12 business ideas that require little or no startup capital

Starting a Business

So you want to be your own boss? Start a successful business? But you worry about the risk and potential hardship that comes with funding your business ideas?

You’re right to do so. Only half of new businesses make it to year five. And these days, many successful entrepreneurs start out with businesses that require minimal investment, like freelancing or consulting.

Low-cost ideas may not be the sexiest, but they’re safe, won’t break your bank, and will provide you with ample more learning experiences than you’d get working for anyone.

Here are a few low-risk ideas to jumpstart your entrepreneurship or help fund your current venture.

Boats as event venues

People love the water, and there’s high demand for things to do around it. One of the coolest water events I’ve participated in was a craft beer-tasting cruise around Manhattan.

How do you pull something like that off without capital?

First, you’d get craft breweries on board (pardon the pun). Next, you’d call up boat rental companies and negotiate for a boat based on time, day, and size (number of people attending).

Then, you’d sell tickets BEFORE you pay for the boat. It’s essentially an event; you’re just securing a boat as the venue. There may be a down payment (deposit) required by the boat service – much like a venue. If you shop around, you can negotiate a lower deposit.

Sell your content for a subscription fee on Patreon

Do you make incredible youtube tutorials on how to design and develop websites? Do you love to write fiction short stories? Make music?

I discovered Patreon recently, and not to my surprise – there are people making a killing on the platform. Patreon allows writers, artists, and creators of all types to get paid a subscription by their fans, or “patrons” in exchange for access to content. Typical subscription fees range from as little as $1 to $10+ per month.

Freelance (designer, developer, writer, marketer)

I`m a fan of what I call the big four freelance genres: designers, developers, writers, and marketers. I was able to build a successful writing business within a couple of months. If you’re good at any of these sought-after skills, you can make money without spending a dime.

You need a solid portfolio (build one for free with WordPress), and you need to learn how to sell and market your services based on VALUE and not TIME. You can only sell so much of your time before you don’t have room for more clients.

Selling value instead of time can be tricky, particularly if you’re not providing direct growth (like SEO or marketing services). Nonetheless, it can be done. One of the best explanations on how to sell value is in Alan Weiss’s book, Million Dollar Consulting.

Dog (or other pets) walking service

Love dogs and other animals? A dog walking or pet-care service might be your cup of tea (last week I saw a man walking cats near Central Park, for real).

You can create an affordable website using Weebly, Squarespace, or WordPress.If you optimize your website for SEO results in your neighborhood (example, Sugar Land, Texas), it won’t be so hard for your pages to rise to the top as local results tend to be less competitive (depending on the neighborhood).

You could also set up a local Facebook Ad with a small budget, targeting people in your neighborhood that also like pet-related topics or animal groups like PETA.

Party promoter

Know someone that owns a sweet bar or venue? Do you have lots of friends or a big social network that you could invite some place?

With party promoting, you negotiate a bar fee (commission) with a venue. In exchange for that commission, it’s your job to attract attendees to a party. Generally, you can expect to earn upwards of 15-20% of the bar.

You can also negotiate a “door split,” meaning, you take home a cut of the cover charges as well. There may or may not be a deposit required on the bar – like a $1000 down payment to cover any costs should you not be able to deliver your end of the bargain.

On-demand tire repair

I got a flat a couple of weeks back, and the first thing I googled was, “tire repair that comes to me.” I was astonished to find that there were only a couple of websites ranking for this, in one of the world’s largest cities. The company I called was professional and had done some excellent SEO work.

When I called, we agreed on a price based on the tire I needed. They showed up in a truck (about the size of a U-haul) with a rig on the back that could attach a new tire to my wheel once they got it off my car. They had the new tire on in less than 20 minutes.

On-demand anything

My first internship in New York was in a major recording studio. I worked with some busy artists who had to go from recording all night to a 7 a.m. appearance on Good Morning America. These people didn’t have time to run regular-folk errands, and so, everyone came to them. Barbers and hairdressers would come to the studio, or dog groomers, and anyone else they needed.

Nowadays (thanks to ride-sharing) everyone loves on-demand services. I wish I could book my hairdresser to cut my hair in my home office on busy days without paying $500 per visit.

It probably wouldn’t be too hard to partner up with a couple local barber shops or salons and negotiate a split with the owner for booking jobs for their stylists. You’d just have to foot the bill for the tech. Or, build a website yourself and optimize it for SERPs rankings.

Blog or vlog

This is an oldie-but-goodie. If you’ve got a talent for creating great content and telling stories, then you can build an audience easier than ever these days. The trick is to pick a niche that’s viable.

For example, let’s say you’d love to create a travel blog, but don’t want to be void in the massive sea of travel blogs that exist online. Why not create your videos in Spanish and target the growing Latinx market? (Which is a huge right now – there’s a reason that Despacito quickly became the most-viewed YouTube video of all time).

How to monetize your blog or vlog:

Affiliate commissions – You can earn money via commission of products that you promote. For example, if you write a travel blog you could setup an Amazon associate account. This means you’d earn commission on that special camera you mentioned and to linked in your latest post.

Sponsorships – Sponsorships differ from commissions in that you’re paid a fee up-front to mention or link something. So, instead of earning a commission on that camera you linked to, Kodak contacts you and asks you to link to their camera in your next post in exchange for a fee of $1,000.

Ads – If you get enough web traffic, you can sell ad space on your blog, like with Google Adsense.

Sell funny trinkets via Facebook Ads

I once read how a guy made six figures by putting euphemisms on coffee mugs and selling them via Facebook Ads. He’d photoshop the copy onto a photo of a mug he’d taken from the mug manufacturer’s website. He was probably selling the mugs at a markup and then buying them after he’d received payments.

You can do the same thing with t-shirts, posters, and any item that you can customize and then mark up.

I’ve also heard Gary Vee mention buying things on Amazon and reselling them on Ebay (and vice versa). This means you’d go to Amazon and find a product you want to sell, then post it on Ebay for a few dollars more. This is called drop shipping.

Beer and wine bottle supply

Craft beer, wine, and spirits is a growing industry in the U.S. and wineries and distilleries need bottles. Partner with a packaging manufacturer as a broker and sell to the wineries and distilleries for a commission fee from the manufacturer. You don’t need any special licenses to do this; you just need some education on bottling best-practices.

Hotel & airport car service

Ask local Uber and Lyft drivers if they’d like to earn extra money working for your company.

Next, partner with a few hotels as a provider of a car service, taking their guests to and from the airport. The best way to make this happen is to give a cut of your earnings to the hotel concierge.

A concierge is usually in charge of booking all-things-touristy for the guests of 4 and 5 star hotels. Concierges earn commission on nearly everything they sell to guests (tickets to shows and musicals, helicopter tours, wine tastings, etc). So, offer them a commission to call your car service when they need to send someone to the airport.

Internet Bots

This one is going to continue to grow as more and more people become aware of the possibilities of “robots.” I used a bot the other day to build a list of 11k leads for my business.

Scraping might be “questionable” according to some, but most businesses I know (teams looking to grow anyway) do it in one form or another – whether it’s lists of contacts for sales teams or online store data.

If companies – particularly sales teams – can’t build their own bots, they buy lists that were scraped by businesses like exactdata.com. The problem with companies like this is that their lists are usually half-full of old email addresses. Bots that scrape in real-time avoid the issue of stale data.

And when it comes to starting your business, remember what Nike says

Just do it. When trying to launch your business idea, get it out there already! Seriously, the longer you wait and try to perfect your product, or website, or whatever, the longer you’ll go without money flowing in.

To make things easier, you can use Looka’s business name generator to help you get started on your business idea.


How do you know if your business idea is good? Well, our best advice would be to seek counsel from those you trust. We’ve also created a post to help validate your vision. And if that’s not enough, Foundr has a great piece on online business ideas too.

If you’re not into testing one of the listed business ideas out, then hopefully you’ve at least been inspired to dream up your own low-cost startup. What are some of the best business ideas you’ve heard recently?

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