Starting a business when you don't have any experience is a difficult process. When you don't have a lot of cash on top of that, it can be downright overwhelming. We've talked to some folks who have been in business for a while, and asked them one simple question:

If you were starting your business now, and only have $500 to get customers and get going, how do you spend it?

We quickly found out we were asking the wrong question. It's not about the money at all. It's about the hustle. The money you have should be spent toward helping get better results from the hustle.

It is all about the hustle

Almost everyone we talked to agreed on one thing as being more important than how much cash you have to get going:

You absolutely have to hustle. No excuses.

Unless you have a lot of money to invest, and often even if you do, you can't just throw cash out and buy customers—you've got to work for them. When you're just starting out, you might not have a lot of money to invest, but you do have time. You must be relentless in making sure your time is used in ways that are directly focused on your business.

Hustling for customers is how service businesses have been working for years. Decades. In fact, we're not sure there's even been a time you could point to when this hasn't been true. It's the most basic—and free—tactic that isn't going anywhere anytime soon. So how does it work for your business? While it can, in some ways, depend on what type of business you're in, the basic rule is simple:

Get out and meet people. Listen. Speak up when you can offer your service.

You're going to talk to someone who has a friend in need of some work, someone who works for a company that has been looking for someone like you, or someone who will hold onto your card and call you when they do need you.

One trick that has worked for folks we've talked to is leaving a stack of business cards with other businesses that have people coming in and asking for a service they don't provide. One of the folks we've discussed this issue with runs a wildlife control business—he's the guy who makes sure a critter isn't climbing around in the roof of that cabin you're renting for the weekend. He told us he gave a stack of cards to a local pest control business when he first started out. Years later, a large portion of his customers are still people who walked into that pest control business and got handed one of his cards. He's built a relationship with that company now, and they recommend him, instead of just handing out a card to people asking for services they don't provide.

If you can seize opportunities to form relationships with other businesses to recommend you to their customers, you've scored a serious boost in credibility for your business.

Another tip is to talk to people or businesses that could provide more than a one-off job opportunity. For example, if you're doing landscaping, it's great to grab a customer who wants you to take care of their yard in the summer. But it's even better when you get a job for an apartment complex, or for someone who owns rental properties. This is the simplest way to turn a job lead into several jobs. The payoff is much greater if the customer has multiple job opportunities. And it means far less overhead and hassle when it comes to dealing with payments, follow-ups, etc.

But what about my $500?

There are some definite things worth focusing your first $500 on when starting to hustle for your first customers. And none of them are particularly costly. Get some business cards, flyers, and other low-cost items that you can leave around town and with people you meet. Get a few t-shirts with your business name so you can always be repping and promoting awareness of your service business. Then go out and hustle so much you need more.

Get hustling

We're definitely going to keep talking more about The Hustle in future posts. Just understand the real lesson here from people who've done what you're doing now:

Spend your money to help the hustle, not avoid it.