Be your own boss! 75 biz ideas you can launch for $500 or less!
Businesses are being established every day in spare bedrooms, garages, attics, dining rooms and even at the kitchen table. The SBA sees SOHO (small business/home office) numbers as continuing to grow in record numbers in the 21st century. Thanks to easy technology, the Internet and great resources at the click of a mouse, it is easy to start a business right in your own home. Starting a business from home is a wonderful way to test the entrepreneurial waters without spending a fortune on overhead, outside facility rental, etc.
We’ve rounded up 75 businesses in not particular order. Please check with your local county clerk’s office to determine cost of filing a “doing business as” certificate in your county—you’ll need it to open a business checking account
Determine your fees or costs for your service or product by analyzing what your particular market will bear. Call other service businesses in your area and see what they charge per hour or for the service rendered and adjust your fees accordingly.
1. Apartment Preparation Service. You get apartments ready for the new tenants before they move in preparing all the little touches such as painting, cleaning and you could even provide other services such as filling the refrigerator and waiting for any installers (phone, cable) that need to be let into the apartment.
You’ll need less than $400 to start this business, which will entail advertising and distribution of flyers along with stocking up on a fresh pail and mop and extra vacuum cleaner bags.
2. Senior Service. You are a knowledgeable jack-of-all-trades when it comes to brokering information for seniors. This includes info on local activities and clubs, health insurance options, tours, activities, living arrangements, and home care.
Most of your work will be in research you can do from home with your phone and fax machine. Print up some nice stationery and business cards. Charge by the hour with a one-hour minimum. Fees could range from $25 to $75 for your services. Promote your new service to senior groups to kids who care for their parents or look after their needs and through direct mail pieces targeted to senior citizens.
3. Vending Machine Entrepreneur. You stock vending machines and place them in high traffic areas. You then collect the cash and restock the units for another round of profit. There are a number of companies selling or renting vending machines. Some offer the units in groups and others permit you to purchase one machine. Before you invest, take a tour of your region and see if there are potential sites for your vending machines. Will the property owners make you pay a fee? Usually it’s about 20% of your take but it could also entail a monthly space rental fee. Check it out before you invest.
4. Custom Tile Painter. Buy blank tiles and create custom designs for your clients. They can use the tiles to enhance their home decor. Local art schools will probably let you rent their kiln if you need to fire the tiles for final refinishing.
5. Window Washer. You’ll spend less than $100 for advertising, flyers and some initial supplies. Charge by the window, as an hourly rate won’t give you enough money for the amount of windows you’ll be able to clean in one hour. Or you can charge by the house, but make sure you know how large the house is before you give a set rate.
6. Garage Cleaning. You clean up garages for people who have no time, inclination, but who have at least $100 (your minimum) to pay you for showing up. You’ll need about $100 to promote your new business via newspaper ads and by distributing flyers. Consider offering to install racks, hang up bicycles, put up shelves, etc. Of course, your clients will pay all of your out-of-pocket expenses for these items as well as your hourly rate.
7. Informative Performer. If you know about a particular era of history, or if you’re interested in a section of science that can be taught and demonstrated in a 45-minute or 1-hour show, you could be in business. Informative Performers research one topic—The Civil War, for example—and get dressed up and put on a complete show performing this educational skit. They can include props, maps, slides, music, etc. Your clients will be local schools and bookstores.
8. Custom Design Flag Biz. Flags are very popular for homes, boats, beach houses and backyards. You can start a business custom designing flags for individuals who have flag mania. Visit your local fabric store and see what they offer in the way of waterproof materials for your flags. Start designing a few. You can offer standard designs—pineapple, sunflower, and sailboat—and customize them with family surnames or addresses for your clients. Or you can be commissioned to come up with a specific design for your customers who crave individuality.
9. Handbill Distribution. You distribute flyers or handbills for other businesses, concert promoters, grand openings, etc.
Charge by the hour or charge $20 to drop off flyers at stores that will permit you to leave them on their giveaway table.
10. Lawn Care Service. Mow, trim, weed lawns and include leaf removal during appropriate seasons. You’ll need a good mulching mower (so clippings don’t have to be swept up), a trimmer, and a spreader if you get into seeding and fertilizing. A truck is required or car with a trailer to pull equipment. Charge by the hour. Investigate the competition to see what your rates can be.
11. Blogging Business. Start blogs for small business owners that are too busy to establish them and write for them. Setting up blogs is free through blogspot.com
12. Personal Assistant. You offer yourself as a personal assistant to homeowners who need parties planned, businesses that are planning events or disgruntled consumers who need a dispute with a local merchant resolved. You can go it solo, and realize you’ll need a good computer and laser printer. At Your Service is a business opportunity program that sells a kit on how to start this business (manual, software, bookkeeping manual, plus 15 consulting hours) for $6000. For info: contact Personal Assistant International Inc. at 355 17th St., Boulder, CO 80302 or visit their website: firstname.lastname@example.org
13. Gift Basket Business. You make and market gift baskets in a wide variety of themes. You’ll need to develop resources for wholesale baskets and goods that you can include in your offerings. Check out your local Yellow Pages for manufacturers who will sell you goods at wholesale rates. Also, contact local trade show facilities (convention centers, chambers of commerce) to see if any gift or novelty shows are planned for your area. They are a good source of product offerings.
You’ll need a “resale or resell number” in order to buy goods at wholesale rates and to purchase goods without paying tax. Cost for this license will vary depending on where you live. Your county clerk’s office can help you obtain this license.
14. Specialty Plant Biz. If you have a knack for growing one particular type of plant, orchids or roses, than start a business growing and selling that one type of plant. If you are a gardener already and know how to grow these plants, then you have all the tools that are necessary. Sell your plants at crafts fairs, flea markets and even to local florists and plant shops.
15. Grocery Shopping Service. Folks email or fax their orders and you do their shopping. Under $100 to advertise your service. You get the cash in advance from your clients for your shopping trip. If they call the supermarket and fax in an order, you can go and pick it up for your customers. There is an ever-growing senior population that would love a service like this. They can call in orders if they don’t have Internet access.
16. Deck Builder. Specialize in one or two types of decks and start a business building them. You’ll need to build a deck or two to photograph for your portfolio, but since you know how it is done, you’ve probably already built a deck or two. Costs could range from $250 for an ad campaign and portfolio assembly to $800 to actually build your own small deck to photograph.
17. Internet Tutor. Lots of people have computers but are clueless when it comes to going online. You come over and teach them. For this business, we’ll assume you’re online and enjoy the Internet and exploring the world wide web. Take out ads in the business section of your local newspaper.
18. Flower Arranger. If you have a flair for floral arrangements, start a business dropping off weekly arrangements to restaurants, banks, businesses, stores, doctor’s offices, hospitals, catering halls, etc. Drive around with your photo portfolio of grand flower arrangements and ask your potential clients if you can provide them with weekly fresh floral arrangements. Buy your flowers from a local flower mart or wholesaler, take them home, arrange in vases, drop them off and collect the money.
19. Local Directory. You compile a directory or special commemorative magazine, and make money from the sale of advertisements and from consumers who want to buy it. Is your town celebrating a special anniversary? Or is a mayor retiring after a great long term in office? Is there a class reunion coming up? You organize the directory, write stories, get the photos together, sell the ads and make all the profit.
20. Assembly Service. If you have a knack for assembling things bought in home stores such as desks, bookcases, dressers and more, then you can start a business offering this service in your clients’ homes. Under $100 to develop flyers, business cards and place a small ad in the local paper. Visit all the local home stores and discounters to make sure they know of your service. Ask if they will give out your cards or flyers to their customers.
21. Make and Sell Piñatas. You make piñatas filled with themed gifts and trinkets for parties and sell them. The start-up costs will be $25 for piñata supplies including paints and $50 for a wide variety of trinkets you can purchase from novelty stores. We know of one couple that makes $60,000 a year selling their piñatas. Offer your piñatas for corporate events, birthday parties, outdoor picnics, holiday parties, retirement, etc.
22. Coat Check Service. Check coats for restaurants, catering halls or for people who host a lot of parties in your region.
You’ll need foldable garment racks, hangers and tags (available in stationery stores). Start-up costs should average around $300 and that includes an ad in the local paper. Print up a press release offering your service and send it to the local newspapers.
23. Nature Walks. If you have a love of the great outdoors and can talk about it with others, consider putting together tours and take folks on a beautiful walk while you describe everything they see. You can also offer this tour to groups such as seniors, school classes, and gardening clubs.
24. Man With Van. You have a van and plenty of people who need one don’t. You rent out your van and yourself to move furniture, deliver plants, bring home bags of topsoil, move play equipment, etc. You can start this business for less than $100.
25. Bottle Your Own. Do folks always tell you that you made the best pasta sauce or the best salad dressing? Then bottle it! Sell it to local merchants. You need labels, bottles and lots of information from your state department of health on requirements. Some states will require that you get a food handler’s license. Others will want to ensure that you include very specific information on your labels rather than just “Mom’s Hot Tamale Chili Sauce.” So do a lot of homework in your own state, as requirements are different all over the country. Find sources for label printing and research where you will get your glass jars. But before you do anything, take your product to local markets and ask the store buyers, owners or managers to sample.
26. At-Home Antique Dealer. Collect antiques and interesting collectibles and display them in your home. Consider taking items owned by others and sell them on a consignment basis. Collect items from friends and family. Take a cut when the item sells. Open your house on weekends for your antique sales. Let shoppers browse through your living room where the items are displayed. Call your local town board and determine whether or not you’ll need a special permit to conduct this business.
27. House Childproofer. You go around and childproof homes and apartments for your clients. You’ll need to conduct lots of research on the best baby-proofing materials and products available before you open your new business. You’ll need about $100 for an initial advertising budget and an additional $100 to start a flyer campaign: libraries, hospitals, toy stores, day care centers, etc. You can charge by the hour, and charge for each device you bring into the home and apartment and install. You can purchase these goods at wholesale rates and charge a markup to further increase your profit margin.
28. Nursery Set-Up Service. There’s a baby boom going on and lots of prospective parents need help in organizing the nursery so it’s all painted and decorated when Baby Bo or Baby Bob comes home from the hospital. Is there a nursery you can decorate? Do you have one of your own? Photograph it and use it to generate more business.
29. Home Office Consultant. Start a business designing and organizing office spaces for your home-based clients. Develop a list of good home office supply/furniture resources and develop a portfolio of home office photographs that you can copy, or take photos of a home office you’ve created such as your own. You’ll have to make your money first time around on this business, because it is very likely that you will not have repeat clients.
30. Crafts Fair Entrepreneur. You assemble a group of artisans and organize their wares for sale. You are going to need a space for this one complete with parking. If you have a large yard or adjacent field to your home, you can use that. Check with the town to ensure there are no additional costs/permits required. You’ll have to rent a space if you don’t have one. This could be a church basement, a fire station, etc. Look at the facilities in your town. Collect a group of artists you find at flea markets and fairs and start advertising. You take a cut of what they make and you’ll also charge them a fee to participate.
31. Stepping Stones. There are many ways to make your own stepping-stones. Visit a home center and inquire about the various products on the market that mix instant cement and check out the molds that are available. The cement can also be tinted. If you have a truck you can also purchase the stones from a quarry and install them for your customers. Start-up costs average about $100 for materials and one ad in your local newspaper.
32. Make Carts For Vending. You make original and appealing carts for entrepreneurs to use in their cart vending business. You’ll need to construct a few generic carts for entrepreneurs to examine. Considering lumber cost, figure anywhere from $100 to $2000. Develop decorative painting techniques also to jass up your carts.
33. Translation Service. If you are fluent in another language, then you can start a translation service. All you are going to need is the money to advertise your business. An ad could cost as low as $35. Distribute flyers throughout your city or in places of research and any other place where your language skill might be needed. Charge by the hour, but you might consider posting a minimum charge, as some jobs might only take you 15 minutes.
34. Family Trees. You research and prepare family trees for your clients. If you are a history buff and enjoy doing research, this could be a dream business for you. You’ll need a computer with a family tree software program (check your local software store for offerings). Figure on spending about $500 to get started for the software and to advertise. distribute flyers in libraies, book fairs, flea markets and advertise in your local paper. You could make $500 per search and written report. See what your market will bear. You can also offer this service via mail order.
35. Home Entertainment Service. You handle the installation of entertainment systems for your clients. They can also call on you to unhook one of the items in the rack when it needs to go to the repair shop. If you’re good at this business, word of mouth will generate more jobs.
36. Holiday Decorating Service. You decorate residences and businesses for the holidays. You bring all the lights and trim and ladder and do the work and then take it down at the end of the season. Take pictures of your own home or the homes of friends that you have decorated. Consider extending this business into the interior of the homes as well. Initial start-up should be less than $500 to buy trims, lights and power strips.
37. Party Fare. You provide all of the party goods—napkins, plates, balloons, banners, etc.—to fit a themed party for kids. Pick about 4 or 5 different themes—dinosaurs, animals, construction, trains, princess—and source out where you can buy party goods at wholesale rates in your area. Offer packages to consumers. Advertise in the local paper and wherever kids and their parents congregate.
38. Walking Tours. Everyone is told to get more exercise, and with the current thirst for knowledge on local topics and history, a walking tour business is a perfect example. If your area has some nice historical buildings and a good story, you can start this business right away by conducting research, developing a speech/patter for your tour and by donning an appropriate historical costume.
39. Keepsake DVD Biz. You video important days, events, moments in your clients’ lives and put together a keepsake video. You’ll need a camera, computer and a few accessories. You can create videos of golf tournaments, awards programs, grand openings, etc.
40. Backyard Herb Biz. Americans are desperately trying to eat in a more healthful manner and you can help them with a backyard herb biz. Grow your herbs organically and bag them up for sale to local markets, health food stores or sell them on your own at flea markets.
41. Shuttle Service. You provide quick trips for seniors, kids, and just about anyone else who needs a taxi. You are going to need a car or a van. If you have a car, start-up will be about $100-$300 to advertise the business in your area. The higher start-up cost will be for those readers who will need to beef up their liability coverage. On their car insurance.
42. Landscape and Deck Designer. Use design software that enables you to design decks, landscapes, and kitchens and provide these services for your clients. You’ll need a computer and you’ll need to purchase software. Visit your local shops and see what they offer. There’s a wide variety out there today. If you have a computer figure on spending about $300 to update your software. Advertise and publicize your business via gardening clubs, home shows, fairs and even flea markets where you set up your computer to demo your designs.
43. Commercial Cleaning. Carve out a niche for yourself whereby you concentrate on small businesses that need cleaners to come in at night and do their thing. You’ll need to advertise and send a direct mail letter to your local small businesses and you’ll need to invest in cleaning supplies. Figure on spending about $400 to get started.
44. Video Entrepreneur. Use your video camera to make a wide range of videos for clients including: local rock bands, real estate brokers, new home owners/builders, film to video transfer jobs, insurance videos, video resumes, instructional videos, video messages, surprise videos (baby showers, etc.), wedding day videos, baby’s first video, security videos, etc. Plan on spending about $1000 to get started if you need a camera.
45. Medical Disk Information Service. Record all of your clients’ medical history on a CD and when they visit a new doctor or have to move to a new area, they will have all of the information right at their fingertips. You’ll need a computer and plenty of blank disks. You’ll need to advertise your service. Figure on $500 with a computer and $2500 if you need to purchase a computer.
46. Bird Feeder, Bird House Biz. Make and sell birdhouses and bird feeders. It’s a booming biz. You’ll need about $300 to get started for materials and ads. Chances are you already have samples of your work available that you can show to local gift and novelty stores. Photograph your samples and set up your home workshop. Visit bookstores, too, and other shops in the genre and ask if you can display somen of your creations along with your business cards.
47. Family Histories. You compile videos on family histories by interviewing the family members and reviewing their memorabilia and history. Include letters, photos, homes and pets. Supply your clients with a DVD.
48. Gardening Teacher For Kids. Visit local schools, day care centers, playgroups and camps and teach kids how to plant a small garden that is manageable even for them. Advertise in local papers, send letters to local school principals; about $200 to start. Bring seed packs for all the kids, so they can go home and practice what they learned. Wear a “gardener’s” outfit.
49. Bed & Breakfast. Use extra rooms in your home to make money with your own bed & breakfast business. Costs will vary depending on how much work you need to get your place spruced up. Bed & Breakfast businesses do well in areas where there are things to see and do. If you are around a local tourist attraction, a hot golf tournament, a college or university, then you have a very promising future as a bed & breakfast entrepreneur. Costs will range from $100 to $500 depending on what you need to do and to place a local ad or create a flyer for distribution.
50. Perennial Gardens. Everyone loves flowers but few have the time to garden. Once they get going, you might be called in to prep them up each spring and to maintain the weeds, etc., but basically you are offering a one-time set-up service. Design about 4 or 5 gardens ranging in price from $150 to $1000. You, of course, will be getting all your plants wholesale from the local nursery.
51.Power Washing Service. Power wash decks, fences and homes. Power washers range from $150 to $1000 so check them out. Make sure you are familiar with the power they possess and purchase some insurance just in case you get a little overaggressive and damage a cedar shingle. Advertise in local papers and distribute fliers.
52. Wreaths. You make decorative wreaths for your clients and sell them wholesale or retail. You should make a few samples to take around to gift stores, card stores and other novelty shops that will offer your wreaths. You can sell them outright or sell them on consignment. See what works well for you. Costs could range around $100 to $200 for initial inventory and for ads and flyers. Consider marketing your wreaths to local hospitals, nursing homes, bed and breakfasts and other businesses in your region that want to keep their environments decorated on a regular basis.
53. Sell From Carts. Get a cart and sell your wares from the cart. It could be food, jewelry or t-shirts at a flea market. Carts range from $500 to $2000.
54. Freelance Publicist. Develop media contacts and hire yourself out to local businesses, event coordinators, universities, hospitals, retail stores and civic groups to help them promote their special events, products and services. You’ll need a letterhead, cards and a website describing who you are and what you do. Make sure it looks great—this is the selling tool that will make or break your business. You’ll need a computer, printer, fax and mobile phone. You’ll spend anywhere from $200 to $1500 to get started, provided you have the hardware to get going.
55. Tutor. Teach others what you know. You’ll need about $50 to $100 to develop a flyer promoting your business; also consider an ad in a local newspaper.
56. Bread Baker. Bake bread for businesses, restaurants and shops. You will need to bake some samples and take them around to local restaurants for tasting. If they like what you’ve baked, they just might order your products in bulk. Survey local shops, cafes and restaurants first to determine if there is interest in your bread business.
57. Costume Designe. Costume wearing all year round is experiencing a big boom. New Year’s Eve is a big time for costumes as well as costume wearing for themed parties and special events. You can make costumes for kids and adults and sell them for a whopping profit. The range will be from $25 to $100 depending on how elaborate you want your launch to be.
58. Car Buying Consultant. You help people buy cars—used or new. If you are a car buff and love reading about the automotive industry, this could be a great business for you. We met a car buyer who met with the client, compiled a profile of what they liked and what they needed along with how much they were willing to spend, and found the perfect car for them. New or used. He charged $500 for his service and the customers he shopped for were all very satisfied.
59. Photo Album Designer. Take photos from your clients and create beautiful photo albums. Take your own photos and create a photo album. Add decorative touches, such as lace for wedding albums, and hand-sewn baby-oriented styles for baby albums.
60. Music Teacher. Teach others how to play a musical instrument.
Fees range from $15 to $25 an hour for music lessons. The beginner’s lesson should be 30 minutes and about 40 to 60 minutes for more advanced students.
61. Day Care For Local Biz. You offer to set up and run a day care center in hospitals, business centers, supermarkets, malls, inns, hotels, and civic centers. Contact all of the managers of all of the above facilities and determine if they’d be interested in your service. Call your local county clerk’s office and see if any special licenses for day care centers are required in your state or county. You’ll need to purchase toys, games, balls, chairs and tables.
62. Garden Shed Building. You can start a business offering one or two types of sheds that you build on site or deliver when ready to your clients. If you’ve built your own shed, you already have a picture for your portfolio. Talk to gardeners and see what they would like. Design a basic budget model and then the super gardener’s shed.
63. Pet Photographer. We’ll assume you already have a good camera for this business and that you have a good knowledge of photography. Build a portfolio taking pictures of your friends’ and neighbors’ pets. This could cost about $200 for printing, publicity, and developing and a portfolio. You can generate interest for your business by hanging your pet photography in local schools, galleries, malls, pet stores, etc. Figure on having about $300 to get going.
64. Potpourri Empire. Make and sell potpourri and market it to local businesses, at fairs, through gift stores, card stores, garden shops, etc. If you can find a good recipe for potpourri (check bookstores as there are a lot of books available on making potpourri), pack it up and start marketing. You’ll need a little tag or label to identify your company or leave it blank if you plan on selling it private label style.
65. Tool Rental. Power tools, trimmers, circular saws, tile saws, etc. How many of these are sitting around unused in your basement or shop? Rent them out by the hour or by the day. Draw up a simple liability statement releasing you from any liability should an accident occur. You can make additional money if you charge $10 to drop off and $10 to pick up the item. Make sure you ask your renters to leave a substantial deposit for your equipment.
66. Car Detailing. You wash, wax and clean the interiors of cars for profit. Visit a local auto store and stock up on supplies. Ask the salespeople there about the best, most efficient products to use. Start should run about $150 for supplies, ads and flyers. You can charge anywhere from $75 on up per car for your service. Car owners who buy $80,000 vehicles don’t care about an extra $100 every two weeks for detailing.
67. Newsletter. Start a newsletter on a topic that you love and market the newsletter to folks obsessed with that particular area. You’ll need a computer and a laser printer to start this business. Once you have this equipment, you’ll need to develop a mailing list and you’ll need to advertise your newsletter to the proper market.
68. Box Lunches For Events. You make lunches to go and sell them at beaches, in parks, near events and gatherings. You’ll need to call the county clerk in your area to see if you need a food handler’s license to make sandwiches and sell them. Requirements vary state by state so check it out. You can also purchase the sandwiches and snacks ready made from a nearby deli.
69. Museum. Start your own museum. If you are obsessed with a particular topic, then consider starting a museum to showcase your love and knowledge. You’ll be charging for admission, of course. If you have collected a wide variety of goods and know-how on one topic, then you are already there. If you have to go out and purchase items to stock your museum, then you could incur start-ups costs in the thousands. If you have a space on your property—a guesthouse, garage, tidy shed, or even an extra room in your home—then you have the makings of a museum. What are your interests? The Wizard Of Oz paraphernalia? We know there’s a museum in San Francisco completely devoted to Barbra Streisand. The entrepreneur charges admission and probably sells souvenir trinkets to museumgoers, too.
70. Waiting Game. You stay at home to wait for your client’s repairman, cable operator, painter, plumber, etc. You can make anywhere from $10 to $80 an hour for this service. If your clients expect you to perform other tasks while you are there—answer phones, feed the pet, water the plants—you can charge more. You might want to charge a minimum on this business. Say, two hours. With experience you’ll learn if you can book more than one client a day. Look into getting bonded.
71. Kid’s Party Entertainer. Develop a character and entertain at kid’s parties.
You’ll need about $100-$500 to purchase or make a costume and to advertise your service in the local newspaper. Hand out flyers at parent-child events, too.
72. Playhouse Designer/Builder. You design and build playhouses for your clients. Build on site or at your own home, but you’ll a trailer to deliver. You’ll need to construct
a playhouse in order to create a photo portfolio of what you can do. You could offer three types of playhouses: dollhouse, pirate’s cove, explorer’s hut, etc. Come up with cost estimates based on materials and your all-important labor charge.
73. Model Train Settings. If you have a flair for trains, start a model train set-up biz. It’ll cost you nothing to photograph your own train set-up. You’ll need to advertise your services in a local newspaper and ask the owner of a local train shop or toy store if you can distribute your flyers there. That way, the shop owner will make more money too, as they’ll sell more trains and track if there is someone available to set up elaborate train settings. Start-up could range from $50 to $100.
74. Closet/Pantry/Office Organizer. Print up some stationery and business cards and take an ad in a local newspaper. Try to get the local paper to interview you about “getting organized” for some free publicity. Costs to start will range from about $100 to $250. Spread the word on this type of service. Call local business groups and ask if they need a speaker on organization. Offer your services to a local non-profit group. Once word spreads that you are good at what you do, the call should come in at a nice rate for your new business
75. Researcher. If you live in an area with opportunity for researchers, you could start a profitable research business. You conduct research for local businesses, homeowners, organizations and associations for a fee. You’ll need to promote your business by taking out an advertisement and distributing a flyer in appropriate locations. Consider a direct mail letter to well targeted potential clients: college professors, small business owners, organizations, corporations, public relations firms and writers. Range is from $100 to $250.