13 Low-Cost Business Ideas
- Professional Organizer
- Nannying or Babysitting
- Home or Office Cleaning Services
- Online or In-Person Tutoring
- Freelance Creative and Editorial Services
- Social Media Consulting
- Event or Wedding Planning
- Reselling Secondhand Clothes and Accessories
- Become an Odd Jobber
- Life Coaching
- Virtual Assistant
- Pet Sitting and Dog Walking
Often, it’s not coming up with ideas that stops would-be entrepreneurs from starting a business—rather, it’s prohibitive startup costs. That’s not always the case, though. You can start a business with low startup costs, if you think things through strategically.
Renting office space, leasing equipment, hiring staff, and other common startup costs can often be enough to wipe out your savings entirely. And since securing business loans is a notoriously difficult task for startups, new businesses just can’t count on outside funding to help them launch. But as we said, it is possible to start a business with low startup costs. It’s even possible to start a business with no startup costs whatsoever.
Whether you’re itching for a side business or starting a full-time hustle, consider the following 13 low-cost business ideas. All of these ideas are potentially lucrative, require very little capital (and, in most cases, lift) to launch, and will satisfy your latent entrepreneur—all without requiring that you sacrifice either your savings or your sanity.
13 Businesses With Low Startup Costs
1. Professional Organizer
Thanks to the Marie Kondo craze, lots of people are seeing the value in purging their homes of the clothes, gadgets, and objects that don’t “spark joy.” So if little else sparks joy for you than helping people declutter, consider becoming a professional home organizer.
Becoming a professional organizer requires virtually no startup costs, as you don’t need any special equipment or even office space. For this job, all you need are your skills and a home office, even if that home office is a corner of your living room.
So it’s likely that your only startup costs will be the cost of registering your business with your state (costs vary depending on which type of business entity you choose); a few marketing-related expenses, such as buying a domain name and a small fee to build your business website; and supplies and furniture for your home office, if you don’t already have them. Alternatively, you can work from a coworking space, which will cost you a small fee; or even your local coffee shop, which costs the price of a cup of coffee. Down the line, you might also want to purchase business insurance to protect yourself against potential legal claims.
But first, it’s crucial that you become properly trained and certified as a professional organizer. There are tons of online courses dedicated to this field, but start by looking into NAPO University, which is offered through The National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals. Their special certifications typically cost around $350, and their training courses are under $200.
It’s also a good idea to purchase a membership to a professional association, which connects you with a robust network of fellow organizers, provides ongoing education, and lends your business credibility. NAPO, for instance, offers six levels of membership that range in price from $50 to $299 per year, making this a viable low-cost business idea.
2. Nannying or Babysitting
Unlike opening a daycare center, starting a nannying service where you visit your clients’ homes is one business with low startup costs. You won’t need to worry about the costs of renting and outfitting a daycare facility, hiring and paying a staff, purchasing several types of insurance, and all the other various costs attendant to managing a physical location—your clients will provide everything you need for you. In this scenario, all you really need is yourself.
The only potential startup costs you’ll encounter are a small monthly fee for your business website’s platform and fees for any training courses you take. It’s recommended that nannies and babysitters are CPR-certified and have first aid training; you can find local or online courses for both on the American Red Cross website.
Other than creating a business website and potentially creating flyers or business cards, you probably won’t have to spend any money on your marketing efforts. Most babysitting and nannying services find their clients through word of mouth, so start your search by sending out a mass email to your contacts announcing your new gig, reaching out directly to the people in your network with children. You can also ask your local schools, community centers, libraries, pediatricians’ offices, and places of worship if you can tack up flyers or offer a stack of your business cards for visiting parents to find. Also consider listing your services for free on sites like Sittercity, Care.com, and Sitter, which will connect you with local parents in need of nannies and sitters.
3. Home or Office Cleaning Services
Pretty much every home and office in your community is in need of a regular deep clean—so if you want to start a cleaning business, all you have to do is sell yourself and find those potential customers.
You can ask your customers to provide their own cleaning supplies, and since you’re a mobile business, you don’t need to worry about renting and furnishing an office space. Rather, the startup costs required for starting a housekeeping service are likely just the cost of registering your business, and potentially purchasing business insurance.
Here again, the bulk of your marketing efforts will likely be powered through word of mouth (which means they won’t cost much, if anything). Announce your new venture to your contacts, ask local home-related businesses to keep a stack of your business cards at their till, and reach out to local interior designers, builders, and real estate agents, who may be able to connect you with homeowners and business owners in need of your services.
You can also list your services on digital marketplaces like Angie’s List, HomeAdvisor, and Care.com. You can sign up for most of these platforms for free, but you may need to pay a small advertising fee to get your business listed.
4. Online or In-Person Tutoring
Whether you’re creating online continuing education courses for sites like Udemy, or providing in-person tutoring services—be it test prep, music lessons, or whatever your area of expertise is—becoming a tutor is another business with low startup costs out there. You can easily set up a home office and video chat with your students; but if you offer in-person sessions, it’s more likely that you’ll be working from your clients’ own homes, which just leaves you with gas money to budget for.
Other than that, the only costs you’ll be responsible for are the materials you need either to create your online course, or to educate (or re-educate) yourself on your area of expertise, if need be—like test prep books if you’re offering local students standardized testing tutoring. You can leverage word-of-mouth marketing and your personal network to find leads for free. At the same time, you should make a business website and set up social media accounts dedicated to your business to boost your (free) marketing efforts.
5. Freelance Creative and Editorial Services
Offering whatever creative service you excel at as a freelancer is an ideal supplement to virtually any existing, full-time career, since you can work on a contract or hourly basis. That said, it’s entirely possible to create a full-time business out of a patchwork of creative or editorial work, as long as you’re willing to hustle for it.
Graphic design, photography, personal styling, UX design, illustration, and animation are just a few in-demand creative services. On the editorial side, copyediting, copywriting, long-form writing and blogging, proofreading, translating, resume editing, and essay and application editing—or, better yet, a combination of the above—are all great business ideas with low startup costs.
Since this work is entirely remote, you won’t even have to budget for gas or transportation money, let alone renting and furnishing an office space. And if you’re already practicing your creative pursuit, then you likely already have all the tools you need to monetize that skill for both individuals and businesses. That leaves registering your business, creating a website, and a few additional marketing costs (such as printing business cards and buying social media ads, if you so choose) as your sole potential startup costs.
In addition to your own (largely free) marketing efforts, you can search for creative work on websites like Upwork, Fiverr, and Freelancer at no cost. FlexJobs, Indeed, and Ed2010 are useful, free resources for finding freelance or remote editorial work, and LinkedIn can be a go-to for any kind of freelance creative gig.
6. Social Media Consulting
At this point, we’re all aware of the power of social media, especially for businesses. But not everyone knows exactly how to navigate this admittedly tricky landscape—and if you do, your skills are in high demand.
Becoming a social media consultant doesn’t require cash as much as it does hustle. Here again, your only startup costs will likely be the cost of registering your business, and potentially taking a course in social media management (take a look at Udemy to find relevant courses). Rather than money, starting a social media consulting business takes time and patience. Focus on building up a portfolio to show clients. You should have an active and robust social media following yourself and regularly post original content, but you can also create content for your friends and people in your network. Once you have a portfolio of work, start building up your list by approaching small, local businesses first.
Other digital marketing skills, like email marketing, SEO strategy, and website design, are equally viable, low-cost business ideas.
Consulting is hardly limited to social media, of course. Starting a side hustle as a consultant in your field of expertise is a great low-cost startup business idea if you’re hoping to transition into becoming self-employed. Your costs are mainly limited to registration and marketing, but word of mouth will be a powerful (and free) tool for garnering your first clients.
8. Event or Wedding Planning
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the field of event planning is projected to grow at a faster-than-average rate of 7% until 2028. So if you’re super Type A, a logistical whiz, and a people person in general, then becoming an event or wedding planner is a promising potential business for you. And since you can operate these businesses from your own home, and they don’t require any special tools or equipment, overhead costs are low.
While starting an event or wedding planning business can cost a ton of money, it’s possible to launch your planning business for less. The major startup costs for this business idea are registering your business and marketing, as it may be worth it to buy advertising space on a marketplace like The Knot (if you’re a wedding planner), or buying Google ad space. That said, you can invest even less in your marketing budget by leveraging your personal network, going to shows and expos to connect with vendors and other party planners, and doubling down on your social media efforts.
9. Reselling Secondhand Clothes and Accessories
Instead of tossing or donating your secondhand but good-quality clothes and accessories, make a business out of your cast-offs and sell them. Online selling platforms like The RealReal, ThredUp, Depop, and Poshmark accept gently used clothes, shoes, and accessories, then make a valuation, list them on their marketplace, and offer you a commission when a buyer purchases your items. Often, unsold items are donated to local charities. The percentage you receive depends on the platform you choose and, of course, the value of your item. Regardless, this can be a surprisingly lucrative, low-lift, and truly free business idea.
Alternatively, you can source hidden (cheap) treasures from your local vintage and thrift stores and resell them on Amazon, eBay, Etsy, or even a standalone Shopify store. You’ll be responsible for seller fees if you choose to set up shop on one of these marketplaces, but it’ll still cost you so much less than it would to open a brick-and-mortar vintage store.
10. Become an Odd Jobber
Recent data shows that 40% of U.S.-based workers generate a large part of their income by participating in the gig economy. This, along with other promising stats, proves that becoming a full-time “gig economist” (not a real word, but we think it should be) is a viable low-cost business idea.
There are so many platforms open to people looking for varied, short-term work: Delivering food through Postmates, Seamless, Grubhub, or Uber Eats; becoming a Lyft, Uber, or Via driver; completing various tasks through TaskRabbit; and doing odd creative jobs through Fiverr—these are just a few options to look into.
Some of these jobs may require more overhead than others. If you’re a Lyft driver, for instance, you’re responsible for the costs involved in maintaining your own car. Still, joining these platforms generally requires almost no startup costs—and since the platforms find your work for you, you won’t need to worry about contributing money, time, or energy into creating a marketing plan.
11. Life Coaching
According to super-famous life coach Tony Robbins, life coaches help their clients identify their goals and create actionable plans to achieve them. Since they’re not licensed therapists, life coaches aren’t trained to dig into mental health issues; rather, life coaches are future-focused and aim to “maximize your full potential.” This is an ideal career path for entrepreneurs with deep-seated empathy, excellent listening skills, innate wisdom and charisma, and a true desire to help people become their best selves.
Life coaching certainly isn’t the right business idea for everyone, true. But if this sounds like the right fit for you, then you won’t necessarily need to contend with sky-high costs to run your practice.
The biggest upfront investment involved in becoming a life coach will be the cost of your training and certification course. While you’re not required by law to become certified to practice as a life coach, it’s highly recommended that you do, both for lending yourself credibility and to ensure that you’re providing your clients with the best possible service. You can find an accredited program through the International Coach Federation’s training program service search. Some training programs can cost over $5,000, but it’s possible to find legitimate courses for closer to $1,000.
With that in mind, your other startup costs are small. Like other gigs on this list, you don’t need to worry about renting an office space (you can work from home, or visit your clients at their own homes), hiring staff, maintaining inventory, or other major startup costs. So right now, leave some room in your budget for registering your business and your marketing efforts.
12. Virtual Assistant
As the name suggests, virtual assistants provide remote administrative support for individuals and/or businesses. The kind of services you offer depends entirely upon your skillset and preferences, but a few common VA services include customer support, data entry, processing orders and refunds, managing emails, and bookkeeping.
Other than your registration and marketing costs, becoming a virtual assistant costs almost nothing. And in fact, your marketing efforts might actually end up being totally free, since the best way to find your clients is through networking and word of mouth—really, all you need is one happy customer who can then recommend your services to their fellow overworked friends and colleagues. Depending on the types of services you’d like to offer, as well, you might consider investing in a training or certification program or taking an online course to learn an in-demand skill.
13. Pet Sitting and Dog Walking
Starting a dog walking business and/or offering pet-sitting services is kind of a dream business idea for animal lovers—and of course, it doesn’t require a lot of cash to launch. Other than registration and a business website, your major startup cost will be likely be marketing materials. Print flyers and business cards to tack up around your neighborhood or hand out to neighbors and local business owners.
It’s also worth setting aside some money to purchase business insurance. Since you’ll be responsible for people’s most precious possessions (other than their children, ostensibly), you want to take every precaution to protect yourself against potential legal claims. General liability insurance can cover common legal claims taken against dog walking businesses or other pet care services, but you can also look into commercial property insurance in case the animal in your care accidentally damages someone’s property. Animal bailee insurance is also recommended for businesses that take care or custody of animals.
The Bottom Line on Low-Cost Business Ideas
Thanks to the rise of remote working, online selling, the gig economy, and a varied career market generally, there are so many opportunities for individuals to start their own businesses at a low (or no) cost. The low-cost business ideas we’ve mentioned here are just a sampling of the many, many more potentially lucrative gigs you can grow with just a small upfront investment.