Almost everyone dreams of starting their own business at some point in their life. We come across unsolved problems and find elegant solutions we want to share with others.
A business doesn’t have to be a VC-fuelled enterprise with hundreds of employees. A passion project you devote evenings and weekends to while keeping your day job counts too.
What’s more, most small business ideas barely require any capital to start. At the beginning, it’s all about investing your own time to test your idea. Only if this foundation proves to be successful you can think of scaling your idea to a wider target audience.
Let’s look at 30 ideas that have potential for a business you can start today, with little to no money required. We’ll cover general ideas for small businesses, businesses you can start from home as well as businesses that require virtually no upfront investment.
Skip ahead to a section here:
The best ideas for a small business
The best business to start with little money from home
The best small business to start for practically no cost
10 ideas for a small business
Starting your own business is great. You get to decide everything, from how that business is going to look (e.g. logo, design) to its customer base to the product or service its going to offer.
As a result, you’ll develop new skills, help solve an important problem (any problem people are willing to pay for is important) and broaden your outlook on the world.
Not sure where to start? We’ve collected 10 general small business ideas that you can either try outright or use to enhance your own business planning. Some of the ideas we’ve borrowed from a wonderful book on the subject called How to Start a Business Without Any Money by Rachel Bridge.
Everyone wants to have a beautiful backyard, with flowers, trees, a small garden and a perfectly cut lawn. But very few people are ready to invest enough time to do it themselves.
This is your opportunity! If you have a good eye for outdoor design, like plants and don’t mind spending time outside, consider starting a landscaping business.
Startup costs for a landscaping business are minimal. You need a few tools to test out your ideas, some of which you can borrow from your own clients at the beginning.
As the business grows, you can expand your professional toolkit, get a truck and even hire others to help you out.
- Interior designer
If soil is not your cup of tea, but you still love design, you can shift your focus to interiors.
Most of us would love our homes to look like the ones in the Wallpaper magazine, but it’s not as easy as a trip to IKEA.
Interior designers have a particular ability to understand what kind of environments make us most comfortable and then create those spaces with furniture and home decor that would fit in our budget, taking a fee for their service.
It’s critical for an interior designer to have a strong portfolio and build up an audience by sharing their knowledge online. How about redesigning your own apartment to start?
- Real estate agent
A good business model should work for a long time. For example, people will always need a place to live and, thus, someone to sell them a new home or to buy their old home from them.
Since property market dynamics are often too complex to be navigated by people not professionally involved in them, and buying or selling a home is one of the most important decisions we make in our lives, real estate agents provide a truly valuable service of guiding us through the process.
To become a real estate agent (might differ for your jurisdiction), you generally need to take a pre-licensing course and then pass an exam to activate your license. After that, you should join a brokerage, which will give you access to property listings in your area.
- Event planner
Anyone who’s tried to plan an event bigger than a dinner party knows how hard it is and how many moving parts need to be thought through and taken care of.
If you’re very organized, detail-oriented and stress-resistant, event planning might be something you should consider doing as a business.
Most of your business will likely come from word of mouth, so pick a niche you’re most comfortable in. It can be weddings, corporate events, conferences or even parties. Then create a simple landing page and cold-call some companies to get your new business going.
If you love to cook and do it well, you can turn your passion into a profitable business in many ways.
You can become a personal chef, creating meal plans and preparing daily or weekly meals for your clients.
You can become a caterer for special events, from birthdays to weddings to board meetings.
You can create an online blog and publish your recipes, selling premium recipes for a fee or writing a cookbook.
You can even become a nutrition coach, if you’re interested in helping people develop healthy eating habits and learn more about how food influences their lives.
We all want to have a perfectly clean home, but the act of cleaning it rarely sounds that exciting.
That’s why cleaning businesses, not just for homes but also offices, windows and cars, have a large untapped market with lots of opportunities.
Purchasing basic cleaning supplies is likely to cost you less than $20 and you can start with cleaning just one apartment once a week and scale from there.
Over time, you can expand to larger homes or offices that can be more profitable and even hire other people to help you.
- Fitness trainer
Have you been going to the gym with great results for years? You can share your knowledge and experience with others and get paid for doing so.
You don’t need your own gym at the beginning — most gyms will allow you to bring your own clients for a fee. Start by getting your friends and family in shape and see how the business grows from there.
Since most people go to the gym either before or after work, personal training is also an easy side business to combine with your day job.
Related: How to Become an Online Fitness Coach in 2022
While becoming an haute couture designer or a Saville Row tailor takes a lifetime, learning the skill of garment alterations or clothing design can be done fairly quickly if you’re interested in it.
People want to look good and feel confident in the clothes they wear, but off-the-rack apparel, especially when it comes to suits and dresses, doesn’t always fit as well as it should.
So offering a local service for small alterations in an area that doesn’t have much competition can be a great idea. Get ready to charge a premium for last-minute customizations!
- B&B owner
As Airbnb has shown, even the place you live in can be monetized. If you own your home (or have a special agreement with your landlord), you can rent it out when you’re away on holidays or work trips. You can also list your spare bedroom for short-term rentals at any time.
Extra rent revenue will help cover your mortgage and other expenses (e.g. vacation) or save money that you can use to buy another place and expand your business in the future.
- Massage therapist
Another thing you can start selling is relaxation — via massage therapy. Working on muscles, removing points of tension and creating a peaceful environment for your clients is worth a lot.
Look into training and certification courses in your city, which you can usually complete on evenings and weekends. Once you get certified, invest in a portable massage bed that you can take on client visits or rent out some space in an existing clinic or spa business. With time, you’ll be able to get your own retail location and hire others to help you out.
Related: How to Make Money Online: 20 Ideas
The best business to start with little money from home
While businesses listed above often require being out and about, for some people, an ideal small business is something they can do from the comfort of their own home, leveraging their skills with the power of the internet.
Do you want to sell your products or provide high-quality service from home? Here are 10 more small business ideas for you.
Do you have a small workshop at home where you enjoy making something with your hands? If so, you can probably turn it into a business and sell your creations online!
People make all kinds of knitted items, leather goods, jewelry and other DIY projects at home. Chances are, if you like them, someone else does too.
Online marketplaces like Etsy help thousands of creators set up their own online shop and easily sell their products. As you grow your audience, you can also migrate to your own retail website and differentiate your brand from others.
If you enjoy writing and are good at it, there are multiple ways to turn it into a great side business you can do completely from home. The key to being a successful writer is to find a niche that works for you.
You can start a blog writing about something that interests you. As your audience becomes larger, you can bring on advertising (e.g. AdSense), create a premium subscription for the most valuable content you produce or use affiliate marketing to sell products or services you discuss.
You can work with companies to help them keep their own content marketing, writing articles for blogs and charging for the actual work, either hourly or on a per-project basis.
You can also specialize in a certain skill, such as writing résumés. Good résumés help people get good jobs, and being able to help someone get a good job is a valuable service.
While writing works on the verbal side of every business, design presents various visual aspects that are just as important.
Today, there are graphic designers, user interface designers, user experience designers, type designers, even virtual reality designers, among others.
What you need to do is select your niche and create a portfolio that will get you new work. If you don’t have any clients yet, just create designs for projects that you’d love to be doing.
Technology is the most important driver of progress today. And it’s getting more complicated, from online platforms to social media to machine learning and artificial intelligence.
As a result, developers and software engineers are in great demand, and will be for years to come.
To become a developer, you need to love coding, systems and solving interesting problems. It might take you anywhere from a few months to a few years to get fully up to speed, depending on the programming niche you’ve chosen.
The good news is that software developers can work entirely from home with minimal interaction with their clients. In fact, you might not even need clients if you’re building a product on your own that you’re planning to sell later.
- Virtual assistant
Another important work-from-home job that’s available to anyone who is very organized and detail-oriented is being a virtual assistant.
Virtual assistants help their clients sort out administrative work and solve operational problems such as booking venues or rescheduling flight tickets.
A variety of skill sets could be handy when you become a virtual assistant and you can specialize in some particular aspect of the job as well.
Related: 5 Freelance Marketplaces to Help you Find Clients
- Amazon Mechanical Turk worker
If you don’t want too much personal interaction and complete freedom in when and where you do your work, consider applying for the Amazon Mechanical Turk program.
Amazon Mechanical Turk is a marketplace where people post routine tasks, such as tagging images, classifying objects, verifying details, completing research questions, etc.
You can pick up projects that interest you and that are a good fit for your skills. While the Mechanical Turk program is not the most well-paid, it’s the most flexible, allowing anyone to participate.
- Daycare provider
If you’re currently home on maternity (or paternity) leave, you can turn this opportunity into a small business by watching other people’s kids too.
Childcare is in high demand pretty much everywhere across North America. And good childcare is becoming increasingly hard to find. So you can tap into this need and open up your own. Just make sure to follow all the regulations regarding zoning, licensing and inspections.
You can also decide to expand your business, find a bigger location and hire helpers if the demand keeps growing.
Those who know more than one language have a unique opportunity to become a translator. Depending on the languages you know, there might be more or less work available on the market with higher compensation for those with less popular language pairings.
To start translating documents, essays or even fiction, you first need a translation certificate, which you can get at your local college. Then you can register for an online translation platform and bid for projects that are coming up, gradually improving your portfolio and raising your rates.
Very few small business owners like to do their own bookkeeping, but every business needs it. That means there’s a lot of opportunity for you to provide a service people actually want.
If you don’t have bookkeeping experience already, you can go through a few online courses or get a certificate at a local school. If the tax season is coming closer, lots of companies might actually be willing to teach you bookkeeping for free to cope with the rising workload.
- Social media manager
If you get what social media is all about, love spending time on it and know exactly what works and what doesn’t, you can sell your skills to lots of small businesses out there that really need some social media exposure.
You can work on your own, become a freelance expert for a social media agency or represent influencers as an agent — there are lots of potential ideas in the space.
Some social media managers also combine their skills with more traditional channels such as content and email marketing.
The best small business to start for practically no cost
We’ve looked at a lot of small business ideas as well as businesses you can start from home. While none of them are overly expensive, some do have certain startup costs.
What if you want to start a business with as little money as possible? Sure, here are 10 more ideas for you inspired by the book called The $100 Startup by Chris Guillebeau.
- Dog walker
People love their dogs and are willing to spend a lot of money on them. It seems like, during the pandemic, dog ownership has increased quite a bit. Now, when everyone is slowly going back to the office, there’s an increasing demand for dog walkers and sitters out there.
Dog walking is a lot of fun and gives you an excuse to get outside and play with puppies — all while getting paid.
You don’t need any capital to start. Just register on a dog walking platform like Rover and find a new friend today.
If you have a truck or a van, it’s all you need to start a moving company. You can get a friend to help you out and split the revenue.
Those who don’t have a vehicle might post an ad to find those who do but need a pair of hands. Another idea is to offer packing services.
As your business grows, you might invest more into new vehicles or people accordingly. Maybe you’ll have a whole fleet of trucks in a few years!
Chances are, someone is looking to learn almost anything you have expertise in. From music to math to presentation skills, people are willing to pay for acquiring new skills.
Think of an area you have the most expertise in and write an ad for a platform where your target audience spends a lot of time (e.g. local community center, LinkedIn). Mention your new tutoring business in conversations.
Monetizing your skills can be a great way to make money on the side with no upfront investment.
- Tour guide
Do you know lots of interesting facts about your city or local area? Do you live in a tourist spot?
You can offer your knowledge as a tour guide and start doing thematic walking tours (e.g. history, architecture, food). Post your offer on a platform like Airbnb Experiences to see if it becomes popular. You can charge a fee or offer a tour for free to get more people to join and ask for tips at the end.
Note: Make sure to follow all applicable regulations when it comes to licensing.
- Stock photographer
If you have a passing for photography and a camera, you can make a passive income by selling stock photography online.
Think about situations which businesses might need a photo for, especially when they write blog posts or other content. Search for existing images, identify any gaps and take your own photos tagged with those terms.
As you expand the business, you can try selling photography as a service, for weddings, corporate ad campaigns, fashion, portraits, etc.
Related: Profitable Digital Products And Where To Sell Them
- Property manager
Lots of investors buy property to rent out (especially short-term rentals) but don’t want to deal with renters day to day.
This is where your help as a property manager can be especially helpful. From greeting guests to communicating to taking care of any problems, all you need to become a good property manager is some flexibility in your schedule.
Start by managing a single property and expand as your schedule allows. When you get too many properties to handle on your own, hire an assistant and grow your business from there.
As people invest in improving particular skills or even larger aspects of their lives, coaching is becoming a growing industry.
There are fitness coaches, nutrition coaches, business coaches and even life coaches available today. Most of their work is done online as they meet with their clients a few times a week to help steer them in the right direction.
While you might get registered with the International Coaching Federation, there are few requirements for official licensing or certifications to become a coach. Practically anyone can start their coaching business at any time and your success will be determined largely by referrals from your existing clients.
- Social media influencer
One of the most valuable things in the world today is attention. If you can command people’s attention, as a social media influencer, you have a very valuable tool that can be monetized by partnering with various brands or selling ads.
More established influencers scale their businesses by starting their own product lines and other ventures. However, to start, all you need is an idea that would attract the attention of lots of social media users.
- Ride-sharing driver
If you have a car and want to find an instant source of income, you can sign up for a ride-sharing platform, such as Uber or Lyft, for free and spend your evenings and weekends (or any other time) driving people around.
While it’s hard to scale your own driving, this is a good idea for a side-income business that you get started with right away.
- Online course creator
The problem with getting paid for your time, be it coaching or Uber driving, is that at some level it’ll become difficult to scale — you’ll just won’t be able to work more than a certain amount of hours every day.
The solution is creating a stream of passive income, where you don’t need to be present every time a business interaction is happening. A great example of this is creating an online course.
You can create an online course once, teaching people something you have deep expertise in (anything from yoga to finance), and then sell it an unlimited number of times, thus removing the cap from your potential revenue.
All you need is a flexible course-building platform you can rely on.
Related: 50+ Online Course Ideas (Plus 4 Steps To Refine Them)
How to brainstorm ideas for a small business
Now you have 30 high-quality small business ideas you can start experimenting with today. You can try mixing a few ideas together, customizing ideas to your lifestyle or using the list above as inspiration and coming up with brand new ideas as a result.
To create a successful business, it’s important to enjoy (or at least have interest in) the ideas you decide to pursue. They should align with your goals, the time you have available to work on them and your budget.
Most importantly, make sure to start small and start quick — don’t waste time on over-planning or investing too much upfront. If the market is responsive to your idea, you’ll know that you’ve come across something valuable and can expand from there.