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I'm Young and Broke and Want My Own Business

Steve Strauss wrote the bible on small biz. Literally. In addition to authoring The Small Business Bible , he runs and is a featured columnist for USA Today. He's been studying, writing and speaking about how to grow a successful small business all his life, so email him with whatever leaves you stumped.

Q: I am 24, have a degree in business management and want to start my own business. I also have bad credit and no money. Are my hands tied?

-- D.E., student, New York

A: No doubt about it, not having much money or credit will certainly be a challenge.

But meeting and beating challenges is part of the juice of this gig.

When starting a business on a shoestring, you have to play to your strengths. And you, my friend, have many, even if you may not see them yet.

The first is your degree. As the Wizard tells the Scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz, "Where I come from we have universities ... where men go to become great thinkers. And when they come out, they think deep thoughts."

Use Your Degree

Most people who start their own business do so because they fall in love with an idea and need to pursue it. Many don't know the first thing about business but are undeterred because of their passion.

You have the degree and the drive.

Also, take comfort in knowing that fortunes have been made on a shoestring.

In 1950, Peter Hodgson was out of work and on the verge of bankruptcy when he went to a party and saw adults playing with some goop.

Inspired, he borrowed $137, bought the rights, repackaged the stuff, and began to sell it as a toy. When he died, Hodgson was worth $140 million. His inspiration? Silly Putty.

FedEx (FDX) Kinko's began as a single copy shop in Santa Barbara with one copier. Today there are more than 1,200 stores.

Do They Need You?

The Kinko's story also serves as another lesson for starting on a tight budget: You must serve the market.

Shoestring entrepreneurs can't afford error, so make sure there's a great need for whatever you offer.

Maybe you're saying to yourself, "Nice sentiments ... but I need some money!" I hear you. Here are some ideas:

Find a partner: In a good partnership, both partners bring something to the party. You offer youth, knowledge and enthusiasm. Your partner might bring money and experience.

Use OPM: Other people's money is a tried and true business concept. Come up with a great idea, a budget and a plan, and shop it around.

Look for investors among friends and family. This is what most people do.

Get creative: Maybe Grandpa will give you an advance on an inheritance. Tap whatever credit cards you have.

Get a loan: Friends and family are the first choice, but check out the Small Business Administration's guaranteed loans. Lending rules for these types of loans are far more lenient.

Bank of America (BAC), Citibank and Wells Fargo (WFC) all offer SBA-backed loans.

Finally, in my book, The Small Business Bible , I have a section on starting and growing your business on a shoestring. Good luck! has a revenue-sharing relationship with under which it receives a portion of the revenue from Amazon purchases by customers directed there from

Steven D. Strauss is a lawyer, author and USA TODAY columnist. His latest book is the Small Business Bible. He has spoken around the world about entrepreneurship, including at the United Nations, and has been seen on CNN, CNBC, MSNBC, The O?Reilly Factor, and many other television and radio shows. He maintains a Website at

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