Many people are tempted to try earning a living outside of traditional employment but are daunted by thoughts of franchise fees, employee salaries or overwhelming equipment costs prior to making any income from a venture. Here are twenty-one cheap business ideas for enthusiastic individuals with limited funds. (See also: Budget Business Strategies for Budding Entrepreneurs).

1Online Store

If paying for retail rental space isn’t on your short list of preferred startup costs, you may want to think about starting your own online store or e-commerce site. It’s an option that’s easily customized to suit your area of expertise, and can be expanded as you see fit or have the energy. Is fishing your area of expertise? Ergonomic office supplies? Luxury clothing brands? Whatever topic you are knowledgeable about is fair game. If you are limited on time, you may want to implement a system where all of the shipping and handling is done for you, freeing you up to explore additional business projects. If you are interested in an online store, Steve is running an excellent course on running an online store. His e-commerce site was earning six figures within the first year!

2. Gourmet Lemonade or Juice Stand

small business ideaIf you travel at all, it’s likely that you’ve seen these along the streets of many a developing nation. People are always lined up, and the beverages – due to a frequent lack of refrigeration facilities – are always freshly squeezed. Electricity is often not available either in those situations, so the industrial hand press for extracting the juice and a mobile cart for storage are your two largest expenses after beverage glasses and the fruit itself. Easy options include pomegranate lemonade or orange juice. In North America you may have permit considerations, so it pays to check in advance. (See also: Inexpensive Overhead Solutions for Starting Your Small Business)

3. Pet Bakery

You don’t have to be the brightest business student to realize that pets are big business in this part of the world. If the thought of a dealing with a doggie care facility day in and day out seems a bit daunting, consider a pet bakery. Unless you want to hang a shingle and open up a shop on Main Street, there really isn’t any need to. You can simply coordinate the baking of your treat recipes of choice and begin selling them online or to indie pet stores. Here’s a resource for pet treat business startups from the Small Business Administration.

4. Yard Maintenance

Teens with time in their hands can start something like this with as little as a bit of sweat equity if they approach community members with their own yard equipment, or borrow some from good ol’ Dad. Young adults who are ready to take things to the next level can purchase basic tools and a work truck and build up clientele over a slightly larger area.

5. Jewelry Design

With sites like Etsy making online sales for crafters easier than ever, and the recession-proof appeal of baubles in general, jewelry design is certainly worth considering for those with the necessary skill set. There’s no need to spring for precious gems and metals early on. There’s plenty of market room for pieces designed with materials such as crystal beads, dichroic glass, stainless steel findings and stones such as red jasper or turquoise.

6. Snow Removal

Young adults still living at home may need to get started shoveling walkways with a shovel, but grownups with their own plow gear can kick things up a notch by offering full-on plowing services. Granted, this is a seasonal gig. That being said, if you reside in snowy climes the extra money could be used to supplement your heating costs and also to help fund necessary equipment for ventures more appropriate for warmer weather.

7. Mobile Pet Grooming

Remember when I talked about cargo trailers as the money-saving vehicle alternative that could save you tens of thousands of dollars? Well, one of the business ideas you could implement from such a trailer would be mobile pet grooming. As established, the pet services market in North America is far from trivial. People with busy careers still need to have their pets groomed. If you’re willing to travel to the source of your gigs, the payoff potential could be significant.

8. Birthday Party Photographer

Even if structured portrait shots aren’t your thing, action photography at events like birthday parties can still bring in revenue. Your startup equipment requirements are mainly a great camera, a few business cards and your own transportation. I’ve also seen regular online ads for people searching for newborn photographers to show up at hospitals for the most important birthday of all.

9. Tutoring

Got mad skills in a particular area of academia? Try your hand at tutoring. Whether your expertise is in mathematics, astronomy, English or biochemistry, chances are there’s a struggling student somewhere who needs your services.

10. Hot Dog Cart

You can glam it up with gourmet topping options at the county fair, or keep it simple with basic veggie dog sales for your community’s Earth Day event. If you have a park that sees regular lunchtime traffic, that also might be regular revenue stream. Supplies, the cart and a community or event permit represent most of what you’ll need to get started.

11. Grocery Delivery

For shoppers who find their time for hitting the organic markets limited, or navigating urban retail spaces to be rather overwhelming, a reliable grocery delivery service can feel like a gift from the Gods. Other than a good quality refrigerated delivery van, you basically need your clientele base and good relationships with a number of distributers and farmers in your area. Also not to be dismissed is simply developing relationships with grocery stores which offer an order filling service. Senior centers, suburban gated communities and apartment buildings are all great places to drop off flyers and develop your core customers.

12. Window Washing

While dressing in a super hero costume to wash windows on skyscraper-sized children’s hospitals is certainly cool, there’s no need to invest in the pulley system necessary for such an endeavor for someone new to the business. There are plenty of two-story homes around with owners who have better things to do than climb on a ladder to scrub the outside of their upstairs windows. Make the rounds, drop off some cards and see who might be interested. Granted, it’s typically some time between money-making sessions. If youre town or city is large enough however, it can be a decent additional revenue stream if not your main one.

13. Event Planning

Planning a race where you can sell tickets, orchestrating a fundraising event for a local charity or putting together a concert are all ways you can make money from event planning. Strong community relationships are key, but people make big money doing this. If throwing big parties and organizing group gatherings is something you enjoy, the skill set is transferrable to this line of work.

14. Pet Sitting

As the parent of a dog who does not board well at all, I am in the position several times per year of needing to hire overnight or weekend pet sitting services. For longer trips, we can usually find a free volunteer through House Carers. When it comes to weekend getaways or career events where traveling with our pooch proves problematic however, people don’t want to drive from three states away for such a short-term gig. We’re far from alone. Pet sitters are highly sought after and the good ones tend to be booked in advance. Consider developing a client list for extra income if pets are your passion.

15. Blogging

If fuel costs for entrepreneurial adventures concern you, you might try blogging as your side gig of choice. The lack of a daily drive is just one of the many reasons it’s cheaper to work from home, and there are many blogging gigs that cost you absolutely nothing to start. Food for thought.

16. Stock Photography

If your idea of a dream business includes passive income, then stock photography might be just what the doctor ordered. As with taking pictures at children’s birthday parties, a reasonably good camera is a must. Of course, there is other equipment you could invest in as well if your sales take off. However, a good eye and a quality piece of equipment are all that’s necessary in the beginning. The stock photography sites cost nothing to join and any fees collected for the brokering of image sales come out of money that’s already been spent to purchase your work. Not bad considering many people who’ve been at this a while earn a full time living at this while they sleep. How far you go with it is up to you.

17. Pool Cleaning

If you live somewhere sunny, chances are there are people with pools that need servicing. My husband and I currently live in Florida. I can assure you, there’s plenty of low-hanging fruit when it comes to developing a client base. Considering it’s a business most people run out of the back of a pickup truck, I think it’s particularly well suited to new business owners on a budget.

18. Personal Cook

While finding a family who can afford a full-time private chef might be a stretch in your town, locating folks with busy schedules who would rather pay someone to drop off a few healthy meals per week than indulge in greasy restaurant takeout is notably easier. All you need is a few clients to get started and some sample menus that will satisfy your clientele while maximizing your profit margin. Keeping track of ingredients is simple if you travel with a tablet device every day. These tools easily hold checklists and recipe URL information to make shopping easier and allow you to skip the circus of juggling multiple paper lists for all your clients at the store.

19. Specialty Furniture

No need to spend big bucks on expensive hardwoods when there are plenty of other specialty furniture options out there for people with building skills. For example, the twig furniture mentioned in my piece on nature crafts for grownups is popular with shoppers to roadside product stands, and old pallets can be used to create a number of fun items for lake houses and casual backyard entertaining.

20. Sewing Support

Whether you offer custom patch embroidery, mending, or full-on bridal apparel design, sewing support can bring in significant extra income. It requires equipment you already have on hand if you possess the skill set and comes with the potential of repeat business built in.

21. Freelance Writing

Granted, you need to be careful to make time for desk fitness if you want to keep your spine in shape. That being said, freelance writing is another one of those small business ideas that can be launched for free if you have internet access and your own computer. Check out this post on how freelancers make money.

This is far from the most comprehensive list of affordable business ideas available, but does provide a sturdy list of options to get you started. Do you have a successful and simple small business idea that you’ve implemented?

Myscha Theriault

Myscha Theriault

A lifelong money cruncher who can squeeze a nickel ‘til it cries, Myscha is a syndicated columnist, best-selling author, and founder of Trek Hound and We Be Sharin’.