How To Start A Shoe Business With No Money (Business Plan)

Learning how to start a shoe business with no money is simple, but not easy.

You have to forget everything you’ve ever learned about how to start a business because they will all require you to spend tons of resources during a time that you have none. Neither should you. If you’re learning how to start a shoe business, you also have to learn how to bail as soon as possible so that you don’t waste your money.

That’s why in this guide, I’m going to reveal a NEW approach.

In this approach, you’ll be able to learn how to start a shoe business with no money within the next few months. Again, it’s not easy. But it is simple.

So with that said, let’s get started.

How Much Does It Cost To Start A Shoe Line? 

Yes, this guide is on how to start a shoe business with no money. However, you still need to know the economics behind the business because the real trick isn’t to do everything for free, but to “time” your inventory costs correctly. I’ll talk more about that part later though.

So let’s assume you’re starting with just one custom designed shoe in one style.

Let’s also assume you’re not doing anything fancy with packaging.

It’s typically going to cost you anywhere between $5,000-$15,000 to produce a high quality shoe that’s ready to be sold. The range is there because the biggest factor to your startup costs is how many shoes you have to make for your manufacturer to actually want to work with you. In other words, their minimum order quantity.

It is possible to start cheaper, though.

You can start with a private label shoe using a design that already exists and slap your logo on it. With that said, the shoe industry is so competitive, that you’re more than likely going to want to go the custom route to stand out.

Keep in mind that these numbers do not include marketing costs.

The Ultimate Shoe Business Plan When You Have No Money

Starting an ecommerce business when you’re backed by millions worth of VC money is not the same as building an ecommerce business when you have little to no money. Yet, most of the well known successes in ecommerce and the advice people give based on those successes are based off of what those VC startups do.

They tell you that you just need to spend months or even years building an amazing product. Then they somehow magically launch to thousands of sales. And then they talk about their amazing growth. Yet nowhere do they say they spend hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars in inventory and marketing. Not to mention all of the advice and network of these same VC’s.

So in a world of unicorn startups, what should you do instead?

You want your customers to fund as much of your business as possible.

The ultimate way to learn how to start a shoe business with no money is to not even worry about the shoe business in the first place. It’s about focusing on the people who buy the type of shoes you want to sell first, ask them to buy your product before you get into manufacturing, and then reinvest their money into inventory and marketing.

In other words, you want to crowdfund your business.

Here’s how I would do this in 3 simple steps…

Build The Mini-GQ Or Vogue Of Your Category

This sounds like a huge step, but bare with me.

Ultimately, what you need to make this whole thing work is to build your own organic audience. More specifically, an email list you can email once you’re ready to launch in step 3. The way you do this is to share helpful tips about your category.

This starts with understanding who you’re talking to first.

For example, trying to reach people who want to buy basketball shoes is not the same as trying to reach people who want to wear dress shoes. So you want to decide WHO you’re going to target with your content. Who do you want to serve? What category are you going to be in?

Then, you want to decide on the channel.

This includes Youtube, TikTok, Facebook, Twitter, blogging, newsletters, and more. The ideal channels are either Youtube or TikTok, but the most important piece of advice I can give is to pick the one you enjoy most and then just focus on it for 12-18 months before moving adding an additional channel to your plate of things to do.

From there, you want to consistently produce content.

So if you’re going to sell men’s dress shoes, you want to build an entire TikTok around men’s fashion with an emphasis on men’s footwear. If you’re going to sell minimalist shoes for Crossfitters, you want to start a Youtube channel around Crossfit with an emphasis on product reviews, running, and workouts.

Ideally, you do this 6 months before you decide to launch your shoe line.

I know, I know… 6 months is a long time. However, if you don’t have money, then the only currency left you have is your time. Particularly because building an audience is a ridiculously slow process to start, but then compounds over time. Besides, building your mini-GQ around footwear can easily become one of the best decisions you ever make.

Develop A Best Selling Shoe Concept

During this 3-6 month gap you’re using to build your audience, you also want to start thinking about what you’re going to sell to that audience once you’re ready to launch.

The best way I’ve come across to do this is with something I call the “best seller strategy”.

1/ Make a list of your top 5-10 direct competitors. Don’t look for any of the big players like Nike. Instead, look for other ecommerce shoe brands. So if you’re selling ecofriendly shoes, you want to jot down Allbirds as a competitor.

2/ Analyze each competitor’s best sellers. This means categorizing their products by “best sellers” and going over their top 5-10 products on that best sellers list. Now, if they don’t have that option and they happen to be hosted on Shopify, just add this to their extension and you will be sent straight to their best sellers.


3/ What are all the similarities between these best selling shoes? This includes product categories (sandals, sneakers, dress shoes…etc), what features/benefits they use, what is the average cost between these best sellers, and what the shipping costs are. Put all of these into a “shoe avatar” that essentially is the “perfect” shoe based on your analysis.

4/ Differentiate your shoe by picking one feature that none of these shoes focus on. Maybe your shoes come in a different color. You could focus on dress shoes that look exactly like a competitor’s, but are built for people with wider feet. You can even take a sneaker and add additional technology on it.

By the time you’re done with this process, you will have created the “perfect” shoe that contains all the high quality elements your customers will want, while also having a strong USP that will convince customers to buy your product over everyone else’s.

Don’t feel like you have to just sell whatever makes most money though. If you’re more of a social entrepreneur and want to make eco-friendly shoes, just repeat the above with that in mind.

Crowdfund Your Inventory Within 30 Days

So 3-6 months have passed. You’ve built yourself a small following of people interested in footwear and you have the “perfect” product idea that your customers will love.

All that’s left now is to launch your business.

The key to learning how to start a shoe business with no money is to get good at crowdfunding. What platform you use to do this doesn’t really matter. You can do Kickstarter or indiegogo or even a Shopify store with a crowdfunding app. What matters is that you make sales before you spend money on inventory.

Here’s how you would get that done…

1/ Turn your shoe idea into a real pitch. So you want to hire a graphic designer to make a mockup of what your shoe would look like. You also want to write the copy necessary to sell the shoe. Basically, you want to go through this step as if you already had the shoe made.

2/ Send emails to your list promoting the shoe. The average time it takes to get through the crowdfunding phase is around 30 days. However, the first 2 days and the last 2 days are by far the most important. So optimize for that.

3/ Reinvest the profits to manufacturing and shipping the shoe you promised! It’s important to note that you should have copy everywhere saying that this is a pre-sale and you will deliver the shoe within a certain timeframe. As long as people know what they’re getting into, you’re good!

Once you have your shoe, then you can focus on the fun stuff.

For example, you can start running Facebook ads. You can start a Shopify store with Klaviyo abandoned cart flows. You can even look to expand to different markets such as marketing to hispanics.