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These days, $200 doesn’t get you much. A pair of Jimmy Choo shoes costs between $525 and $2,000. A set of all-weather tires averages about $500, and in the summer, $200 will barely cover a monthly electric bill for the average home.
However, with a little ingenuity and drive, entrepreneurs have started successful businesses with $200 or less. Thanks to advances in technology, it’s easier now than ever to start a venture with a pocketful of change.
“Smartphones and the Internet have changed everything,” says Darcie Harris, CEO and founder of EWF International, a company offering peer advisory groups, coaching and consulting for female business owners. “Even home-based businesses can have a big presence and be taken seriously now, as long as they have a userfriendly, professional website.”
Online, a set of business cards can be created for less than $50, and marketing costs can be kept low by taking advantage of social media sites.
The most important asset to starting a company isn’t necessarily money, Harris says, but skill and drive. While some businesses can be created on the cheap, the trade-off is often long hours and facing the unknown.
“You still have to be great at what you do, and do more marketing than you ever dreamed of,” she says. “If you are not willing to market yourself and get comfortable selling, then don’t start, because customers don’t just magically find you. You still have to be reliable and trustworthy.”
So, can a person really start a business for $200 or less? These four Oklahoma City entrepreneurs did.THE RILEY GROUP
Although Valerie Riley first dreamed of forming a personal assistant business in 2001, the realization of how to pull it all together didn’t blossom until 2007.
“I had done a multitude of things, but my favorite ‘job’ was being a professional personal assistant,” she says. “I did that for a living before venturing out on my own.”
While living in Dallas, Riley ran errands for a handful of clients. She saw a niche that wasn’t filled, and with just $50 to spend on brochures and business cards, she took the plunge and formed The Riley Group, a business that helps people with everything from running errands to organization.
Headquartered in Oklahoma, The Riley Group now has locations in Norman, Dallas and Tampa, Fla.
“We are in the business of giving people back their Saturdays,” Riley says. “Too often, people are busy running from jobs, to errands, to home, and when Saturday comes along, they are busy playing catch-up. Our mission is to give people their weekends back to enjoy with their families, friends or even, God forbid, take time for themselves.”
In 2010, The Riley Group served more than 200 clients and continues to grow.
“I really started with nothing, and I’ve continued to bootstrap my business as I’ve grown,” she says. “I love the idea of growing something from nothing, and living on nothing but your faith and drive alone. I doubt this business will be the last I start from scratch. I love the challenge too much.”
Taking the plunge to start a business with less than $200 was both exciting and frightening, Riley admits, but says the reward is worth the risk.
“I think people wait for the right timing, the right funding, the right situation out of fear. They tell themselves ‘if and when’ to keep in their comfort zone. I believe the biggest risk we can take is not taking one at all.”
Dustin Pyeatt spent most of his career working for established companies, and part of his job included public relations. The work was enjoyable and something for whichc he discovered he had a talent.
“Like a lot of people, I suddenly was out of a job in the economic downturn,” he says. “I found out quickly that there were no public relations jobs out there, but still a lot of public relations work to be done.”
Pyeatt says PR was a field he felt he could “hang his own shingle” on, and after creating a rough business plan, he joined a networking group.PYEATT & ASSOCIATES
“I scratched up enough money to file my LLC, got some cheap business cards, had a good friend design my logo for free, and other friends helped me with a website,” he says. “The most expensive thing was filing the LLC with the state. I think it was about $100, plus the cost of the business cards, which were under $50.”
Then came the grunt work. Pyeatt started with pro-bono work, helping contacts with creative projects. That led to his first paying client.
“And then that led to the next, and the next and the next,” he says. “Almost a year later, I’m paying my bills and working with clients regularly.”
Still, learning to promote himself and getting clients were skills he says he had to develop.
“The whole thing about going out and getting clients was more intimidating than I thought,” he says. “I’ve learned a lot along the way, like how to put together a proposal for a client and what to charge.”
best advice for budding entrepreneurs: “Be brave enough to follow your
dreams. People going out on their own will be the future of our economy. Creativity and innovation are what we need.”
Street performance artist
Start-up cost: $70
Orange Rex is a staple of the night scene, breathing fireballs and walking on stilts or at various events. He has dressed in nothing but orange for the last decade, as he spits and swallows flames from a face with only half a mustache and half a beard.
Even his hair is orange. But at one time, Orange Rex was a typical employee earning minimum wage working 90 hours a week at a restaurant.
“I started working at Frontier City when I was 14 in food service. My concessions booth was across from the magic shows,” he says. That summer, one of the magicians taught him to juggle, and the following year, he visited a clown booth at the Oklahoma State Fair.
“I was at the clowning exhibit at the fair, and they had a basket of juggling stuff. So I picked up a few of them and started juggling, and the next thing you know, there was this huge crowd,” he says.
His skill caught the attention of Jingles the Clown, aka Otis Hornish. Over the next few years, Orange Rex was mentored by several local clowns. At an international clowning seminar, performers worldwide took interest in the teenager, giving him costumes, wigs, props and even a “face.”
“By the end of that weekend, I was a clown, and all of it was free because of the generosity of others … because I was a kid,” he says.
Orange Rex began volunteering with local clown groups, then people began asking about hiring him for birthday parties. Soon, the 16-year-old was making $60 an hour to perform there; at one point, he was raking in more than his mother.
After college, he returned to food service, and only performed about 10 gigs a year. After working long hours for little pay in his 20s and eventually getting fired from his job, he decided to pick up street performing again.
“I spent $50 on a street performer license and another $20 on a bag of balloons,” he says. “I started doing balloon and fire shows,” which led to a lucrative contract for the opening year of FireLake Grand Casino and more work from agencies and established clients.
Seven years later, Orange Rex is a fixture and earns $200 for the first hour and $100 after that, with a two-hour minimum. He averages six to 10 shows a month and is in talks to appear on a national television show focused on breaking world records.
“I don’t make a ton of money, but I don’t have a lifestyle that demands a ton of money either,” he says. “I have a five- to 10-hour workweek, but I also don’t drive new cars or get $100 bar tabs. You have to be willing to sacrifice, and the most important thing is to take the money you earn and reinvest it into the business.ECHELAWN
Like many other young men, Timothy Lloyd started mowing lawns as a way to pay for college. He got started by spending $120 for trash bags and supplies, and bought a lawnmower on credit. He was a pre-pharmacy student in his second year when he realized his heart wasn’t into his studies.
With his lawn business growing steadily, he decided to enroll in University of Oklahoma’s entrepreneurship program.
“I was living in Oklahoma City and kept commuting to Norman from 2005 to 2008,” he says. “I completed the degree while doing the lawn business and working as a waiter at a high-end restaurant.”
After talking to his customers there, he quickly discovered lawn care meant full landscaping – not just mowing grass. Lloyd added to his skills by enrolling in the horticulture program at OKC’s Oklahoma State University branch, and was able to add two or three different landscaping services to his repertoire over the next five years.
Before he graduated in 2008, he wondered where he should try to get a job.
“Then a light bulb clicked in my senior year. I realized, ‘I do have a real business already,’” Lloyd says. “I got my first commercial account in 2008, which was a chain of gas stations. But then the recession hit, and I lost that client.”
Although he knew the crisis wasn’t the best time to jump in feetfirst, he took the risk anyway.
“In 2009, we had recovered and were doing high-end residential landscaping,” he says. “Now I have 110 clients. I had six employees in 2010, and I plan on having eight to 10 this year. Sticking with it was the best decision I ever made. It fits the way I live my life.”
Although secure and independent currently, Lloyd says patience and hard work are vital in starting one’s own business.
“Don’t get ahead of yourself. Work hard, and the independence and money will come.”