26 Small Business Ideas with Little or No Startup Fees
Starting a business can be expensive. You need to lease a business space, create a product, hire employees, and purchase supplies, not to mention business license fees, taxes, and somehow figuring out how to pay yourself in the mix.
You can get a small business loan, but it’s risky going into debt for an already risky endeavor, and if you already owe money—we’re looking at you, student loans—you might not even qualify for a small business loan.
Yet, the call for business ownership makes us yearn for a dream that might be a little financially irresponsible. Luckily, in this digital era, there are tons of business ideas that you can run completely from your computer, saving you thousands of dollars of startup fees. Not a computer guru? You might be surprised at how many non-digital startup ideas are out there that require small investment. Here are some small business ideas with little or no startup fees so that you can be your own boss as soon as tomorrow!
1) Affiliate Marketing
Affiliate marketing is when businesses pay another entity a portion of their sales for those made through referrals. Often, it will come from an affiliate link on a blog or other publication, and when readers click on it to purchase the product, the blog on which it appears will receive a portion of the sale.
As an affiliate marketer, you work to connect the two entities to get a portion of the sale yourself. All you need to get started is a computer, the ability to network and connect with people, and a list of products or services that you love that you want to help promote on other sites. The great thing about affiliate marketing is that your potential clients won’t have to pay you up front since you’ll make your money on each sale that you help create, so it’s not difficult to convince them to work with you. If you’re good at it, you can make money while you sleep.
The difficult side about affiliate marketing is that it completely depends upon your sales and marketing skills. If you can’t find good places to refer the products you’re trying to sell, you won’t make any money.
2) Social Media Manager
If you love
social media, engaging with customers, and being able to work from your phone, then you could be a social media manager.
Companies are learning that their online presence is essential to their success, including social media. However, many smaller companies don’t have the time, the resources, or the knowhow to properly manage their social media pages themselves. That’s where social media managers come in.
While a marketing degree could be nice for this position, all you really need is the ability to read the pulse of the target market and an innate sense of social media success. If you’re one to get hundreds of likes on a single photo, then you would thrive in this position.
The best part about social media management is that you can find companies that follow your passions. Love the outdoors? Market yourself to outdoor shops or magazines. Interested in education? Reach out to universities or tutoring programs. Love travel? Well, you get the idea.
3) Virtual Assistant
With the advent of online work comes the need for assistants who don’t necessarily need to be in the same office as their bosses.
The role of a virtual assistant comes in all shapes and sizes, which means that you can decide what you want your position to look like. Some virtual assistants are expected to answer phone calls and manage calendars, much like a standard assistant. Others take on more of a personal assistant role and are expected to book flights and hotels, manage their clients’ personal calendars, and help them through their day-to-day lives.
Depending on the virtual assistant role you’d like to build, you’ll most likely need a computer, a strong internet connection, and a good phone connection. Some clients may require their assistants to have access to a vehicle as well.
4) Content writer/strategist
In order to compete with other companies, businesses must know how to consistently appear on Google’s front page. In order to do that, they need to create well-written, quality content. That’s where content writers and strategists come in.
You can choose to be either a content writer or a content strategist, or you can combine elements of both.
A content writer writes content pages, blog posts, pillar articles, newsletters, and any other form of content that will go on their clients’ websites. As a content writer, you can dictate your role. Many content writers only produce the copy, leaving images, linking, and page design to others. Some like to do it all, having their hands in the content until the client clicks “publish.” It all depends on what you want your position to look like (but, keep in mind that the more you offer, the more you can charge).
A content strategist will watch audience numbers, analyze keywords, and come up with topics to help boost their readership and Google ranking. They act more as a manager of the content, and they will tell the writer which topics to focus on, decide when to publish, and tell the client where they should be promoting their content.
5) SEO strategist
An SEO strategist is similar to a content strategist, but they focus solely on Google rankings. An SEO strategist will analyze keywords and phrases to focus on, which pieces of content need changes in order to rank better, and they will be in charge of keeping the website up-to-date on SEO practices.
SEO is a fickle thing, and the rules can change in an instant. Many of the strategies that worked 10 years ago will actually hurt your SEO rankings today. Business owners don’t have time to keep up with these practices, so they hire someone to do so.
To start an SEO strategy business, all you need to do is get really good at understanding SEO. There are tons of free resources, but you’ll probably want to pay for a class or two. Many of these are completely online and inexpensive.
6) Business Consulting
If you have a background in business consulting, then you can easily start a consulting company. Today, there are more small businesses than ever as more and more people seek self employment. Because of this, there are a bunch of people out there who have a growing business that they have no idea what to do with. This is where you come in.
Help businesses create and implement business plans so that they can be the best they can be. Startup costs for this type of work usually only include the cost of marketing. If you’re starting from scratch, you’ll need to invest more than if you already have connections. However, in the digital era, developing a strong online presence could be all of the marketing you need and will only cost you the price of a website and domain name.
Do you have a skill for hiring people? Are you good at reading people and determining whether they’re a good fit for a specific position? You could have a future business in recruiting.
Sometimes, companies have their own team of recruiters, but for smaller companies, it doesn’t always make sense to have recruiters on salary. That’s when they need to contract recruiters.
You might be a recruiter if
you can gauge people’s skills and expertise to fit them with the perfect position.
The key to becoming a recruiter is having a network of strong professionals. When companies hire a recruiter, they’re looking for someone who will hire the best of the best. Anyone can make a job posting on Indeed; they’re looking for someone with an insider knowledge of the field.
To start a recruiting business, simply start networking. Meet business professionals, create a list of excellent candidates, niche yourself in a specific industry, then start making cold calls to potential clients offering your services.
8) Web Design
Yes, we know that there are tons of business ideas on this list surrounding web building, but that’s because the industry is absolutely booming.
With so many companies out there vying for Google’s coveted front page, it can be hard to stand out from the masses. While platforms like WordPress and Squarespace make it fairly easy to create a website on your own, if a company really wants to offer a unique online experience, they need the expertise of quality web designers.
If you have a knack for web design, you can become a freelance web designer. The great thing about web design is that you can charge quite a bit for a quality website, and once it’s complete, you can charge retainer fees for website upkeep. Depending on the client, this could mean a few hundred dollars a month for only a few hours of work. Once you’ve built a client base, you can expand to become a web design agency, hiring other web designers while you manage the work and clients.
All you need to start a web design company is a decent portfolio and a computer.
9) IT Support
While large companies usually have their own team of IT specialists, it doesn’t make sense for many smaller companies who only have a few employees; their computer needs are usually few and far between. However, when they’re experiencing a computer emergency, they need the help of an IT specialist ASAP, and they’re willing to pay the bucks to make that happen.
As an IT specialist, you need to be more than proficient at computers; you need to know them inside and out and be ahead of the curve of IT trends. When clients need to hire a freelance IT support specialist, they want their problem fixed fast. Make sure that you really know the field before you start marketing your services.
All you need to start a freelance IT support business is an impeccable knowledge of IT and the ability to troubleshoot from afar.
10) Branding Consultant
The ability to brand is not an innate trait. Many business owners have an understanding of the audience that they want to reach, but they have no idea how to reach them. That’s where a branding consultant comes in.
A branding consultant helps guide a company through the branding process. They are in charge of creating an image for the company that reflects the company’s values while adhering to the target audience’s wants and needs. Whether starting a brand from scratch or helping a company to re-brand, a branding consultant is the company’s key to developing a loyal customer base and getting seen by their target consumers.
To become a branding consultant, a background is nice, but you can build a successful business if you have an understanding of consumers’ wants and needs, a creative eye, and the ability to take a business owner’s potentially vague vision and bring it to fruition.
11) Event Planning
If you’ve ever been in a wedding, you know how stressful event planning can be for the person who is throwing the event. Event planners can be a godsend. They are in charge of hiring vendors, creating (and sticking to) schedules, and making the host’s vision a reality. Basically, they take care of all of the stressful part of a party or event so that the host can enjoy it.
Are you insanely organized?
You might have what it takes to be an event planner.
The great thing about starting an event planning business is that the client will take care of all of the costs; all you have to do is make them happen. Because of that, you only need to pay for marketing fees and have access to a phone and computer in order to start an event planning business. It’s also a good idea to network with preferred vendors and set up discounts to entice potential customers to use your services.
It’s amazing how much time even small cleaning tasks take out of your day. Because of this, more and more people are taking advantage of professional cleaning services.
Your cleaning service can cover a variety of needs. You can specialize in deep cleaning, especially after someone has moved out. You can cultivate weekly or monthly clients who just need help with the vacuuming, bathrooms, and other tedious jobs that tend to waste a weekend. Or, you can offer business cleaning services, coming in after business hours to vacuum, take out the trash, and tidy up.
To start a cleaning business, you’ll need a sharp attention to detail, quality cleaning supplies, and you’ll likely need a business license. Then, simply market yourself and develop a client base.
13) Car Detailing
When you have a nice car, you want that car to look pristine. While many dealerships offer car detailing services, many car owners are understandably apprehensive about bringing their car in. That’s when they want to have a detailer that they know and trust with their vehicle.
If you have an eye for detail, the knowledge of how to properly detail a car, and the right tools, you have what it takes to be a car detailer. Cultivate a list of loyal customers and become their go-to detailer so that you have a steady stream of service coming in. If you establish yourself as a detailing expert, you can absolutely charge the big bucks; car lovers don’t mess around with their vehicles.
14) Pet Sitting
If you love pets, then why not make a business out of it? This one may require a little bit of creativity to make it a lucrative business venture, but it is possible. Market yourself to those who hate leaving their pets alone all day for a steady client base. You can also offer overnight daycare services for when your clients go on vacation. For a little extra on the side, you can also offer dog walking, grooming, training, or anything pet-related that you feel comfortable with.
Enjoy the cutest colleagues ever.
Become a pet care specialist.
In terms of startup fees, it would be a good idea to make your home a safe and friendly place for pets. You could also get a pet sitting certification so that your clients can feel comfortable knowing that you have all of the proper skills to take care of their pets. While neither of these things are required to start a pet sitting business, it will help you stand out as a business professional, enticing clients to use your service.
15) Child Care
In 2018, 63% of American families with children reported that both parents were employed. This means that there are a lot of families in need of child care. With average monthly rates of care per child reaching almost $1,000 a month, there’s a huge opportunity to present your business as a competitive option.
Child care can look like a few things. You can open your own daycare in your home. If you go through this option, you’ll need to make sure that you have the proper licenses to legally operate and that you have a safe space for children to play. You’ll also likely need some sort of CPR and first aid certification. For fewer startup costs, you can become a nanny. Much of the time, you just need CPR and first aid certification and to find a family that you click with. It is a good idea, however, to have some experience with kids, and often a background in teaching or tutoring is a plus.
Many freelancers and business owners—this author included—feel massive anxiety when it comes to organizing their books and finances. Even if a business owner has a mind for numbers, they often don’t have the time to properly organize their own books. That’s where bookkeepers come in.
As a bookkeeper, you’ll record the company’s income, spending, debts, and all of their finances flowing in and out. You’ll often be in charge of providing financial statements to different managers as well. A bookkeeper is essential to a business because they make sure that all financial records are in order, and the business owner relies on them to ensure that the finances line up. It’s an important job, and if you love numbers, it can be quite fulfilling.
While a degree isn’t required to become a bookkeeper, a background in accounting is helpful. You might want to consider taking some online courses or even pursuing an Associates degree. However, if you can prove to your clients that you’ve got what it takes, then you can absolutely succeed without a degree. To be a successful bookkeeper, however, you must have an impeccable attention to detail and be prepared to handle stressful financial situations and answer financial questions.
17) Internet Security Consultant
Every website gets attacked by hackers multiple times every day. The more traffic and information a site has, the more attacks it receives. Companies with sensitive information, including customer data, must keep their websites safe in order to maintain trust with their audience.
An internet security consultant works with their clients to make sure that their websites remain safe. They analyze the websites for any weak points in security, they beef up security protocols, and they work to protect the sites from attack. Malware can only do so much; with so many new hacker strategies and thousands of attacks every day, companies require a human touch to keep their websites safe.
No degree or formal training is required for this field, but a computer science degree could be helpful. If you can’t invest in a 4-year degree program, you can find inexpensive courses online that will give you enough of a formal background to show your clients that you’re serious. Other than that, you’ll just need a strong computer and the ability to address security emergencies at a moment’s notice.
18) Contract Writer
One of the most stressful parts of negotiations is writing a contract. Both sides tend to get a little nervous, and they want to make sure that they are protected. While larger companies usually have a legal department to handle contracts, smaller companies and freelancers don’t often have the resources to have a legal department on retainer.
A contract writer works with their clients to create legally-binding documents. They must have a strong attention to detail and a good understanding of legal language. They should also be able to explain legalese in simple terms so that both parties fully understand the contract they’re signing.
A background in law—specifically concerning contract law—is definitely a plus, but it is possible to train yourself. Once you’re confident in your skills, you’ll just need a computer, and you’ll have your very own contract writing business.
19) Flipping Websites
Did you know that you can flip websites like you can flip houses? It’s true!
There are tons of poorly designed websites out there that aren’t quite doing the job that they should be. They likely have a small following, but they aren’t reaching their full potential, and their owners often don’t know what to do with them. Website flippers will buy these sites, beef up their content, design, and SEO, and sell them to another business at a profit.
The reason why website flipping works is that it’s way easier to reach Google’s front page from an established site than it is with a new site. Businesses who are trying to build their online content fast will often buy an established website so that they can start at a higher jumping off point. It often takes months for Google to index new website pages, so it’s great if the pages have already been indexed for a few months or years.
There is a bit of an investment in this venture, since you’ll need to be able to purchase your first website. You also need to know how to build an excellent site, and if you don’t, you should hire freelancers who do. This is also one of the riskier ventures on this list, since your income will depend on your ability to sell the websites you acquire at a decent profit.
20) Editorial Services
Everyone, including professional writers, needs their writing edited. The great thing about editing services is that there is a wide range of options for how this type of service could look.
Do you get a thrill from correcting grammar?
You could be an editor.
You could offer proofreading services. This doesn’t include editing of the actual text; you simply look over a document to make sure that it’s grammatically correct, there are no typos or misspellings, and it’s formatted correctly.
Actual editing goes a little deeper. You’ll suggest edits for clarity and tone, and you’ll even ensure that the writer stays on topic, speaks to the right audience, and sounds amazing. You can choose whether you want to edit academic texts, e-books, blog posts, web content, or anything written—the world is your oyster.
To start an editorial services company, you need excellent grammar and writing skills, a strong understanding of audiences, an excellent attention to detail, and a computer.
This one made the list with the assumption that a professional photographer already has his or her own quality photography equipment. If you don’t, then getting a proper photography setup could cost around $10,000; photography equipment is expensive.
If you already have the setup, then starting a photography business won’t cost more than your marketing needs. Develop an excellent portfolio showcasing the type of photography that you want to do, whether it’s portraiture, wedding photography, or even pet photography.
If you’re an amazing photographer, you can charge hundreds of dollars per hour; people don’t like to mess around when they’re hiring someone to capture important events in their lives. Additionally, you can easily make your own schedule, and unlike many jobs on this list, it gets you out of the house and traveling.
Other than photography equipment, you’ll need a good marketing strategy, a portfolio, and access to Photoshop.
22) Online Store
If starting your own brick-and-mortar business has always been your dream, but you can’t invest in a physical store, you can open an online store. In an online store, you can either sell your own products or work with other companies to sell theirs. All you’ll need is a website and the skills to negotiate with companies to sell their products.
The great thing about opening an online store is that you can start selling items with little startup fees, and once you’re more established, you’ll have the collateral to get a small business loan so that you can build the brick-and-mortar shop that you’ve always wanted. And, who knows? You might love the freedom that an online store brings so much that you continue the digital lifestyle.
23) Travel Agent
Even with tons of booking sites that make planning your own vacation super easy, travel agencies are far from dead. Planning a vacation can be stressful, especially when you’ve never been to the area before, and some people prefer to have someone else do the work for them. Additionally, travel agencies often have discounts associated with their service, so customers can actually end up saving money on their trip when they book through a travel agent.
Make travel dreams come true.
Become a travel agent.
In order to be a travel agent, you must be incredibly organized, have the ability to balance multiple vacations at once, and be willing to work between vendors and your clients, especially if something goes wrong. You also need to build relationships with vendors all over the world—or wherever you want to specialize—to be able to offer special discounts to your clients. In spite of the stress, being a travel agent can be incredibly fulfilling as you help people achieve their dream vacations.
Startup costs mostly include marketing and a computer. You should also have a strong phone connection.
24) Online Tutoring
Everyone needs a little help with their homework these days. With the internet, parents have been able to find the best tutors for their children all over the world; they’re no longer stuck with the offerings in their own towns.
Become an excellent online tutor, and you’ll have parents knocking down your door to help their kids. It’s helpful to cultivate students in multiple time zones, since students usually seek tutoring services after school, limiting your teaching hours.
You don’t have to be limited to kids. You can get a TEFL certification and teach English online, or you can help tutor college students in a specific topic. If you get creative, you can even create an online forum that allows your students to ask questions at any time of day for a small subscription fee.
To become an online tutor, many parents will prefer some sort of higher education, and a background in teaching is preferred. However, if you can prove that you know the subject matter and that you have the ability to teach it in a way that the student understands, then you have what it takes.
25) Property Manager
Many landlords don’t have the time or interest in managing their own properties, so they hire someone to do it for them. A property manager is in charge of taking care of any issues on the rented property. This can include fixing appliances, lawn care, implementing any damage fees, hiring vendors to fix larger issues, and more. While the job can be stressful, it largely depends upon the month; some months you’ll see few issues, and others might be a little chaotic.
If you build a property manager business, you can hire other property managers and simply manage the landlords who own the properties. This will greatly open your schedule, since the property managers working under you will be the ones to take care of the issues.
To become a property manager, you simply need to market yourself and be prepared to handle emergency plumbing issues in the middle of the night.
An accountant is in charge of assessing the financial records of their clients and making sure that the company is running smoothly. While a bookkeeper simply keeps those records, accountants take on a more strategic role, analyzing the data and making sure that the company is running smoothly financially.
Accountants also help with taxes. They are in charge of making sure that the business or individual is taking advantage of any write-offs and that they are paying all of the taxes required.
Being the financial guru for a company can be stressful and requires a lot of responsibility, but if you have a mind for these things, it can be quite fulfilling; often, business owners will defer to your judgement on financial decisions.
To become an accountant, you do need an accounting degree. If you already have one, you only need a computer, the proper programs you need to do your job, and the ability to market yourself to potential clients.
While this list is far from exhaustive, it should give you an idea that there are tons of opportunities in multiple fields to start your own business without much overhead. So, next time you find yourself thinking, “I wish I could afford to own my own business,” know that you can!