Have you ever contemplated starting your own business but quickly gave up on the idea, thinking, “I can’t afford it, at least not now”? That’s a conclusion you might come to if the entrepreneurial ideas you’ve been thinking about are franchises or of the old-school bricks-and-mortar variety. There are businesses you can start for less than $5,000, and some for a lot less—like close to $0.
There’s an almost inverse relationship between abilities and upfront capital when it comes to starting a business—the greater your abilities, the less start-up capital you need.
The key to creating a business on a shoestring is to find a way to monetize your skills and expertise, rather than rely on a heavy investment in equipment or inventory.
Here are some of the best business ideas you can start that will enable you to tap your talents and require very little money to get started.
Renewable energy expert/consultant
This may be the most exciting business opportunity of all because the future potential is enormous. In addition, since the renewable energy industry is in its infancy, attaining expert status will never be easier than it is right now. You can literally grow up with the industry!
The higher energy prices go, the more this business will prosper. Learn all you can about solar energy systems for homes and businesses, wind power and other energy saving/generating methods and applications, and you can become an expert in no time. Since so few people know anything about the technology at all, you’ll have an open field.
By representing certain manufacturers and installers of renewable energy systems, you may be able to earn commission income in addition to consulting fees.
Cost to enter could run up to $5,000, mainly for marketing and any independent technical training you might need. A higher-end website and professionally designed marketing brochures and business cards will be well worth the investment. Also, licensing may be required in certain states, and there will be a cost for that.
Just a decade or so ago, the very term “freelance writer” was synonymous with “starving artist,” but times have changed. The internet has created writing opportunities in almost every niche imaginable.
If you have a flair for writing—or just a certain topic you’re passionate about—you may have found a viable business niche as a website content writer. Nearly every website and weblog on the internet needs content, and many are willing to pay someone to provide at least some of it. Become a regular on one site, and opportunities at others can open up without much effort on your part.
E-books are hitting the market by the hundreds every day and present another writing opportunity. Many people have outstanding e-book ideas but no time to write them. If you prefer long assignments to writing articles, this might be for you.
Beyond writing itself, many sites need expertise in proofreading and copy editing to review all the content that’s coming in from various sources. Writing experience and an eye for detail are the main prerequisites, but it wouldn’t be hard to imagine a teacher filling the role either.
Still another area that’s coming on strong is writing scripts for web videos. Marketing on YouTube and other video channels is gaining popularity, and opportunities are opening up for script writers. Get a few under your belt, make up your own YouTube video to pitch your services and off you go.
Cost to become a freelance writer: if you already have a fully loaded computer, it shouldn’t cost anything at all.
What is that you do better than most people? Identify that talent, develop a way to market it, and you may be able to start being self-employed sooner than you think.
Right now may even be the best of times to try consulting. Many employers can’t afford full time people in important roles and may welcome the opportunity to bring someone in from the outside to work with them for just a few weeks or months. Price yourself attractively, land your first client, do a good job and your consulting business may take on a life of its own.
Possible areas of concentration can include marketing, sales, management, organization and all things computer and web-related to name just a few. Better yet, study your industry, find out what its biggest problems are, and become the “go-to guy/girl” who can fix it. Think outside the box.
How much will it cost to get started? In many fields, absolutely nothing; in others, no more than the cost of a website and a business license. Use word-of-mouth, networking groups, e-mail, snail mail and even direct calling to reach potential clients.
If you have a knack for home repairs—or if you’re one of the many recent refugees from the construction industry—home inspector could be the business for you. With so many homes being sold as foreclosures and short sales, the need for home inspectors may be greater than ever. You can become an independent contractor and provide this service to established firms. And if you can establish yourself in the current soft housing market, you’ll be well positioned for an elevator ride straight up when the market fully recovers.
Expand your knowledge and expertise of structures, mechanical systems and housing safety conditions, and you’ll be ready to go. Market your services to real estate agents, banks, mortgage lenders and closing attorneys to develop a referral network.
Cost to enter the business: $1,000 to $2,000, mainly for any training courses you may need and to pay for lunches with potential referral sources. In many states, home inspectors are not even required to be licensed, but some sort of business liability and/or malpractice insurance should be seriously investigated.
Many people who are very good at real estate investment are not quite as excited by the idea of managing property, and they’ll gladly pay someone else to do it.
The property manager’s function is to act as an intermediary between tenant and landlord. This can include collecting rents and paying bills; marketing, showing and leasing the property; fielding tenant phone calls; sending out repair services; and making sure the property is properly maintained. If you can handle these functions for multiple properties, this might be a business for you.
Start with owners of small investment properties in your immediate area and work up from there.
This is another cost-free business start-up, but a healthy investment in a plan to market your skills to small investment property owners may pay off.
There you have it: five business ideas for under $5,000—if you have the desire, there’s no better time than now to give one of them a try. So, how much does it cost to start a business? Not much if you pick the right one! And money doesn’t have to stand in the way of you opening your own shop.
Kevin Mercadante is a professional personal finance blogger and the owner of his own personal finance blog, OutOfYourRut.com. He has backgrounds in both accounting and the mortgage industry. He lives in Atlanta with his wife and two teenage kids.