March 24

How to start a business in Singapore with no capital


In June 2020, in the middle of a pandemic, I realised that I could do my work in 2 hours. And that the rest of the usual 8 hours I had spent ‘working’ had been spent pretending to work, rather than really working.

You know those moments. When you’re making coffee in the kitchen, having long lunches, and just generally, walking around in the office, so you won’t fall asleep.

Somewhat stupidly, I started a business. Since that fateful day on 5 June 2020, it’s been 2 years, and 9 months. We haven’t died.

Here’s how you can start yours too, with little to no capital.

Perhaps before we start telling you what to do, we should talk about the mistakes we ourselves made, so you can avoid them.

Don’t use corporate service providers

The first ever letter I got from ACRA was a notice informing me of a fine, for not filing my annual returns and not holding an annual general meeting.

I was threatened with a $1000 fine. Eventually after filing my returns, this was reduced to $600.

No one wants a $600 fine from ACRA.

Yet at the same time, in the earlier stages of your business, you probably don’t want to be spending thousands of dollars just to set up a company. It’s just not worth it. It’s better that you spend the money on building up your service.

Amongst the most common corporate service providers is Sleek, which offers you a platform where you can take charge of the setting up of your business.

But after hearing from expats (people who are not Singaporean or PR) who’ve used Sleek, complain about customer service, and how long it takes to get things like their Letter of Consent, it may be far better that you do it yourself.

It’s not that hard.

In fact, ACRA gives you clear instruction guides, for free!

All you need to pay is:

  1. $15 for a company name
  2. $300 for company registration

Stop chasing all the online gurus

One common mistake I started with was trying too hard to ‘learn’ business, rather than doing business.

Every Sunday, I would sit in front of the TV, watch another online course (on how to make online courses, ironically,) from Shane Melaugh (the cofounder of Thrive Themes), and try to take some tips.

That doesn’t really work.

The real work is done in the business,

  1. launching products,
  2. finding the product market fit,
  3. and communicating it in a way that makes people buy, and cash roll into your bank.

Don’t quit your job (yet)

Better yet, take the money from your job and invest it into your business. When I first started my business, I had no idea what I was doing. I didn’t know how to make money and ended up making products that didn’t make much sense.

Having a salary made it less stressful for me.

how to start a business in singapore with no capital
Nah, don’t go all crazy quitting your job and suddenly realising that you have no money to survive.

There are two ways to think about this. You can either quit your job, and tell yourself that you can devote all your energies to the business; or you can keep your job and continue to learn slowly.

The only point when it makes sense to quit your full-time job is if your business is already making money you can live on, that you’re too busy (and burning out), that it doesn’t make sense to continue in a full-time job.

When I eventually left my full-time job in October 2021, I still didn’t know what I was doing. But the 1.5 years of trying (and failing) with different products, whilst in a full-time job, helped me to grow in the skills needed to become a better founder.

It might have to be a service business

The easiest low to no capital business to start is a service business. But take note, it’s not going to be easy to get your first few clients.

How to start a business in Singapore with no capital
Getting your first few clients is going to be a trudge, but keep the faith. It will work out.

There are three ways I found helpful to get my first clients in my service business.

My service business initially started by getting a fee for writing articles, before eventually moving to web development and wider marketing services.

The first way is through cold emails. I sent cold emails to media sites, and asked if I could write for them. When they said they would pay for the article, I was pleasantly surprised.

This might be the easiest way for you, especially if you haven’t had previous experience in the field before.

The second way is to tell friends and acquaintances that you’re doing this, and that you’d love to know if they would need, or whether they know of someone who might need such services.

One message that worked well for me was:

Hey! Hope you’re doing well. How’s the baby coming along?

Here, ask some question that reminds them of the personal relationship they have with you.

Then add in what you’re currently doing.

I recently started doing web development and wondered if you’d know of anyone who might need such services. Please feel free to share my number with them!

The last way is to go for networking events. Here, it can be a hit or miss. It depends on your level of comfort in talking to strangers.

How to start a business in Singapore with no capital
Do people energise or drain you?

If you’re not naturally comfortable with strangers, my suggestion is that you aim for just one conversation during each event you go for.

When you first start your business, you might not be entirely clear about who your customer is. You might have some guesses, but my suggestion is that you keep an open mind, and go for events that allow you to meet people outside of your usual circle.

Skip the explicit business networking events

For me personally, I haven’t found it particularly useful to go for business business networking events, such as those by organisations like BNI, or even founder networks like Launchpad.

My experience with those events is that because everyone there is explicitly trying to ‘connect’ (another nice word for saying ‘sell’), it becomes a very bad way to get good quality conversations that convert into paying customers.

Keep at it, this is going to be a long game.

For those gurus who tell you how they earn 5-figures in a week (and then ask you to buy their course to find out how), they are bullshitting you.

No kidding.

If they were that good at earning money, their business model wouldn’t be based off making money off you, but rather the ‘profitable’ product they are selling.

I will end with this story.

It’s not about starting a business, but keeping the business alive

In October 2021, when I left my job, I didn’t know if I would end up having to eat grass.

After all, I had no experience in running a business, nor did I have direct experience as a copywriter.

But eventually, I learnt that by making bets that didn’t wipe me out, by knowing the basic amount needed for me to survive (which was just a paltry $600 per month, courtesy of free rent by living with my parents), and just keeping at it, I kept the business going.

You can do the same too.

Just keep getting up in the ring, whenever the business knocks you down.



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