47 Small Scale Business Ideas to Start and Grow Earnings Online

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Starting a business is hard. The options, road blocks, and decisions can seem endless… how can you know you’re making the right decision?

But, what if I told you there are dozens of simple but powerful strategies you can use to increase income you earn online?

By understanding the challenges of starting a business and identifying successful low-cost business ideas, you can save thousands of dollars and start a career that’s both satisfying AND lucrative.

In this article, I’ll review types of businesses, the pros and cons of joining a franchise vs starting your own business, and 47 great small business ideas that you can start without a huge up-front investment. And, for home-based workers, more than half of these suggestions are online or have a heavy online component.

What Are the Challenges of Starting a Business?

If starting a business was easy, everyone would do it.

Don’t ignore the challenges of starting a business—learn from them.

Money

No cash? Don’t want to sell or mortgage your property or borrow from family?

I know the feeling! And, for many hopeful entrepreneurs, a lack of capital leaves you with two options: business loan or crowdfunding.

Loans come in five flavors:

  1. commercial bank loans
  2. non-term bank loans
  3. lines of credit
  4. business credit cards
  5. merchant cash advances

For the good and the bad, see The Pros, Cons, and Price for the Top 5 Small Business Loan Products.

Crowdfunding platforms like Indiegogo and Kickstarter get a large number of people to pledge small amounts of money to fund a project. Crowdfunding might work for you, if your idea is new or reaches a particular niche.

Time

You have to find time to manage all the pieces of your business, especially if you’re starting a new business from scratch or by yourself.

Decision fatigue is a real phenomenon that can bring a productive day screeching to a halt. By building a reliable support team, streamlining systems and processes, and setting a clear schedule and expectations with staff and clients, you can reduce stress and take back your time.

Security

Whether (or when) to quit your day job and focus on your start-up is a big decision. It becomes even harder if you or your family are relying on your current income to pay bills or cover start-up costs.

If you want your business to grow, however, sooner or later you’ll have to make it a priority.

By planning ahead, you can reduce risk and give yourself (and your family) a greater sense of security.

Control

Being in control of your own schedule and strategy is one of the main reasons people go into business for themselves—but it can also be a burden.

Everything is your job, from overall strategy and team management to running your social media account and correcting operations issues or technical problems.

Be prepared to delegate tasks. Look into software and systems that can reduce workload and save you time.

Scaling Up

If your business is stagnating, you have to figure out how to make it grow. If your business is suddenly taking off, you have to be able to get out ahead of it.

The right strategy and personnel allows you to scale up your revenue without increasing workload or relative costs. If you have your own site you may need to review your website to increase visibility and SEO.

Managing a Team

Sooner or later you will need people to help run your business. Whether you hire or contract out, find people you trust to deliver quality work on time.

Every team and team lead is unique—what works for some managers may not work for you or the team you put together. Keep communication clear and consistent.

Technology

All businesses have online components these days. Even local, brick-and-mortar businesses can’t afford to ignore the role technology and digital marketing play in a company’s success.

Keeping up with new technology is a challenge, especially if you’re trying to build a website and start marketing online for the first time.

Should You Start a Physical or Online Business?

A traditional, “physical” business, like catering or insurance, has the advantage of being tried and true. Others have been successful in these industries, and so can you. But, the costs of establishing a physical store may be prohibitive.

Thankfully, today’s entrepreneurs have online choices as well.

An online business often requires less up-front capital. You can work from home, set your own schedule, and save on everything from commuting to rent to your wardrobe.

Digital content choices like photography editing/curation/hub, writing/editing, SEO, graphic design, and video editing, often cost less to create and manage.

But, marketing online services can be a real challenge.

If you prefer selling products to services (or if you don’t feel like you have a marketable service), you might consider becoming a reseller on sites like Ebay or pursuing the affiliate marketing route.

Even selling on established sites like Ebay, however, won’t eliminate the need to study marketing and content marketing strategy.

So, which choice is best for you? Physical or online? Services or products?

To help decide, consider the following questions:

  • Will you need to rent space?
  • Do you need to buy or rent equipment?
  • How much up-front investment is there?
  • Will you need additional training?
  • How long will it take to get up and running?
  • And, most important: Is this something that you can feel satisfied doing day in and day out without risking burnout?

Starting your own business is a HUGE endeavor, and many entrepreneurs need help getting started.

If you’re looking for a business with processes, systems, and strategies already in place, you’ve probably thought about buying a franchise at one time or another.

Joining a Franchise or Starting Your Own Business

Many entrepreneurs start out with one goal: turn a passion or hobby into a profitable business. But, where can you go for advice when you have concerns about marketing and competition?

Your experience (no matter how much) may not be enough to overcome some challenges alone.

So, how can you balance your need for independence and innovation against the security and support of an established business model?

Franchise opportunities range from tutoring online to services like glass repair or operating your own private network of ATM machines.

Joining a franchise can give you the tools and training you need, but they often have high up-front costs.

For example, an ATM Machine franchise requires an up-front investment of $65,000. Plus a $50,000 liquid cash requirement. Plus a $20,000 to $25,000 initial franchise fee. That’s $140,000 just to get started!

The low-end up-front cost of a painting franchise, including initial franchise fee, equipment, contractor license, computers, insurance, and miscellaneous costs is about $135,000.

Online business franchises tend to have much lower start-up costs, and the onboarding process is often streamlined to get new franchise owners up and running quickly.

8 Figure Dream Lifestyle, for example, provides not only training, but marketing, mentoring, and technical support services for as low as $2,000.

Umbrella Financial Services Tax Solutions Group requires only hundreds in cash to start up a tax preparation business.

A Kinderdance franchise starts at $15,000 and offers new owners extensive training and tools for its education-based dance programs for kids.

47 Low-Cost Start-Up Ideas for Entrepreneurs

Whether you start an original business or buy into a franchise, you should enjoy the field you’re in and the work you do.

It can be hard to commit the time and energy to first build your business, and then to grow it.

Of course, you can make a go of a traditional small business, like an insurance agency, if that’s where your interests lie.

You can sell your own art and crafts on Etsy or resell products on Ebay or the Amazon Marketplace.

There’s an unbelievable range of products and services needed, and you can turn your passion into a profitable business.

But, you might not be sure how to get started or if there is enough earning potential to be worth the effort.

So, let’s take a look at some small-scale business ideas you can use to get started as an entrepreneur.

Like food?

  1. Personal Chef. Depending on location, you can take home as much as $90,000/year working as a personal chef. Average pay is about $20/hour. If you have training, recipes, and a workable kitchen, upfront costs are minimal. Franchises are also available for under $10,000.
  2. Food Truck Operator. With less risk than a restaurant and lower start-up costs and failure rates, many cooking-inclined entrepreneurs are turning to food trucks. You can pull in $200k-$300k a year! A word of caution: you may face stiff competition and regulations, and start-up costs can still run high compared to many other options in this list. (Truck cost alone runs $50,000 to $200,000.)
  3. Gluten-free Cook and Baker. Gluten-free food and recipes, a must for people with celiac disease, are growing more popular with the general public. Besides selling the food you make, you can sell cookbooks and courses in dieting and food preparation. If you have the expertise and a workable kitchen, startup costs are low.
  4. Nutrition Coach. Help people design a healthy eating plan and reach nutrition goals. If you qualify as a registered dietician or nutritionist, you can charge more. And, start-up costs are low.
  5. Foodie Blogger. Unless you’re selling the food items you write about, there are no special regulations to become a food blogger. Share recipes on your blog, Pinterest, and other platforms. Earn income with affiliate marketing, on-site ads, and creating your own products, such as cookbooks or cooking courses.
  6. Cooking Instructor. Lead cooking classes from your home. Provide live webinars, create and sell videos, and post content on YouTube to earn advertising income.

Want to help people feel better?

  1. Yoga Instructor. You’ll need certification and space if you want to scale up, but start-up costs are low. And, once you’re up and running, you can go digital to earn ad revenue and sell products and training courses online.
  2. Massage Therapist. Certification is required, and you’ll need space (some massage therapist travel to their client’s location). Average income is $46/hour. If you have the training, licenses, and permits, you can start working from home for as little as $6,000.
  3. Virtual Meditation Guide. Meditation has become a billion dollar industry. In addition to setting appointments with individuals and classes, you can offer guided meditations on a YouTube channel. As you gain followers, you can create a virtual ashram, hire other teachers, and even create a mindfulness app.
  4. Corporate Wellness Consultant. Companies are investing in their employees’ physical and emotional wellbeing. They hire outside firms for stress reduction, massage, meditation, yoga, nutrition, exercise, and a range of other services. You can be one of them.
  5. Personal Trainer. Instead of (or in addition to) working in a gym, find your own private clients to maximize income. Or start a business that recruits, vets, and refers trainers to gyms or individual clients. You can also take your personal training expertise online with a monetized blog and YouTube channel, and sell your own training videos or affiliate products to earn even more.
  6. Doula or Midwife. The home birth industry is expected to grow 31% by 2020. You will need training and certification. Certified Nurse Midwives have a degree in nursing. Start-up costs are about $25,000 for supplies and materials. In some states you can apprentice with an experienced midwife.

Great business skills? Try business services.

  1. Virtual Assistant. Check online job boards to see what’s available. At the low end, pay is less than $10/hour, but high-end assistants can make $60/hour. You’ll need to be good at problem-solving and multi-tasking. Experience working with C-level execs is a plus.
  2. Remote Employee Monitor. The remote worker population is growing (more than 100 million expected by 2020). But, bosses still need a way to supervise. Virtual monitoring of remote workers is a business opportunity if you have the right skillset and temperament.
  3. Business Plan Service Provider. Offer complete business plans—from market research to financial statements. Give clients an electronic file or stay on board to implement and update the plan as needed. If you have the experience, start-up costs can be as low as building a website and establishing yourself online.
  4. Tax Preparer. Individuals and businesses are willing to pay hefty fees to hand off tax preparation to somebody else. You’ll need experience, training, and perhaps licensing, so a franchise may be your best bet if you’re new to the field.

Special skills? Provide personal services.

  1. Senior Living Service Provider. Baby boomers are retiring, and they want to live at home. Many seniors are willing to pay for driving, catering, cleaning, pet care, landscaping, home care, home beauty care, delivery services, and other services geared toward seniors.
  2. Pet Sitter/Pet Groomer. Work from home, go to your clients, or outfit a grooming truck. You can start up a dog grooming service for under $2,000. Mobile pet grooming start-up costs will set you back $10,000-$50,000.
  3. Niche Pet Service Provider. Toilet training for cats. Agility training for dogs. Teaching people to train their parrots. Niche pet services are hard-to-find. If you have the experience, these ideas could be expanded online to training videos, books, more. You will need experience and special know-how, but start-up costs should be low.
  4. Dog Walker. Walk one dog at a time or a small “pack” from the same complex or street. You can combine dog walking with pet sitting, pooper scooping, and pet training. Get clients through Craigslist, neighborhood newsletters, social media, or your own website. You may need a business license and should consider insurance. Income varies depending on location, but minimal start-up costs make this an appealing option if you love animals.
  5. Personal Stylist. If you are a fashionista, you can make money giving others advice on what to wear. Personal stylists start out earning an average of $16.40/hour, but pay rises steadily with experience. You’ll need a web page, blog, email list, or other source of leads. Once you’re established, you can create your own original content and link to affiliate products and services.
  6. Party Planner. Manage everything that goes into putting on a major event: location, transportation, entertainment, food and drinks… everything. Party planners can expect to earn about $40K to $70K a year. Start-up costs range from $8,000 to $30,000, depending on how much you invest in rent, payroll, and equipment.
  7. Personal Concierge. If you’re good at networking and building long-term business relationships with the right people, you can charge much more than a personal assistant. Get your clients reservations at exclusive restaurants. Book exotic vacations. With the right personality and connections, the sky is the limit. And, start-up costs are as little as $2,000 to $4,000.
  8. Landscape Designer/Architect. Green-thumbers who know plants and design can make a lot of money in the landscaping industry. In addition to private residences, landscape architects handle public spaces and other large projects. National average income is $60,000/year, and commercial projects typically pay more. It’s possible to start a landscaping business on a shoestring, but high overhead for equipment, materials, and labor can make scaling up more expensive than other industries.
  9. Interior designer. Designing homes, offices, and other interior spaces isn’t easy. While no formal training required, you need good taste and—more importantly—the ability to understand your clients’ tastes. With a low cost of entry, average earnings north of $50,000, and a passionate, scalable audience (see networks like HGTV), many entrepreneurs are making big money in interior design.
  10. Clutter Consultant. Help people get rid of what they don’t need. Professional organizers are in high demand. And, powerful but affordable technology lets you work with clients who are time zones away, all from the comfort of your own home. Clutter consultants earn an average income of $42,000/year bill as much as $90/hour.
  11. Dating Consultant. Some dating consultants charge up to $300/hour! If you’re in a big city with lots of busy singles—and if you’re a confident, dating machine—start a matchmaking service. Or, create and sell a training course or book on how to attract a partner.

Are you a word-slinger? Writing and education skills are in demand!

  1. Freelance Content Writer. Every business needs quality content. Use your writing skills to provide it and earn an average $30 to $70/hour. Competition from low-cost content mills can make your job harder as you get started. But, once you build a reputation for great writing and consistent results, you can earn thousands of dollars for a single piece of content.
  2. Freelance Article and Book Author. Research and pitch articles to print and online magazines. Write a book about your area of expertise: accounting, interior decorating, recovery from illness or addiction, whatever. Work with a publisher or self-publish and market content yourself.
  3. Blogger. Create great content and build a following, then sell the leads to brands and advertisers. Top blogs earn tens of thousands per month. Start-up costs are low, but you have to build your brand over time and find ways to monetize it.
  4. Translator/Interpreter. The market for interpreters and translators is projected to grow faster than the average of all occupations combined in the next 15 years. A business that puts foreign-language speakers with clients who need them can do very well. Language recognition technology may eventually do this job, but it will likely take at least 15 years to develop to the point of replacing qualified translators/interpreters.
  5. Online Teacher. Every level of education, from kindergarten to grad school, offers online courses. One problem: pay for teachers, whether they’re online or in a physical classroom, is low. Online teachers earn an average $40k/year. College professors bump up to $60/k, which can be a lower ceiling than you want. But, you do get summers off!
  6. Editorial Services Provider. From copyediting, proofreading and indexing to developmental editing, book doctoring, and ghost writing, self-publishers need editorial services. Start-up costs are low, but you will have to market yourself. Signing on with an online content mill can get you started, but you’ll need to build your own brand if you want to maximize pay.

Calling all tech fanatics.

  1. Software or Web Developer. If you write code, you can work anywhere there’s a good wireless connection. Virtual collaboration tools like Slack let you work with a team remotely. Salaries, customer service, systems, and keeping up with innovation can make success expensive. But, with the right marketing, you can quickly earn that money back: coding and web development can pay over $100K per year.
  2. Graphic Designer. You’ll need the right software, skills, and a designer’s eye to be successful creating logos, websites, advertising and collateral materials. Cloud sites like Upwork and Freelancer will give you pennies-on-the-dollar competition. But, many companies are willing to pay more for higher-quality work. Top designers make about $80K annually.
  3. Specialist Photographer. Pick a specialty: pets, weddings, head shots. Next, create a blog and build a great portfolio. Partner with people in your community to attract customers and make up to $90K a year. Competition can be fierce, and start-up costs range from $10,000-$28,000.
  4. Video Producer. Projections are that by 2019, 90% of all Internet traffic will be video-based. A producer oversees the development of the video script, manages the budget and schedule, hires the screenwriter and director, and casts the actors. It’s hard, specialized work, but it pays well (about $88K/year). Franchise opportunities are available for under $10,000.
  5. YouTube Personality. With the right content and a bit of marketing, you’ll become what marketers call an “influencer.” Easier said than done, I know. But, income for “influencers” can be incredibly high while opening the door to additional partnerships and business opportunities.
  6. Video Game Tester. You contract with a game studio to play games according to specific tests. It’s every gamer’s dream job, but it’s harder than it sounds. Entry-leel testers earn an average of just $8-14/hour). Really good testers average $58K a year.
  7. Virtual Reality Service Provider. VR technology is growing, and lower costs are making VR more accessible to consumers. Sell or rent headsets, create VR content for your own professional YouTube channel, or shoot VR versions of events like weddings or training sessions. Start-up costs vary depending on equipment needs.
  8. Social Media Strategy Consultant. Are you a star at generating Facebook Likes and Shares? Are you a Twitter legend, always ready with a witty quip and creative content? Use your skills to advise companies about their social media strategy (or run the accounts directly and charge a premium!). If you have less than five years’ experience, you can expect about $15 to $40/hour. Any more than that and you may be able to charge as much as $45-$100/hour, all with minimal start-up costs.
  9. Software Trainer. Experts in QuickBooks, Photoshop, InDesign, or any commonly used professional application can build a business training people to use that system. You can offer private lessons by the hour, small group sessions, or automate and sell complete tutorials, courses, and e-books.
  10. IT and Software Guru. Are you an expert in word processing, photo manipulation, mail merging, spreadsheets, and security software? Do you understand components and peripherals, like monitors, keyboards, mice, printers, and scanners? Personal computer users and businesses across the globe need qualified support. You can set up your fees can be hourly or by the project. While you may need specialized training, licensing, or certification, start-up costs are low.

Marketing makes the world go round.

  1. Lead Generator. Build a website targeting an industry and location and generate leads for local businesses. It can take a lot of work to get your site to show up on the first page of Google search results for terms your customers are searching for. But, you’ll get paid for each lead that produces a sale. And once the business is automated, it’s all passive income.
  2. Network Marketer. Every business needs an online presence, but many don’t know how to bring traffic to their website or the products they’re selling. If you know how to use the Internet (ads, blogs, social media, “influencer” partnerships) to draw customers, becoming a digital marketer can generate a big income with low start-up and overhead costs.
  3. Subscription-Based Seller. Find low-cost products that people need on an ongoing basis. Get people to sign up for a monthly or bi-monthly recurring order. If you’re buying inventory and sending products directly (instead of using an affiliate), consider product cost and shipping.
  4. Affiliate Marketing. Affiliate marketing is when you earn a commission by sending people to purchase someone else’s products. Start-up costs are minimal, and because you’re linking to another company’s products, you don’t have to worry about inventory. For basics, see Neil Patel’s Affiliate Marketing Made Simple: A Step-by-Step Guide.

For more small scale and low-investment business ideas, check out sites like multiplestreams.org and profitableventure.com.

Ready to Make Some Money?

I’ve covered some of the reasons for choosing a physical or an online business.

We looked at the pros and cons of joining a franchise or going it on your own.

And, I tracked down some of the most cutting-edge, promising, and low-cost start-up ideas for people who want to build a business right now.

Choose a business that fits your experience, training, enthusiasm, and talent. Before you know it, you’ll be running your own profitable start-up. For more entrepreneurial guidance tips and advice check out Talk Business.

Click here to attend a free masterclass!

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