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Meet a human trafficking survivor who built her own business with $400

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How a human trafficking survivor built a successful business with $400

It started with just a few hundred dollars. Entrepreneur Nakia Vestal escaped human trafficking as a teenager and began working at beauty salons and shops. After gaining experience and disliking her job opportunities, Vestal decided to go into business for herself.

In 2017 and with $400, Vestal founded DollMaker Lashes, a beauty studio in Houston, Texas, that offers eyelash extension services. She began modestly, building her client base from her home. But with perseverance, discipline and faith, Vestal transformed her business into a full-service lash studio, with her own product line.

"I started with just a lash bed and my tools that I needed. And I didn't have any marketing," she said. "Everything was word of mouth. I started from home in my dining room."

Vestal's business has been affected by the economic slowdown of the Covid-19 pandemic, but last year she received a $10,000 grant from Verizon's Digital Ready program, which she credits as helping her expand.

The grant from Verizon helps small businesses hurt by the pandemic, notably in historically underserved communities. Nearly 800 small businesses have received grants of up to $10,000 to help pay staff, rent and other financial needs.

Here are four tips that have helped Vestal to succeed as an entrepreneur:

1. Apply for grants

There are plenty of financial options out there to help people achieve their small business dreams.

"There's resources, there's crowdfunding, there's small business loans," said Vestal. "Especially ones that are in under-resourced communities, minority businesses, veteran businesses, Black business owners, and minority business owners."

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2. Utilize social media

According to GlobalWebIndex, 54% of regular internet users access social media to research products. And that percentage is only expected to grow.

"Social media is free marketing. You have Facebook, you have Instagram, now you have TikTok. These are free tools you can use to really target whatever audience you're trying to get," Vestal said.

3. Look for free resources

In the digital age, you can find just about anything on the internet — from free courses and advice columns to virtual mentors and networking events.

"There's free resources out there. Don't feel like there's a stupid question," Vestal said. "You have to really speak up and you have to look for it."

4. Set yourself apart

Vestal believes she was able to beat the competition and land the $10,000 Verizon grant, because she believes in giving back to her community. She also applied for the grant a second time after being turned down the first time around, and credits her tenacity as a reason for her success.

"You have to find something to give back to you. It's not only about my business," Vestal said. "No, you have to find a cause. ... Once you're up, go back and pull somebody else up. That's my motto."

Watch the video to find out more about how to start a business with little to no capital.

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Disclosure: NBCUniversal and Comcast Ventures are investors in Acorns.