How I Started my Online Business on a Budget

  From having a plan and finding mentors to soliciting feedback from your network, here are some tips for starting a business on the cheap.


Do you think you can’t start a business with limited resources and no budget? Well, I did, and I’ll show you how. My name is Thea Perez and I’m the founder and creative director of Polychrome, an online marketplace for print, pattern, artwork, and trend information for the fashion industry.

You probably had an idea or two are kicking around in your head and the only thing that you felt might be holding you back was the funds to start. And even though there are more resources than ever to start financing, I decided I wanted to start my venture on a shoestring budget, and I’m going to share with you how I did it.

Keep a Journal and Write in It Every Day

Lists and journaling are your friends. Make a promise to yourself to take a few minutes out of every day to write in a journal. It’s going to help you stay focused and on task. It’s a really powerful tool to set your intentions on paper because it feels like a commitment. It can you help analyze what’s working and it can help you prioritize. It can help you set intentions for your business by getting you to think about why you are starting this and what you hope to achieve. It’s also important to write down how your business will align with your personal life as well as your business goals.

Make a Plan for Your Business

Start backward. What would ultimately define success to you for this business? Plan how you’re going to get there. It’s okay if you don’t have all the answers right now, but it’s really important to set milestones to reach the goals along the way. Think about where you want to be four months from now, or one year from now, or even five years from now, and then plot how you’re going to get to your four-month mark. What will you delegate when you can get to that point? List your strengths and your weaknesses. You will need to figure out what you can do and what you can’t do yourself for this business, especially if you’re bootstrapping it.

Related: Sample Business Plan: Bob’s Rent a Bike

Find a Mentor

Get a mentor or two. There are so many resources out there to help you acquire a mentor and many of them are free. Mentors can put you in touch with other people to help and point you towards resources to tap into. They act as great sounding boards for your ideas, and they help navigate the trials of starting a new business. Think of mentors as your shortcuts to where you want to go. You can pick the brain of someone who has got so many answers and so many years of experience, and it can save you from wading through twenty different books on a single topic.

Here are some useful mentor sources: Score Advisors, your alma mater, career services from your college, the Small Business Administration, and just plain old-fashioned networking such as MeetUps and personal connections.

Related:Why Every Business Needs a Board of Advisors

Tackle Your First Goal

Then you want to tackle your plot to get your first goal, whether it’s developing a prototype, assembling a team that can help you, or designing and testing your website. You’ll only make progress by putting one foot in front of the other, so embrace the concept that “done” is often better than “perfect.” I still struggle with this one. But if you’ve got nothing to show anyone because you’re too busy planning, then you’ll have no way to grow and develop through feedback.

Reach Out to Your Network for Help

Reach out to your growing network and ask them for help and feedback. Many people will help in lots of ways with an exciting idea for very little immediate payback.

Related:How to Be More Effective at Networking

Take Advantage of Free Resources

Try to take advantage of every free or inexpensive resource possible to develop your business. There’s library lectures and networking events. There’s free or close-to-free web hosting, but you will have to pay for your domain, which is usually pretty inexpensive. There are webinars, YouTube videos, free learning resources, and even some free invoicing, scheduling, and basic finance programs out there.

Do Inexpensive Market Research

Some simple inexpensive ways to do your market research might be to do your homework in your own industry by reading articles and business magazines or on LinkedIn. You can ask as many people that you might be connected to already in the industry for their options and opinions. See if they’re willing to test your product or site and then create networking groups to ask questions from or surveys of. In many cases, you can create those surveys online and then post them in groups such as MeetUp forums. You can ask to meet in person and send other questions online through Facebook groups and LinkedIn groups. The other thing is to get involved with social media right now. Get all your accounts set up. You can use it as a way to document your progress in building your business.

Related: How to Do Market Research on a Budget

Claim Your Name

Not only do you want to make sure that you claim the name and that your name is consistent through all the platforms, but you also want to make sure that you claim it now so someone else doesn’t get it. You could be using social media already as you develop your business to build your network and get advice.


Some takeaways are that there are lots of free resources available to you if you’re willing to do some extra legwork and heavy lifting. Take advantage of your community and your network. But the most important thing is to break things up into manageable steps and to just get started.

About Thea Perez

After graduating from the Rhode Island School of Design with a BFA in Apparel Design, Thea climbed the ranks at several companies working as a designer with an emphasis on sweater design, knit garments, and surface embellishment. Her early career allowed her to travel the world from the Paris to Hong Kong and gain wealth of insight to the inner workings of the apparel business as well as further developing her design skills. In addition to her career in the fashion industry, Thea has also taught Design and Drawing in the Apparel department for the undergraduate program at RISD.

Since then, Thea has served a variety of clients in the fashion industry while at the helm of her own company, Thea Perez Design. Services include: developing initial concepts and color palettes, designing product for established lines, or designing and developing an entire line from concept to sample stage. Clients have come to rely on her highly developed sense of color and trend analysis, and she has earned a reputation as a great resource for trend-right design.

Most recently, Thea has launched a new venture, POLYCHROME, which is an online marketplace for original print patterns and trend direction for the fashion industry. POLYCHROME represents the work of many diverse and talented artists all of whom work as a collaborative. In her role as Creative Director, Thea guides the team to create prints in line with upcoming trends for the fashion industry.