Business idea
Not all business ideas require a big investment. — Getty Images/Gearstd

Many people dream of starting their own business and being their own boss. For many, however, the cost of launching a business deters would-be entrepreneurs from turning that dream into a reality.

Fortunately, not all businesses require a large capital investment to get off the ground. In fact, many successful businesses have launched with a relatively small investment. An Intuit survey found that 64% of small businesses start with $10,000 or less and 75 percent of business owners rely on their personal savings to launch. In some cases, you could start a business for as little as $100, plus your time, energy and relentless dedication.

If you’re worried about losing your investment (no matter how small), you can set your mind at ease: You’re actually more likely to succeed than flounder. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, nearly 80% of all new businesses make it to their second year. Roughly half of these businesses will survive five years or more.

There's impressive precedent for success among businesses that started on a shoestring budget.

  • Jeff Bezos founded Amazon in 1994 as an online bookstore shipping books out of his garage. The e-commerce giant raked in more than $2 billion in profit in 2018.
  • In 2000, Sara Blakely invested $5,000 into product research and development for Spanx pantyhose. By 2014, the company was generating over $250 million.
  • Brian Scudamore started hauling trash with a single 1-800-GOT-JUNK? truck to pay for college. Today the brand has expanded to approximately 200 locations in three countries.

Plenty of books have been written on how to start a small business on a tight budget, including “The $100 Startup,” by Chris Guillebeau, “The Lean Startup,” by Eric Ries and “The Magic of Tiny Business,” by Sharon Rowe. These three books offer numerous examples of small businesses that started with little funding and can inspire you to launch your own.

While you don’t have to spend a lot of money to launch a business, you will need to devote a lot of time and energy to get it off the ground. A 2017 Fundera study found 81% of business owners work nights and 89% of them work weekends. Although small business owners work longer hours than the average population, they seem to love it: The same survey revealed that only 8% of business owners regret starting their business.

1. SEO consultancy

Ankur Patel, founder of SEO agency Vernce, spent around $200 to get started and get his first client. To meet his business goals, Patel treated his online, service-based business as a minimum viable product (MVP).

“This usually means creating the lowest cost/time product in order to test it,” he explained.

As his business attracted more clients, Patel invested more money into the business slowly and steadily to test the business model.

2. Marketing services

Stacy Caprio is the founder of Accelerated Growth Marketing, a company that provides SEO and SEM services to startup companies. Caprio recommends entrepreneurs start a service-based business as there are low initial expenses.

“The only cost was my time in marketing and providing my business services,” she said.

Caprio adds that a service-based business is the fastest way to become profitable as entrepreneurs don’t have to rely on “any outside funding or go into debt for [your] business.”

3. Professional photography

The wedding photographer behind Pixelicious, who goes by his first name, Jimmy, says eager entrepreneurs with full-time jobs should consider starting a photography business to supplement their income. Jimmy suggests potential photographers start small, working on available weekends to see if they satisfy their clients and enjoy the work.

“Many full-fledged wedding photographers started part-time until they decided to expand their business,” he said.

Once a photographer grows more confident, they can advertise their services more aggressively and leave their full-time jobs.

4. Real estate sales

Michael Chadwick has been a real estate salesperson for the past eight years, leading the Chadwick team at Citi Habitats. Real estate agents can start part-time with flexible hours, and large metropolitan areas can make a significant amount of income on rental properties.

“Becoming a real estate agent has unlimited income potential with very low start-up costs,” said Chadwick. “Understanding the market and how to position a property is a valuable skill you can take anywhere.”

5. Dropshipping

Dropshipping is a retail fulfillment method where stores never actually handle the product they sell. Instead, the store purchases the product from a third party, such as Amazon, and ships it directly to the buyer.

“What this means is that you can actually buy the products after you sell them,” said Nick Rubright, a digital marketing specialist at SaleFreaks.

Furthermore, entrepreneurs can start a dropshipping business with little upfront investment and grow the business gradually as sales increase, Rubright said.

6. Blogging

McKinzie Bean started Moms Make Cents in 2016 to teach moms how to build profitable blogs and other businesses to give them the option to stay home with their kids. It costs less than $100 to create a beautiful site, and there is a lot of potential for income with ad sales and affiliate marketing.

“Many people don't understand the income potential for blogging, but it is nearly unlimited,” Bean stated.

Entrepreneurs can start a dropshipping business with little upfront investment and grow the business gradually as sales increase.

Nick Rubright, digital marketing specialist at SaleFreaks

7. Life insurance sales

David Duford specializes in recruiting and training insurance agents through his agency, “One of the best low-cost small business ideas,” he states, “is to go into business as a licensed life insurance agent.” The major benefit of becoming a licensed life insurance agent is that prospects are everywhere, so you don’t need a large source of starting capital to find people.

8. Handmade goods sales

Naturally Vain is an all-natural beauty retailer that sells handmade, cruelty-free vegan goods, such as soaps, face masks and bath bombs. The company’s owner, Richard Beadle, feels a business selling handmade goods in great for startups.

“The ingredients can be easily purchased in bulk at any department store,” he said. “[Handmade products] are in high demand in today's market and will go a long way in keeping you busy.”

9. Lawn care

Gene Caballero, co-founder of GreenPal, got the idea for his on-demand lawn care business from his college days, when he mowed lawns to pay for tuition.

“I made over $20,000 per summer,” Caballero said.

Service-based businesses like GreenPal can be very lucrative because of the low startup costs and the lucrative hourly earnings.

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

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