It can be intimidating starting a business with little cash.

At times it can seem downright impossible.

But with the weak economy and the tight lending market, many entrepreneurs have little choice but to bootstrap it these days. The key is finding ways to shave off some of the initial start-up costs so you can stretch those dollars farther, say experts.

"You don't need as much money as you think to start," says Bob Reiss, a Boca Raton, Fla.-based small-business expert and author of "Bootstrapping 101" (R&R, $19.95). "There are a lot of ways to save money. "

And here are just a few:

Outsource. Avoid carrying too much in overhead costs. "Outsource as much as you can," notes Reiss. For instance, you don't necessarily need your own warehouse for shipping and assembly. Consider outsourcing those functions to a public warehouse, he says.

Barter. Conserve cash and try bartering your goods and services in exchange for something else your business may need, says Reiss. Just make sure from the outset that each party is getting its fair share in return, advises Gloria Glowacki, director of operations for the Small Business Development Center at Stony Brook University, which offers free assistance.

Seek free or low-cost assistance. There are many resources locally, including the Stony Brook center, another one at Farmingdale State College, and the Service Corps of Retired Executives, that offer free startup assistance. Libraries and local banks can be good resources as well, says Judith Tyne, associate dean at Hofstra University's Business Development Center, which administers the Entrepreneurial Assistance Program, a fee-based, 60-hour program of nuts and bolts training for entrepreneurs. "Everybody needs a road map to get started," says Tyne, noting even a mentor can be a good ally.

Lease equipment. Instead of buying, leasing and purchasing items secondhand can help reduce costs, says Glowacki.

Start at home. That's what Naomi Handelman of Great Neck did when she launched her employment agency, Always Care Inc., in March. "I looked for spaces, and everything was so expensive," says Handelman, a registered nurse whose firm specializes in matching home care companions with the elderly and disabled. With help from her children, she ended up walling off a section of her kitchen to create a home office with an outside entry. "I don't think it was even $1,000 to retrofit the space," says Handelman, who worked with Stony Brook's SBDC for start-up assistance.

Look for virtual or shared office services. If you need an outside office or the appearance of an outside office, consider sharing space or amenities or using virtual services like an outside secretary/mailing address. Places like Totus Business Center in Melville provide furnished office space for rent on a short-term annual basis (which includes use of a shared secretary and common meeting rooms), as well as virtual office services like call forwarding to a secretary, which starts at $125 a month, says Craig Weiss of T. Weiss Realty in Melville, owner of Totus. Business incubators are also an option.

Negotiate. Find opportunities to negotiate better terms or extras, particularly in this economy. That's what James Rigano did in his search for an office for his environmental law firm, Rigano Llc, which he launched in July. As part of his negotiation for space on the Route 110 Melville corridor, he got the landlord to furnish his suite with the previous tenant's furniture, including a conference table and secretarial station. "That was a tremendous savings of at least $10,000," says Rigano.

START-UP RESOURCES

Small Business Development Center at Stony Brook: 631-632-9070

Small Business Development Center at Farmingdale: 631-420-2765

SCORE Long Island: 888-433-3632

Entrepreneurial Assistance Program at Hofstra University: 516-463-5850

Entrepreneurial Assistance Program at Suffolk County Community College: 631-851-6200