December 17, 2015 Helpful Tips

By: Elizabeth Renter

Being your own boss can be rewarding, but getting started is a daunting task. It can seem like you need a small fortune to get your business off the ground. But not all new ventures require investors or small-business loans. Even if you have less than $1,000 to invest, there are plenty of low-cost business ideas that can help you achieve your entrepreneurial dreams.

Some expenses are unavoidable when starting your own business. For instance, registering your operation comes with fees, and nearly every entrepreneurial venture requires marketing and promotion. Here are some businesses you can start for less than a grand.

Virtual Assisting

You don’t have to work in someone’s office to assist them with administrative and technical tasks. Virtual assisting makes it possible to serve clients from your home. Outfitting a home office and promoting your new business will be your biggest expenses. Consider joining a trade group like the International Virtual Assistants Association for networking, mentorship and additional marketing benefits.

Startup expenses: computer, high-speed internet, marketing materials

Driver for Ride-Booking Service

Uber and Lyft are an option for entrepreneurs with a safe driving record and a dependable car. Insurance requirements for ride-booking drivers are evolving and vary from state to state, so you’ll want to check with your insurer to make sure you’ll be covered in the event of an accident.

Startup expenses: smartphone, insurance

Consulting and Freelancing

If you’re an expert in your field, share your insights with individuals or companies as a consultant or freelancer. Tech professionals, writers, public relations and human resources experts, and marketing personnel are often brought in on a contract basis. To run a successful consulting or freelance business, it helps to be a recognized authority on a topic and have connections in the field.

Startup expenses: website, business cards and other promotional materials

Delivery Service

People need things moved, and they don’t always want to be the ones to do it. Delivery services — for groceries or take-out food, as a courier, or something else — offer easy entry into entrepreneurship. Get an edge on the competition by choosing a niche: deliver farmers market produce on a weekly basis, connect caterers with their customers, or contract with local restaurants.

Startup expenses: commercial auto insurance, marketing materials, equipment to safely transport food or fragile items


Good at fixing things? Tools are the biggest startup expense, but many people adept at repair and light home improvement jobs already have equipment. To find jobs, start in your neighborhood or try reaching out to smaller, local property management companies to see if they’re looking for on-call contractors.

Startup expenses: tools, business cards and marketing materials

Personal Chef

Busy professionals, parents and successful small businesses need someone to help them with meals. Personal chefs can work from their own home, delivering prepared meals to clients, or work in clients’ homes. In either case, startup costs are low if you’re working in an already-outfitted kitchen.

Startup expenses: cooking tools, groceries, marketing materials

Child Care

You don’t have to open a large day care center to make money caring for children. Looking after kids in your home, or in theirs, is an affordable way to get started. Licensing requirements, which vary by state, could be the bulk of your costs.

Startup expenses: training and licensing fees, insurance, toys, car seats, bottles, safety equipment for your home

Cleaning Houses or Businesses

The janitorial industry is profitable but highly competitive, partly because of low startup costs. But as a small business, you may be able to set lower rates because you’ll have lower overhead than some established competitors. Many entrants into the business start by cleaning homes, initially gaining customers by word of mouth.

Startup expenses: liability insurance, business cards and promotional materials, cleaning supplies

Personal Trainer

Most trainers are certified through a professional agency like the American College of Sports Medicine or the American Council on Exercise. These certifications aren’t needed to go into business, but may be required if you plan to train clients in a gym. Fortunately, those certifications can pay for themselves, thanks to the clients they’ll help you attract.

Startup expenses: testing and certification fees, gym fees, body-fat calipers and other measurement tools, marketing materials

Pet Care

Grooming, walking and pet-sitting are some of the tasks that pet owners are willing to pay for. You’ll want to protect yourself with insurance in case an accident should happen when the animals are under your care. Agencies like Pet Sitters Associates and the National Association of Professional Pet Sitters help members find reasonably priced insurance for their pet care businesses.

Startup expenses: insurance, leashes, pet food and treats, grooming tools, marketing materials


Elizabeth Renter is a writer for NerdWallet, which provides clarity around decisions that help you start or grow your small business. We provide clear unbiased information, entrepreneur-focused advice, and tools for small-business loans, tax and legal issues. We also connect you with experts who can answer questions about growing your small business. 


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