If you’re thinking about a cheap or low-cost business to start in 2021, you’re not alone. According to Small Business Trends, there were more than 30 million small businesses in the U.S. as of March 2020. Recent economic shifts and unemployment spikes could be the spark you need to turn your entrepreneurial dreams into reality.
Here are six businesses you can start that don’t require a major financial investment.
1. Online Services
Businesses have migrated en masse to online operations since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. The demand for digital content and services has never been higher.
Depending on your skills and interests, the potential in this space is nearly endless. You could offer services in marketing and content strategy, writing, graphic design, copy editing, and proofreading, website design, search engine optimization — whatever’s in demand that you can fill. For example, Joan launched a business offering social media content creation and monthly reporting services to businesses. Roberto built a side business using his cybersecurity experience to help business owners keep their WordPress sites and file sharing solutions secure.
Starting an online services business requires a particular set of skills, and you’ll also need a computer, an internet connection, and some basic marketing savvy. You can find clients through want ads, via platforms such as Upwork and FlexJobs or through dedicated outreach efforts on social media platforms like LinkedIn or via your own website.
Do you have a background in teaching or education? If so, now’s a great time to learn how to start a cheap business that leverages those skills. The demand for tutoring and individual educational experiences has risen over the past several months. You could help students with specific assignments; reinforce learning through additional lessons, such as Spanish-speaking sessions; or develop supplemental course work and teach it directly to students. Laura, a certified reading teacher, offers virtual sessions to help parents implement specialized lessons for students who struggle to read.
Getting started requires little more than a computer, an internet connection and a resume, but building a website or paying to join a tutoring marketplace could help you quickly build your clientele.
If you have a unique skill set or specialized knowledge, you can put it to work as a consultant. Consultants usually work on a project or hourly basis to provide services that businesses need. Diego, for instance, built on his project management certification and launched a service that helps small businesses manage technology projects. Dana leverages her years as an ISO auditor to help with internal audits, training, and certification reports.
Consulting can be lucrative, and it doesn’t take much — outside of a deep knowledge base and probably some industry experience — to get in on the ground floor: You can often start with little more than a computer and a basic website. You’ll likely need a smartphone and a reliable internet connection, too, as well as a strong marketing infrastructure. This might include a LinkedIn premium membership and active membership in industry groups and on consulting platform sites. Depending on your field, you might need specialized equipment or software.
4. Virtual Assistance
Today’s professionals are busier than ever before, and administrative skills are in demand. Starting a virtual assistant business lets you build on your experience as an administrative assistant, executive assistant or office manager. Clients might hire you by the hour or on a lucrative monthly retainer to take care of everyday tasks like answering emails, scheduling meetings, updating websites and social media accounts, conducting research and completing specialized projects.
Having an area of expertise, such as a deep background in a particular industry or unique skills in graphic design or with specific software bundles, can help you stand out and earn higher rates. Daniel built on a decade of working in legal firms and launched a virtual assistant business that caters to individual lawyers and small legal practices. Because he understands the sector, he can tailor his offerings to his clients’ needs and complete projects quickly and efficiently.
5. Errand Services
One cheap business to start that can work for a variety of people is an errand service. You might offer to shop for and deliver the groceries, ferry items to the post office or the bank, sit for pets or take them to veterinary appointments, or courier items from one place to another. You could also build errand services around specialized skills — if you’re handy with tools or good with lawn care, for example. You could work independently with local customers or partner with a larger task site to source potential customers. Megan needed a flexible business so that she could work when she had child care available. By running an errand service in her city, she generates extra income and maintains control of her schedule.
To launch an errand business, you’ll need a computer, an internet connection, some basic marketing skills, and reliable transportation.
6. Online E-Commerce Business
Done right, an online e-commerce business could be a cheap business to start next year. You could sell products that you make on Etsy. You could partner with a platform such as Shopify to launch a dropshipping business, where you market products and rely on third-party vendors to hold inventory and ship the items. Decide what you’re going to sell, then research the best path forward.
Barbara launched an online store to sell jewelry she designs and creates. Geoffrey created a shop that sells novelty products to fishing buffs; he partnered with a drop shipper to keep costs down and then added custom products that he fulfills as his profits grew.
Starting an online retail business requires a computer and a reliable internet connection, an e-commerce-ready website platform, and a payment processor. It also requires a little startup money to build your inventory, and you’ll need to account for the resources you’ll need for customer service, marketing, and order fulfillment.
Funding Your New Business
Launching a business can help you achieve independence, economic security, and flexibility. And it doesn’t have to be expensive. If you need some startup capital to invest into technology, software or marketing costs, look into taking out a small business loan.
Going into business for yourself can be both exciting and daunting. By learning how to start a cheap business, you could be well on your way to new revenue streams and growth without incurring significant debt along the way.