If you want to use your skills to start a business, whether full-time or as a side gig, you might be worried about the start-up costs.
Depending on the type of work, however, you might not need a bank loan or an angel investor to get started. There are plenty of cheap businesses you can start that can turn into thriving enterprises.
In fact, you can get a business up and running for less than $1,000, just as these entrepreneurs did. From the dog trainer to the podcast producer, these nine people launched successful businesses without a hefty investment. (Keep in mind their startup costs were accurate at the time of their business launch.) Read on to learn how they turned their business ideas into reality on shoestring budgets.
Initial Investment: $3 a month
Blogging can be the best business to start with little money. Some bloggers actually launch their websites for $0.
Kelan and Brittany Kline started their blog, The Savvy Couple, in 2016 for less than $3 a month. "That cost covered our domain name and hosting at the time," Kelan said. "From there, we grew our blog into a thriving six-figure online business."
How To Start a Blog
The key to launching a successful blog is figuring out the audience you want to serve, then crafting content geared toward the group you want to reach, Kelan said. "We focused our attention on creating our 'ideal reader' and serving them value with everything we do," he said. "From Facebook posts, Pinterest pins, to the articles we write, everything is focused on our avatar and serving them the best we can."
It took nine months before The Savvy Couple started generating income. Through the years, the site has made money from display ads, affiliate marketing, sponsorships and digital products such as a blogging course and monthly budget tracker, Kelan said.
Social Media Management
Initial Investment: $0
The best business to start if you don't have cash to spare is a social media management business, said McKinzie Bean, creator and owner of Moms Make Cents. Bean started working as a freelance social media manager in 2015 to supplement her family's income so she could stay at home with her baby.
"To start this business, there was literally no cost," she said. "I already had a smartphone and a laptop that I used to do my client work."
How To Start a Social Media Management Business
Bean started her social media management by working for free for a family friend for a few months to gain experience. The business owner had very little knowledge of social media, so Bean set up a content calendar to publish posts to their account every day. She made simple social media graphics using tools such as Canva.
"With that solid reference, I was able to network and gain more clients," she said. "Some of these clients came from recommendations in entrepreneur-related Facebook groups, and others were from word of mouth." Over the years, she has paid for courses and e-books to improve her social media skills and charge higher rates.
Lawn Care Service
Initial Investment: $825
If you like to work outside, consider starting a lawn care service. Zach Hendrix started a lawn care business with $825 worth of equipment: a push mower, string trimmer, hedge clippers, leaf blower and small trailer. He grew his business to more than 125 employees before selling it to a national lawn care business in 2013.
How To Start a Lawn Care Service
A lawn care service is an easy business to start, said Hendrix, who now is co-founder of GreenPal, an online service that connects customers with lawn care professionals. You'll need equipment, but you can keep costs down by taking advantage of low-interest-rate financing offers from stores or buying used equipment for less. To get customers, you can use social media, flyers and word of mouth. And you'll need to invest in systems -- which can be found online -- for daily scheduling, bookkeeping and tracking equipment maintenance, Hendrix said.
A lawn care operator can make $30 to $50 per hour, on average. "Starting a business in the lawn-mowing industry can be lucrative, yet hard work," Hendrix said. "If you are tired of your day-to-day grind at your current job, a lawn care business might be the perfect solution for you."
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Initial Investment: $340
Sometimes starting a business requires only a small investment if you capitalize on skills you have. Steffi Trott took advantage of her experience training her own dogs to launch SpiritDog Training, a company that offers in-person and online dog training.
"My only initial investment into my company was the money used to set up my website and have a graphic designer draft me a logo," Trott said. "The expenses for this were around $340."
How To Start a Dog Training Business
Trott used Facebook to get the word out about her dog training business. She posted her services on local group pages and created her own Facebook page, where she shared daily dog training tips and advice.
She then created an online class that featured videos on dog obedience. "It was an instant success," said Trott.
She also expanded her local training services to include training at clients' homes while they are at work. "Many people with a busy schedule were thrilled to come home and know that their dog has had all the exercise and training he needed," she said.
Podcast Production Business
Initial Investment: $0
The popularity of podcasts means there's a need for podcast editors, said David Hooper, owner of podcast production and marketing company Big Podcast. You can easily launch a podcast production business for less than $1,000. "In fact, if you already have a computer, you have all the equipment you need, as software to edit podcasts is freely available," Hooper said. That means podcast production can be the cheapest business to start.
How To Start a Podcast Production Business
You can learn how to edit and produce podcasts for free by watching tutorials on YouTube, Hooper said. You can create a website for your business for free using a site such as WordPress.com -- which also offers low-cost monthly plans for a more customizable site.
You can even market your business without spending any money. "You'll find all the clients you need within podcaster forums on Facebook and other social media sites -- also free of charge," Hooper said.
Freelance Writing and Content Creation
Initial Investment: $400
When Amanda Zack and her husband moved, she left behind a comfortable job with benefits. She needed a way to make money, so she spent about $400 to launch her own content writing business, By Amanda Zack.
"I was fortunate to already have two of the major components needed: a computer that can endure the 50- to 60-hour week workload and my writing skill," she said. The $400 she spent was for a year of hosting for her business website, a subscription to Toggl to track her billable hours, an annual subscription to Dropbox for easy file sharing with clients and a month-to-month subscription for business development courses.
How To Start a Content Creation Business
As a content creator, Zack writes blog posts, email newsletters and social media content for clients. Having a website has been essential for promoting her business and attracting clients. And taking the online course helped Zack learn how to brand and develop her business.
She started with just one client and was making $500 to $750 a month. Within six months, she had five clients and had quadrupled her income.
Medical Billing Advocacy
Initial Investment: $750
Gail Trauco, who is a nurse, launched a business to help people negotiate their medical bills. She spent $750 on business cards, website hosting fees, a logo design and legal forms purchased online to create a business entity.
How To Start a Medical Billing Advocacy Business
Trauco's understanding of the healthcare system certainly factored into her ability to launch a medical billing advocacy business. She reviews bills and insurance statements to find billing errors and wrongly denied claims and collects a fee of 20% to 30% of the savings she gets for clients on their medical bills.
Trauco's initial $750 investment has grown into a business with $1 million in revenue, she said. She now offers an online course at Medical Bill 911 to help patients learn to negotiate their medical bills.
Web Design Business
Initial Investment: $600
Starting a business doesn't always begin with a big idea. In fact, it can begin as a way to make money on the side, as Sharvette Mitchell's web design business did.
Mitchell was working full-time when she decided to invest $600 into creating Mitchell Productions Web Design. She paid for a website domain name and hosting, a professional headshot, business cards, brochures and the fee for creating a limited liability company (LLC).
How To Start a Web Design Business
When Mitchell started her web design business in 2007, she used social media site MySpace to promote her business. That's how she landed her first two paying customers.
Mitchell continued to run her business as a side hustle until early 2018, when she left her full-time job to operate Mitchell Productions as a full-time business. That year, her web design business generated a six-figure revenue. "I am proof that you can start a sustainable business for less than $1,000," she said.
Initial Investment: $719
Michael Lucy recently launched an insurance brokerage -- Affordable Final Expense -- for just $719. That amount included the online insurance underwriting course he took, licensing exam, license fee, business cards and his budget for insurance sales leads. The key to keeping startup costs below $1,000 has been digital marketing rather than traditional direct mail marketing, Lucy said.
How To Start an Insurance Brokerage Business
Becoming an insurance agent requires going through the process to become licensed -- which Lucy was able to do without a big investment. The biggest expense, he said, were sales leads -- for which he paid $500. However, that investment produced a $1,500 return through policy sales within three weeks. Using online marketing has been the key to his success and keeping overhead costs low.
"Can anyone jump in and become a successful agent or broker from day one for $719?" Lucy said. "Not anybody, but the person with the proper blend of sales acumen, knowledge of digital marketing, mental toughness and tenacity will succeed and succeed fast."
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Initial Investment: $900
Jacob Landis-Eigsti started a video production business four years ago with an $800 camera. He spent another $100 registering his business, Jacob LE Video Production, with his state and paying for a year's worth of website hosting.
How To Start a Video Production Business
Landis-Eigsti said he didn't need a lot of expensive equipment to launch his video production business. Instead, he focused on gaining customers. "I've added a few pieces of camera gear over time, but I put the majority of my profits back into advertising and marketing my business," Landis-Eigsti said. "That will make a larger impact on helping my company grow."
Bounce House Rental Business
Initial Investment: $920
Nick Glassett was looking for business ideas that would generate passive income. His wife ended up coming up with an idea for a cheap business to start that wasn't entirely passive but didn't require a big investment of time: a bounce house rental business.
"While I worked, she went and bought two used commercial bounce houses with stakes and blowers for $800, and then I jumped on Amazon and bought an industrial wagon for $80," Glassett said. "We got up and running for $920 total."
How To Start a Bounce House Rental Business
To turn his bounce house purchases into a business, Glassett posted on social media that he had two available to rent for events. "We were getting calls and messages the next day," he said.
He charges $150 for a bounce house rental, which only takes him 20 minutes to set up, 20 minutes to take down, then a little more time to clean when he gets it back to his house.
Marketing and Public Relations Business
Initial Investment: $560
After working more than a decade in the marketing and public relations industry, Sheila Estaniel decided to start her own business -- and she did it for less than $1,000. Estaniel founded Dilatation Agency, a marketing and PR firm for small businesses and entrepreneurs, for just $560.
How To Start a Marketing and PR Business
Estaniel's initial investment covered the cost of establishing an LLC, creating a website for her business, ordering business cards and buying a video creation and branding app. She's kept overhead low by using coworking spaces and working remotely with team members.
"Since launching, the agency has secured accounts in California and Arizona, and we are expanding our specialization to four industries: food, fashion, fitness and the wellness space," Estaniel said.
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Jami Farkas contributed to the reporting for this article.