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What kind of business can you start for less than $200? Laurie Davis had a Twitter account and an idea. Just 48 hours later, for a cost of $50, she launched eFlirt Expert, a successful dating website.
Starting something online is an obvious way to keep startup costs low. But you might be surprised by how many other businesses can be started with the cash in your pocket.
Toby Woodward started Aladdin Flooring with $50 and some business cards, and now he has multiple work crews installing flooring every day.
Naturally some businesses are better candidates than others for low-cost startups. But how you start a business is also important. To “bootstrap” your way to success start with what you have and look for ways to use these resources to grow the business.
For example, in a service business you can first use clients’ materials (clean their houses with their supplies, build fences with their tools), and then use the income generated to buy equipment and supplies.
Expensive equipment, if needed, can be rented at first, and later bought when you’ve made enough money.
At some point, to make your business more professional, you can use your profits to form an LLC or other business structure, and to buy liability insurance.
Building a successful business isn’t easy, and starting with nothing can make it even more difficult. But if you’re willing to try, and you approach the process the right way, there are hundreds of businesses you can start for less than $200. Here are some examples…
1. Teach English Online
Now it’s even easier than ever to make money teaching English online thanks to many English teaching services. The best part about these programs is that you can work whenever you want and whenever you want.
One of my favorites if VIPKID. They guarantee that you’ll make anywhere between $14 – $22 per hour.
The reason the high payout rate? They are a bit strict with their interview process – but it’s totally worth it if you get in. Expect to make $2,000+ per month by just working 3 – 5 hours per day.
Even if you don’t qualify for VIPKID, there are still plenty of other programs you can apply to. Keep in mind that the majority of your students will most likely be based in China, so you may have to adjust your hours.
2. Blog Publishing
There are bloggers who make over $100,000 annually, and I know one who makes millions from his blog after starting small and simple. It isn’t easy, but the potential is there, and it’s not expensive to get started.
You can start for free with Blogger, and Google explains how to put Adsense ads on your blog to generate revenue. Or get your own domain for free with Bluehost and hosting only at $3.95 per month. A lot of hosting plans can cost as much as $7 per month without a free domain.
3. Pet Sitting Service
CostHelper says pet sitters typically get $50 to $75 for overnight stays (we used to pay $60 for someone to watch our cats). And this isn’t physically taxing work. In fact, while you’re being paid to hang out with dogs and cats you can watch TV (or run an online business).
You can also start a pet sitting business without spending a single penny. First offer your service to family and friends. After you’ve made some money you can buy business cards, and you might also have a few glowing testimonials to use for marketing.
Although you can start pet sitting business with nothing, once you have some income you’ll probably want to invest in certification through an organization like the National Association of Professional Pet Sitters (NAPPS). And consider getting liability insurance if you want to be a professional.
4. House Caretaking Service
Caretaking can be as simple as watering the plants and doing some light cleaning, or it can become much more involved. But either way it’s a business you can start with nothing. Find clients among friends and family, and then pay for business cards out of the income from these first jobs.
Unfortunately both are aimed at sitters looking for free accommodations, so many of the clients do not pay anything (they may even ask for utility costs to be covered).
A better option, if you live in an area with a seasonal population, is to target homeowners who need caretaking rather than house sitting.
For example, in Florida it’s common for “snowbirds” to pay for someone to check on their homes weekly in the off-season. In resort areas of the north owners of cabins and summer homes also need caretaking services.
5. ClickBank Publishing
A few years ago I made more than $10,000 selling ebooks on ClickBank, despite my lack of marketing skills. And that’s a small success. Chris Luck did more than $25 million in sales on ClickBank (maybe that last name helps).
It can seem overwhelming if you have no experience writing or marketing ebooks, but you can learn step-by-step. And ClickBank is an affiliate platform, meaning others will sell your books for you if you offer a commission (50% is typical on digital products).
You can also start very inexpensively. To get comfortable with the system sign up for an affiliate account for free. Later you can upgrade to a vendor account for a one-time fee of $49.95.
6. Social Media Management Service
Everyone knows Facebook, but there are many other social media platforms. And businesses need help using them to reach their customers and to promote their products and services.
That’s your business, if you want it, and if you have a friend with a small business, you can start by helping her.
Of course, if you’re going to help others with their social media presence, you need a presence of your own. Shawn Christenson, in his guide on how to become a social media consultant, says that to be credible you need at least:
- 10,000 followers on Twitter
- 500 friends on Facebook
- 100 Connections on LinkedIn
- A blog where you write about the success of your business
The cost for all of this? Almost nothing. The primary thing you need to grow your own presence online and then grow your business, is time and effort.
Of course, a blog on a free platform isn’t the most professional way to go, so you should probably spend $50 for a domain name and website hosting.
7. Scrap Metal Recycling
Although I’ve never made much selling scrap metal I love doing it, because it’s starts out as a treasure hunt. Once, I discovered big coils of copper wire in the attic of a house we bought.
I sold that copper along with a bunch of aluminum scavenged from old lawn furniture. (Copper and aluminum are a couple of the most valuable of the common scrap metals.)
That story suggests how you can start this business for nothing. Gather up metal around your home to sell. See if your friends will let you take any old metal items from their garages too. Then build your business from your profits.
Spend some time in a scrap metal discussion forum. You’ll learn about mistakes to avoid, places to find scrap, and how to get a better price for your metal.
This might be a fun way to make extra income, or you might have bigger goals. Stephen Greer started just out of college with no financing and, within 14 years, he built Hartwell Pacific into a $250 million scrap metal company.
8. Used Book Sales
In a Forbes article, Sunday Steinkirchner explains how she and her husband started a successful rare book company 13 years ago with an investment of… one dollar.
That’s right. Thanks to online platforms like Amazon, selling used books has become easier than ever.
You can start by selling books you already have. One woman who did that made $371 just from selling the books she had around the house. Whether you make $5 or $500 from the books you have, you can invest the money in more inventory.
Many books will sell for only a couple dollars but textbooks can bring in bigger money. Buy them at thrift stores or rummage sales, and sell them for a profit on websites like BookScouter.com.
You can also sell on eBay. A search of “used books” there yields 14 million results at the moment.
Professional painters may have thousands of dollars invested in equipment, but you don’t have the start that way. For example, I painted for a house flipper in Florida using his supplies and tools.
Also, in Florida, as in many states, you do not need a license to be a painting contractor. That makes for a simpler start.
And if you don’t yet have the skills? I learned to paint from YouTube videos on house painting and by practicing on our own home. I also know of a professional painter who got her start by going to Home Depot workshops.
How far can you go with a bootstrapped painting business? Consider Matt Shoup’s story. Starting with $100 Shoup did $500,000 his first year and then grew his business to $2.5 million in annual revenue!
10. Tour Guide Service
If you live in an area visited by tourists, and you know the attractions well, you can get paid to show people around. You might choose to be a general tourist guide, or specialize by offering themed tours focusing on something like the best pubs, historical sites, or outdoor adventures.
This is a relatively simple service business that has become even simpler thanks to Vayable.com.
They save you the expense and trouble of marketing. You just sign up, explain what you have to offer, and let Vayable connect you with travelers and handle the credit card transactions.
11. Window Cleaning
You can learn how to clean windows from online tutorials and a little practice. And if you watch one of those tutorials, you’ll notice that everything you need can be bought for under $100.
Of course, there are better materials and equipment, but those can be purchased out of the profits from your first few jobs.
12. Handyman Service
If you already have some tools and you know how to fix things, this business is not a complicated or expensive to start. Even if you have no equipment you can start with simple a job that requires no more than $200 worth of tools, and then buy more as you make money.
And again, why not start with family and friends to generate some quick income and a few testimonials? To market your services more widely register for free on Angie’s List and post your profile there.
You can also use a pay-by-the-lead service like HomeAdvisor to connect with clients.
Angie’s List says the average pay for handymen hired through them is $83 per hour, and the normal range is $50 to $100 per hour.
13. App Development and Sales
According to an article on Wired.com, to create a best-selling app, “All you need is 100 bucks and a free afternoon.” It may not be that easy, but the minimal investment puts an app creation business easily in the “under $200” category.”
Not being technically inclined myself, I’m skeptical about the prospects for a complete newbie, but there are plenty of free tutorials on building your first app. And then there is Tara Reed, who built an app without knowing how to code. Okay, the app didn’t make her rich, but it did lead to a $1 million consulting job.
14. Tutoring Service
To be a tutor you used to have to get hired into a pool or do some expensive advertising on your own. Then you had to deal with collecting payment.
Of course these services take a chunk of the money paid by students, but they make it a lot simpler and less expensive to start a tutoring business.
15. Taxi Service
A New York City cab medallion costs $500,000. That’s half of what they used to cost, but it’s still a pretty expensive way to start a taxi business.
Want to make a lot of money? Sell something to your passengers, like the Uber driver who makes $252,000 per year by offering jewelry to his passengers.
16. Life Coaching
Do people routinely turn to you for advice? Maybe you have what it takes to start a life coaching business.
Forbes has life coach on its list of surprising six-figure jobs, but this is a business, not a job, which means you’ll have to learn how to market yourself to make that kind of profit.
Can you start for under $200? Well, as explained by the Life Purpose Institute, “At this time there is no state or federal regulation of the coaching industry.” So if you have something to offer others, you can start right now.
You can later get certified by one of many different organizations. A quick Google search shows organizations charging from $69 to $9,980 to train and/or certify you as a life coach.
Know any other businesses you can start for $200 or less? Tell us below, and happy frugaling!