Have you been thinking about opening your own home-based business? If so, what’s stopping you?
For a lot of would-be entrepreneurs, the major obstacle is money. The idea of going through the traditional loan process can be difficult and discouraging to those ready to hit the ground running. Plus, what if you aren’t in the position to take on that kind of debt anyway?
Plus, many people would prefer to start small and grow as profits allow. These days a lot of very successful businesses began that way — in the fringe hours and spare moments, growing slowly and organically instead of with a huge bang.
Whether you’re one who wants to avoid debt or you’re simply drawn to the idea of starting small and learning as you go, just know that you aren’t alone. Lots of us in that same position were still able to get started and turn our businesses into something substantial.
This post is for you. We’re going to focus on low-cost business ideas that you can start today for $20 or less.
1. Start a Blog
If you’ve been around here for more than five minutes, you know I love blogging. It’s great because you can start this business by focusing on something you love, working on it in your spare time (though sometimes you have to carve it out of a busy schedule!) and start making money without spending much.
Websites today turn a profit primarily through various forms of advertising. You’re probably familiar with at least a few of these — it’s things like ads displayed on a blog, sponsored posts (in which a company pays a blogger to review a product), and a little (big) something called affiliate marketing.
Even though there’s a lot of hype about making big bucks with blogging quickly, most of that is just hype. Blogging doesn’t result in immediate income, but the barrier to entry is almost non-existent. With a clear vision and some solid strategies in place, your blog can be making money within a month or two, and you can start working toward getting the attention of advertisers.
- Website Hosting: as low as $3.95 per month
2. Sell T-Shirts and Other Goods Online
Sites like Cafepress and Zazzle have long been popular with those looking to create and sell t-shirts and other merchandise-type goods like mugs, art prints, and phone cases. And many entrepreneurs are finding success with sites like Teespring and Society6.
What makes this gig so great is that you can exercise your creativity, come up with as many ideas as you want… and never have to make a monetary investment. The key is coming up with designs that people will want to buy. Keep it simple and trendy for best results.
- Advertising, which is optional
- Note: Some sites require you to meet a minimum sales goal before you get paid
So, being a house cleaner isn’t the sexiest of home business options…unless you define “sexy” as an in-demand luxury that people are willing to pay for in good times and bad. If you’re ok with exchanging some elbow grease for job security, this might be the right gig for you.
There are sites like HomeJoy and Handy.com that will cover your general liability insurance, if that’s something you want to do (and while carrying insurance isn’t mandatory, I’d recommend it). Once you get rolling, you can save up your profits to cover the costs of carrying your own insurance, and then you’ll be making more money doing the same amount of work.
- General cleaning supplies
- Most clients will have a vacuum and/or mop you can use, you can also opt to bring your own
4. SAT Tutoring
Test prep services are highly sought after in the tutoring world. If you know what it takes to stay cool under pressure and prepare for life-defining exams like the SATs, someone in your community is likely ready and willing to pay for your guidance.
You can hook up with an agency, which means that the clients will come to you but you’ll have less control over who your students are and you’ll make less money. To make more money, consider offering private lessons. Private tutors in this field can make up to $100 per hour.
- SAT Study Guides
- Marketing, optional (plus, word-of-mouth marketing is free!)
One of my favorite easy-to-scale home businesses at the moment is selling on Amazon and eBay. You can start with just one item to flip; make a profit on it, and you’re in business! You can even start out selling unwanted items around the house. (Books are a great place to start building up your profits.)
Once you make your first profit, use it to invest in more to resell. As you learn about reselling, you’ll develop an “eye” for what will move, and then you’ve got a viable income on your hands.
- You decide! You can start at $0
- Get Jessica’s free guide on Amazon’s FBA program
6. Pet Waste Management
This is another job that falls under the category of Somebody’s Got to Do It. And people are willing to pay you to do it for them!
In many areas, the going rate is currently around $10 per week for once-a-week scooping. You probably won’t get rich with this one, but it could be a nice little extra money-maker. If your profit margin is large enough, you can always subcontract the scooping to kids in the neighborhood looking to make a few bucks.
- Plastic bags (any will do, including grocery bags)
7. Freelance Writing
One of the reasons freelance writing is so popular is its very low start-up cost. If you have an internet connection and keyboard, you are ready to roll. If you have a little bit of money to spend, you can set up your own website for under $20.
To get some of your first writing gigs, check out Craigslist or the Problogger Job Board. You can even create a gig on Fiverr selling small writing services while you get your start.
- None for job boards
- None for Fiverr and similar sites
- Optional Website Hosting: $3.95 per month
8. Virtual Assisting
You can get started as a VA in many of the same ways you would as a freelance writer, but there are a few differences. It’s easier to pick up virtual assisting jobs in Facebook groups than it is on the (very limited) job boards. You can also use sites like Fiverr and Upwork to get your first clients.
Having your own website can help you find work, but if you have solid references you can get away with not having a website for the time being. That said, as you know by now, setting up your own website is still really inexpensive.
- None for Fiverr and Upwork
- Optional Website Hosting: $3.95 per month
9. Host a Guest
Sites like Airbnb have made it easier than ever to host travelers for a night or two and earn something similar to the cost of a local hotel room in the process. Don’t’ forget to check your potential visitor’s reviews and references.
Costs involved: None!
10. Direct Sales
There are plenty of direct sales organizations with start-up kits in the $100+ range, but there are also lots that have low and even free joining costs — including Avon one of the queens of direct sales organizations, with a $25 joining fee.
The two main keys to succeeding with direct sales is to find a product you absolutely love and use all the time, and to be willing to go beyond your natural network to find new customers and recruits. Direct sales won’t work for you if you think you just need to hit up your friends and family all the time — that doesn’t work and you don’t want to be the person doing it.
Recruiting is another aspect of doing well with direct sales, though there are many sellers who are good enough at building their client base that they have solid income without any recruits. Lots of direct sales training is available both through the sales organization and outside of it. It’s a skill that can be learned, for sure!
- Start-up kit costs (start at $0)
- Optional: social media scheduling app, like Cinch Share (free for the first two weeks, then $10/month)
11. Event Planning
If you’re organized and love pulling off a great party, event planning might be right for you!
What’s especially great about event planning is that the startup costs are basically $0. One of the best ways to get started in event planning is by word of mouth. If you plan a great party for yourself or a family member or friend, you may get some inquiries, and your business is born!
One caveat to event planning is that you might need to be able to purchase items yourself, to be reimbursed by your clients at a later point. You can avoid this by asking for a deposit up front.
- Optional: an event planning business guide, like this one
12. Professional Organizer
If you have a knack for keeping things neat and organized, you could be doing it for a living! Being a professional organizer can be highly rewarding. you’re helping people solve very real problems while being able to put your thinking cap on to come up with creative, effective solutions.
There are all kinds of ways you can approach a professional organizing business. You can help people focus on decluttering. You can specialize in emptying out garages and storage spaces. You could be the “fix my kitchen!” person who helps people get their kitchens set up efficiently. You could even be a digital organizer, helping people keep their digital homes organized and useful. Or you could do all of the above!
One thing that might make clients love you: being able to haul away their unwanted stuff. You might be able to use that opportunity to do some reselling and then offer your clients a discount.
Getting started is simple — you just start spreading the word that you’re a professional organizer. You can set up a free Facebook page if you’d like and start sharing tips and tricks for your fans. One of the best ways to find your first clients is to let everyone in your personal circle know about your new business and ask if they know of someone who could use your services. (When you phrase it as “do you know anyone” it’s much less direct than asking them to hire you, which makes some people uncomfortable.)
- Optional: a $5 logo from Fiverr and a $7 pack of business cards from VistaPrint
- Learn more about being an organizer at NAPO
5 Mistakes to Avoid When Starting an Online Business
Many people believe that starting an online business is easy. Because there's often little investment involved. You can be up and running in almost no time. While these things are frequently true, there are also several common mistakes new entrepreneurs make in their haste. Here are a few things to avoid if you want to save time and money on your way to success.
1. Not Having a Handle on Your Finances
Most of us come from traditional employee positions and enjoyed regular paychecks every two weeks. You usually trade that luxury in when starting an online business. If you are starting a service-oriented business, your clients may only pay you once per month. If you are creative, you may receive a lot of small sporadic payments instead of one big check. This switch can be hard to swallow for those unprepared.
Before you quit your day job, know how you are going to pay the bills during your transition period. For some that means having a couple months worth of income in savings, for others, it may mean taking a part-time gig or having clients lined up and waiting in the wings before giving your employer notice.
2. Not Being Flexible
When I talk to most entrepreneurs who have been around more than five years, where they are now is not where they planned. There is a good chance you are going to find some other income opportunities along the way that you want to pursue further. That’s the beauty of being in business for yourself! Be open to new possibilities.
3. Not Making Friends
We’re all guilty of it when we start out. We are scared to make friends with those in our industry because we are looking at these people as competition. These people hold a wealth of information and resources that help get us ahead. Don’t reinvent the wheel when you don’t have to. Ask questions of those who have gone before you. Get on Facebook and look for Groups of women entrepreneurs and business owners in your industry.
4. Analysis Paralysis
I understand you’re nervous. You want to make sure your bases are covered. But, there comes a time when you start hurting yourself with all of that research. There are a million people out there that are going to send you in a million different directions. No one is necessarily wrong. Advice is based on experience, and everyone’s experience is unique. When you have the basics covered, you have to decide whether you are going to do this or not. You have to choose one person to listen to and shut the rest out until you are seeing results.
5. Spending Money on the Wrong Things
There are so many pretty things out there. We spend so much time comparing our websites, business cards, headshots to others. You could spend thousands and thousands of dollars on shiny beautiful things that have little impact on your bottom line. Next time you think you need a new design, new tablet, new anything, ask yourself:
- Do you need it?
- Are going to make money from it?
Especially in your early days, your investments should consist of the essentials and learning how to effectively market to your target audience.