Ready to flex your entrepreneurial muscles and dive headfirst into your own small business? To identify a business opportunity with low start-up costs, look for a venture with minimal fixed overhead (i.e., one you can run from home) and one that doesn't require an intense and expensive marketing campaign. The following 10 small businesses can be up and running for no more than $10,000. On top of the estimated expenses covered here, it may be a good idea to invest in a few business courses at the local community college. And always check local regulations about the need for a business license and insurance. These expenses could add about $2,500 to start-up costs.
Start-up costs: $4,900 and up
Tools, equipment, and training: Computer, specialized tools, ASHI course
Most home buyers seek the professional eye of a home inspector before signing on the dotted line. Get a reliable computer ($400) and become a member of the American Society of Home Inspectors for $399 a year (plus a $25 application fee), which entitles you to a $1,000 discount on a $3,995 comprehensive online (at home) training course. The society also offers hands-on instruction in select locations. Necessary tools include a water pressure gauge, moisture meter, a 6-foot and 12-foot ladder, and more. Knowing how to spot problems and understanding local codes provide the basic foundation of a successful home inspection business. Let others know of your new expertise by posting on Facebook. Send a blast email to local real estate agents as well, but tread carefully -- there is ongoing debate in the industry about the ethics of the inspector-agent relationship. ASHI also provides an online referral service for members.
Start-up costs: $3,500 and up
Tools and equipment: Vending machine, merchandise
There are vending machines for all types of goods -- sodas, juices, snacks, toys, office supplies, ice cream, small toiletries, and so on. Would-be proprietors can find machines for less than $5,000 (a popular food-drink combo goes for about $3,200) and stock one for about $200 by buying in bulk from warehouse clubs such as Costco or Sam's Club. The machine has to sit somewhere, of course, and landlords often negotiate a percentage of sales in lieu of rent. Fees vary by location and a small upfront down payment may be required. If you've picked the right spot, the merchandise will sell itself.
Start-up costs: $2,500 and up
Tools, equipment, and training: Camera and lenses, image-editing software, photography classes
While it may seem that anyone with a quality DSLR camera can become a well-paid photographer, it rarely works that way. Before plunging into this entrepreneurial venture full time, take a few photography courses (about $1,000). Other start-up costs attached to a small photography business include the camera and lenses (about $2,000) and image-editing software ($75 to $650). Take advantage of estate sales and thrift shops and look online for secondhand equipment and props. Create a web presence ($25 a month for a business package from the web-hosting service Weebly, for example), and ring the free bell on Facebook and Craigslist.
Start-up costs: $1,750 and up
Tools and equipment: Bounce house, setup and maintenance equipment
Most people don't have a bounce house lying around, so when the need arises (for a kids' party, block party, school carnival, etc.) they rent the structure from a provider who gets the inflatable up and running. The investment for this entrepreneurial venture varies -- bounce houses range in size and shape and start at about $200 but quickly blow past the $2,000 mark. You'll need equipment for setup, maintenance, and transport, as well: a blower (about $200); a sprayer (about $50); fix-it kits (about $80); sandbags (about $80); and a handcart (about $300). You'll also need to market like crazy, so start with a presence on the web ($25 a month), on Facebook (free), and Craigslist (free). Get permission to post fliers (about $20 for printing) in places parents and kids congregate.
Start-up costs: $1,225 and up
Tools and equipment: Camera, computer, website, inventory
Getting an online gift basket shop off the ground takes a flair for design and a business license that can unlock the door to a wholesale account (warehouse clubs and big-box discount retailers are a backstop). Choose several gift basket themes and pick products accordingly, amassing packaged food items, small games, cosmetics, trinkets, and so on. Figure on investing at least $500 in inventory so you're prepared to fulfill orders immediately. Hit the dollar store for baskets and other types of containers, as well as tissue paper, ribbons, and other materials to dress up the arrangements ($150). You'll also need a computer ($400), an inexpensive camera ($150) to photograph your creations (a smartphone camera will do in a pinch), and a web presence ($25 a month) to show off your handiwork and take orders.
Start-up costs: $650 and up
Tools and equipment: Computer, marketing materials
Some people buy a cake and call it a party. Others want a little more fanfare but aren't sure how to pull it off. If you love all things party, are blessed with fun ideas, and aren't overwhelmed by the organizing and the details, offer your services as a party planner. Figure about $35 for business cards ($15 for a pack of 100 from a cheap online print shop such as Vistaprint) and fliers (about $20 to print at a local copy shop; cheaper to print at home) until free word-of-mouth referrals take over. A computer ($400) is useful for researching ideas (hello, Pinterest!) and locating and/or ordering party supplies. Spend about $200 to hire a photographer to document your initial efforts, and post the images to your business website ($25 a month) and/or Facebook page (free).
Start-up costs: $550 and up (excluding vehicle)
Tools and equipment: Vacuum cleaner, mop and pail, cleaning products, transportation
Start-up costs for a cleaning business require a small investment. Shop at big-box chains such as Walmart, Costco, or Sam's Club for cleaning supplies (about $200) or save money and secure a niche for the business by making "green" cleaning supplies at home. Other necessary equipment includes a powerful and lightweight vacuum ($150), mop and bucket ($40), and tote for supplies ($15). If you don't already have a vehicle to get to your clients, look for a good deal on a new or used car. Let friends and family know you're available and set up a Facebook page. Spread the word further with an ad in the local weekly shopper ($100) and post fliers and hand out business cards around town ($35).
Start-up costs: $500 and up
Tools and equipment: Computer, Internet access
The prerequisites for becoming a virtual assistant are computer savvy and good communication and organization skills. There are few start-up costs for this small business and the work can be accomplished from the comforts of home. Companies and individuals hire virtual assistants to provide skill sets they may not possess, such as clear writing, administrative support, bookkeeping, research, data entry, and scheduling. With reliable Internet service (about $30 to $100 a month) and a decent laptop (about $400), you can spring into action. Promote your services for free on Facebook, post a notice on Craigslist, and spread the word among friends and family. But don't wait for clients to come to you; scour local message boards and "help wanted" platforms.
Start-up costs: $500 and up
Tools and equipment: Computer, reference materials
If you already have a college degree or expertise in a subject or two, turn that knowledge into cash by offering tutoring services to local students and adults. This small business requires little to no money down. Expenses include $35 or so for advertising (business cards and fliers); about $100 for reference books (e.g., a current textbook); about $400 for a laptop; and an Internet connection ($30 to $100 a month) to keep up with trends in the field, find tutoring aids, and email with students. Once you have a few students under your tutelage, they will spread the word and potential clients will knock on your door.
Start-up costs: $300 and up
Tools and equipment: Poop scoop, walking shoes, leashes, marketing materials
Pet owners don't always have time to take their pooches for daily strolls, so there's probably a need for dog walkers in the community. Aside from purchasing a good pair of walking shoes ($60), visit a pet-supply store for a poop scoop ($15) and a couple of leashes ($20). Combine this service with pet sitting and market your pet-friendly home as a cheaper alternative to boarding an animal when owners go out of town. You'll either care for the animal at its own home or in yours, in which case the owners bring their own supplies. Marketing expenses for this venture include business cards and fliers (about $35). Advertise for free in local Facebook groups and consider joining the National Association of Pet Sitters for $135 a year to burnish your credentials.