40 Cheap Business Ideas for Frugal Entrepreneurs

Want to start your own business, but don't have so much money to invest it in? Are you looking for some relatively low-risk business ideas to increase your earning potential? This list will get you heading in the right direction.

The Best Business Ideas... To Each His Own

Instead of just giving you a long list of specific business ideas with little to no monetary investment, I'm breaking the list down into three main categories. Within each category, I'll provide you with several broad examples as well as some real-life examples of people who have become successful in that area.

The point of this list is to get your creative juices flowing, to open your eyes to the possibilities that may already be in front of you, yet you may have never considered. For this reason there may be a bit of overlap between some of the sections. Sometimes a similar opportunity presented from a different angle could be the needed spark to come up with a viable business idea.

Realize that none of the opportunities listed below will necessarily bring you riches. In business it's really to each his own; the exact same idea can be successful for one person, but a disaster for another.

Bottom line: you have to be in touch with your personality, your talents and skills, your position in life, and your available resources to find the right business idea for you.

To make the list, each business opportunity has a relatively low start-up cost (almost everything here could be started up for under $1,000), and it could potentially begin to generate some income quickly.

Where possible, I'll also give you a rough estimate of how much you could expect to make and how competitive the field may already be. Just keep two things in mind:

 1. There is a difference between start-up and continued operations. Though these business opportunities can technically be started with minimum investment, to sustain and grow many of them you are going to need some additional financing.

 2. Remember that your time and effort also have value. Just because an opportunity is labeled as "free" or "low-cost" doesn't mean that it won't cost you in other ways.

Turning Hobbies and Crafts to Businesses

The beauty of turning your hobbies and crafts into a business is that you will be working with something that you are both familiar with and have a passion for. Not to mention, it's also something you are doing already. In terms of earning potential, it really varies. On one hand, hobby-based businesses tend to have well-defined niches which makes for a focused market. But, on the other hand, there may not be enough demand for your products and services.

That said, there are several ways to turn those pastimes into an income:

Selling unique or creative products that you've produced. If you see that you keep getting positive feedback from others about the items you create then it may be the makings of a business. The Internet has been a big boon to artisans and crafters, providing several online marketplaces, such as Etsy.com, and other tools to help them promote and sell their wares. Alternatively, if your hobby consists of making a functional product that is getting a lot of interest, you could look into producing these items on a bigger scale. One prime example of this is College Bed Lofts makers of DIY, custom-made bed loft kits. See their About Page for the story of how the idea took off.

Creating an online community around a hobby or pastime. You could generate income from outside advertisers, and/or making it a paid membership site. You could also offer some parts of the site for free and then provide an upgraded account offering premium networking, tools, and information.

Creating online content that displays your talents. This content could be in the form of text, audio, videos, and images. The immediate example that comes to mind is Joe Penna, The Mystery Guitar Man.

Dealing in collectables, antiques, and vintage items. If you love to shop for the unusual, quaint, or collectable, then you may be able to create a business helping others locate and/or sell these items as well.

Providing information that may be of interest to others. If you have a skill or talent, you could make a business of teaching or assisting others interested in acquiring and honing these same abilities.

Cooking or baking niche food products. If you are drawn to culinary pursuits, then it could be the makings of a business. Super Jam got it's start when its founder Fraser Doherty turned his jam making hobby into a major UK brand.

Internet-Based Businesses Ideas

The truth is that most low-cost business ideas will be based online because that's where start-up costs tend to be lower. This is an extremely broad category and my list here really won't do all the possibilities justice.

Search Engine and Web Presence Optimization. This involves looking at your website or your overall web presence and offering tips for how to improve conversions, engagement, and search visibility. This is a hot industry. Though there's a lot of competition, if you're good you can expect to make roughly $100-$150 an hour on average based on this SEOMoz survey.

Reputation Management. This is another hot business opportunity that can be targeted to companies, and organizations, and even individuals. To read more about it, see this earlier post. The going rate for these services is $1,000- $5,000 per month, so there's definitely some earning potential here.

Professional consulting and services. This opportunity is for all those who have already worked in the corporate world and/or have already done the necessary training and certification to advise and otherwise serve people on legal, business, financial, technical, health-related, etc matters. The Internet could allow you to go it on your own as an independent consultant or offer some kind of niche consulting. Either way, make sure you clearly display your credentials and certification on your website and other web-based profiles. Just keep in mind here, that depending on your field there may be A LOT of competition. So be prepared to define how you are different from the rest of the pack and work your connections.

Nonprofessional Consulting. This is also a very broad category. Do you know a thing or two about setting up an online store or internet marketing? Do you have some really good talent, skill, or experience that would be beneficial to others? You may be able to monetize it and generate a decent income.

Coaching. Do you have a knack for helping others make the most of themselves or their situation? Coaching may be right for you. But this is an extremely competitive field. For you to really be successful in this area, you should have a highly developed niche, keep references, and work the social networks. Having a good web presence is also going to be important.

Online Tutoring. Whether you do private tutoring or work with an online tutoring service, such as tutor.com, you could make a business of helping others learn. The average income is about $25 to $30 an hour, but it will vary depending on the subject and the set up.

Online Instruction. You could create a series of webinars, instructional videos, or how-to articles and charge for access and/or make money from advertising.

Computer/Electronic Device Repair. As long as there will be computers and other devices, there will be a market for those needing to repair them. This includes not only physical repair but operating system fixes, such as when a virus attacks a computer. It made it to this part of the list because many things can be done remotely. There is also a whole market for those looking for instruction on how to repair their equipment themselves.

Content Creation. Whether you are producing content for yourself or as a ghost writer on a blog or website or on a contractual basis for clients, if your content is quality you can do well. This is also a crowded field, but there are enough customers and readers to still carve out a niche for yourself. Keep in mind that by content, I'm not just referring to written content. This includes video, audio files, and images. You could charge directly for the content or earn from any advertising next to it.

Content Editing and Enhancement. This means improving on others' work. It includes editing text, images, videos, or presentations. Basic text and video editors can make around $30 an hour, but the field is a competitive one.

Conduct Research. This includes market research or other online research, compiling resource lists or building a directory of sites on a a particular subject or industry.

Web-Based Design. You could offer logo designs, website designing, and other non-internet, based materials, such a posters, brochures, business cards, and t-shirts. Designers can try to stick it out on their own, create a small online "agency" with other designers, or try their luck on freelance sites and web design market places, such as Designcrowd.

Travel Planning and Travel Blogging. If you've got a travel bug or enjoy planning other people's trips, but don't want to fork over money for travel agent certification, then this may be the opportunity for you. You have several different possibilities including, referring customers to travel booking sites where you receive a portion of the commission, travel blogging, and trip planning.

Virtual Assistant. The demand for qualified VA's have definitely grown in recent years. While that means there is a lot of competition, there are also some decent opportunities as well. There are many niches you could put yourself in and different people and organizations will always need different skill sets and personalities. Earning potential varies a lot and will really depend on your experience, your skills, and whether you are working on your own or as part of an organization.

Buzz Assistant/ Social Media Assistant. As the demands of social media pile up, one growing area is in buzz assistant or social media assistant positions. These people basically set up and manage accounts at Facebook and Twitter and other social media platforms. Buzz assistants could also write articles or even produce videos highlighting a companies products and services.

Internet Marketing. This is another huge area that includes affiliate marketing, direct marketing, and various reseller structures. Mobile marketing in particular is also a hot area right now. Basically, if you enjoy sales or you're just really good at it, then it may be an area to look in to. There's a lot of competition, but plenty of people are making good money via Internet marketing. If, however, you don't enjoy sales, then stay away.

Non-Internet Based Business Ideas with Low Start-up Costs

Here are a few business opportunities that won't cost you so much to start and don't require intensive certification, yet have some good earning potential:

Home (and Space) Decorating. Have a knack for textures, colors, lighting, and layout? Then you may want to consider a home decor business. There is no certification, nor a specific degree required (unlike interior design). Your job would be to improve the look and use of space within a room or rooms. You can change rooms with color, lamps, flowers, portraits, and furniture. You may also want to look into interest among local restaurants, stores, offices, and others to see if they could benefit from your services.

Home Staging and Reconditioning. With the housing market still in the doldrums and a glut of foreclosed homes on the market, it has opened the doors to a whole range of new business services, all designed to make a property more sellable. There is clean up and garbage removal, interior re-conditioning and decorating, and working on the surrounding property. One creative, low-cost example is lawn painting.

Professional Organizer. If love to organize then you can turn your passion into a business helping other businesses, organizations, and individuals maximize their time and resources via one-on-one consultations, seminars, educational material, etc. There's even an organization dedicated to professional organizers, The National Association of Professional Organizers. According to payscale.com, self-employed individuals can earn on average about $29,000 a year to start.

Image Consultant. Are you good at making first impressions? Are you on top of the latest fashion trends and have the time, patience, and desire to help others put their best foot forward? These days, more than ever, first impressions can make all the difference between landing a job and being sent a rejection letter. Image consultants help their clients bring out and highlight the best of themselves to both build confidence and improve their personal brand.

Reconditioning Furniture, Antique Refurbishment, Re-purposing.  This is a good side business for people who love discovering treasures among other people's "junk," and who know how to either bring these products back to life or can give them a new use.

Selling others people's junk. Even with the Internet, it still takes effort to sell those old or unused items cluttering up our houses and apartments. Why not approach your neighbors and offer to sell these things for them bu either hosting a yard sale on your property or putting it on eBay or the like. Many would jump at the chance especially if you gave them a cut of the income.

Babysitting/ Daycare. Enjoy watching other people's children, especially if you have small kids yourself? Why not start a babysitting or daycare business? If you plan on having a small number of kids then you may not need to get a license. You have to check with your local State Department of Children and Family Services. If you do end up needing a the license, typically the cost is pretty cheap (like $15 for three years) and the process for getting certified relatively easy.

Event Planning. Like organizing events and meeting new people? You can try your hand at event planning. This includes parties, weddings, business events, and group outings. The more unique or comprehensive your service, the better.

Cleaning Services. If you don't mind getting your hands dirty, you could start a cleaning business. You could specialize in offices, cars, yards, homes, dorm rooms, and variety of items and services.

Errands. If you live in a community that is far from major shopping outlets or that is home to people who don't have the means or the time to travel, you could start a business doing small errands, such as shopping, deliveries, and pick up.

Various Pet Care Services. There are several business opportunities for pet lovers. Here is a brief rundown of some possibilities:

Starting a pet sitter business. This typically involves going to pet owners' homes and tending to the needs of their pets such as feeding and watering them. For more information, check out Pet Sitters International.

Pet chauffeur/taxi service. For those who don't have the time or the means to move to take their pets to the vet or to a grooming appointment, this business is perfect. You'll need to have a car or truck and buy a pet crate or know how to secure the animal in the vehicle with safety straps.

Pet photography. If you're a talented photographer and know how to work with pets, then this is something to look into. All you need is a few simple props and a good camera. You could go to people's homes or set your self up at a local pet shop.

Other pet business ideas.... Pet grooming, dog walking services, creating healthy, fresh pet food or snacks