Are there really businesses you can start for less than $100?
Laurie Davis started the dating website eFlirt.com with $50 and a Twitter account, reports Young, Fabulous and Self-Employed. Her successful enterprise has been profiled by the New York Times, The Washington Post, Good Morning America, and many other media outlets.
Starting something online may be an obvious choice, but the variety of businesses you can start for less than $100 might surprise you. Some can be started with no investment other than your time. The key is to find the lowest-cost way to make a sale and then parlay your profits into the next step. Some entrepreneurs have bootstrapped their way to millions using this basic formula.
You’ll have to decide for yourself when to “formalize” your company by creating a legal structure like an LLC, buying liability insurance, and such. For advice on these matters you can meet with volunteers at SCORE, and there are even places to get inexpensive legal help. Meanwhile, why not pull out a $100 bill and take a look at what you can do with it.
Businesses You Can Start for Less Than $100
To demonstrate the range of potential businesses you can start for less than $100, we begin with an unlikely one.
Steve Farmer, upon graduating from college, decided to start a business wholesaling collision parts. He says, “Within two weeks, I had started my own business with $50 and built it up and ran it for almost three years.”
He used his car until he could afford a truck, and bootstrapped his way to success. Eventually, he sold that business, starting a new one, this time a specialty candy store, his new company’s website reports.
To start a digital products business with no investment, open an account at ClickBank.com for free and promote a few items on your Facebook page or blog.
Once you earn a few commissions, you can pay the $49.95 fee to start a vendor account. Then, create a PDF e-book on any topic you know well (or can research), and you can start selling immediately.
ClickBank takes $1 plus 7.5 percent of each sale, but you set the price and decide how much you want to share with the thousands of affiliates who can also sell your product (50 percent is common).
Some vendors claim to have made tens of millions of dollars in sales through ClickBank.
When you see a textbook at a rummage sale, visit Bookscouter.com using your smartphone.
See what buyers are paying, and then offer half of that or less. The big margins are in textbooks, but online buyers accept many types of used books, and often pay for shipping with a printable label.
Retailing them yourself on Amazon.com is another option. On The Abundant Wife website, one woman tells of selling books from around her house for $371.14 on Amazon — a good way to start with nothing.
Once you learn the market, you can parlay your profits into expansion, perhaps doing some online arbitrage by buying cheap used books from eBay auctions to sell to the big online vendors.
In many states, like Florida for example, you do not need a license to be a painting contractor. And if you start with indoor painting, you can get by with a minimum of equipment.
You can learn some helpful tips from YouTube videos on house painting, free Home Depot workshops, and some practice painting around your own home. Matt Shoup tells U.S. News & World Report he started with $100 and went door-to-door, eventually building a painting business with annual revenues of $2.5 million.
Another one of the businesses you can start for less than $100 is a window cleaning business. However, to efficiently clean big retail store windows you may need more than $100 worth of equipment.
So start with homes and basic tools, and parlay your revenue into better ones.
You can learn the business online from any one of a number of tutorials.
Pet sitters charge as much as $100 for overnight stays, and $20 is typical for a 20-minute visit.
You can start by offering your services to friends and family and use the profits to build your professional credentials, perhaps by joining an organization like the National Association of Professional Pet Sitters.
To grow this business into a large income, you’ll eventually need employees or sub-contractors.
With ride-sharing platforms like Uber, you can turn the car you already own into a business today without spending a dollar.
If all goes well, you might parlay the money you make into a regular taxi or chauffeur service.
Of course, once again, your goal if you want bigger profits is to eventually hire employees or sub-contractors.
Tutoring is also one of the businesses you can start for less than $100. It used to be more difficult to market your tutoring services, but online platforms make it easier than ever.
If you’re able to help students with academic subjects, sign up with a website like Tutor.com. If you prefer to tutor people on a wider variety of subjects, like chess, sports, cooking, or singing, try Wysant.com.
Tutors commonly charge up to $50 per hour, and although these websites take a healthy cut of that, they provide a no-cost way to start. From there you can build a local clientele and start hiring others to work for your business.
Tour Guide Service
Again, the Internet has made all the difference in lowering the barriers to starting a business.
Forget about business cards (at least at first) or trying to get travel agencies to recommend your guide service. If you know an area well, you simply sign up with a website like Vayable.com and let them find your customers for a cut of the revenue.
Once you know the ropes and make some money, you can encourage returning visitors to come to you (and your new employees) directly.
What better (and cheaper) way to learn a business than to get paid for your training?
Search “tax preparation no experience” on job websites like Indeed.com. You’ll find plenty of companies willing to train you for jobs preparing tax returns (at least during tax season). Once you have a season under your belt, it’s time to strike out on your own.
You can start from home to keep costs low, and bootstrap your way into a multi-employee office in time.
Toby Woodward has been in the flooring business for twenty-five years. He tells Construction News, “I started my business with $50 and a box of business cards.” His company, Aladdin Floors, started out doing just installation in order to avoid the need to invest in inventory.
Again, the lesson is clear: Look for the low-cost entry point and parlay revenues into expanding the business.
Again, think of the low-cost entry point to keep your startup costs under $100. You can clean houses with all of the supplies and equipment you already use for cleaning your own home, and then invest profits into specialized equipment for other clients.
Carrie H Johnson was divorced and living in low-income housing when she started a cleaning business with friends, she explains on her website. She built it into a multimillion dollar business with 165 employees.
Flea Market Vending
Flea markets are alive and well in many places around the country, and you can locate the ones closest to you with an online guide.
To start on a budget, find a market that lets you pay for a space by the day (often less than $20). While you’re there, look around for a low-cost niche you can invest your profit into.
What profit? That’s what you made by selling everything in your house that you otherwise would have given away or dumped at a rummage sale.
Anyone can start on eBay for less than $100.
Start by selling things around the house that you no longer need. With the money you raise, you can look for a niche. For example, some vendors hit rummage sales and thrift stores for cheap goods they can resell.
Others buy in bulk from places like Liquidation.com and then sell items individually on eBay.
If you can read and follow the directions of an online soap-making tutorial, you can become a soap maker this week. It involves relatively few materials and tools. To make soap you mix various forms of oil with lye and scents. A basic mold for 12 bars can be bought on Amazon for under $10.
Of course you can’t compete with mass-manufactured soaps, so you’ll want to make specialty products. Finding a new scent or creative approach to packaging and marketing will help. You can sell to friends initially, or invest in a booth at a flea market or craft show.
What’s the potential? Anne-Marie Faiola turned her soap making hobby into a multimillion-dollar business.
If you own a car you have what you need to start delivering groceries. While Webvan and others have failed to make grocery delivery work on a large scale, there is room for small timers, as evidenced by the many shopping services that are online now.
To make delivery affordable for the customer and efficient enough for you to make a decent profit, you may have to service a very limited area. You might start by approaching elderly residents in a residential complex, promising delivery just two days per week in order to process as many orders as you can at once.
To keep payment processing simple, get a PayPal card reader, which attaches to your smartphone. PayPal takes just 2.7 percent of each swipe, with no hidden fees.
An errand service can be a natural business to tie into grocery delivery, or vice-versa. Once again, if you already have a car you’re ready to get started. People often need someone to check on their dog at home, or run to the store if they are homebound.
To start with almost no cost, and to get a feel for what kind of work the business might involve, sign up with TaskRabbit.com, an online platform that connects people who need errands done with those willing to do them for an agreed-upon price. This eliminates the need to spend money on marketing yourself (at least at first).
You might discover a particular niche that suits you and is profitable. For example, if you get a lot of calls to bring pets to vet appointments, you might reposition yourself as a pet taxi service.
You can learn how to mix any one of thousands of drinks with a free online cocktail guide, but to get hired as a freelance bartender it helps to have real experience. That doesn’t have to require a job though. You might volunteer to tend bar for charity events — a good way to get experience and market yourself to potential paying clients.
Entrepreneur.com reports the startup costs of freelance bartending at “under $2,000.” But you can keep it under $100 if you start with clients who have the necessary equipment or by bartending for parties where expectations are minimal. Entrepreneur.com says you can make “up to $300 per day when you tally up your wages and tips.”
The next step is hiring help at $10 per hour and billing clients $25 per hour for them.
This is one of those businesses you probably wouldn’t get into without previous experience. On the other hand, you can learn many of the skills needed online from the television personality and dog whisperer, Cesar Milan. There are also many dog training tutorials on YouTube. A stint at a local pet store might help too, and you’ll at least make minimum wage while you get your education and experience.
You can start the business at home to keep costs low. Pet owners can bring their dogs there as well as anyplace else. To build your reputation offer to train the dogs of friends for free or at a discount, and be sure to get testimonials to put on your (eventual) website.
What makes drop shipping so attractive is exactly what lands it on this list; there are no big startup costs or expensive investments in inventory. You can sell products online, collect payment, pay suppliers, and let them send out the products — even using your company logo if you like.
It’s easy to find a drop-ship product supplier online. Some provide a variety of products, or, if you’re going to specialize in one product or product line, you can locate a manufacturer that drop-ships.
A website is one way to make sales, although not the only way. You can also sell on auction sites like eBay.com.
Social Media Management
Businesses need help managing their social media presence.
In particular, they need to tweet on Twitter and post on Facebook in order to raise awareness of their companies and promote their products. You may already know how to use these and many other social media platforms.
Learn a little more with online tutorials on how to become a social media consultant. Then contact everyone you know to see if they need this valuable service. Scaling up will require hiring others at some point, so you can focus on getting new clients.
Startup cost? Zero.
If you have a phone, a computer, and Internet access, you can be a virtual assistant (VA). This is one of the hot new businesses you can start for less than $100
The work can be very different with each client, but may include preparing reports, researching, editing, social media management, appointment-setting and many other services.
On her website, VA Amy Andrews says “I can tell you from personal experience, it’s a great work-at-home opportunity and something many people could do.”
Of course, to make it into more than a decent freelance income, your goal will have to be to hire others at some point.
Scrap Metal Recycling
A search of your garage and shed might be all you need to start a scrap metal recycling business. It’s one of those businesses you can start for less than $100.
Copper and aluminum are the most valuable of the common metals, and almost every community has one or more scrap metal buyers. Once you’ve made your first sale, start looking for new supplies.
You can find all the advice you need in an online scrap metal discussion forum. How big can you grow a business like this? Stephen Greer went to Hong Kong with almost nothing after college and built a scrap metal recycling business worth $250 million, according to his book, ” Starting from Scrap: An Entrepreneurial Success Story.”
Okay, so you know enough about a subject to advise others, but you don’t have the money to properly launch a consulting business. Start anyhow!
Spend $10 for business cards from a low-cost provider. Put up a website for $60 for the first year with a domain and website hosting package.
Once you have a few customers who value your knowledge more than a fancy presentation, you can spend some of your profits to build a more professional organization.
If you’re artistically inclined, designing logos is a relatively simple business to start. You can service the high-end, doing very unique logos, or provide low-cost designs that start from templates and are modified to suit the client.
One of the easiest ways to get started is on Fiverr.com. A look at the stats for the logo designers there shows the size of the market. The top rated logo designer has over 6,000 customer reviews.
Fiverr.com takes a dollar of each $5 sale, so you might wonder how sellers make money. It’s all about the extra services. Many of the logo designers there keep it real simple for a basic sale (add a company name to a template), but offer extra services that can add $100 or more to an order.
Find that first sale with little or no capital investment and then use the profit to expand. That’s how you start a business for less than $100.
Do you have a low-cost startup story to share? Are you aware of other businesses you can start for less than $100?
Painter Photo via Shutterstock