If you’ve ever dreamed of being your own boss, there’s never been a better time to do it.
But what if you’re big on ideas but short on cash? Or what if you could use a second income but don’t have time to pull extra shifts or take on a second job? Believe it or not, some of the most successful companies in the world were started on a shoestring budget.
Now, more than ever, it’s time to get things done on the cheap.
If cash is tight, starting a business is one option to get you through it. And there is a way to generate income quickly while keeping your costs super low.
Principles of Starting a Business Cheaply
If you have a business idea, you might have already researched startup costs. However, googling that particular query is likely to turn up some eyebrow-raising results. According to one estimate available online, the average price tag for a new business can top $30,000.
It goes without saying that this is out of reach for most people.
However, there’s good news. Many of the “new business” costs you’ll see listed in these types of searches are unnecessary. In a lot of cases, you can trim away thousands of dollars in expenses right off the bat.
For example, you don’t really need business cards, a special business bank account, a business line of credit, an LLC registration, or countless other things.
In fact, all you really need is an email address and a list of prospects (people who might want to buy your product or services). That’s it.
At the end of the day, your focus should be on getting your first three customers, and you should devote the majority of your efforts — and your limited budget — to finding them. Everything else can come later.
20 Businesses You Can Start for Cheap or Free
Business ideas come in all shapes and sizes. Admittedly, it’s much easier to get rolling with a new business if you already have a good idea of what type of business you’d like to start.
If you’re coming up short in the inspiration department, however, there are plenty of businesses you can start with limited funds or no funds at all. Here are 20 ideas to consider.
1. Freelance Writer – Is your English degree gathering dust? Do you have a way with words? You can turn your wordsmithing skills into a lucrative career by writing content for other businesses.
2. Lawn Care Service – If you enjoy working outdoors, you can borrow some basic lawn equipment or buy gently used gear and launch a business in your own neighborhood.
3. Crafter – Sites like Etsy have made it possible for skilled artisans to connect with customers all over the world. Whether you make jewelry, T-shirts, original artwork, furniture, soap, skin care products, or just about anything else you can think of, Etsy can help you turn your passion into profits.
4. Child Care – Many parents are on the hunt for affordable and high quality child care. If you love kids and have free time, you can start a babysitting or child care business in your home or find work as a nanny.
5. Dog Walker/Sitter – Lots of pet parents will pay a premium to know their furry family members are lovingly cared for during the day. If you have a soft spot for four-legged creatures, you can start a successful business walking dogs or working as a pet sitter.
6. Tutoring – You don’t necessarily need a teaching degree to work as a tutor. If you have proficiency in one or more subject areas, you can build your own tutoring business. Many professional and skilled amateur musicians also offer music lessons in private homes or their own residence.
7. Residential Cleaning – Most of the big name residential cleaning companies started with little more than elbow grease and word of mouth. You can start your own cleaning business working for homeowners in your area.
8. House Painter – Painting is a chore few people want to take on. If you’re a DIY pro, painting might be a skill you already possess. One of the perks of starting this type of business is that it only takes a few referrals to build your customer list.
9. Virtual Assistant – If you’re organized and know your way around spreadsheets and word processing software, you can start a business helping other business owners as a virtual assistant.
10. Book Editor – In 2018, the number of self-published books jumped by 40 percent. Indie authors tend to have limited funds, and many of them are constantly searching for skilled and affordable editors. If you love to read and have an eye for catching typos, a freelance editing or freelancing business could be a good fit.
11. Graphic Design – Freelance sites like Fiverr and Etsy give talented designers a platform for selling everything from social media banners to company logos. You can build a portfolio with minimal funds and start producing work for customers.
12. Website Design – Most business owners know they need to have an online presence to be successful. However, few people have the design skills or technical knowledge to make their own website. If you know your way around WordPress or other platforms, you can start your own business as a web designer.
13. Computer Repair – Computer issues can be frustrating, and paying a big box company for repair services can bust anyone’s budget. If you’re tech savvy, a computer troubleshooting and repair business might be worth exploring.
14. Handyman – Are you a seasoned home improvement pro? You can turn your DIY skills into a full-time business.
15. Bookkeeper – If you have an accounting background or experience managing your finances, consider launching your own bookkeeping business.
16. Social Media Manager – Social media is a skill that looks deceptively easy. However, experienced social media managers know that drawing customers to a business’s social channel is no easy feat. If you’ve got proven social media chops, you can turn your abilities into a business.
17. Personal Trainer – You can include yoga instructor and CrossFit trainer to this one. If you love working out and you’re good at motivating people, consider a business as a personal trainer.
18. Baking or Gardening – Farmers’ markets continue to pop up around the country as more people turn to healthier, local food products. If you have a prize garden in your backyard or everyone in your circle raves about your baked goods, you can start a small business as a baker or local farmer.
19. Photography – You don’t need expensive equipment to take stunning photos. These days, even smartphones can take amazing shots. You can also find affordable used photography equipment to get your business off the ground.
20. Moving Business – Moving is one of those chores no one wants to take on. If you don’t own a big truck, you can still start a business as a professional packer. All you need are boxes, tape, some markers, and maybe a few plastic containers.
Required Items for Starting Your Business
While you don’t need much to get a new business up and running, you do need a few things. Here’s a rundown of essential items necessary for launching a new business for under $100.
Buy a domain – $16.99
You can definitely launch a business without a brick and mortar location, but you definitely need a “place” for customers to find you. In today’s business world, this place is the internet.
In other words, you need a website. A good business website doesn’t have to be fancy, and it’s possible to make an effective one for free. However, you’re better off buying your own domain name.
What’s a domain, exactly? If you’re unfamiliar with domains, you can think of them as the lot you build your house on. In other words, your house is the website, but it’s “parked” on a piece of land (the domain name).
While some services like Wix offer domain names for free, the problem is that you don’t actually own your domain with a free Wix site. This limits what you can do with your website down the road, which can become a major pain point if your business grows and you want to migrate to a more powerful content management system.
Fortunately, you can buy your own domain name for less than twenty bucks. For an affordable domain name, check out domains.com, which sells .com domains for as little as $16.99.
You can also purchase domain hosting from domains.com for as little as $8.99 per month.
Get a Website – Free
Once you have a domain and you’re set up with hosting, your next question is probably something like “okay, so how do I get a website and how much will it cost?”
If your budget is truly tight, you can get by with a free website. While there are a variety of content management systems out there, many people find it easiest to start with WordPress because there are dozens of free themes available.
In the world of WordPress, a “theme” is a premade website that’s ready to go right out of the box. Once you install it, you can make it your own by changing the placeholder text.
Using a free theme requires a little technical know-how, but WordPress has a well-developed and comprehensive help library where you can find everything you need to know about mapping your domain.
Once your business is turning a profit, you can upgrade to a custom design. For now, though, this is an expense you can skip.
Get G Suite for email – $6
In addition to a domain name and a basic website, you need a way for customers to contact you. The telephone is great, but the reality is that comparatively few people want to pick up the phone to reach a business.
Instead, they want a quick and painless way to communicate with you. More than that, your business can really benefit from having a fast and efficient way to communicate with them. And for that, you need email. In fact, email marketing offers one of the best returns on investment (ROI) out there. According to one report, for every $1 you spend on email marketing, you can expect to see a $38 return.
G suite for email is an affordable way to get your own business email address, and plans start at just $6 per user. With G suite for email, you get all the functionality of a gmail address with your own domain name as your email. This means the email address your customers see will be firstname.lastname@example.org.
Free Items for Starting Your Business
While you probably can’t avoid every business cost, there are several typical business expenses you can get for free.
When you start a new business, one of the first questions you’ll confront is what kind of business entity you want to have. Should you form an LLC? What about a partnership? Are you okay working as a sole proprietor?
It’s easy to get overwhelmed by corporate terminology, and looking at this stuff can be enough to have any new entrepreneur calling a lawyer. However, legal work can quickly blow your budget. In addition, it costs money to incorporate in most states, and each state has its own rules and hoops to jump through if you want to form an LLC or corporation.
On the other hand, operating a sole proprietorship is free, and you don’t need to register with the state. This is probably why the U.S. has more sole proprietors than any other business type. If you’re interested in operating as a sole proprietor, it’s a good idea to check out the rules specific to your state.
Keep in mind, however, that being a sole proprietor means any business liabilities are your personal liabilities. For example, if a customer sues you, they can reach your personal assets if the court awards them damages. This is different from something like a C corporation, in which the business owner’s personal assets are shielded from litigation.
For startup businesses, however, a sole proprietorship is a free and easy way to get going. Once you start making an income from your business, you can always incorporate or form a different type of business entity down the road.
To make tax season easier, it’s a good idea to keep your business finances separate from your personal ones. For this, you’ll want to open a checking account solely for your business.
If you’re a sole proprietor, you can simply open a second checking account at your existing bank and use it for business transactions only.
However, there are a handful of banks that offer free business checking accounts. For example, Citizens Bank and US Bank both offer a basic business checking account with no monthly maintenance fees. You’re limited to a certain number of transactions per month, but the majority of new businesses won’t get anywhere near this limit for a while.
If you’re comfortable with online banking, web-based banks like Novo offer a free business checking account you can easily manage on the go. While Novo doesn’t have physical branches, it reimburses business checking account customers for all ATM fees. It’s also FDIC insured, and you’re not required to maintain a minimum balance to take advantage of all the perks.
Word Processing and Business Software
No matter what kind of business you have, you’ll need to take care of basics like invoicing customers and giving receipts for goods or services. For this, you can use word processing and other software you probably already have on your personal computer.
For example, Microsoft 365 offers thousands of free templates from invoices and spreadsheets to calendars and newsletters. If you don’t have Office installed on your computer, there’s multiple ways to get Microsoft 365 for free.
You can also use free invoicing software like Wave if you prefer something a little more high-tech. With a Wave account, you get access to invoicing tools, accounting software, and receipt scanning totally free. There are no hidden catches or trial periods.
Stuff to Skip When Starting Your Business
When you’re starting a business and funds are limited, you’ll be pleased to know there are things you can most definitely do without — or at least save for later.
Business cards might make you feel official, but they’re becoming a thing of the past. According to Pew Research, 96 percent of Americans own a mobile phone, and 81 percent have a smartphone.
If you want to spread the word about your business, the best thing to do is make sure your name and number get inside someone’s phone. A business card is easy to lose or throw away. Once your phone number is in someone’s contact list, however, it’s likely to stay there.
As covered above, you can build a website for free using a premade theme or template. In other words, you don’t need to shell out hundreds or thousands of dollars for a custom design.
In fact, there’s something to be said for a clean and simple design when it comes to business websites. Your site doesn’t need a lot of bells and whistles to be a good advertising tool. The only things you really need are your name and contact info listed in a prominent spot and a contact form that makes it easy for customers and potential customers to get in touch with you.
Once you’re ready to upgrade to a custom design, you can find excellent and affordable web designers on sites like Fiverr and Etsy. Look for designers who have a comprehensive portfolio and plenty of positive customer feedback. If you do your homework, you can find skilled designers who can put together a stunning website for a couple hundreds dollars.
Logos are fun to have, and plenty of entrepreneurs dream of having an eye-catching logo of their own. After all, just about every how-to business guide out there stresses the importance of “building a brand.”
When you’re starting a business for under $100, however, you don’t have much room in the budget to pay for a logo design. For most new businesses, a logo is like frosting. Can you bake a perfectly delicious cake without it? You bet. Is it nice to have as a finishing touch? Sure, but people who want cake probably aren’t going to complain as long as your cake is good enough.
As with the other “nice to have but not necessary” items on the list, a logo can come later once you’ve generated some cash. When you’re ready, you can turn to places like Etsy and Fiverr for affordable and attractive logo design.
In the meantime, check out Canva for logo designs you can make yourself. In fact, Canva is a startup business owner’s secret weapon when it comes to all kinds of free design tools. The site is loaded with templates that make it easy to pop in your business’s name and contact info. You can also make free business cards, brochures, posters, flyers, and more — all of it totally free.