Historically, starting a business was challenging and risky for entrepreneurs. Traditional storefront businesses have high startup costs. As we’ve progressed into the internet era, entrepreneurs have so many new opportunities to earn money doing what they’re passionate about.
So whether you’re looking for a fun way to spend the weekends or want to quit your 9-to-5 job, many business ideas have a low startup cost.
Low-Cost Business Ideas
Starting a business doesn’t have to break the bank. It can be a fun way to earn some money doing what you’re passionate about. And you can start all these businesses for a few hundred bucks — and some of them with just a laptop and a go-getter attitude.
1. Freelance Writing or Editing
The need for freelance writers and editors is growing as more businesses build an online presence. As a freelance writer or editor, you could work on a wide range of projects, from marketing campaigns to blogs to product descriptions.
But it’s best to find your niche — what you specialize in. That enables you to build a strong portfolio, charge higher rates, and create better work in a shorter amount of time.
You can find work via freelancing sites like Fiverr and Upwork or find clients by responding to calls for pitches. In my experience, they’re great platforms for getting some experience and building a portfolio, but they’re not financially advantageous in the long run.
There are many people on these platforms, and they tend to start underbidding one another to get projects. In addition to that, the platforms themselves will take a percentage of your earnings.
That said, some people on these platforms reportedly earn over six figures every year, so the sky’s your limit.
Lots of media editors also post on social media when they’re looking for pitches. Writers should keep an eye out and pitch to them. Who Pays Writers is another helpful resource for finding companies that pay for writing and at what rate.
Freelance editors can find jobs in many of the same ways as writers. But they can also check out sites like Reedsy. It’s a website that helps authors get their books ready to hit the shelves. You set up a profile on the platform, and authors interested in working with you can reach out, tell you about their project, and ask for a quote.
You can set your freelance writing and editing rates by word, hour, or project. Typically. entry-level writers and editors earn $20 to $30 per hour. As you get more experience and a stronger portfolio, raise your rates.
2. Gig Worker
Gig work is a broad term referring to temporary, flexible work compensated by project rather than with hourly rates. Some popular forms of gig work are rideshare apps such as Uber or Lyft or food delivery services like Doordash or Grubhub.
These platforms simplify the process of finding clients and can supply a steady stream of work, even for those just getting started. But in most cases, the company takes a percentage of your earnings, making it challenging to earn a lot.
Most gig workers who work through companies like Uber, Lyft, Doordash, and Grubhub count on tips to bump their earning rates. Generally speaking, they earn in the $15- to $25-per-hour range. More specialized gig workers like Soothe massage therapists earn around $60 to $100 per hour.
Influencers are a popular form of content creator. They build a following, typically across multiple platforms, and then contract brand deals with companies to promote their products.
In recent years, micro-influencers have gained popularity and can earn several hundred dollars per post with only a few thousand followers. More popular influencers can make tens of thousands of dollars or more per post. Popular influencers like Kylie Jenner or NikkieTutorials make millions of dollars per year.
But when you’re first starting out, you can only expect to make around $100 per post every so often. It takes time to build a following large enough and interactive enough to be an influencer.
If you love content creation and want to be able to earn money from it quicker, you can offer your creative services to brands directly. You won’t retain ownership rights over the content you create. You sell it to the brand you’re working with.
When building and monetizing your own audience, it can take a while before brands pay for you to post or talk about them. However, with the rise of micro-influencers, there are more opportunities for smaller accounts.
The rule of thumb is to charge $100 per post per 10,000 followers (meaning if someone has 30,000 followers, they’d charge $300), while those with large followings of over 1 million can charge upwards of $10,000 or more per social media post.
Blogging is similar to influencing in that you build your own audience and create content for them. Bloggers earn money via ad revenue (a small percentage of the cost of the ad in the margins of the article), affiliate marketing (a commission from any sales that result from them recommending a product), or via sponsored brand deals.
Building your own audience takes time and effort — don’t expect to be able to monetize immediately. In the long run, owning your own content allows you to have passive income as people continue to read your blogs.
The amount bloggers make from having ads in their posts varies, but some established bloggers report earning d $15 per 1,000 readers from ads.
Bloggers can also earn money through affiliate marketing. You join an affiliate program like Amazon Associates or DFO Global. Then you use special links when you recommend a product. If someone uses that link to make a purchase, you receive a small percentage from that sale, often even if they don’t buy the specific product you recommend.
Finally, bloggers earn money by making brand deals similar to influencers. Since blogging is dependent on having a following, the amount you can earn varies significantly based on the number of monthly readers. Many bloggers don’t monetize their site, while others have six- or seven-figure annual incomes.
5. Virtual Assistant
If you’re great with people and organization, working as a virtual assistant (VA) might be the right fit for you. Depending on the client’s needs, VAs can be responsible for handling their schedule, travel plans, emails, payroll, and bill-paying.
You don’t need any specific education to work as a VA. However, offering other services, such as social media marketing or web design, can help you stand out from the crowd.
On average, VAs charge between $10 and $26 per hour when first getting started but can end up raising their rates to $40 per hour or more.
6. Dog Walking or Pet Sitting
The need for dog walkers and pet sitters has grown as more people have gotten pets. According to IBIS World, dog walking is now a billion-dollar industry. You can start a local business or use pet sitting as a way to have inexpensive accommodations while traveling by using sites like TrustedHousesitters or Rover.
It is a very inexpensive business to launch, but you may want to consider getting certified. Two of the best certification options are the National Association of Professional Pet Sitters and Pet Sitters International. Expect to pay around $250 to $400 for the certification.
As a pet sitter, adjust your rates depending on what service you’re offering. If you’re dropping in on a cat for 30 minutes to change their litter and give them fresh food, charge less than if you’re spending the night taking care of a puppy. On average, pet sitters can charge clients $25 for a drop-in visit, $20 to $30 per day, and $45 to $85 per night.
Dog walkers typically charge between $20 to $30 per dog per 30-minute walk. You can incentivize clients to book more walks by adding a two-walk-per-day discount or a second-dog discount. For example, you might charge clients $30 for one walk or $50 if they hire you to walk their dog twice in the same day.
If you’re a fan of kids (and they’re fans of you), nannying is a great business idea.
Nannies typically only work with one family at a time. In addition to caring for the children, the client may ask you to run errands, handle some cleaning, or help the kids do their homework. Let parents know if you speak another language or enjoy being crafty. It can help you stand out from the crowd.
Although rates for nannies vary by state, expertise, and the number of children in the family, nannies earn $12 to $20 per hour on average.
8. Etsy Seller
Etsy is a good business for artistic or crafty people. Etsy allows business owners to sell handmade items, craft supplies, vintage goods, or digital products.
To get started on Etsy, set up an online store and create product listings. Setting up your account is free, but each listing costs $0.20. You also pay a 6.5% transaction fee on every sale you make. This fee comes from the total cost of the item plus any shipping or handling fees.
How much you can earn on Etsy varies widely based on what you sell, how popular your store is, and how much demand there is for your goods. Read our article on tips and tricks for selling on Etsy to learn more.
9. E-Commerce Reseller
Some people use e-commerce to get rid of extra things they have around the house, while others create a business out of buying and reselling goods online.
If you’re starting an e-commerce business on a site like eBay, Craigslist, or Poshmark, begin by researching what others in your niche are selling and think about how you can improve on what they’re doing to stand out from your competition.
Expenses and earnings vary significantly based on what you’re selling. For example, you might choose to sell vintage T-shirts on Poshmark. In this case, you must spend time at thrift stores looking for these T-shirts, have space to store your inventory, and cover any shipping fees.
In addition to that, most e-commerce sites take either a flat rate or percentage from sellers. Example charges include:
- eBay: $0.35 per listing for anything past 250 items; when an item sells, they take around 12.9%, though it differs slightly by category
- Craigslist: $3 to $5, depending on the category
- Poshmark: $2.95 fee for sales under $15 and 20% commission for anything over $15
These charges help the platform employ workers and keep the site up and running. Remember to factor these charges into your pricing model to ensure you’re still earning a profit from your business.
10. Tutoring or Teaching Online Courses
You might have a skill you don’t even realize others want to learn — maybe you know how to study effectively, play the piano, or speak a language. You can use this skill to teach online courses.
All you have to do is create the course and sell it to people. Online courses allow you to generate passive income, as people can continue to purchase them for years after you create them. Online courses vary in cost. They can be anywhere from $10 to several thousand dollars, depending on the program’s value to users.
Once you create your course, you need customers. You may choose to find them through digital marketing or by word-of-mouth referrals. Building a consistent revenue stream from selling courses can take some time.
If you’re looking for something that has a more predictable income, opt for online tutoring. Online tutoring allows you to meet with students from around the world who want to learn a skill you have. For example, you could teach English to students online through sites like Italki or Cambly.
You can find work as an online tutor through platforms such as Skooli or Tutor.com. Rates vary among online tutoring platforms. For example, Skooli pays teachers $25 per hour. But others may pay more or less.
When working with your own private students, plan to charge them $25 to $100 per hour, depending on the complexity of the subject matter and how much education you have on the topic.
For example, if you have a high school diploma and are tutoring fifth-grade math, you will probably charge closer to $25 per hour. However, if you have a master’s degree in mathematics and are helping a high schooler learn calculus, you can easily charge $75 or more.
11. Graphic Design
Graphic designers are responsible for everything from designing websites to creating logos to making magazine layouts. It’s a very creative job that also requires some analytical thinking.
As a graphic designer, you need access to some design software. The Adobe Creative Cloud costs $52.99 per month and includes the software necessary for running a graphic design business, such as Photoshop, InDesign, Illustrator, and Lightroom.
There are lots of free resources, such as YouTube, to help you learn graphic design, but you may want to invest in a certification to stand out from the competition.
Less experienced freelance graphic designers typically start their rates at around $25 per hour. As you gain more experience and build your portfolio, you can charge as much as $65 to $150 or more per hour.
12. Social Media Marketing
As a social media marketer, you would market a company’s products or services via social media platforms. It combines organizational skills with creativity and writing. To be a skilled social media marketer, research and understand how Instagram, TikTok, Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn work.
Lots of social media marketers have marketing degrees. However, a portfolio of social media accounts you’ve built and run can help you find clients too. If you don’t yet have clients, you can create mock accounts to demonstrate your understanding of the platforms and how to grow an audience.
When you’re first getting started, plan to charge clients $15 to $50 per hour. As you gain experience, you can charge more, as much as $120 or more per hour with as little as five years of experience and proven results.
After a while, you can shift to monthly retainer packages. Managing accounts takes less time as you get more accustomed to working with clients. By offering a package, you can earn a consistent income. Packages can range from $150 to $10,000 depending on your experience, the complexity of the campaign, and the caliber of client. Between $400 and $5,000 is more typical.
13. Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
SEO specialists are responsible for optimizing websites to help them perform better in browsers like Google and Bing. It encompasses everything from on-page SEO, what’s on your website, to off-page SEO, improving your website authority via backlinks and other strategies.
Before starting an SEO business, take a certification program to help you learn more about how SEO works. Coursera offers an SEO certification via UC Davis that you can complete at your own pace for $59 per month. Udemy also has SEO courses starting as low as $15.99.
SEO rates vary widely based on the experience of the SEO specialist and the client’s needs. You could charge anywhere from $15 to $250 per hour, though you should expect to earn on the lower end when you first start. That said, it’s far more common for SEO specialists to offer clients monthly packages. These can range in price, with the majority between $500 and $2,000 per month.
Bookkeepers help businesses track and understand their finances. According to IBISWorld, there’s a high demand for bookkeepers as more people are starting their own small businesses and wanting to outsource the work to an independent contractor.
As a bookkeeper, you don’t need a degree or training. But investing in some certification will allow you to charge higher rates and stand out from the competition.
There’s a wide range of options, from getting a higher education degree to taking an online course. For example, Udemy offers Bookkeeping Basics, a course that costs $89.99 at full price but often has promotional deals that make it even more affordable.
Once you’re juggling multiple clients, invest in project management and invoicing software. These cost roughly $5 to $20 per month each, though they can be more expensive, depending on the features you want.
Cost can increase from there, depending on whether you hire a website designer, rent an office space, or invest in advertising. However, if you have a laptop and internet connection and are willing to work from your kitchen table, you should be able to get started for around $125 per month.
Bookkeepers can opt to charge clients monthly, hourly, per transaction, or per bank account. Entry-level bookkeepers can start their rates at $15 to $29 per hour and raise them as they get more experience, education, or a higher demand for their services.
15. Cleaning Services
Lots of people hate cleaning — if you’re not one of them, this could be a great business for you to start.
To start your cleaning service business, you must purchase some cleaning supplies. In the beginning, you may want to steer clear of jobs that would require lots of expensive equipment (like a hardwood floor buffer or upholstery cleaner).
Most likely, the highest-cost item you need to start is a vacuum cleaner. You can find a good one on Amazon for under $200. If you’re trying to keep upfront costs even lower, check Facebook Marketplace, eBay, or OfferUp for people in your area selling their old vacuums. You can also check out the for-sale section of Nextdoor.
The average rate for cleaning a single-family home is $100 to $250, though it may be higher in some regions. If it’s your first time cleaning a particular house, it’s best to charge more, as the first cleaning might require extra elbow grease while scrubbing at old stains.
16. Professional Organizer
Professional organizing is a great business to consider if you have Instagram-worthy closets and a label maker you love.
The National Associate of Productivity and Organization offers an annual membership for $299, which includes access to online courses to help you improve your skill set.
When deciding how much to charge clients, factor in your time and expertise plus the cost of any organizing materials you purchase. On average, professional organizers charge $50 per hour, though rates range from $30 to $130 per hour.
Most handyworkers know how to take care of a wide range of around-the-house tasks, like fixing a faucet, painting walls, or repairing broken doors or windows. If you enjoy variety and problem-solving, an installation and repair business might be the perfect fit.
For those who already have some tools, handywork can be a profitable business to run as a side hustle, or you can expand it into your full-time work.
Finally, if you don’t already have a tool kit, expect to pay around a hundred dollars. You can always upgrade your tools as you make more money.
Depending on your level of experience, handyworkers can charge $40 to $125 per hour plus the cost of materials. But that rate can depend on how specialized the services you offer are.
Landscaping encompasses everything from mowing your neighbor’s yard to designing and planting a garden.
Check your garage to see what equipment you already have. If you have a lawn mower and edger, start your business by accepting jobs to cut the lawn or weed the garden. If you don’t already own them, you can find a basic push lawn mower and edger on Amazon for under $300 combined.
If you really enjoy landscaping and want to grow your business and offer more services, invest some of your earnings back into your business and purchase more equipment, like a chainsaw, a truck or trailer, or a riding lawn mower.
As a landscaper, plan to charge your customers $25 to $100 per hour or more plus the cost of materials.
19. Meal Planning & Prep
Meal prep and planning businesses are suitable for people who love being in the kitchen creating and testing new recipes and want to simplify cooking for people with dietary restrictions or busy schedules.
Decide if you want to send meal kits for clients to cook themselves or offer precooked food clients can heat up when they’re ready to eat. You may also want to specialize in a specific type of meal prep, such as vegan, gluten-free, or meals for picky eaters. Deciding on your niche can help you market to your ideal clients.
When creating a custom meal plan for clients, calculate your rates based on how long it will take and what you want to earn per hour. For example, you could decide to charge $30 per hour and then estimate how long the entire process will take you.
Remember to calculate all the time spent meal planning, grocery shopping, cooking, and delivering the meals. Most personal chefs make in the ballpark of $20 to $30 per hour — don’t forget to charge your clients for the groceries as well.
If you’re a nutritionist serving up healthy meals, you can partner up with a personal trainer. People looking to invest in their fitness may also be interested in improving their nutrition.
20. Event Planning
Whether it’s a wedding or birthday party, event planning can be overwhelming — people are looking for organized, detail-oriented, charismatic individuals to help them pull off the party of their dreams.
Let your family and friends know you’re interested in starting an event-planning business. They may have some events you can work on or be able to refer you to others to get you started. If you can build your reputation as a reliable event planner over time, that results in more bookings.
When deciding how much to charge for your services, consider any expenses you will accrue from running the event as well as how much time planning the event will take. For example, planning a wedding is a much bigger task than planning a retirement party, and your rates should reflect that.
On average, party planners charge clients between $500 and several thousand dollars per event.
Dropshipping is a form of business where you, the seller, never physically handle the products you’re selling. Instead, you act as the intermediary between the supplier and customer.
You can start a dropshipping business on Amazon or set up a website through a site like Shopify. Dropshipping typically has a per-sale cost that ranges depending on the product. Marketing also adds an additional cost but can significantly increase sales, making it worthwhile. Learn more by reading our article on dropshipping.
Dropshipping earnings vary significantly. Some dropshippers can earn six-figure annual incomes from their businesses, while others earn a couple hundred per month. A lot of this depends on factors like what you’re selling, how many products you have available, how much you spend on marketing.
Starting a business is hard work. Be patient. It may take some time to build momentum and find your ideal clients. And if this is the first time you’re starting a business, there are a few things you should know.
First, remember that getting a business off the ground requires investing time you can’t bill. In most cases, people spend a good chunk of time looking for clients, handling administrative duties, and communicating with clients.
To get paid for that time, which you deserve, you must build it into your rates. If you’re having a hard time figuring out how much to charge, take a look at our guide to setting your freelance rates.
Additionally, unless you can reach clients solely through word-of-mouth, there are costs to things like a website domain and hosting, advertising to help reach more potential clients, and business cards. These are all things that take both time and money. Hopefully, they will result in new leads and new clients over time.
You also need to research your state’s laws for business owners to determine if you need to purchase insurance. Consider meeting with an insurance professional to ensure you have all the necessary information. Business insurance typically ranges between a few hundred dollars and $1,000 per year but could cost more, depending on what services you offer and the types of insurance you need.
Finally, as a business owner, remember to set aside money to pay quarterly taxes to avoid getting penalized by the IRS. Estimated quarterly taxes should be roughly 25% of your earnings.
A successful business takes time and a lot of hard work to build, but having autonomy over your schedule and knowing you built a business for yourself can be extremely rewarding. But have fun during the process.