How To Start a Cosmetic Business With No Money (6 Steps)
Being a female founder and starting a business from scratch can be extremely challenging and time-consuming. And trying to make your way through the already-oversaturated beauty industry can be even trickier. Even the industry giants are struggling to keep afloat in these trying times, so is it even possible to start a cosmetic business without any money? And if so, how?
To start a cosmetic business with no money, first, research the industry and try to find your niche. Realistically go over your budget and find your products’ source - if you have no extra money, you can always try dropshipping. And then, curate your brand, build an audience, and start selling!
If you’re looking to start a beauty business without having to make a large initial investment and don’t know where to start, you’ve come to the right place. Below, you’ll find everything you need to know about the steps you’ll want to take in order to increase your chances of success. I’ll also provide you with some additional examples, tips, and answers to some of your most commonly-asked questions, so make sure to stick around until the end.
6 Steps to Starting a cosmetic business with no money
1. Research the Industry
Before you even think about taking the necessary steps to open up your business, you’ll want to make sure that you know the ins and outs of the industry you’re hoping to work in.
Of course, you won’t be expected to know everything immediately, as most of your knowledge you will learn on the job. However, it’s still a good idea to do your due diligence to prepare yourself for the potential challenges you’ll be facing.
Learning more about your direct competition is one of the most important parts of researching. Seeing how these successful brands operate can help you get inspired by their strategies while also noticing and exploiting their weaknesses.
After all, you’re trying to compete in a multi-billion dollar industry, so getting to know your competitors, and reviewing a few economic analyses of the market is the least you can do to ensure you’ll be better prepared to take on any possible challenges later on.
2. Find Your Niche
When researching the industry, you’ll want to keep an eye out to see whether there are any current customer needs that aren’t being met by your competitors. Even the biggest organizations can’t cater to (or anticipate) all customer needs, so there’s always room for you to offer a product or service for which the demand is high. That’s the market corner you want to find, in other words, your niche.
At this point, you’ll also be able to get a better idea of who your customers are and what they want. Creating a profile of your target audience can be extremely helpful when it comes to understanding your customers and anticipating their needs, a skill that’ll ultimately draw the line between success and failure.
3. Find Your Products’ Source
Now that you have a faint idea of what product you’re trying to sell and what you want your business to look like, it’s time to go through the most important (and arguably challenging) part of the process - you’ll have to figure out how you’ll source your products.
Will you be making your own beauty line? Can you find a low-cost manufacturer, and if so, what will your relationship with them look like? This is a critical point to consider, especially if you’re starting out with a limited budget.
Working with a manufacturer can only be an option if you already have some funds to invest in the business. So, what happens when you have no money to invest? You have two options - first, you can make your products yourself. However you should note, that’ll still require some funds for you to get the base materials.
The second option is the only zero-cost alternative available - you can choose to dropship. Dropshipping refers to the practice of acting as the middleman between the manufacturer and the customer, selling the former’s products to the latter without ever physically having to hold them and without tying your finances to inventory. You can learn more about the practice here.
All three approaches explored above come with their own pros and cons, so it’s best to consider each of them in relation to your unique business and determine which would give you the best chances of success. Once you decide how you’re going to source your products, it’s time to start bringing your vision to life.
4. Curate Your Company’s Image
During this stage, you’ll have to materialize the vision you already have in your head regarding your brand. This part can be challenging, but it’s also extremely entertaining, as you’ll be able to finally see your thoughts come to life.
Some of the decisions you’ll have to make during this stage include:
Your company’s name
Keep in mind that all of these decisions should complement one another in order for the brand to transmit one cohesive image to the customer. When crafting this image, you should always keep your target customer in mind and decide based on what you think they would best respond to.
For example, if you intend your brand to be related to “clean beauty”, you’ll want to choose a color scheme that reflects that. A good option would be white and neutrals with a few pastels here and there.
5. Build an Audience
With your brand created, it’s time to build an audience. This is the fun part when you want to get on all your social media and promote your business. If possible, I recommend running a few Facebook or Instagram ads since they’re pretty cheap and effective. A great example of this was Christina Kao who told us on the podcast that Facebook ads helped her grow her beauty business, Le Mini Macron. You can reach thousands of people paying less than $5 a day, so it’s definitely worth a try.
Once you’ve generated some interest, there’s nothing left to do but to start taking in those orders.
6. Start Selling
Now that you have your product, your brand, and your audience, it’s time to actually start selling. If you’re looking to negate risk as much as possible (everyone hates to hear that the product is sold out), you can always follow a pre-sale system so that you get a better idea of how much demand there is - that way, you don’t risk over or under-producing by a large margin.
Scrappy Marketing Strategies for Bootstrapped Founders
We don’t have Fenty Beauty’s bucks and a successful marketing strategy doesn’t have to be excessively elaborate or expensive, it just has to be efficient. Thanks to social media, aspiring business owners can get by using some scrappy marketing strategies that while cheap, can lead to some truly impressive results.
Building a community is one of the best marketing strategies to help grow your brand. Start making the most out of your social media presence, join TikTok, respond to Instagram comments, and interact with your customers through Facebook groups - the more connected your followers feel to you, the likelier they are to choose your products over all of the competitors out there.
UGC content is also key, you’ll want to promote your customer’s content by reposting, liking, and commenting. That way, you show your gratitude for them believing in you while also encouraging them to return the favor (in terms of reposting and generally interacting with your content).
Hosting a giveaway is another excellent strategy that can help you garner attention without having to spend a fortune on PR.
How To Start a Beauty Line
If you’re interested in starting your very own beauty line, here are some of the steps you’ll want to take.
Research the industry and find your niche.
Define your target audience.
Choose a business model.
Build your brand.
Create an online presence.
Note that most of these resemble what I’ve covered thus far regarding starting a cosmetic business with no money. However, if you’re looking to get a more in-depth explanation on the matter, you can check out this simple 5-step guide created by Shopify, one of the world’s largest platforms, which hosts a plethora of small online businesses.
How To Grow in the Beauty Industry
Growing in a space that’s as competitive as the beauty industry is not for the faint of heart. There’s such a wide array of companies currently occupying the market, from industry giants to that indie beauty brand you love, that it can feel near-impossible to find a gap where you can comfortably fit in.
However, there are some steps you can take to optimize your chances of succeeding in this cutthroat industry. Here’s what you can do:
Build a clear brand.
Invest in eye-catching packaging.
Invest in a well-designed website.
Create a strong social media presence.
Collaborate with an influencer or another beauty brand.
Foster a sense of community among your customers.
Marketing Strategies Used by Beauty Founders in the Industry
A beauty founder needs to have a clear marketing vision in order for their business to have even the slightest chance of succeeding. One upside of trying to enter such an oversaturated market, though, is that aspiring entrepreneurs like you can take note of the approaches taken by other cosmetics brands and tailor them as necessary.
Here are some of the most successful marketing strategies used by a few beauty founders in the industry:
Julie Schott: Starface
Julie Schott, the founder of Starface, focused on changing the negative perceptions usually associated with acne and skincare. Her star-shaped acne patches were instantly a hit, as they send out a positive message and made customers feel good about themselves while using them. Starface was able to actually get people excited about getting and using skincare, which is no easy feat.
Amy Lui: Tower 28
Amy Liu, founder, and CEO of Tower 28 collaborated with micro-influencers who were dealing with skin-related problems to promote her line that catered toward people with sensitive skin. Since micro-influencers have a smaller following, they’re more in touch with their community, and their followers are far more open to taking their advice, especially if they’re suffering from the same skin issues.
-> Listen to our conversation with Amy on the FemaleStartupClub podcast here
Ju Rhyu & Andrew Lee: Hero Beauty
Ju Rhyu, and Andrew Lee, founders of Hero Beauty, were among the first to exclusively use TikTok as their social media outlet. Considering how many other companies followed suit thereafter, they were really visionaries in their own right. As expected, this approach led to their exponential growth.
-> Listen to our conversation with Ju Rhyu on the FemaleStartupClub podcast here.
Olamide Olowe: Topicals Skincare
Olamide Olowe, the founder of Topicals Skincare, was one of the first to use Twitter as the platform to promote her cosmetics business. Since there were so few other businesses in the same industry operating on the same platform, Topicals started growing and experiencing never-seen-before success.
-> Listen to our conversation with Olamide Olowe on the FemaleStartupClub podcast here
However, there’s more to building a successful business than choosing the right marketing strategy. If you’re an aspiring entrepreneur, I highly recommend giving Your Hype Girl a read.
The Best Beauty Tradeshows To Go To
If you’re looking to start networking right away or simply trying to get a better understanding of how the industry works, visiting a beauty tradeshow is a good plan. However, your time is extremely valuable, especially when building a brand from scratch, so you’ll want to make sure that you’re going to the right places and meeting the right people.
Here’s a handy list of some of the best beauty tradeshows to go to as an aspiring cosmetic business owner:
TikTok Strategies for Beauty Founders
Here are some of the best TikTok marketing strategies for new beauty founders:
Use at least two to three hashtags in every post; that way, you’ll have a far better shot at reaching someone’s “For You” page.
Post content daily; throw in some hacks and tutorials if possible.
Keep up with the current trends, that includes using trending filters and music.
Try to post some educational content in order for your viewers to find value in what you post.
Live Shopping Websites To Use for Beauty Brands
If you’ve never heard of a live shopping website, it’s essentially a platform that allows customers to shop around in real-time from the comfort of their own homes. Most of these websites also allow you to socialize with loved ones or other online customers, and the sense of community makes plenty of shoppers flock to this alternative approach to finding the latest trends and designs.
If you’re looking to use one of these websites to showcase your own beauty brand, you might be able to reach a larger audience. However, if you do decide to go this route, you’ll want to make sure that you’re using the right platform.
So, here are some of the best live shopping websites to use for your beauty brand:
Other Frequently Asked Questions
By now, you’ve probably already created an idea of what it takes to create your dream beauty business from scratch. However, there are still a few details that might need to be straightened out. That’s why, I’ll do my best to answer a few additional frequently asked questions on the topic.
Though the beauty industry is known to be pretty individualistic and cutthroat, finding a mentor that can help guide your way can help you avoid some of the most common mistakes that all newcomers make when they are trying to find their feet in the industry.
That’s why it's worth it to find someone who can take you through a beauty mentorship as you try to get your business to take off. If you’ve attended beauty school, the instructors there can always help mentor you and advise you on challenging decisions.
Examples of Successful Beauty Marketing Brands
If you’re looking to get inspired, you’ve come to the right place. In this section, I’ll be giving you some examples of the most successful marketing approaches taken by beauty brands, and hopefully, these strategies can help you figure out how to better (and more efficiently) promote your business.
Function of Beauty. Function of Beauty was one of the first beauty brands to bring customization to the table. Upon visiting their website, customers were met with a quiz that allowed them to build haircare products that catered to their unique needs and preferences. Since everyone loves to have a product that’s tailored to them, this approach turned out to be an absolute success.
Colourpop. Believe it or not, Colourpop was the brand that popularized the social media giveaways we so often run into today. By offering the opportunity to win some of their products, Colourpop was able to catch the attention of a young, eager-to-purchase fanbase that helped them rise to popularity.
L’Oréal. Though today many brands offer customers the option of trying on their products virtually, L”oréal was one of the first companies to popularize this feature, making customers flock to its website to try on all of their lines in a matter of minutes and, why not, buy an interesting product while at it as well.
What We Can Learn From Celebrity-Founded Beauty Brands? (Hailey Bieber, Kim Kardashian, Kylie Jenner)
During these last few years, we’ve seen a drastic increase in celebrity-founded beauty brands entering the market from Rihanna to Kim Kardashian to Ariana Grande. However, how can all these eerily similar brands co-exist in such an oversaturated market?
The answer is, they can’t. As time has proven, few of these brands actually achieve longevity. However, in what many seem to consider an obvious cash grab, what can you, the aspiring beauty entrepreneur learn?
From celebrity-founded beauty brands we can learn that though image matters when it comes to generating an audience, it’s the quality of the products that allows a brand to achieve longevity and long-term profitability.
First, the resurgence of these brands has proven once again that image still matters. Though today the beauty industry has become more diverse and many once-small businesses are rising to popularity, the importance of an image that customers feel familiar with is still invaluable.
Think about it, most of these celebrities had never been linked to the beauty industry before, yet still, just because they’re a well-known face, they’ve made a name for themselves in it.
On the flip side, the short life of many of these brands goes to show that though a well-known name can get customers hooked, only quality and innovation can actually keep them coming back for more. This is why it’s important not to get discouraged if at first, you don’t get the influx of orders and general interest that you were expecting. The quality of your products should be able to market itself.
When Should You Invest Money To Grow?
It’s difficult to pinpoint one single moment when it’s best to invest your money; however, there are some tips I can give you to help you find that out for yourself.
You should invest your money to grow when you’re comfortable going on an extra five or six more years without it. Most businesses need a few years to recoup their initial costs, so you’ll want to be sure that you won’t need that money any time soon.
Moreover, it’s important to only invest your money when you have a vision you actually believe in and a solid strategy to back that up. You’ll also need to be at a point in your life where you feel comfortable taking a financial risk.
Basically, it is definitely possible to start a cosmetic business with little to no money. But to optimize your chances of success, you’ll have to do your due diligence and research the beauty industry very carefully. So, make sure to read through all the tips and information outlined above to get a better grasp of what the best route for your business would be.
Finding the right marketing strategy can help catapult you right to commercial popularity, so it’s important not to underestimate some of the scrappier approaches which, while cheap, can generate a lot of interest.