Not every entrepreneur needs a lot of money to start a business. In fact, there are some businesses that require much more sweat equity than funding to get off the ground. If you want to take the leap into entrepreneurship, but don’t want to go into debt, here are six businesses you can start on the cheap, along with some tools to help ensure there is a market for your idea.
1. Homemade Gourmet Foods
Homemade foods are all the rage now as people are looking to eat healthier and get away from overly processed, mass-produced food laden with chemicals. Entrepreneurs all over the country are packaging jams, soup, candy, and salsa and selling them at farmers markets, online, and in specialty stores. Recent laws in many states have made it possible to start this type of business from a home kitchen, and once the business outgrows that, you can rent space in a commercial kitchen. However, cottage food laws vary widely from state to state, and include restrictions such as what you can sell, the ingredients you can use, where you can sell your goods, and even how much money you can make from the venture — so be sure to learn about the laws in your area before tying on your apron.
2. Lawn Care/Snow Removal
If you enjoy doing physical activity outside, a lawn/yard care business may be right for you. With this type of service business, you can start as small as you want, and then as your business grows, add equipment and personnel. To begin, you will need business cards, flyers, and some basic equipment such as a truck and trailer, lawn mowers, trimmers, and blowers. You can keep your advertising costs to a minimum in this business because a lot of your business will come from referrals. In the colder months when lawn care business slows down, you can offer snow removal services in many areas.
3. Cleaning Service
If you have a knack for keeping things spotless, you might consider opening a residential cleaning service. All it takes to get started are cleaning supplies, transportation, licensing and bonding fees, and a way to get the word out to potential customers. Some cleaning businesses offer nontoxic cleaning for those consumers who don’t want excess chemicals in their homes, and charge a premium for the specialized services. You can start small by doing the jobs yourself, and then add employees as your business grows.
4. Virtual Assistant
As business owners seek to outsource more and more of their work, virtual assistants are in high demand. If you are efficient, organized and can stay on task while working from home, offering yourself as a virtual assistant might be a great business for you. You can market yourself as a generalist and perform mainly administrative tasks, or specialize in a niche or industry. All you need to get started are the proper skills, a phone, computer, internet connection, and the appropriate software. You can approach business owners to offer your services, or sign up at sites like Elance, oDesk, or Equivity. Find out more about this growing profession at the International Virtual Assistants Association website.
Handypeople perform domestic repairs and small renovations that are typically too small for a contractor. For instance, a handyperson may put together garage shelving, do power washing, deck staining, fence building, trim installation, and countless other around-the-house fix-it tasks. You should have a knack for fixing or building things, the required tools, transportation, and a website or other marketing channels. Every state has different rules about whether or not a handyperson needs to be licensed, so be sure you check the laws that apply to you. In addition, you can read this free guide to getting started as a handyperson.
6. Backyard Farmer
As the eat local movement has gained traction across the nation, more and more people are turning their backyards into mini farms, and taking what they grow to their local farmers market, or even selling the surplus to a local grocery store. You can grow whatever vegetables and fruits are suited to your climate, or raise chickens for eggs, bees for honey, and goats for milk and cheese. Some backyard farmers preserve and pickle the excess produce and sell jam or fresh pickles alongside their produce.To start a backyard farm, you will need a yard dedicated to farming, plenty of knowledge and skill about growing organic produce, basic tools, and if you also raise livestock, a gated area, beehive, or a chicken coop. You will need to check your city’s zoning laws as some allow laying hens, but not roosters, while other don’t allow beehives on residential lots.
How to Test the Market
Just like with any new business, it’s important to conduct research before you launch to ensure there is a market for your products or services. To learn about your market potential, you can use the SBA’s SizeUp system, which lists all the competing businesses in your area, form a local focus group to get the opinions and feedback of real consumers in your area, and get demographic and economic data about your locale from the State Data Census Program. You can also ask for help from your local Small Business Development Center.
As you can see, it’s possible to start a small business without a lot of startup capital. The key is to use skills you already possess and build a profitable cottage business on a shoestring.