Lilah Higgins
Design and Illustration for brands, organizations, and people with a mission.



Art supplies are expensive. Wholesaling sometimes means money up front. Traveling to shows and covering vendor fees can easily bankrupt you. Design programs cost a HEAP.

So is building an income with your art without debt even possible?

YES. It is.

You can work within the margins you have and still build a successful creative business without debt. Just ask all these awesome people:

Have a clear plan.

Tracy Babler: Writer, Editor, Storyteller has this advice for those starting out:

"Have a clear business plan and know where your revenue will come from. Don't forget to use your plan and check back in frequently. Eliminate nice-to-have, but not critical expenses until you're more established. Don't be afraid to outsource if it frees up your time to make more money doing something else."

Don't be afraid to ask questions.

Tonya Rineer who started & continues in her business debt-free and currently works as a Coach & Money Mindset Mentor to women entrepreneurs, says,

"There is no such thing as a stupid question. Get comfortable talking about money, business and asking lots of questions! When I started, I didn’t have a coach, mentor, entrepreneur friend of awesome Facebook group to turn to and it was a lonely road. I made so many more mistakes and stressed over ever little decision. If I had the community I do now (and the confidence to ask questions), I would have shaved years off of the learning curve!"

Require deposits up front.

Mimi Eckerdt, Caterer & Event planner at Taste & See Catering suggests,

"After we have a meeting with a client and we decide on a final menu and have a close guest count, we send an email with the contract as well as an invoice for a 50% deposit due 2 weeks before the event date. Ideally, this will cover the cost of all the food. The remainder of the invoice is due the day of the event and should be mostly profit! Remember that inventory is profit too! If you have to purchase a larger quantity of food/inventory items remember that they can be used for future events!"


Tracey Lewis Stoeckel, who started her candle business with a mere $376 dollars says.

"I spent every cent of that $376 on supplies that I could turn right around into product.  I planned I started with some wax, jars, and two or three different fragrances (I didn't even spring for color on that first order) and made as many candles as I could with what I had on hand.  I took those candles to a very inexpensive craft show and sold them all.  At that point I had roughly $800 to reinvest.  I continued to use this system and plan very carefully buying only what I absolutely needed until I grew my inventory to a total value of over $3,000. Another piece of advice that I give to my business mentees is to ask friends or family members for help. Anytime I had to prepare for a big show, or if I had to front a large wholesale order, I could always count on my family to help out with a small loan for a short period of time.  Have a good plan, believe in what you do, and others will want to help you if they can."

Take Baby Steps.

Elizabeth Thompson, Editor at her debt-free business, House Style Editing.

"Once you figure out what business you are going to launch, lay out the steps that you need to take, and take each step, one at a time if possible.  Don’t invest in all the fancy tools, programs, VA’s, until you actually NEED to. You are much more likely to not overspend or get into debt, if you are deliberate about starting and growing your business one step at a time.”

Have a budget & stick to it.

Katie Clark, Maker & Etsy Shop Owner, who is quickly approaching 1,000 sales in just 3 years, has this advice:

"It's okay to start small. If you sell a physical product, you don't have to offer every single product or color or pattern or style all at once. Set your budget for supplies and prioritize. Reinvest your profits to expand your offerings as the funds allow."


Heather of Hiya Tootsie who built an empire around her Candy Ass perfume, all without the burden of debt. Her advice?

"Make up your mind to do as much as you can with what you have. GET CREATIVE. Crowd funding campaigns, applying for grants, saving up, and deciding what's actually a necessity and what's a work-toward desire are all options. Take logical steps. It's so easy to just have the big picture end goal for our products in mind, and that's totally understandable. Who doesn't imagine their baby all grown up? But getting there without debt requires intentionality, pre-planning, and a commitment to creativity. We are smart, ass-kicking women, and flipping the bird at debt while soaring toward our dreams is completely possible!"

Have a game plan.

Becky Mollenkamp, Content Marketing Expert, who started her business of 11 years without debt and has remained debt-free since, had this advice to share:

"Create a plan. I’m all for jumping blindly into new adventures, but if you want to start a business without debt, it helps to have a plan. I gave myself six months before leaving my full-time corporate gig to start my own marketing firm. In that time, I got my website and marketing ready, reached out to potential clients, and set aside some money to cover expenses until client dollars started rolling in. Not only did this strategy allow me to start my business without debt, it also made the last six months in my day job more bearable because I knew I was secretly working toward something better.


Samantha Munoz of SamJoco Celebrations, who shares her experience starting out without loans,

"My biggest tip to avoiding going into debt when starting a business, is to build up a little cash to invest into your business before even starting. Think about all the skills you possess (they may be directly related to your business or not) and find ways you can utilize those to earn extra cash that you put directly into an account specifically for business purposes. Or, try cutting out different things in your life and putting that extra cash away. It may take a while to build up the funds, but set a goal number and work towards it and only when you have that money saved up, then fully get ready to "start" your business. While you're working on growing these funds, you can always be nailing down your new business's mission, core values and focus."


Danielle of Legacy Creative Co. who says,

"Be wise with how you invest in your business. Be willing to take the cheaper route because most of the time it works just as well."




In an excerpt from her book, From Executive to Entrepreneur, Jane W. Lee says this:

"You need to know every revenue source and every cost to the penny, for that is the only way that you’ll know the baseline from which you can devise your strategy to improve on both of these.  And while simply knowing these is important, tracking them is what matters.  On a monthly basis, you should establish a monthly P & L (profit and loss) statement so that you know exactly where your money is going, so that you can address the weak spots and reinforce the strong points."

All of these (and more!) are incredible examples of those who bootstrapped through building their business without starting in the red.

Here are a few additional things to keep in mind when starting out, if you're tempted to think that debt is the only way up.

Understand that your growth might be slower at first.

I use the word ‘might’ very loosely here. Because it’s totally possible that your work will take off and you’ll pop ahead of those who started with loans and other costly investments.

I also want you to understand that the beginning might be slower, BUT that doesn't mean you can't catch up.

According to, "The average debt for small businesses in July 2013 was $835,828." But from the Census Bureau’s data, "60% of all small businesses opened in a given year need less than $5,000 to start."

The truth is, it's totally doable to grow slower at first. Because when you finally hit that tipping point, you don't owe payments and you can profit more right away.

Figure out what can make you money, right now.

For me, I started out working with whoever would hire me. I needed the funds. I taught painting classes at a local winery. I sold at art shows with my mom. I painted for my family members who paid for supplies and tipped me.

It was 5 years before my income was even close to steady and it's not quite to our goal mark even now.

My point, just to get started and fund your early expenses, find creative work wherever you can.

Don't Compare Your Business to Businesses with Debt.

You may not have the gold stapler or the top notch coaching programs, but you've got grit and the freedom from the weight of debt. Never forget that.

Working with lower funds when you need more, makes you wiser when you have it.

If you've bootstrapped your business (or your life!) that means that you have the experience of delaying the unnecessary, which is the very definition of mature, by the way.

Have you ever saved up for a large ticket item and felt that reward when you finally dropped the cash on it? That's what it feels like to bootstrap a business and invest time and resources into building it from the ground up until it flies off into the sunset, finally leaving you living a life you love.

There's nothing wrong with debt. But if you want freedom in your business right away, stop considering a loan and do what you can with what you have.

You will have to sacrifice what you don't need, for what you absolutely need.

This is a given. You can't have everything when you're starting out with limited funds. You have to learn how to discern what is absolutely necessary and what you can hold off on.

These necessities can be different for everyone. For me, I paid big bucks (all cash!) for enrollment in the Boss Mom Academy. And it's been pivotal not just in the growth of my business, but also in the connections I've made.

You're going to have to decide what you can afford, what you're willing to pay for with cash, and what the return on investment will be for each purchase.

Living within your businesses means is difficult, trying, and downright scary at times. But it's freedom, and it's magical, and I can tell you 100% that it completely pays off.

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