Aspiring entrepreneurs have no doubt that they want to start their own business. Many of them, however, just aren’t sure what kind of business to start. Maybe their passions and skills can be applied to a multitude of business ideas. Maybe they can imagine themselves succeeding at each one. Well, one of the most practical ways to approach this decision is to look at these business ideas and simply choose the least expensive option. Luckily, there are plenty of low-cost business ideas that lack the notoriously outrageous startup expenses of traditional businesses.
You don’t need an office, employees, or expensive equipment. Some business ideas literally have zero startup costs. This lack of expenses significantly increases the likelihood of financial success. The less operational and recurring expenses you have, the more revenue you can keep for yourself. You are free to spend this money on growth-related resources designed to increase productivity, your customer base, and the quality of your work. If you invest in the right resources, it is entirely possible for a home-based entrepreneur to make just as much money (if not more) than a traditional business owner.
The following business ideas are extremely cheap to start and can therefore be extremely lucrative. We’ll go over everything you need to get each business off the ground and explain why others who chose these paths have been so successful.
Here are twelve low-cost business ideas with little (if any) recurring expenses:
1. Home or Office Cleaning Services
People have always hated cleaning. That hate has multiplied exponentially ever since we moved into an age where it’s completely acceptable to sit in front of a screen all day. Today’s young adults will gladly pay a reasonable price to have their homes cleaned so they don’t have to. Even owners of small apartments don’t have the time or the patience to perform basic cleaning duties.
Cleaning businesses require few expenses, aside from cleaning supplies. In fact, you might find customers who already have cleaning supplies but would rather pay someone else to use them. Before accepting jobs, there’s nothing wrong with asking customers if they can provide certain types of supplies. After all, the whole point of this business endeavor is to save money, right?
The only other startup costs for new cleaning services are official registration and, if necessary, business insurance.
As for marketing, you’ll probably generate most of your initial customers through word-of-mouth referrals, which cost nothing. Odds are, at least a few of your friends or relatives know someone in need of a cleaning service. To maximize referrals, contact popular real estate agents in your area and ask them to refer you to new residents. You can also ask other local businesses about posting flyers and leaving business cards inside their shops.
As you take on more jobs, however, you will accrue more expenses. You’ll probably need a company vehicle to store the supplies required for larger jobs. Demand for a new cleaning service can skyrocket very quickly. For this reason, you must plan to eventually hire employees.
2. Freelance Writer
Freelance writing and editing is the dream full-time job of anyone who writes for a living. Once you’ve established a reputation within a certain industry (finance, fashion, etc.), you don’t have to accept jobs that deviate from your specialty. You can write about one industry in the style you’ve perfected.
Establishing that reputation, however, is not easy. You’ll have to market yourself very aggressively and possibly take any job that comes your way. The hunt for new work is endless. Even if you have a busy month, you never know what next month’s demand will look like. Success in freelance writing is reserved for those who embrace the tasks that come with this hunt, like going to social events just to scope out potential clients. And until you build a substantial portfolio, you won’t be in the position to negotiate compensation that complements the quality of your work.
Your only startup costs will likely be promotional tools. This includes your own website, paid social media ads, and business cards. There’s no cost to advertise your services on websites like Upwork or Fiverr, and you should be able to find plenty of freelance gigs on job boards like Indeed or LinkedIn. The more jobs you secure via these resources, the less you’ll have to spend on paid marketing efforts.
Before launching a freelance writing service, it’s important to be open to all sorts of opportunities. You don’t get to choose your specialty; your specialty chooses you. Writing about a certain industry every day will make you expert, regardless of whether that was your original plan.
Tutoring can be a wonderful low-cost business idea if you’re passionate about math, science, literature, or history. You don’t need a traditional teaching license but it’s recommended to complete some sort of voluntary certification program to prove your expertise. Other startup expenses might include textbooks, test prep books, and your own website.
The rest of your budget ultimately depends on your capacity to solicit word-of-mouth referrals. Most tutors take advantage of tight knit suburban communities and hardly need to market themselves at all. Establishing a relationship with the right parent could unlock a massive network of other parents who could use your services.
Though you should certainly be very active on social media, you probably won’t have to pay for ads. Your accounts on Facebook and/or Instagram will likely be reserved for communication and self-promotion (bragging about your students’ success is no longer viewed as arrogant these days).
4. Virtual Assistant
Virtual assistants can be just as valuable (and busy) as traditional assistants despite never meeting their employers face to face. Since most virtual assistants work full-time, they don’t have to consistently market themselves. This is one of the few low-cost business ideas with literally zero startup expenses.
The only other required investment is the time it takes to learn the most popular management-related tools. Learning how to use more tools allows you to offer more services beyond scheduling calls and meetings, creating to-do lists, etc. Other common services offered by virtual assistants include data entry, customer support, writing pitch emails, and taking notes on conference calls.
Before accepting a position, talk to your potential employer about their policy for raises. The longer you work for your boss, the more of his or her work gets transferred to you. In other words, the workload of a virtual assistant can dramatically increase very quickly. This isn’t a job for someone who gets easily overwhelmed.
5. Pet Sitting and Dog Walking
Compared to the other business ideas on this list, pet sitters and dog walkers might have the easiest time finding work. Demand for both services has definitely increased as of late. Pet sitters and dog walkers make it possible for pet owners to work full-time without leaving their furry friends home alone all day.
You won’t need any certifications or specific credentials. This job is all about making a good first impression on the customer as well as their pet. Your marketing costs will likely amount to flyers and business cards to be displayed in local businesses, though your own website couldn’t hurt.
The top requirement for both services is flexibility. Whether you care for pets in your home or your customers, you’ll need to match your customers’ scheduling needs.
With no other costs to worry about, it’s probably a good idea to set money aside for general liability insurance. This would protect you against the most common legal claims for pet care services. You might also consider looking into commercial property insurance, which would protect you in the event that an animal under your care damages another person’s property.
Most pet sitters spend a lot of time just hanging around their customers’ houses. This is a big reason why pet sitting is such a lucrative low-cost business idea. You could use this time to do other work and basically get paid for two jobs at the same time. Having two sources of income also allows you to devote a similarly moderate amount of energy to each and keep your overall stress level low.
6. Food Truck
You’ve probably noticed a recent influx in food trucks. More and more food service specialists are discovering that food trucks are a much cheaper and safer business idea than a traditional restaurant or café. In order to support the operational expenses of a full-service restaurant, there must be massive demand for the cuisine or signature items. Well, what if the demand is definitely there, but it’s not that big? Food trucks are the logical solution to this common dilemma.
Though your overhead will be much lower than a traditional restaurant, a truck and cooking equipment aren’t exactly cheap. Thus, you should test out your items at smaller scale locations like community fairs, food festivals, or farmer’s markets. Customer feedback might tell you to make a few minor changes (pricing, selection, etc.) before getting your truck up and running.
You’ll also need the necessary licenses and permits for each location, which might include special city ordinances for mobile restaurants. And since much of your competition will be cash-only, you should secure an appropriate point-of-sale system, like Square or Stripe.
7. Event or Wedding Planning
Many people possess the traits typically associated with event and wedding planning: organization, patience, and just being a pleasure to work with. But like pet-related services, the key to success in this field is flexibility. Much of your work will be done on weekends, and you’ll probably have to do quite a bit of traveling.
Your overhead will be low because you can work from home and don’t need employees or equipment. Whether or not this is a truly low-cost business idea, however, depends on your marketing and networking strategy. If you’re a wedding planner, it might make sense to buy advertising space on websites like The Knot as well as social media, most notably Instagram. Another proven method for getting new business is going to bridal expos and other events, where you can also connect with vendors. Speaking with vendors and other planners will likely determine whether you should focus more on in-person or digital marketing strategies.
Wedding planners must also be very careful with spending because the business is highly seasonal. This essentially leaves you with two choices. You can either work in an area where weddings are more common in the winter or offer additional services to stabilize your income throughout the year.
Wedding planning could be good fit for someone who has experience in party planning, event coordination or hospitality. Strong organizational and communication skills, the ability to work weekends and patience are necessary.
Starting a babysitting service might not be the most lucrative low-cost business idea but it’s certainly an ideal side hustle. And who knows: Establishing a trustworthy reputation in a certain community could grant you access to some very generous parents.
Most parents prefer babysitters that have completed a number of training courses, such as CPR and first aid. These courses will likely be your sole startup costs, and you can usually take them online. Depending on the age of the children you look after, you might consider forming your own set of toys or educational tools. Since today’s children tend to enjoy tablet-based activities, you should familiarize yourself with the most popular games and compile a list of favorites to suggest to new clients.
You probably won’t have to pay for digital advertising. In fact, your entire marketing strategy could amount to simply posting flyers at local businesses, as well as other places frequented by parents. This could include schools, community centers, doctor’s offices, or places of worship. Advertising your services on sites like Sittercity and Care.com is absolutely free.
Odds are, at least one friend or relative knows someone in need of a reliable babysitter. So, you can start your search for clients by sending out a mass email to anyone with children close to your desired age group.
9. Social Media Management
Virtually all businesses need active social media accounts. But many business owners are relatively new to social media and/or cannot afford in-house marketing teams. Their most cost-effective solution is outsourcing their social media duties to a freelance consultant or manager.
Since you have no experience, you’ll have to build up your personal social media accounts and lend your services (like posting original content) to any friends or relatives looking to increase their followers. Yes, your first jobs will technically be pro bono. Once you’ve amassed a decent portfolio, consider taking an online course in social media management. This will likely be your only startup expense. Few other business ideas, however, require the time investment of a new social media management service.
Small, local businesses will be your first clients since they won’t mind your lack of paid experience. But regardless of their expectations, you’ll have to go above and beyond to produce real results. Basic social media management won’t cut it for your first clients, since this is your opportunity to establish a reputation.
Even the most targeted social media campaigns take time to generate quality leads. Until this happens, you can prove your worth with the amount you devote to each client. This will reinforce the notion that in the coming weeks or months, their social media marketing investment will most likely pay off.
Your first clients may ask if you can provide additional services, like blogging or general SEO for their websites. If these questions come up a lot, consider taking online courses to make your services more desirable.
10. Rideshare Driver
Demand for rideshare drivers remains strong. Aside from gas and maintenance, there’s no startup expenses required to become a driver for Uber, Lyft, Via, etc. You can literally choose your own hours, and you don’t have to market your services at all since your company is supposed to find work for you.
The amount money you make depends almost entirely on your location. Ideally, you’d want to become a driver in an up and coming (or newly gentrified) area with low competition and high demand.
11. Massage Therapist
Alternative medicine is widely considered one of the best industries to get into. It’s growing fast and unlike most other industries, has remained stable amid economic downturns. This growth is largely attributed to the mass realization that treatments like massage therapy should not be reserved for birthdays and special occasions. The average person is more stressed than ever, so it’s completely understandable to get a massage every week.
What stops people from doing this? One good guess is having to drive to a massage studio. People in your local community would likely get massages a lot more often if their massage therapist made house calls.
In addition to providing your own massage bed and oils, you’ll have to obtain your massage therapy certification as well as any other licenses required in your home state. Like most other low-cost business ideas, your biggest investment will be time. New massage therapists typically build a customer base with special offers, like an extra ten minutes of therapy. Your customers also probably enjoy other forms of alternative medicine, like crystal therapy or cupping therapy. Thus, you might consider obtaining the required certifications for these services, too.
12. Web Development and Design
The same business owners who would benefit from social media consulting would likely benefit from web development services as well. Many older businesses have outdated websites because they can’t find an affordable web developer or designer. You won’t have to charge much because your expenses will mainly consist of basic software tools.
Local business owners will likely ask about additional web-related services like Ecommerce, software installation or general tech support. If you’re only moderately familiar with these areas, a quick online course might be a worthy investment.
Low-Cost Business Ideas: Making Your Decision
The business ideas from this list have relatively small upfront costs. For this reason, the expenses that deserve the most attention are of the legal variety: licenses, permits, ordinances, etc. These expenses could make one business idea considerably more expensive (and tedious) than another. So, before you get excited about your new venture, be sure to factor in licenses and permits when calculating your total upfront cost. Setting goals for revenue is much easier when you know exactly how much you’ve spent.