February 23

5 ways on how to grow a business (with no money)


Kudos to you. You’ve decided to make a business without depending on the fancy venture capital.

It’s not just sour grapes.

But the fact that if you’re chasing venture capital, you might be limiting yourself to extremely big, competitive markets, that can only be won by throwing a lot, a lot of money at it.


I started my business in June 2020, as a starry-eyed 24 year old that didn’t know what else to do with the spare time at home in COVID. We started out wanting to do good.

We wanted to sell mental health services through training.

But we slowly found out that it was not that easy.

Today, almost 4 years later, we are a design agency that serves clients primarily in solving 3 problems.

  1. We make your yearbook
  2. We make your websites
  3. We make your long-form content such as ghostwritten books
  4. We market your business so you get more leads

Take ideas that work and stick with them

The problem with people’s advice is that it works to a point, and then it stops working.

After years of sitting in front of online courses that teach business, I’ve come to realise that they do work, but only if you apply them.

As you read this article, take an idea that works, and stick with it for a month. See what happens.

Know the problem you solve

Your business is only going to be able to do certain things. Not everything.

So it’s vital that you take time to recognise what problem you’re best placed to solve.

The best businesses aren’t those that have great ideas. The best are those that have the ability to ‘violently execute’, in the words of Koh Shiyan, a venture capitalist.

Once you’ve an idea of the problem you can solve, then you need to figure out how you can get money from solving that problem.

That’s where your product comes in.

But before you go selling your product, understand how your client actually solves that problem now.

Know what your client does now to solve that problem

We would be the first to say that we were dumb, stupid and foolish to debut $25,000 of products, and earn about $400 in total from them.


Because we weren’t clear how the client actually solved that problem now.

Our first product started wrong. It started with the product, rather than the problem.

We started with postcards because we thought people would buy them because they looked nice.
We started with postcards because we thought people would buy them because they looked nice.

We created a series of postcards because we thought they would be so nice that people would buy them. I know…. It sounds stupid, and amateurish, but it was what we really thought.

What we didn’t realise was that this wasn’t solving any problem. People were no longer writing or sending each other cards. It was just a vanity project.

We lost money on that project. When I eventually left my first job and started the business, I didn’t know what to do but write.

Well, we didn’t thrive at all.
Well, we didn’t thrive at all.

I would charge clients to write for them.

And later, I realised that this was not sustainable. We needed bigger projects to sustain ourselves beyond the piecemeal pieces of work that was coming in drips and drops.

We were lucky. We discovered something known as Tenderboard, where organisations were posting bigger pieces of work.

Then we realised clients were using Tenderboard to get agencies to pitch for the work, to solve the work.

I mean… it was easier that way because it was shared very clearly what each organisation needed.

And we just did what they wanted.

It’s an important point.

Know where your customers go now to get their problem solved.

Just observe a potential customer. For example, if you were selling a fitness training service, where do your customers find out about how to lose weight?

It might probably be Google. Then you need to figure out some way to rank on Google’s first page so that they find you.

Get customers to tell you what they want.

And if you can’t, you might not have a product.

Don’t think about systems until your demand is overwhelming

One of the biggest advice conventionally through people like Michael Gerber is how you should work on the business and not in the business.

I think this doesn’t work if you’re not at least $100k in annual revenues.

Setting up systems might be premature because you’re not even sure whether your product is right for the market, and demand is overwhelming.

What works better is making sure that your demand is overwhelming.


Know what works to get you customers

I’m not a pro entrepreneur. I’ve made so many mistakes that it’s almost a joke to imagine that people even trusted me with their money.

In another example of a poor capital allocation decision, I decided to spend $21,000 on publishing 2 books in 2023.

This ended up getting us no new customers.

It did get us on radio, the news, but it got us net net, zero new customers.

Instead, what worked over and over again was just pitching for tenders and making sure that the clients knew that we wanted to do work with them.

Be a cockroach

I love cockroaches as a metaphor for business. If you see the humble cockroach, you would see it often scurrying around, trying their best to survive.

They aren’t flashy. They are dark and ugly.

But the cockroach can sometimes teach us more about good business.

Two lessons.

Learn to enjoy the rain, and the rainbows.
Learn to enjoy the rain, and the rainbows.

Firstly, business is hard. You might get crushed and stepped on like a cockroach.

It’s not flashy. There are no fast cars. And if you’re in it for that, you should get out.

Right now.

Because there are easier ways to get those fast cars.

Secondly, there are many ways to build a better business, but at the end of the day, I think it’s really about being able to pivot, shift and change.

This is vital in building a long term business that lasts.

It’s facing the reality of business, and recognising, hey,

maybe this isn’t working.

And then being willing to do the things that work.



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