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“It takes money to make money.”
That’s the conventional wisdom, and it’s frequently true, except for when it’s not. In many cases, you can start and grow a successful business with little to no upfront investment. The trick is to start small and use the proceeds from your early efforts to fund the business as you scale it.
With hard work, perseverance, and a dash of luck, your small, inexpensive business can grow into a thriving enterprise. So if you’re looking for a business to start on a shoestring budget, read on. We’ve listed some of the best small profitable business ideas.
If you’re intimately familiar with the inner workings of an industry, or if you have a specific skill that’s valuable in business, consider starting a consulting firm. Companies will pay handsomely for your advice if it can help them make money.
And you don’t need much to get started. A website, some business cards, and a brochure or two are all it takes to hang out your shingle. You can start working out of a home office and scale from there. Eventually, you might rent an office space, hire other consultants and a support staff.
It’s a business that scales easily. You’ll know when you’ve outgrown your one-person operation when you can no longer handle the load on your own.
Developing a freelancing business is similar to consulting, except instead of advice, you’re selling services. If you like photography, start shooting weddings and portraits for people. If you’re a code junkie, start selling your services to web design firms and related businesses. If you’re a writer, start knocking out articles like this one!
Creative freelancers have never had it easier. Several online marketplaces like Fiverr, Upwork, TopTal, and Freelancer help businesses find the freelance talent they need. If you already have the tools to ply your trade, you can start freelancing immediately. All you need to do is create an account with one or more freelancing platforms and start getting your name out there.
Do you like to knit specialty winter hats? Are you an accomplished painter? Can you build furniture, design jewelry, craft with leather, sew quilts, or work magic in some other category?
Then you have what it takes to start a specialty crafting business. Online marketplaces like Etsy make it simple for craftspeople to sell their products online. It doesn’t cost anything to create an Etsy store and virtually nothing to post your creations. When you make a sale, you pay the platform a 5% commission. But...you made a sale!
Pet owners don’t relish putting their animals in a kennel when they go on vacation. A much better option is to hire a pet sitter to stop by throughout the trip to ensure their animals get exercise, food, water, and company.
Dogwalking is a secondary service these businesses offer. Instead of leaving Fido in a cage all day, a dog walker can take them out for a needed potty break on workdays.
Pet sitting and dog walking don’t require any specialized equipment. Marketing is the only upfront expense you’ll face starting this type of petcare business.
Starting a cleaning service requires purchasing supplies and equipment, but the expense is minimal, particularly if you start small. Cleaning is a great, scalable business because you can use the profits from your cleaning jobs to pay for new vacuums and more supplies, eventually allowing you to hire extra workers. And the more workers you have, the more jobs you can do. If you market yourself well and do good work, you can build a successful business relatively quickly, without a large starting budget.
You might assume that you need a large, heavy-duty truck to start a moving company, but the truth is, that can come later. House moving is an easy business to start on a shoestring budget, thanks to companies like U-Haul. When people rent a U-Haul truck, they can take advantage of the company’s Moving Help service, which lets them hire teams of people to help them move. These helpers don’t need a truck because U-Haul is supplying it. The helpers don’t need to market themselves either. U-Haul’s website does it for them. All you need are basic moving supplies like dollys and moving blankets. The Moving Help service is an excellent way to start a moving company inexpensively. Once you’ve managed to save some money, you can invest in a truck and scale from there.
Tutoring is a great way to parlay a teaching background into a business. In-person tutoring is very popular, but you won’t need to find students on your own if you start online. Services like Skooli and TutorMe help connect tutors with students. Of course, they take a cut, but not having to market yourself initially is a considerable advantage. You can even tap into international markets with VIPKid. Consider that there are 250 million children under the age of 15 in China, and many look to Western online tutors to learn English. That is a vast market. And it’s just one country. If you can work with the time difference, you can establish a lucrative international tutoring business. As funds come in, you can begin marketing yourself in the real world, too, eventually hiring other tutors so you can be a full business owner and not just an instructor.
If you have an extension ladder, some brushes, rollers, scrapers, and rags (and a vehicle with a roof rack) you can be a house painter! Residential painting is a business that can benefit from a website and digital marketing, but those elements aren’t required initially. A lot of painting companies get their start by going house to house and leaving flyers. This lets you scale your marketing budget. Knocking on doors and talking to homeowners costs nothing but time. As you land jobs and start making money, you can invest in a website to start advertising your services online.
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