library's computers and printers. I used a food scale I already owned to weigh my packages when I first started. You can also sell on social marketplaces like Facebook Marketplace or Facebook or other online groups you're in (make sure they allow selling first). Look at what things sell best for you and use your earnings to buy more of those things. Eventually you'll get to the point you can keep some of your money as well as buying more inventory.
Another great option to start a business without money is print-on-demand. If you're good at design or even just good at coming up with funny tee shirt ideas you can open a shop on a POD site like Redbubble or Printful. You design your product and then list it for sale. When someone orders one of your pieces the site prints the item and ships it out for you, so all you need to do is collect your payment. Amazon has a free POD site called KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing). You can self-publish books on the site but you can also just design things like blank books, coloring books, journals, and write-in recipe books so you don't need to be an author. Amazon will print and fulfill these orders for you as well.
If you're someone who loves posting on social media, affiliate marketing might be for you. I am an eBay affiliate, which I signed up to do through eBay Partner Network. All you do as an affiliate marketer is post about how great the product or service is and add a special link, which the company provides, to your posts. I like eBay Partner Network because they create coupon codes and other ready-made graphics so all I need to do is download their post and add my link. You don't want to get a reputation for being untrustworthy by promoting a product that's no good, so I recommend you only work for companies you use and believe in. You can find out if a company you like has an affiliate program by searching online for "(name of company) affiliate program".
I combine all these methods: selling online, print on demand, and affiliate marketing, to make money. Over the years I found it's best not to have all my eggs in one basket, so to speak. Right now, for example, my eBay sales are really slow but my Poshmark boutique and Mercari stores are doing well. It can get hectic, trying to keep up with everything. I'm taking classes on automation and expanding businesses by hiring employees and affiliates so I can try to grow more. I've gotten to the point that I can't physically do any more while also being a mother and wife and homeowner. Soon I hope you'll be able to sign up as a Mandaline affiliate to help me while making money!
Another tip I have is not to worry about taxes and the business side of things at first. I held myself back for years worrying about that stuff, but it's really not very hard. When you start open a bank account and credit card in your name (not even a business account) and only use it for your business. Make a spreadsheet or keep a ledger with all the money you make and spend. Save your receipts. When you make more than $600 in profit you report it on your regular taxes. Once you're making a regular profit then you can get software like QuickBooks Self Employed to help you with your bookkeeping. You just connect your accounts to QuickBooks or manually enter your income and expenses and it tells you how much you owe in taxes and when to pay them and everything. When you go full time it's good to get a CPA and I recommend Not Your Dad's CPA.
Are you going to try any of these business ideas, either as a side hustle or full time? Let me know in the comments or messages!
My name is Amanda, but my childhood nickname was "Mandaline". I am a mother of three turning my passion for creating into a full-time business.