Do you dream of being your own boss? Does the idea of having your own business appeal to you? If you are ready to start a business, what is holding you back?
For many want-to-be entrepreneurs, money is a huge stumbling block. They don’t have funds to pour into their business, and they don’t want to go through the traditional business loan process. Many people feel stuck at this stage – trying to figure out where to find the money to get started so they can earn more.
While alternative avenues of funding, such as peer-to-peer lending and Kickstarter campaigns, are an option, they each come with their own hurdles and challenges. And for people who want to avoid debt, some of these lending options aren’t feasible.
Many people would much rather start a small business and let it grow slowly. They want to start with a side hustle and then watch it blossom as they get it up and running.
In today’s gig economy, many successful businesses follow this model of slow, organic growth. Consumers want to connect with people, not huge corporations. Small businesses allow this connection to occur. And then, as clients discover your business and see how awesome it is, they tell their people about it. Overtime, you grow… built up in part by fans who love you.
If you’re ready to bootstrap your own business, keep reading. Below you’ll find several low-cost business ideas you can start today for very little money (or even for free!). Of course, you will need to pour in your time in addition to the nominal start-up costs.
Then, as you grow, you can invest your profits back into your business. As you continue to earn and invest, you will see your baby business begin to grow. Where could your new business take you in the next few years?
Go ahead and dream. And then do something to make your dreams a reality. Be brave, put yourself out there, and start a business!
1. Begin 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 a ton.
Before you start, take time to think through your target audience. Who are you going to write for? Without a clear vision, you could blog for years without seeing a profit. Don’t skip this step.
Once you have a clear vision of who you are writing for and what you are going to write about, go ahead and launch your blog.
Then focus on creating valuable content for your readers. Solve their problems. Make them laugh. Build a connection.
Make sure you spend time marketing your blog. Otherwise, you won’t get eyeballs on your site.
As you meet the needs of your readers and draw in new traffic through blogging, your monetization strategies will begin to pay off. Blogs today primarily make money through affiliate marketing, advertising, and sponsored posts. Just make sure that you don’t get so focused on chasing the money that you lose sight of the people you are blogging for.
If your blog becomes so full of ads that readers can’t see what they’re looking for, you will lose your traffic and your income.
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. It is not a get-rich-quick scheme.
But, the barrier to entry is almost non-existent for new bloggers. 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 companies you’d like to work with.
- Website Hosting: as low as $3.95 per month
- Advertising – can be free with Pinterest and other forms of social media
2. Sell T-Shirts and Other Physical Goods Online
Do you have an awesome idea for a t-shirt in your mind? Sites like Cafepress and Zazzle have long been popular with those looking to create and sell these shirts and other merchandise-type goods like mugs, art prints, and phone cases. Teespring and Spreadshirt are other sites you can check out.
If you are creative, this is a great side hustle. You can come up with as many unique designs as possible, without having to worry about keeping inventory on hand or dealing with shipping costs.
The key to success is coming up with designs that people will want to buy. Keep it simple and trendy for best results. Know who your audience is and serve them. Make your designs speak to them and use fonts and colors they will relate to.
Great visuals can help in your advertising. Consider using Instagram or Pinterest to market your products. Include awesome pictures of what you offer, and nail your product descriptions to help connect people to your brand.
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 Handy.com where you can apply to become a cleaning pro. Once you pass the background check and identity verification, you can begin claiming cleaning jobs through their platform. A benefit of going with a service like this is that insurance is typically covered.
While you may be able to clean without insurance, it really does offer great protection for both the client and yourself. I highly recommend being insured! But, that adds to the start-up costs.
Thus, taking advantage of a third-party company like Handy can help keep your startup costs low.
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
- Transportation to the job site
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 materials (take advantage of free options to start)
One of my favorite easy-to-scale home businesses at the moment is selling on Amazon and eBay. You can also sell on the Facebook Marketplace or an app like LetGo. There are so many options for selling.
You can start with just one item to flip. Sell it, 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 sale, use the profit to invest in more items to resell. As you learn about reselling, you’ll develop an “eye” for what will move, and then you will have a viable income stream on your hands.
- You decide! You can start by selling unwanted things from around the house
- 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 $45 per month for once-a-week scooping. If you can get several clients in the same area, you can really maximize your profits.
Also, if your profit margin is large enough, you can always subcontract the scooping to kids in the neighborhood who are looking to make a few bucks.
- A Poop Scooper
- 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. Work on creating samples in the niches you want to write about.
You can house your samples in a free portfolio site like Contently. Or, if you have a little bit of money to spend, you can set up your own website to help generate leads and showcase your portfolio.
- Optional Website Hosting: $3.95 per month
8. Virtual Assistant
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.
You need to decide what services to offer. Here’s a list of VA skills that are in demand.
Having your own website can help you find work, but if you have solid references you can get away with not having a website right away. That said, as you know by now, setting up your own website is still really inexpensive, and will help give your business a professional vibe.
- Optional Website Hosting: $3.95 per month
9. Pinterest Virtual Assistant
Do you enjoy creating pins or browsing amazing ideas on Pinterest? You can create a Pinterest Virtual Assistant business and get paid to spend time on this platform.
Businesses and bloggers are hiring Pinterest VAs to create a Pinterest strategy, audit their accounts to see what is working and what isn’t, and take over their day-to-day Pinterest tasks.
If you use a site like Canva to create your pins, and already have an internet connection, you can get started for free. Post your offerings in Facebook Groups where your ideal clients hang out. Just don’t get spammy – get involved genuinely in the group and get your name out there as someone who understands Pinterest.
As you grow, it’s worth investing in a website so you have a spot to point potential clients. You can include sample pins, metrics from past clients, and testimonials to help back up your results. Here you can easily display your packages and explain exactly what they include.
10. Rent Your Space
Sites like Airbnb have made it easier than ever to host travelers for a night or two and earn money. For your safety, don’t forget to check your potential visitor’s reviews and references.
- Whatever is involved to maintain the space, like cleaning supplies.
11. 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.
There are two key ingredients to a successful MLM business. First, you must find a product you actually use and love. You will be promoting it and talking about it, and your potential clients will be able to tell if you are genuine or just trying to make a buck.
Second, you need to be willing to move beyond your network to find customers and recruits. If you always market to your family and friends, they will definitely get sick of hearing from you. So get creative. Launch an Instagram account and share lifestyle photos of you using the products. Start a blog and share about the benefits you’ve noticed.
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 (some start at $0)
- Company website (sometimes free, or a low monthly fee)
12. Event Planning
If you’re organized and enjoy putting on a great party, event planning might be a great fit 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
- Optional: online training like that through QC Event School
13. 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 is 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: an inexpensive stack of business cards from moo.com
Learn more about being an organizer at NAPO
14. Graphic Designer
If you have an eye for design, you can start a freelance graphic design business. You can create printables, course worksheets, graphics, and branding materials for your clients. And those are just some of the ways you can put your design skills to work for you.
Think about what you enjoy creating and find clients who need your services. Network and collect testimonials from happy clients.
If you already have the software, your initial costs will be nothing. But, if not, a subscription to Adobe Creative Cloud may be an important startup cost. Depending on the services you offer, you can opt to stick with the less expensive Photoshop/Lightroom option. This will get you up and running on less than $15/month.
- Optional subscription to Adobe Creative Cloud or Adobe Photoshop/Lightroom
- Optional Website Hosting: $3.95 per month
Are you a numbers person? If math is your forte, consider becoming a freelance bookkeeper. Clients would pay you to keep their books up to date.
Typically, your client would scan their receipts and upload them to a secure cloud file. Then, you would access the file and enter everything in your client’s bookkeeping software (like Xero or QuickBooks.)
When you think about your offerings, decide how often you will update records. Once a week is typical.
If desired, you could also do a location-based business and work with local small business owners. You could drive to their offices on a regularly scheduled basis and update all their books in person. This way they don’t have to worry about scanning their receipts. You may be able to network with other businesses through your local Chamber of Commerce.
If you do start a mobile bookkeeping business, make sure you account for travel time in your pricing structure.
5 Mistakes to Avoid When Starting an Online Business
Many people believe that starting an online business is easy. They think that they can just get something set up and be earning a ton in no time. And while there’s often little investment involved and you can start your business quickly, it will take time and effort to grow your business and earn reliable income.
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
If you are jumping into entrepreneurship for the first time, and coming from a traditional job, you may be used to getting a reliable paycheck every couple of weeks. This is not typically what you will experience with your own 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 who aren’t prepared for the transition.
Before you quit your day job, know how you are going to pay the bills during your startup 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, they are not in the exact same place they were when they started. Their plans changed as they learned new skills, discovered new income opportunities, and made connections.
That’s the beauty of being in business for yourself! You don’t have to stick to a single path. Be open to new possibilities and stay flexible along the way.
3. Not Making Friends
Many entrepreneurs make the mistake of looking at others in their industry as competitors and avoiding them like the plague. Don’t be afraid to network, make connections, and build friendships with others who do what you do.
These people hold a wealth of information and resources that can help you move forward. 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. Not Taking Action
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. Information overload or analysis paralysis is very real.
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. Following someone else’s path to success doesn’t mean you’re automatically a winner.
When you have the basic knowledge you need, you must decide if you are going to act or not. If you decide to act, choose one person to listen to and shut the rest out until you are seeing results.
Otherwise you will be treading water, never really making progress as you move from one expert’s advice to another.
5. Not Investing Wisely
There are so many shiny objects out there. You can spend so much time and money comparing your websites, business cards, and headshots to everyone else in your industry.
You could spend thousands and thousands of dollars on making these beautiful things that have little impact on your bottom line.
The next time you think you need a new design, new tablet, new logo, new anything, ask yourself:
- Do I need it?
- Am I really going to make money from it?
If the answer is no, then don’t spend the money right now. Especially in your early days, your investments should consist of the essentials, like a website, and learning how to effectively market to your target audience.
These mistakes can be costly, so avoiding them will not only help you get more traction, it’ll also save you money. Which is a great thing when you’re trying to bootstrap your business.
You really can start a business without going into debt or spending a ton of money.