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Often, it’s not coming up with ideas that stops would-be entrepreneurs from starting a business — rather, it’s prohibitive startup costs.
Renting office space, leasing equipment, hiring staff and other common startup costs can often be enough to wipe out your savings entirely. And since securing business loans is a notoriously difficult task for startups, new businesses just can’t count on outside funding to help them launch. However, it is possible to start a business with little money — if you think things through strategically.
Whether you’re itching for a side business or starting a full-time hustle, consider the following list of businesses to start with little money. All of these low-cost business ideas are potentially lucrative, require very little capital (and, in most cases, lift) to launch, and will satisfy your latent entrepreneur — all without requiring that you sacrifice either your savings or your sanity.
Thanks to the Marie Kondo craze, lots of people are seeing the value in purging their homes of the clothes, gadgets and objects that don’t “spark joy.” So if little else sparks joy for you than helping people declutter, consider becoming a professional home organizer.
Becoming a professional organizer requires virtually no startup costs, as you don’t need any special equipment or even office space. For this job, all you need are your skills and a home office, even if that home office is a corner of your living room.
However, to set yourself apart you may want to become certified as a professional organizer. There are tons of online courses dedicated to this field, but start by looking into NAPO University, which is offered through The National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals. Its special certifications typically cost around $350 and training courses are under $200.
Unlike opening a daycare center, starting a babysitting service where you visit your clients’ homes is a low-cost business idea. Since your clients will provide everything you need for you, all you really need to start this business is yourself.
The only potential startup costs you’ll encounter are a small monthly fee for your business website’s platform and fees for any training courses you take. It’s recommended that nannies and babysitters are CPR-certified and have first aid training; you can find local or online courses for both on the American Red Cross website.
Most babysitting and nannying services find their clients through word of mouth, so start your search by sending out a mass email to your contacts announcing your new gig, reaching out directly to the people in your network with children. You can also ask your local schools, community centers, libraries, pediatricians’ offices and places of worship if you can tack up flyers or offer a stack of your business cards for visiting parents to find. Also consider listing your services for free on sites like Sittercity, Care.com, and Sitter, which will connect you with local parents in need of nannies and sitters.
Pretty much every home and office in your community is in need of a regular deep clean — so if you want to start a cleaning business, all you have to do is sell yourself and find those potential customers.
You can ask your customers to provide their own cleaning supplies, and since you’re a mobile business, you don’t need to worry about renting and furnishing an office space. Announce your new venture to your contacts, ask local home-related businesses to keep a stack of your business cards at their till, and reach out to local interior designers, builders and real estate agents, who may be able to connect you with homeowners and business owners in need of your services.
You can also list your services on digital marketplaces like Angi, HomeAdvisor and Care.com. You can sign up for most of these platforms for free, but you may need to pay a small advertising fee to get your business listed.
Whether you’re creating online continuing education courses for sites like Udemy, or providing in-person tutoring services — be it test prep, music lessons or whatever your area of expertise is — becoming a tutor is another business with low startup costs. You can set up a home office and video chat with your students; but if you offer in-person sessions, it’s more likely that you’ll be working from your clients’ own homes, which just leaves you with gas money to budget for.
Other than that, the only costs you’ll be responsible for are the materials you need either to create your online course or to educate (or re-educate) yourself on your area of expertise — like test prep books if you’re offering local students standardized testing tutoring. You can leverage word-of-mouth marketing and your personal network to find leads for free. At the same time, you should make a business website and set up social media accounts dedicated to your business to boost your (free) marketing efforts.
If you have a knack for words and have strong opinions about grammar styles, you may consider starting a freelance writing or editing business. The only equipment you'll need is a computer and reliable internet, making this a great low-cost business idea. This is also a great business to start as a side hustle and then transition to full-time work as you grow your client list and receive more assignments.
Having a business website with a portfolio of your work is key, as is word-of-mouth marketing, so make sure you notify your network of your new business endeavor and that you're seeking projects.
Another business that requires little money to start is a transcription business. This can be another great home business, where clients send you audio or video files that they need to be converted to written documents. Large media companies will sometimes hire third-party transcriptionists to transcribe interviews, while the medical and legal fields also have a need for them.
This low-cost business may take some time to monetize, but it can be an easy and flexible solution for many creative types out there. If you have a passion or set of skills you want to share with the world, you can do so with a blog. As your readership grows, there will likely be opportunities to start making money from your posts — whether by ads, sponsored content, or affiliate partnerships.
Consider your niche carefully to make sure the market isn't already saturated, then optimize your blog so readers can find it online.
>> MORE: Best home business ideas
Starting a freelance graphic design business is another low-cost, flexible way to make money from anywhere. Similar to a freelance writer, you'll want to create a professional-looking online portfolio to showcase your skills and past projects. Social media accounts, particularly Instagram, can also be crucial.
Next, define what type of projects you're looking to work on and start reaching out to your network. Maybe you want to design business cards and websites for other professionals or you're looking to create marketing campaigns for large corporations. Whatever your interests are, there's a need for graphic designers doing just that.
You'll likely need some software for this job, but besides this nominal upfront cost, you won't have to worry about much else when starting a freelance video producing business. The actual shooting of the video will be done by your clients, so you don't have to worry about buying expensive video equipment. Once the footage is shot, you'll then receive and edit it into the finished product. This is also a great remote or home-based business so you can grow your business from anywhere.
Starting a photography business may require more upfront costs than some of the other business ideas on this list, but once you have a professional-grade camera and the software you need to edit your pictures, you're in business. Building your portfolio will take some time, but the good news is opportunities to take photos are everywhere.
Offer your services to friends and family at a reduced rate when you're first starting out — then once you have a solid portfolio, adjust your rates to stay competitive in the market. Whether you want to focus on event, editorial or product photography, quality photographers are always in demand.
Think of podcasts as an audial version of blogging. If you're particularly knowledgable or passionate about a specific topic and have an especially soothing voice, you may make a great podcast host. After all, there are podcasts on just about every topic imaginable, so feel free to get creative with this one.
You will need some equipment to get up and running, but you can also find some cost-effective solutions to meet your needs when you're first starting out. Once your podcast starts gaining listeners (as well as positive ratings and reviews), you're more likely to find sponsors and affiliate partners to start making money.
At this point, we’re all aware of the power of social media, especially for businesses. But not everyone knows exactly how to navigate this admittedly tricky landscape — so if you do, your skills are in high demand.
Becoming a social media consultant doesn’t require cash as much as it does hustle. Rather than money, starting a social media consulting business takes time and patience. Focus on building up a portfolio to show clients. You should have an active and robust social media following yourself and regularly post original content, but you can also create content for your friends and people in your network. Once you have a portfolio of work, start building up your list by approaching small, local businesses first.
When it comes to businesses to start with little money, dropshipping may be one of the best options around. To start a dropshipping business, the biggest hurdles will be building your business ecommerce website and finding the right supplier. Once these are completed and your customers start buying, your supplier handles the order fulfillment and shipping, so you don't have to worry about anything.
Since you don't have to buy inventory upfront or pay for a warehouse to store anything, overhead costs are incredibly low for a dropshipping business.
Starting a side hustle or full-time business as a consultant in your field of expertise is a great low-cost startup business idea if you’re looking to lend your expertise to other businesses, from startups to established corporations. Your costs are mainly limited to marketing, but word of mouth will be a powerful (and free) tool for garnering your first clients.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the field of event planning is projected to grow at a faster-than-average rate of 7% until 2028. So if you’re super Type A, a logistical whiz, and a people person in general, then becoming an event or wedding planner is a promising potential business for you. And since you can operate these businesses from your own home and they don’t require any special tools or equipment, overhead costs are low.
While starting an event or wedding planning business can cost a ton of money, it’s possible to launch your planning business for less. The major startup costs for this business idea surround marketing your business, as it may be worth it to buy advertising space on a marketplace like The Knot (if you’re a wedding planner), or buying Google ad space. That said, you can invest even less in your marketing budget by leveraging your personal network, going to shows and expos to connect with vendors and other party planners, and doubling down on your social media efforts.
Instead of tossing or donating your secondhand but good-quality clothes and accessories, make a business out of your cast-offs and sell them. Online selling platforms like The RealReal, ThredUp, Depop and Poshmark accept gently used clothes, shoes and accessories, then make a valuation, list them on their marketplace, and offer you a commission when a buyer purchases your items. Often, unsold items are donated to local charities. The percentage you receive depends on the platform you choose and, of course, the value of your item. Regardless, this can be a surprisingly lucrative, low-lift and truly free business idea.
Alternatively, you can source hidden (cheap) treasures from your local vintage and thrift stores and resell them on Amazon, eBay, Etsy or even a standalone Shopify store. You’ll be responsible for seller fees if you choose to set up shop on one of these marketplaces, but it’ll still cost you so much less than it would to open a brick-and-mortar vintage store.
There are so many platforms open to people looking for varied, short-term work: Delivering food through Postmates, Seamless, Grubhub or Uber Eats; becoming a Lyft, Uber or Via driver; completing various tasks through TaskRabbit; and doing odd creative jobs through Fiverr — these are just a few options to look into.
Some of these jobs may require more overhead than others. If you’re a Lyft driver, for instance, you’re responsible for the costs involved in maintaining your own car. Still, joining these platforms generally requires almost no startup costs — and since the platforms find your work for you, you won’t need to worry about contributing money, time, or energy into creating a marketing plan.
The biggest upfront investment involved in becoming a life coach will be the cost of your training and certification course. While you’re not required by law to become certified to practice as a life coach, it’s highly recommended that you do, both for lending yourself credibility and to ensure that you’re providing your clients with the best possible service. You can find an accredited program through the International Coach Federation’s training program service search. Some training programs can cost over $5,000, but it’s possible to find legitimate courses for closer to $1,000.
With that in mind, your other startup costs are small. Like other gigs on this list, you don’t need to worry about renting an office space (you can work from home, or visit your clients at their own homes), hiring staff, maintaining inventory, or other major startup costs.
As the name suggests, virtual assistants provide remote administrative support for individuals and/or businesses. The kind of services you offer depends entirely upon your skillset and preferences, but a few common services include customer support, data entry, processing orders and refunds, managing emails, and bookkeeping.
Other than your registration and marketing costs, becoming a virtual assistant costs almost nothing. And in fact, your marketing efforts might actually end up being totally free, since the best way to find your clients is through networking and word of mouth — really, all you need is one happy customer who can then recommend your services to their fellow overworked friends and colleagues. Depending on the types of services you’d like to offer, as well, you might consider investing in a training or certification program or taking an online course to learn an in-demand skill.
Starting a dog walking business and/or offering pet-sitting services is kind of a dream business idea for animal lovers — and of course, it doesn’t require a lot of cash to launch. Other than a business website, your major startup cost will be likely be marketing materials. Print flyers and business cards to tack up around your neighborhood or hand out to neighbors and local business owners.
It’s also worth setting aside some money to purchase business insurance. Since you’ll be responsible for people’s most precious possessions (other than their children, ostensibly), you want to take every precaution to protect yourself against potential legal claims. General liability insurance can cover common legal claims taken against dog walking businesses or other pet care services, but you can also look into commercial property insurance in case the animal in your care accidentally damages someone’s property. Animal bailee insurance is also recommended for businesses that take care or custody of animals.
While traditional travel agents are mostly a thing of the past, becoming a remote travel agent can be a lucrative travel business idea. Planning a vacation takes a lot of research, time and patience — which not everyone has. Some people are eager to outsource this task to have a professional plan and book their vacation itinerary.
If you're a well-traveled entrepreneur with an eye for details and a love of organization, this may just be the perfect low-cost business idea for you. You can work from home — or any location with internet — and communicate with your clients by phone, email or video conferencing.
If you live in an area with a decent tourism trade, you may consider starting a tour guide business. Since your city will be your office, the greatest overhead cost you'll incur is likely marketing your tours. Consider what you want to show visitors about your locale — and what's not already being done. Tours could center around local food, street art, haunted sites and more. Word-of-mouth marketing will play a big role in this type of business, but make sure to have an updated website and social media channels, as well.
Every business has accounting needs, and most business owners can tell you it's one of their least favorite parts of the job. If you have a penchant for numbers, consider starting a bookkeeping business. Depending on your clients, you may have to purchase bookkeeping software; however, it will be more likely that you're added as a user on their accounts, meaning you can skip one more cost.
You may only think of personal trainers as people who work in gyms, but you don't need to be affiliated with a gym to become a personal trainer. Especially as more and more people want to option to work in their homes on their schedules, you may also find success as a remote personal trainer, so you won't have to purchase any equipment (or very few items).
Your personal training business will include training programs for your clients (of course) but may also grow to meal planning and holistic health coaching — there's lots of options for growth here.
You may enjoy baking for friends and family, but have you considered starting a bakery? A storefront or even food truck would come with a hefty upfront cost, but you can easily start a home-based bakery, where you create your confections from your own kitchen and deliver them to clients, set up a stall at a farmers market or partner with local businesses to have them stock your goods.
As your business grows, you may want to upgrade equipment to handle greater volumes, but by then you'll have more cash flow to work with.
This article originally appeared on JustBusiness, a subsidiary of NerdWallet.
About the author: Caroline Goldstein is a freelance writer, specializing in small business. Read more
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