Why you don’t always need money to start a business

Online platforms serve as a perfect place for trial and error as your business develops. Getty

We hear the conversation over and over again: how it’s expensive to start a business, or find investor funding, and how those factors continue to discourage entrepreneurs in the Middle East. I don’t disagree with that.

Depending on the business you want to start, funding could be a make-or-break factor. If you want to start a restaurant, then, yes, you need a substantial amount of money, in addition to training, marketing expertise and lots of market research. But it shouldn’t be always the case.

When I first ventured into entrepreneurship nine years ago, I rarely heard young people aspire to become entrepreneurs or consider entrepreneurship a viable career path. The words “businessman” or “businesswoman” were more common, and also a limited sort of business that one would venture into. A lot of those businessmen or businesswomen pursued a career in the family’s business or brought in franchises from abroad. We didn’t yet have a speciality coffee craze, home-grown burger joints, or even many local fashion labels. But that’s not the situation any more.

Entrepreneurs also don’t necessarily wait until they graduate from school or college to start a career and their own businesses, and online platforms such as Facebook and Instagram have saved entrepreneurs a lot of money.

Home-grown labels are the big thing now. Emirati teenage entrepreneur and social-media sensation Rashed Belhasa is a great textbook example. He founded fashion label Money Kicks, which is stocked in leading retail outlets such as Robinsons, when he hadn’t yet graduated from school, and whose merchandise regularly sells out.

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Emirati founders of NAFS, an abaya and modest-wear label, stocked their designs online and on their Instagram pages before opening their store in Dubai Design District. They have now ventured into homeware accessories.

My point is that if you think creatively, and bring a new thing to the market, you can get away with less investment. For instance, if you want to sell silk scarves of your own designs, you don’t really need a physical store any more. Your initial investment should go towards a small number of products, a designer who will create your packaging – and that’s about it. Instead of a physical store, rent a booth in one of the may pop-up fashion exhibitions that happen around the UAE, for instance, or sell through consignment with a leading fashion store.

What I like about online platforms is that they can serve as a perfect place for trial and error as your business develops. You see what your customers like, dislike, where you get most of your orders from and learn from customers’ feedback.

I always tell aspiring entrepreneurs that you can start many businesses with little to no start-up cash depending on their talents. What type of businesses could you start with no financial burdens? Lots actually.

If you are a talented writer, then demand for content, especially online content, is on the rise, and this is something you can be doing from anywhere around the world. Websites such as Fiverr are great for writers, editors and artists to conduct work on. The amount of money you can make depends on your unique voice and talent. For instance, I began writing for free for many publications, before I established a writing voice and now earn a respectable amount of money because of my passion for writing.

Another good source of income is making business out of your artistic talent. American Jamel Saliba, founder of fashion illustration business Melsy, is a great example. She began posting her fashion illustrations on Etsy, a website where many illustrators showcase their work, where she was discovered by big businesses. Since then, she has collaborated with Hallmark and has stocked her card designs across the United States.

Other great ideas with low to no start-up costs are consulting, resale, photography, video editing and website designing.

I love entrepreneurship and I love seeing more entrepreneurs in the field. Money shouldn’t be an excuse to stop aspiring entrepreneurs from pursuing this field, especially if what they want to pursue doesn’t require a huge amount of upfront capital. Start small and take it from there.



Redmi Go: Everything you need to know about Xiaomi’s cheapest smartphone

Xiaomi Redmi Go,Xiaomi Redmi Go Features,Xiaomi Redmi Go Specifications

Xiaomi is set to be the latest smartphone brand to join Google’s Android Go programme. The company’s first phone under this new series is going to be Redmi Go. Expected to launch early next year, Xiaomi Redmi Go is also said to be the company’s most affordable smartphone thus far.

For the uninitiated, Android Go is Google’s new programme under which it optimises its latest version of Android operating system for low-end phones. The lightweight operating system is backed by a wide catalogue of lite apps including YouTube Go, Files Go, and Maps Go among others.

Google says Android Go works with phones featuring low-end specs such as 512MB or 1GB of RAM. Android Go also has optimisation for faster loading of applications – Google claims it’s about 15% faster than the full-fledged operating system.

Ahead of the official launch, Xiaomi Redmi Go has already made an unofficial appearance on the web. The phone with M1903C3GG model number has been spotted certification platforms in the US, China, and Russia, hinting at a global launch of the phone.

According to the listings, Xiaomi Redmi Go will come with an 18:9 display with Bluetooth 4.2 and dual-SIM support. The phone will run on Android 9 Pie (Go edition) and have 1GB of RAM. Right now, there’s no word on other important specifications such as processor and camera capacity.

Xiaomi Redmi Go could be one of the top phones from the company early next year. Xiaomi is also working on a mid-range smartphone with 48-megapixel rear camera. Called Redmi 2 Pro, this Xiaomi phone is expected to run on Qualcomm Snapdragon 675 processor. Other expected features of the phone include 480 fps HD slo-mo recording, three-rear cameras, and Adreno 612 GPU for graphics.

Xiaomi’s perhaps last phone of the year is going to be the Mi Play. Set to launch on December 24, Xiaomi Mi Play will come with waterdrop notch, radiant glass-like back panel, and gaming-focused features. ALSO READ: Xiaomi Redmi Note 6 Pro review


Yes, you still need to pay your student loans during the shutdown — but you could hit some snags

Despite the partial government shutdown, it should (mostly) be business as usual for students relying on federal student loans to afford college and borrowers repaying them.

The Department of Education remains fully funded, which means its contractors are still collecting student loan payments and the agency is still dispersing grants and federal student loans. Still, students, borrowers and schools may experience some hiccups for tasks that require information from another agency experiencing greater impacts from the shutdown, like the IRS.

“It’s the other departments that are running into some issues,” said Mark Kantrowitz, the publisher of savingforcollege.com and a financial aid expert.

Here’s what you need to know:

Borrowers repaying their student loans

Perhaps the most important thing that borrowers who are repaying their student loans should know is that the shutdown doesn’t affect their student loan bills.

Borrowers “should be operating as if everything is normal and there is no disruption at all,” said Justin Draeger, the president of the National Association of Financial Aid Administrators, a professional association for financial aid officers. In other words: “Don’t stop paying your loans,” he says.

Still, the shutdown could impact some borrowers trying to manage their debt. Borrowers who want to take advantage of the government’s income-driven repayment plans, which allow them to pay off their debt as a percentage of their income, need to show proof of income to their student loan servicer. They also need to recertify their income every year to stay on the plans.

The IRS, which has had many of its duties curtailed due to the shutdown, typically plays a role in both cases. Usually, borrowers will use the IRS data retrieval tool, which electronically transfers tax information into their income driven repayment plan application. Department of Education officials say the tool is operating as normal. The IRS did not respond immediately to a request for comment.

Borrowers applying for an income-driven repayment plan or re-certifying their income for an IDR plan should try to use the data retrieval tool, Kantrowitz said. If for some reason, they hit a snag — the tools don’t always run perfectly, he noted — under normal circumstances a borrower would download their tax transcript from the IRS and file a paper application.

But the tax transcript service is currently down. Officials at the Department of Education and the IRS told Politico the outage isn’t due to the shutdown and they expect the tool to be back up on January 14. In the meantime, while the shutdown persists, borrowers trying to get their tax information will likely struggle to find someone to take their calls at the IRS, Kantrowitz said.

Borrowers whose circumstances have changed since they last filed their tax return — information that won’t be reflected in the data retrieval tool — can use other documentation to prove their income, like pay stubs or a letter from their employer. But because those documents typically show net income and not gross income — which is available through tax documents and on which the calculation for income-driven repayment plans are usually based — borrowers’ loan payments could wind up being higher, Kantrowitz said.

Students applying for and receiving aid

The lack of availability of tax transcripts is also causing a snag for some students applying for aid, experts say. Roughly 30% of students who fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, are flagged for verification each year, a process that requires them to prove their income. Typically these students use a tax transcript to verify their income.

“Basically there’s a big bottleneck in the process at this point,” said David Baime, the senior vice president for government relations and policy analysis at the American Association of Community Colleges.

Baime said his organization has heard from its member schools “with great concern” about students unable to complete their FAFSA due to the tax transcript issue. Unfortunately, this issue is likely affecting students who need the funds the most — college officials say they observe that low-income students are more likely to be flagged for verification.

“The bottom line is that our colleges — and their students more importantly — are really in many places in a very difficult situation in terms of financing,” Baime said.

Again, the agencies say this delay isn’t related to the government shutdown, but is the result of scheduled maintenance.

Students who find themselves in this situation should contact the schools they’re working with to find out what they need to submit and when they need to submit it, Draeger said. In some cases, colleges are working with students to allow them to start the semester in the absence of financing until the issues are resolved, Baime said.

Questions on the FAFSA that require interactions with other agencies are also causing hiccups for some students and schools. In order to qualify for federal financial aid, male students need to register for the draft. The FAFSA typically performs a database match with the Selective Service Administration to make sure required students have registered, but right now that match is failing, Draeger said. Colleges are able to look students up individually to make sure they’re registered, he said.

Despite these challenges, for the most part, students shouldn’t see any effect on their financial aid during the shutdown, Draeger said.

“The Department [of Education] is funded, federal student aid dollars are flowing,” he said.

Government workers affected by the shutdown

Though most student loan borrowers aren’t impacted by the shutdown, those who belong to the group of government workers that are furloughed and not receiving a paycheck may be struggling to make their monthly payments.

The Department of Education advises borrowers for whom that’s the case to contact their student loan servicer to discuss their repayment options.

Adam Minsky, a Boston-based student loan lawyer, suggests government workers who are furloughed and on an income-driven plan apply to have their monthly payments reduced based on their changed circumstances. If possible, they should resist entering a forbearance — a temporary status that pauses payments, but where interest accrues.

Entering forbearance could wind up costing borrowers more in the long run both because interest capitalizes at the end of a forbearance period and because any time spent in forbearance delays progress towards Public Service Loan Forgiveness, which allows borrowers working in public service, including for the federal government, to have their loans forgiven after at least 10 years of payments.