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How to Start a New Business on the Cheap, Part 1

When you're launching your new enterprise, every dollar counts. Here are three ways to survive on a razor-thin budget.

A million-dollar idea may not cost you anything, but building a business around one definitely isn't free. Heck, it sometimes seems like it takes a million bucks just to develop your idea.

The good news is that even in these lean times, you can launch an enterprise without a fat wallet. By leveraging cheap and even free tools and services, you can plan, fund, market, and operate your new venture on the tiniest of budgets.

THE PLAN

You know the old saying about "failing to plan," right? A good business plan can mean the difference between getting your startup off the ground and landing with a thud.

For a mere $24 per month, TheIdeaStartup will help with every step of building a business plan, complete with financial and intellectual-property protections.

If you want something a little simpler, check out these 500-plus sample business plans, which you can use for reference in drafting your own.

THE MONEY

You've devised the most ingenious iPad case/keyboard/waffle-maker combo ever -- a surefire hit. Just one problem: it's going to cost $125K for the initial manufacturing run. Ouch. What are you, made of waffles?

In the old days, landing that kind of seed money meant heading to the bank, hat in hand, and hoping for a loan. Today, you can line up ordinary-folk "investors" from all over the world -- people who are willing to help fund your product or idea based on nothing more than your pitch for it.

Kickstarter (which charges 5% of the total funds raised) is the best-known resource for this kind of "crowd-funding," but it's far from the only option. Be sure to check out ChipIn, Fundrazr, and IndieGoGo as well.

THE OFFICE

No, not the TV show. The whole concept of a leased space in a single location is downright archaic. For a lot of small-biz owners, the office is wherever you crack open your laptop. Ask yourself whether you really need a fixed space, as that's one major expense most startups could do without.

Indeed, what better place to start than in your own home? With a few cheap and free improvements, you can turn any den, basement, or even closet into a perfectly serviceable home office. If that doesn't do the trick, any nearby coffee shop can double as office space (though do everyone a favor and use your "inside voice" when you're on the phone -- and buy something, too).

Need something a little more spacious and/or permanent? Consider buying into an inexpensive coworking space, which is essentially an office co-op -- an open, collaborative environment comprised of other small-biz types. It's a cheap roof over your head, and a good place to network.

Okay, you're off to a good start. Come back Thursday to learn the secrets of cheap marketing, phone service, and software.

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