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25 Business Ideas With (Almost) No Startup Costs

Sean Peek
Sean Peek

Dreaming of starting your own business but low on capital? Here are 25 low-cost options to consider.

  • You don't need a lot of capital to start a small business.
  • Look for service-based business ideas, as these often have lower overhead than product-based businesses.
  • Consider whether you could turn your hobby or professional skills into your own business.
  • This article is for people who want to start their own business but can't afford to spend a lot on startup costs.

For many people with an entrepreneurial spirit, the No. 1 reason why they don't pursue their business dreams is because of the significant costs associated with starting a business. However, there are many businesses you can launch today with little or no funding, so long as you are dedicated and put in some good old-fashioned hard work.

If you want to start a low-cost business, these 25 ideas will help inspire your entrepreneurial passion.

1. Content creation

Social media and the 24-hour news cycle have created the perfect storm of opportunity for creative professionals like writers and graphic designers, who can use their talents to create high-quality, shareable content for businesses and media outlets. Thanks to a growing gig economy of freelance and contract workers, it's easier than ever to market yourself as a professional service provider.

2. Personal or virtual assistant

Along those same lines, those who have good organizational skills are in high demand for other entrepreneurs who are growing their businesses and want to focus on high-return tasks. A personal or virtual assistant performs many of those secretarial or front-desk functions without being onsite. These individuals often work from home for many different clients, keeping track of calendars, making flight arrangements and doing clerical work.

3. Event planning services

If you're a highly organized, detail-oriented individual who loves putting parties together, you might have the right personality to launch an event-planning business. Working for weddings, birthday parties and class reunions, event planners make it easy for others to host an exciting party. Planning a few pro bono events will help give you the proper experience. Use LinkedIn and cold calling to build up a solid database of vendors and contacts so you can help your clients orchestrate the event of their dreams.

4. Errand/concierge service

Between caring for their children and handling their professional responsibilities, most working parents have very little time to take care of personal errands like grocery shopping, making returns at the mall or mailing packages. A driven individual can take care of these time-consuming errands for clients and free up their days for the important things in life. Account for travel expenses when determining your rates, which can be hourly or by the task.

5. Professional reviewer

Yes, this is really a thing. The importance of good reviews has not been lost on companies large and small. Many companies provide products and services to individuals so they can write a review of the company. They want a good review but, more importantly, an honest one. They pay for your time or by the review, and you get to try new things, read new books, experiment with the latest technology and much more, all while getting paid.

6. Social media consultant

Larger companies can hire an agency or full-time staff member to run their Facebook and Twitter accounts and blogs, but small businesses often have to take care of their own social media marketing. With so many other responsibilities, business owners may be too busy or overwhelmed to come up with a great social media strategy. As a consultant, you can help them determine the best tactics, posting schedules and content for their target audience. As their follower counts grow, so will your business.

7. Etsy shop

Etsy is a popular online marketplace that hosts thousands of at-home retailers and larger productions, like the highly rated Wildflower + Co., selling jewelry, patches and DIY merchandise. Starting an Etsy shop is incredibly affordable. It's free to join the site and start a shop, though there are three selling fees: the listing, transaction and payment processing fees.

8. Online courses and tutoring

What are you passionate about? Yoga? Baking? Web design? If you know something inside and out, you can help others enrich their lives by offering virtual classes. Create downloadable instructional packets and videos, or schedule real-time Skype lessons with clients. Another option for aspiring educators is to start a virtual or home-based tutoring service.

9. Personal chef

This business requires you to plan and prepare weekly or daily meals for your clients, so strong cooking skills and a working knowledge of nutrition and special diets are a must. You don't necessarily need to have graduated from culinary school, but having some cooking classes under your belt will boost your credibility. While you may have to do some traveling to and from supermarkets and client homes, your customers should cover the cost of ingredients in addition to your service charge.

10. Translation service

If you're fluent in a second language, you can find work converting written and spoken words from one language to another. Broadening international ties and an increase in the number of non-English speakers in the U.S. make this a fast-growing field, with the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicting 19% growth by 2028. You can start your own independent service and market yourself to businesses, schools, hospitals, courtrooms and conference centers.

11. Software training

Are you proficient in a highly specialized software program? There's a growing demand for training from amateurs and professionals looking to expand their skill sets. Technical manuals are available for programs like QuickBooks and Final Cut Pro, but these are often expensive and difficult for the average user to understand. Schedule small group workshops or private sessions, and charge by the hour when giving a full tutorial of the program. Patience and a great personality are critical.

12. Music lessons

For the musically gifted, offering lessons to others who want to learn an instrument can be a great source of extra income. Unless you're teaching piano, students can likely bring their own instruments to your home for hourlong lessons. Stock up on sheet music or songbooks in varying genres and aimed at various skill levels so you can offer a wide selection for your potential clients. Voice lessons can also bring in a lot of money if you market yourself to local high schools and community theater groups.

13. Sustainability consultant

Over the past several years, businesses all over the country have taken a closer look at their environmental impact. However, eco-friendly business solutions are often prohibitively expensive, even for the largest enterprises, and businesses of all sizes are looking for experts to advise them. Sustainability consultants come from a wide variety of backgrounds, from management to engineering, which means practical skills and experience are more important than a specific degree.

14. Bookkeeping services

Contrary to popular belief, you don't need to be a certified public accountant to work as a freelance bookkeeper. All you need is a knack for numbers and practical knowledge of basic accounting tasks (though an associate degree in accounting or the equivalent business experience are preferable). These are some of the services you could offer as an outsourced bookkeeper:

15. Digital marketing services

If you have experience in the marketing field, a solo digital marketing agency is a low-cost business idea you can get up and running in no time. If you don't have a background in marketing but are interested in the field, you can take affordable online courses to develop your skills. One of the best yet most challenging things about marketing is that it is always evolving. Therefore, if you have a knack for storytelling and learning, a digital marketing firm is a business you can start quickly and cheaply.

16. Affiliate marketing

Affiliate marketing is easy and cheap to start, but it takes dedication and a long-term vision to be successful. Essentially, affiliate marketing involves you promoting other companies' products and services, earning a commission on generated leads. All you need to get started is a blog or website and a specific product or service you would like to promote. However, to be successful in affiliate marketing, you have to attract a lot of visitors to your website and get them to purchase products or services from your affiliate partners.

17. Online dating consultant

If you love connecting people and playing matchmaker, you should consider becoming an online dating consultant. As anyone with multiple online or app dating profiles can tell you, filtering messages and finding interesting people to meet can be a full-time job. An online dating consultant can write interesting profiles, manage a client's multiple accounts, filter unwanted messages, and provide text or telephone updates on potential matches.

18. eBay seller

An eBay seller is sometimes referred to as an eBay assistant, and the job's primary function is to sell other people's products on eBay for a small commission. Becoming an eBay seller is simple and affordable, but the platform is riddled with scammers, so you have to be very careful who you work with, as you could be held responsible for packages your customers don't receive. When selling on eBay, be overcautious and never share any personal data, such as credit card or banking information.

19. Internet security consultant

If you're passionate about IT, communication systems and computers, you are highly marketable to small businesses that need to upgrade their online security. Helping business owners avoid viruses, hackers and scammers can be a very lucrative business, especially if you have the skills to secure sensitive client and customer information.

20. Graphic design

Every company needs visual assets of some kind to brand their business and attract customers. Becoming a freelance graphic designer requires a computer, a design application such as Adobe Illustrator or Canva, and an extensive portfolio of your work. You can choose to provide a wide array of graphic design services, or you can offer niche services, such as these:

21. Vlogger or blogger

If you're passionate about one specific topic or field and love to write or be in front of a camera, consider starting a professional blog or vlog. For a blog, all you need is a computer and website to get started. Vloggers, on the other hand, should invest in a high-quality camera, video-editing software and various AV equipment as needed. To make money, you can offer advertising space on your website, find video sponsors, or create an account on a funding platform, such as Patreon or Indiegogo.

22. Domain name buyer

A domain name buyer or domain broker is someone who purchases domain names they believe people or businesses will want and tries to sell them for a profit. Like many other professions on this list, the concept is simple, but becoming a successful domain name buyer requires the ability to quickly act on trends and identify profitable domains – with an extra serving of luck.

23. Resume writer

Not many people are good at writing resumes, and even fewer enjoy writing their own. All you need to become a professional resume writer is a computer. To start, you can sign up for a freelance platform, such as Fiverr or Upwork, and market your services on social media.

24. Meal planner

Most people love to eat, but not everyone knows how to cook healthy, mouthwatering meals on an affordable budget. As a meal planner, your duties would include creating a list of ingredients, writing easy-to-follow recipes, providing nutritional information, developing a budget plan and educating your customers.

25. Video producer

There are many companies, influencers, and potential YouTube celebrities who want to take their videos to the next level but don't have the skills or equipment to produce high-quality videos. If you have experience as a video producer, a solid portfolio, and the desire to help individuals and businesses create stunning videos, becoming a freelance producer is an excellent career move.

Looking for even more ways you can start a business? Check out these ideas from our partners at CO— by U.S. Chamber of Commerce, or dig into these other great business ideas.

Marci Martin, Shannon Gausepohl and Nicole Fallon contributed to the writing in this article.

Image Credit: RossHelen / Getty Images
Sean Peek
Sean Peek,
Business News Daily Writer
Sean Peek is a writer, small business owner and SEO specialist. He began his career in digital marketing as a freelance writer in 2013 and has over five years of experience in the B2B space. You can learn more at lightningmediapartners.com.