I launched my brand with $40 in 2016 and hit $4 million in revenue last year. Here’s how to start a business with little or no money.
Tori Dunlap launched her blog in 2016 with just $40. At the time, her only expenses were the domain name and website registration. Six years later, the financial-advice platform is booking $4 million in annual revenue.
Dunlap created her blog as a side hustle, initially offering tips for life as a 20-something, before rebranding it in 2019 into Her First $100K. There, she documented her progress toward saving $100,000 by the age of 25, sharing guidance along the way and building an engaged audience online.
Today, Dunlap runs the business full time. She’s grown her social-media presence on Instagram and TikTok, launched a podcast, and become a New York Times best-selling author for “Financial Feminist,” a book that guides readers through financial planning.
The culmination of these efforts helped Dunlap book more than $4 million in revenue in 2022, documents viewed by Insider showed.
Here’s her advice for building a business with little or no money.
This is an as-told-to story based on an interview with Dunlap. It has been edited for length and clarity.
Use existing skills to fill a void
I was lucky enough to have a financial education growing up — my parents taught me how to save, invest, and not overspend with credit cards — and I wanted to share those skills and knowledge with others.
Plus, my college major, organizational communication, and more than three years in corporate-marketing roles working with Fortune 500 companies and startups gave me a basic understanding of how to build a brand organically.
I combined those skills and interests to fill a void of financial education.
My friends were already coming to me for financial advice. But when I graduated from college and was coming into womanhood in 2016, it was a very different political and economic environment than I had expected. It made me consider what kind of person I wanted to be, what I wanted my career to look like.
I decided on control over myself and my finances — and to help others create the same.
Serve before you sell
@herfirst100k 3 MONEY MOVES YOU CAN MAKE IN 2023 HFK Guest Creator @Mallory | Business & Money Flowers – Miley Cyrus
While it’s exciting to think about the financial benefits of starting a business, it’s important to prove your concept before pouring too much money into it. That’s why my mantra is, “Serve before you sell.”
A lot of people approach business by launching a product with hopes of building a community around it. But that rarely works. Instead, you need to provide a ton of value for people, get people’s trust, and then sell them when they’re already on board.
Creating a brand online or through social media is a low-cost route to building that crucial community.
But it takes a long time to generate a following: I clawed my way to 33,000 Instagram followers by posting every single day for two or three years. Then, when I joined TikTok in 2020, my following skyrocketed. Now Her First $100K has more than 2 million followers on TikTok.
Build a scrappy business
In the early days, I ran a very lean business on purpose. I think founders in any industry should consider keeping it scrappy until they don’t have to.
Part of the reason I decided to build completely organically on social media was that I didn’t want to pay for ads, nor did I want to play the game of guessing which ads would be worth it. I think too many business owners default to ads too quickly because it’s easy to see putting money behind something as a fix. For Her First $100K, I spent $20 on Facebook ads once. Everything else has been organic.
Organic and strategic growth bled into expanding the business to new outlets.
After growing the blog and Instagram account, I moved to TikTok like the rest of the market. When TikTok viewers wanted more-nuanced content than a 60-second video would allow, we invested in launching our podcast in 2021. And as a fully virtual business, the next step was a physical manifestation of our work: a book.
You need to get a low-cost MVP out there and test it, then iterate from there. For me, that MVP was my blog, and it’s given me the opportunity to invest in many projects based on our community’s interests.