Starting a business can be intimidating. Developing the right idea, dealing with the financials and getting the business up and running successfully add up to more than a standard full-time gig. Simply knowing how to start a business is just the beginning.
Business ventures that are lower in risk, however, take some of that worrying out of the equation. Fortunately there are plenty of small businesses you can start that won’t break the bank. The key is to find a business you can start with your current skills and scale without a lot of initial investment.
Click through to see what inexpensive businesses are out there, and learn the surprising costs that come with starting one up.
1. Day Care Owner
Initial investment: $1,000 to $4,000
Provided your home meets day care requirements, you can get a child care business started for very little money — basically, you’ll need a license, insurance and supplies. In addition, you’ll have to check with your state’s department of family services for home day care requirements and permission to operate.
You can even start a home day care business and use it to supplement your other income, according to Rosemarie Groner, owner of the website The Busy Budgeter. “You can make this a side gig by offering only before-and-after school care or ‘date night’ care for a group of children,” said Groner.
Learn exactly what it takes to start your own business and see if opening a day care is right for you.
2. Lawn Care Specialist
Initial investment: $3,000
If you want to make more money without a 9-to-5 job, you can get into lawn care with little more than a lawnmower and a good work ethic. Even if you don’t have your own lawnmower, you can start a lawn care business by either using your clients’ equipment or renting equipment until you can purchase your own.
It doesn’t take much of an initial investment to start a lawn care business, according to Gene Caballero, co-founder of GreenPal. “I started a lawn mowing company in college for less than $3,000. My trailer was $1,000 and my equipment was $2,000,” said Caballero.
The payoff was worth it. “I did that for more than 10 years and it paid for college and my MBA,” Caballero said. Owners and operators can earn up to $45 to $60 per hour mowing grass.
3. Court Transcript Proofreader
Initial investment: Free to $2,600
Technically, you can start a court transcript proofreading business with a free email address and free access to software that allows you to mark up documents, like Google Docs. You can, however, make some investments to market your services better, speed up client acquisition or improve your proofreading skills.
Adrienne Luedeking invested in a course called Proofread Anywhere for $1,000 to start her proofreading business. Next, she purchased Eclipse court reporting software for $1,600. During her first year working part time proofreading court transcripts, Luedeking said she made $32,000.
Initial investment: Less than $2,000
You don’t need a business or accounting degree to start a bookkeeping business — but it doesn’t hurt to invest in training at a local community college or online. Sites like Udemy and Skillshare offer a number of accounting and software classes for common bookkeeping programs like QuickBooks.
Katherine Pomerantz, founder of the website The Bookkeeping Artist, learned the ropes via online courses. Next, she spent $1,000 to get her Enrolled Agent certification through the IRS.
Pomerantz spent $400 on liability insurance, $50 for a business license and $300 on her website. After she signed her third client, she became profitable — and still continues to invest in her business growth, according to Pomerantz.
5. Real Estate Agent
Initial investment: $1,500
Depending on your state’s requirements, you’ll likely need to take classes and pass a licensing test to start this business. There might also be a franchise fee if you are an agent working for an established company.
Rhett Struve, a realtor with Keller Williams Realty, paid about $1,500 in startup fees — which included his coursework, license and agency costs. “Other than marketing expenses, there’s not much more overhead as a real estate agent,” said Struve.
Do you want to be a real estate agent? It helps to work where the market is the hottest.
6. Freelance Writer
Initial investment: Less than $100
You don’t need much to start this business other than a computer and internet connection. You should know how to write well, be professional, meet deadlines and follow editors’ specifications for copy.
You’ll find plenty of classes available to help you improve your writing, create better pitches or increase your client base. For example, you might explore a course that focuses on marketing and productivity like Earn More Writing, designed by Holly Johnson, a freelance writer who earns more than $200,000 a year.
Additionally, consider creating your own portfolio website through a free service like WordPress, to showcase your work and better attract clients. At the very least, make sure your LinkedIn profile is up to date.
7. Natural Childbirth Educator
Initial investment: $1,000
Natural childbirth is a growing trend. If you’re game to teach others about it, you might want to consider this business niche.
To start this business you’ll need Childbirth Educator Certification, which costs anywhere from $700 to $1,000. Depending on your local market, you can expect to earn $40 to $400 per client.
You can offer classes online and in person, according to Katie Griffin, registered nurse and founder of Kopa Birth. “Income varies depending on the type of class taught, the location and the instructor’s willingness to market their services,” said Griffin.
8. Retail Arbitrageur
Initial investment: About $3,000
Retail arbitrage involves buying products on the cheap and reselling them at a profit. Platforms like Amazon make it easy to open an account and start selling with very little money and inventory.
Serial entrepreneur and eight-figure Amazon vendor Andrew Tjernlund started a ping-pong paddle company with $3,000. He used his initial investment to purchase the paddles for $1 each, then sold them on Amazon and eBay — and earned six figures in the first three years.
Initial investment: $300
Starting a website or blog is relatively inexpensive and you don’t need any special certification. You can blog on free platforms like Blogger or spend $100 to $300 a year on web hosting services. Bloggers typically earn money by selling products related to a niche market or hosting ads on their site.
Caroline Vencil started blogging and paid about $4 a month for web hosting — and she didn’t make more than a few cents a month initially. Vencil took a popular blogging course — Elite Blog Academy — for about $500 and began to earn more than $1,500 per month just four months after the class.
Vencil now earns $7,000 to $8,000 per month from her blog. Her blog, “Caroline Vencil — Live Fully, Budget Fiercely,” features articles on frugal living, recipes, making money and finding deals.
10. Photographer or Videographer
Initial investment: $5,000
Starting a photography or videography business requires experience with high-end imaging. And the internet is a great resource for courses and information on visual arts. Plus, photography is a money-making skill you can learn in less than a year.
Slavik Boyechko, owner of the website Gear Dads, is a videographer who maintains a thriving business by selling videography equipment to professionals. You don’t have to start out with a huge investment, according to Boyechko. “You can rent equipment for shoots, so really all you need is a good computer for editing at home,” said Boyechko.
Income depends largely on a number of factors, according to Boyechko. “Income is determined by how much you decide to charge, how much demand there is for your services and how much hustle you have in you,” he said.
11. Virtual Assistant
Initial investment: $200
With the growth of online businesses comes the need for services like virtual assisting. Starting a VA business takes nothing more than knowing how to get things done.
You might want to be a general VA who answers emails and arranges travel, or choose a specific path like specializing in social media or data scraping. Gina Horkey, owner of Horkey HandBook — a site designed to help people start and grow their own freelance businesses — started off as a freelance writer and later added VA services.
Horkey estimates her initial costs were around $200. Eventually, she became so successful that she started a VA referral service and training program.
12. Info Product Salesperson
Initial investment: $300
You can make extra money in your spare time by selling info products, most of which come in the form of e-books or e-courses. The more specific your area of expertise, the better. From horse grooming to Pinterest marketing to urban farming and tiny house living, you’ll find niches with marketable content.
You can create a document to sell or package video content on platforms like Vimeo, YouTube, Teachable or Udemy. Some of these platforms are free and others require a monthly subscription to host your videos.
Michelle Schroeder-Gardner, owner of the personal finance blog Making Cents of Sense, offers an e-course on internet affiliate marketing. Since she launched it in July 2016, Schroeder-Gardner’s info product has earned her $400,000 in revenues.
13. Dog Walker and Sitter
Initial investment: $600
Pet sitting is a low-cost venture you can start small and scale as your customer base grows — and you can get clients by marketing your services via flyers, email or social media. Or, use a website like Rover to connect with clients for free.
You won’t need certification to get started, but it’s a good idea to have references and get a background check done. You might also want to opt for pet-sitting insurance.
Crystal Stemberger of Crystal’s Cozy Care in Spring, Texas, takes care of all types of pets. Her business has grown so much she needs three to four extra helpers to cover the demand. She started with a $600 investment and almost a year later headed up a $30,000 business.
14. Personal Trainer
Initial investment: $4,200
Becoming a personal trainer is a good way to help people reach their fitness goals. You won’t find a hard and fast rule regarding what kind of certification you should get or even if you need any. But it’s generally recognized as a best practice to obtain some sort of certification to start working with clients in a gym.
Fitness training certification can cost as low as $400 and go up to a few thousand dollars. In addition to certification, you’ll need to pay for a website — or use a free Instagram account. Many personal trainers provide coaching services online and sell customized exercise and eating plans for additional revenue.
A person should budget $700 to $2,000 for initial certifications, $600 for a web presence and another $1,600 for liability insurance each year, said John Romanelli, physical trainer and founder of the fitness website No Bad Reps. It’s perfectly feasible to clear at least $6,000 per month in revenues with this type of business, said Romanelli.
Romanelli is a fan of the free — but efficient — nature of social media. “It costs you nothing in terms of monetary value and it will allow you to get exposure outside of your sphere of influence. When used correctly, it can be a highly effective strategy at a minimal cost,” he said.
15. Estate Sale Manager
Initial investment: $400
Estate sale managers are typically hired by the relatives of someone who died to liquidate the person’s belongings. Estate sale managers usually take a commission ranging from 25 percent to 50 percent of everything they sell.
Startup costs to become an estate sale manager are minimal: All you need is a business license marketing, some helpers and liability insurance. You can create a website or place local ads to alert people about your services and sale events. If you’re strapped for cash, you can post free ads on Craigslist.
Robert Farrington of The College Investor, a personal finance and investing blog for millennials, has run an estate sale management company since 2007. He netted $50,000 in one of his best years. Although it can take up a lot of time, Farrington recommends it as a good side hustle.
16. Yarn Dyer and Seller
Initial investment: $75
If you want to make some quick cash or turn your hobby into a full-time job, you can create a hand-dyed yarn company like Leann Ross did. Ross is the owner of Forbidden Woolery, where she sells yarn that she hand-dyed herself to knitters, crocheters and weavers.
“I purchased a beginner’s dyer kit and some spinning fiber … and it cost me $75 for four colors of dye and three pounds of fiber,” she said.
Ross said her $75 purchase provided her with 12 items she could sell. Two months later, she made her first sale. Since then, the business has grown and she now focuses on Forbidden Woolery full time.
Initial investment: $100
Perhaps you’re creative and crafty, but hand-dying yarn isn’t your forte. That’s OK — there are still plenty of craft businesses you can start with a small budget of $100 or less. For example, your business can focus on selling things like clothing, accessories, paintings, sculptures and other artwork, pet clothing and accessories, toys, candles, soap, books and more.
If you don’t have the budget for a storefront to sell your goods, opt to list your items on a site like Etsy. For a 20-cent listing fee, your item goes on the Etsy website for up to four months. When it sells, you pay a 3.5 percent transaction fee, plus a payment processing fee of 3 percent plus 25 cents. Although Etsy doesn’t require sellers to have permits or licenses, expect to pay local sales tax for any item sold.
If you’re making children’s goods, acquaint yourself with child product safety regulations for choking hazards, flammability and lead content. Doing this helps you protect your consumers and avoid expensive lawsuits.
Initial investment: $22.50
If you have a knack for teaching others, online tutoring is a profitable business with minimal startup costs. Online tutors can set their own hours, and they might not need a teaching certificate or even a college degree to get started.
For example, to qualify at Tutor.com, you need to be at least a college sophomore. Take proficiency tests in your desired teaching subjects to qualify. If you want to tutor in finance, college statistics or economics, you will likely need to possess a degree from an American or Canadian college.
There’s no fee to take the tests or register to teach. Check whether the tutoring company provides liability insurance; if not, you can purchase tutoring liability insurance on your own from $22.50 per month.
Also See: How Much Teachers Make in Every State
19. Professional Lice Remover
Initial investment: $3,500
Each year, thousands of children across the country come home with lice, and parents and schools are always seeking help to deal with these pests. Clean up — literally — by examining children, educating their parents and preventing and treating lice outbreaks.
You don’t need special certifications or accreditation to remove lice; however, having a medical background adds to your credibility. You can also learn the ins, outs and business hacks from free online videos available at websites such as The Lice Place and The National Pediculosis Association.
You will, of course, need a license to go into business, and it pays to purchase liability insurance. The average small business owner pays around $62 per month, according to Insureon. Having the proper licenses and insurance is especially important if you’re working with children.
You can go the franchise route, which can cost about $30,000 and up. But if you just want to start small, you can find companies that offer one-time training for $2,500 and an annual marketing fee of $1,000.
20. Doody Scooper
Initial investment: $50
Ask any animal owner about his or her least favorite part of being a responsible pet parent, and picking up waste is sure to enter the conversation. Make bank by starting a waste removal service for the price of a plastic “apple picker,” a bucket and some heavy-duty trash bags — easily less than $50 in all.
You’ll also be helping the environment and protecting your community’s health by entering this field. A gram of doggie doo can contain 23 million fecal coliform bacteria, which are known to spread diarrhea, intestinal illness and kidney disease to humans.
You don’t need to spend anything on signage or advertising to get started in this industry. Just let the neighbors know about your services and post on local community buy-sell-trade pages on Facebook. And don’t limit yourself to dogs — people with horses and cats don’t like scooping poo, either.
21. Event Planner
Initial investment: $100 and up
Do you have a knack for putting on events such as birthdays, bridal and baby showers, graduation parties or even weddings? If you love throwing parties, have great communication skills and can multitask like a pro, perhaps you should look into starting an event planning business.
But before you jump in, do your research. Start thinking about possible vendors you’d want to work with, reach out to potential clients and customers, and spend adequate time developing a strong business and marketing plan.
Entrepreneur estimated the low-end of startup costs at about $8,000 — or up to $31,000 if you’re renting a storefront. Also, look up certifications you might want to consider getting. You can find various event planning classes and courses online, and some of them cost well over $100 — especially if you take courses at a college or university.
However, if the first step toward launching your business is finding an event planning class for $100 or less, there are deals to be found. For example, Groupon might feature deals on event planning courses or classes in your city.
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Jodi O’Connell contributed to the reporting for this article.
About the Author
Aja McClanahan is a personal finance and entrepreneurship writer, and influencer among the millennial crowd when it comes to creating palatable, actionable content in the realm of finances. She writes on my own website, www.principlesofincrease.com, as well as for a number of other web publications, including Huffington Post, Quicken Loans and other web properties.