August 30, 2016

25 Businesses You Can Start for Less Than $100


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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

Auto Parts

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.

ClickBank E-Products

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.

Used Books

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.

House Painting

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.

Window Cleaning

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 Sitting

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.

Taxi Service

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

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.

Tax Preparation

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.

Flooring Business

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.

Cleaning Service

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.

eBay Sales

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.

Homemade Soaps

If you can read and follow the directions of an online soap-making tutorial, you can gain some basic knowledge of the soap making craft. 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.

Grocery Delivery

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 a market 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 housing 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.

Errand Service

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.

Freelance Bartending

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.

Dog Training

This is one of those businesses you probably wouldn’t get into without previous experience. On the other hand, you can get an idea of tsomrhe 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.

Drop-Shipped Products

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.

There are many  drop-ship product suppliers 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. Just do your research and be sure you’ve found a reputable company.

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.

Virtual Assistant

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.”

Consulting

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.

Logo Design

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 really 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

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Steve Gillman


Steve Gillman Steve Gillman is a freelance writer, author of, "101 Weird Ways to Make Money" and the creator of Every Way To Make Money. Of the more than 100 ways he has made money, writing is (so far) his favorite.

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26 Reactions

  1. If you have a specialized skill set and expertise in an emerging area (internet marketing is a great example) there are opportunities aplenty to start your own business.

  2. Steve Gillman

    Having a specialized skill set can help, especially in some businesses, but even without many skills it’s worth trying something when the risk is so low. My wife and I knew nothing about putting websites online, but grew our internet publishing business to six figures within a few years, starting with less than $100.

    • Do you have a kindle or e-book to share how you build your business from the beginning to now and some of the mistakes you did that we can learn from.

  3. Aira Bongco

    This means that anyone can go into business as long as he or she has the passion for it. Money is rarely an issue.

  4. I think you should include web design business as well. If you know how to design websites you can start your business for less than 100$.

  5. The used books business is A LOT tougher than was made to seem here. Not for the faint of heart, the weak of back or the impatient.

  6. Here in Australia you will need a “responsible service of alcohol” certificate, this may just blow your $100 budget but not by much. The others look like they would meet the under $100 startup benchmark. So to anyone complaining that they can’t afford to start their own business they have no excuse. However, the amount of TIME that needs to be invested in running a business is substantial.
    Great post!

    • Steve Gillman

      Thanks Oak, and I agree that many of these are for when you have a lot more time than money. We put in a lot of time (at least initially) starting our internet publishing business. In fact, you can often substitute time for money in many ways when starting.

  7. Aquarium maintenance service is also good one if you know about fish and aquariums.
    It can be started for basically less than $100

  8. A good offshoot to starting a house cleaning service is home and office organizing. It’s not as competitive and commoditized. A super cheap / beginner home organizer starts at $25/hr, but $35-$50/hr is pretty standard. Even higher if you have a specialty (hoarders, ADD/ADHD, etc), are certified, have YEARS of experience and/or are based in a large metro area. You do not have to be certified, however. Starting as a house cleaner will definitely give you an inroad (as there is more demand in terms of volume and helps with regular cash flow). That’s how I started and eventually phased the cleaning out. Offering pre-paid discounted packages (with a contract) and taking deposits from 1st time clients helps to keep problems away.

  9. Thank you all for this great knowledge and wisdom! Mr. Steve Hillman, I’ll be looking you up on Twitter Sir. I’m open to building great business relationships with anyone. My Twitter handle is @tlb79thereal…

  10. Blogging can potentially be a profitable home-based business, but you need to pick a niche that’s not already saturated with competitors. After you’ve figured out how to generate enough Web traffic to your blog — either through SEO, content marketing, or other means — the next hurdle is to find just the right products, services, and/or ads that your readership will respond to. In my experience, it’s often a matter of trial and error before you find the winning combination of strategies.

  11. am joy and i realy need someone help me start a business my email is j_____ please help

  12. Public speaking is another way to go. If you have expertise in a subject(s) you can sell that expertise. Getting paid speaking engagements is the hard part.

  13. You can set up an eBay business and sell for others on consignment without spending a cent. There are plenty of people and businesses who find it hard to make the time to sell their unwanted items or simply do not have time. An eBay trading assistant does all the hard work and as a fee you earn commission on sales.

  14. do you know how to contact those who are in need of an eBay trading assistant? I have been unemployed for the past 4 years and recently my father passed away. SOMETHING HAS TO GIVE QUICK!!! I am 42 years old and have one child in college and another at home. I cannot believe I am in this place financially, as I have worked my entire life until I lost my lat job. I cannot find one. Love your post and advice. Thanks.

  15. Hello im intrested in the sales consignment job.

  16. My goal is to create a website. This questions is for Steve. Did you have to worry about a domain name when you created your website? Any recommendation on creating a website?

  17. Great insight Steve! As someone pointed out above, with so many options to start for such little money, most people really have no excuse. Some of the online related businesses are ones I intend to try just for the fun of it.

  18. Thank you! Great Ideas

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