Starting a small business is a great way to build financial security into your life. Owning a business can be somewhat risky. But it also gives you more control over your schedule and potential earnings.
The key to successfully starting a small business can often lie in costs. When you have to take out a $50,000 business loan to start a brick-and-mortar store, you suddenly have to succeed or risk losing everything.
But what if you could start a business for a few hundred bucks on a business credit card? In this case, you can focus on growing your business with much less pressure. And you can likely start your business while still working your day job.
Related: How To Build Business Credit
When you’re considering starting a small business, you want to factor in potential costs. You also want to be sure you can compete in your local market. That’s why we’ve compiled this list of quirky, low-cost business ideas you can start this year.
Biking for fun or basic commuting is becoming more popular in many U.S. cities. But many cities still lack full-service bike repair shops. Some retail stores have a repair component, but they may charge higher rates. This is where independent bike repair businesses come into play.
The good thing about repairing bikes is that you don’t need a particular degree or certification. You just need some experience repairing bikes. According to Entrepreneur, bike repair shops can make upwards of $40 per hour for their work. Plus, you can easily start this business as a side gig, as you can work whatever hours work best for your particular needs.
You can start a bike repair service for between $2,000 and $10,000, according to the same Entrepreneur article. However, those cited costs may be a bit steep. If you already have a garage or spare room where you can store bikes that you’re repairing, you’re well on your way to making this business idea work.
Here’s what you’d need, at a minimum, to start your own bike repair service:
- Bike Repair Tools (many of which you likely have if you’re a frequent bike rider)
- Work Bench (get one used online for a couple hundred bucks)
- A Truing Stand for Wheels (Between $50 and $300 online)
- A Website for Advertising Your Services($100 or less)
Sure, you might eventually want to invest in some parts to keep on hand. But to begin, you can simply purchase parts as needed for repairs, and then write them into your costs. This keeps your overall operating expenses nimble. More work means buying more supplies. But if you’re short on work, you won’t pay for supplies you don’t use.
One potential issue with this idea is seasonality. In many areas of the country, biking is largely a three-season sport. Still, you could offer more extensive repair and tune-up packages through the winter, so bikers start out the spring ready to bike. Or you could offer bike repair training classes to bike owners in the winter, so they can become independent with things like changing tire tubes and basic maintenance. If you have storage space, you could also find bikes in need of TLC, and spend the winter rehabbing them for sale in the spring.
Repeat customers are a key to success in this type of business. So you’ll need to educate your customers about how and how often to maintain their bikes. And then, of course, you’ll want to offer ongoing maintenance packages at reasonable rates.
If you’re great at getting the best price out of your unwanted items on eBay, a business as an eBay assistant might work well for you. Since you don’t provide the inventory with this type of business, it has very low start-up costs for you. But it can be an interesting way to make money from home.
You can, technically, go on your own as an eBay assistant. You can simply collect, list, and sell items locally for individuals in your area. Then, you take a certain commission per item, which is how you earn your living.
Another option, though, is to work as an official eBay Trading Assistant. To qualify, you’ll have to be an experienced eBay seller already, and you’ll have to have an account in good standing.
How does it work? Customers send you the items they want to sell on eBay. You’ll sell them, and then take your commission--between 5 percent and 50 percent--out of the item’s sale price.
eBay offers marketing materials, including flyer templates and press kits, for its own registered assistants. So marketing is pretty simple. You could also set up your own website to advertise your services on your own.
As a Trading Assistant, you don’t have to worry about collecting inventory to sell. It’ll come to you. You’ll build your own eBay account, including positive feedback. This can be invaluable for those who want to run a Trading Assistant business alongside a larger eBay selling business. In fact, this can be a great option if you also want to practice arbitrage--buying and reselling items--on eBay.
Startup costs for this business might include:
- Building Your eBay Profile (which will require you to pay eBay fees on items you sell upfront)
- Website and Marketing ($100+)
- Possible Storage Fees (if you don’t have room to store inventory in your home)
In all, this is a pretty low-cost way to start a business. It may take significant time to work up to becoming a full-time business, though. So plan to start it as a side gig or as part of your work-from-home parenting responsibilities.
Starting your own event planning business is admittedly simpler if you have some background in event planning. But the good thing is that you don’t need a specific degree. You’ll simply need to be an organized person who understands how to pull together the different pieces that make for a successful event. As your business grows, you might decide to obtain a professional certification, especially if you want to plan larger events.
One helpful aspect of starting this type of business is specializing. Many smaller event planners work specifically on personal events like weddings or party planning. But you might also decide to plan business events or even large meetings.
You don’t necessarily need to specialize, of course. But it can be helpful in building up a client base to have just one type of event you plan to begin with.
Profits for event planners can be excellent. According to one study, the average event planner earns about a 15 percent profit margin on the event. That’s a lot of money when you’re talking about a $20,000 wedding, for instance.
Depending on your area of expertise, your total start-up costs could be quite small. For instance, you could start a website to advertise your local wedding planning services. Many event planners eventually keep some of their own equipment, such as sound equipment, on hand. But you could write these rental costs into your overall event plan and costs.
At its core, good event planning is all about organization. You need to come up with a proposal of what the event will look like and pitch that to the stakeholders. Then you’ll need to coordinate various moving parts to ensure that the event comes out as planned.
Graffiti Removal Specialist
This is a particularly niche business, but its one with low startup costs that you can typically operate part-time. As you might guess, this business involves removing graffiti from public and private buildings, train cars, and more.
If you live in an urban area, chances are that you can find a way to operate this business. You can offer one-time removal services, or you can even offer a monthly plan. This lets you check clients’ buildings frequently for new graffiti, which you remove on an ongoing basis.
Removing graffiti takes elbow grease and know-how. You need to know how to remove different types of paint from different types of surfaces, ideally without damaging the underlying surface. But you don’t need a specialized certification or degree to operate this type of business, either.
Startup costs for this type of business may be a little higher than with some of the other businesses listed here. That’s because you need your own equipment to really make a go of it. However, you could always consider renting equipment for your first few jobs. You won’t make as much money on those jobs. But you’ll be able to see if the business is something you’d enjoy before launching full-time.
You’ll also need a trailer--either rented or owned--to take your equipment to job sites. Again, you can buy secondhand to save money. Or you can rent a trailer for your first few jobs, and then make longer-term plans for purchasing one.
Finally, you’ll need to invest in marketing for your business. You will definitely want a website--one that can eventually rank well for things potential customers might search for. And you may want to opt for more traditional print marketing for a business like this. Consider dropping off flyers with local businesses and institutions that often have graffiti problems.
It’s hard to tell how much you could make from a graffiti removal business. This will largely depend on the demand in your area. But if you’re efficient and good at managing the business end of things, you could make a great side gig or a decent living in this niche business.
College Application Consultant
Applying for college and managing costs and financial aid is difficult, to say the least. Today’s students know they need a degree, but they want to be as efficient as possible in the face of mounting student loan debt. This often means applying to multiple colleges with a shining application. Students then need to understand how to manage the financial aid process, including choosing the best options for them to pay for college.
Typical college application consultants come out of the college advisor and counseling business. These individuals already have experience on the college end of the application process. Then, they often obtain further training and ongoing education from organizations like the Independent Educational Consultants Association.
Other consultants get their experience from seeing their own children through the college application process. If you’ve been through this process with your kids, consulting for other parents might be a good option for you.
Either way, though, it’s a good idea to plan for continuing education as you build your business. You’ll need to keep a firm grasp on what’s happening with college education and admissions. And you’ll need to stay on top of what colleges in your niche area have to offer. This helps you know which schools might be a good fit for the student in question when you begin talking with new clients.
Depending on your area of expertise, you could offer full-service education consultations. This could include everything from helping a student choose a major to helping them decide which schools might be a good fit. Then you can help with the application process and consult with the student and parents on the financial aspects of college.
You could also focus on a narrower niche, such as helping middle-class students choose from the best state schools, or even exclusively helping with the application and essay process.
According to Entrepreneur, consultants are likely to lose money the first year. The first year will involve lots of traveling and learning, and potentially purchasing office equipment. By the second year, you could earn up to $15,000, and then it goes up from there. Consultants charge, on average, $140 an hour, but you may start out at closer to $75. Some also charge a package rate for college placement.
Start-up costs for this business vary. If you’re looking at advising for colleges nationwide, your costs will be higher because you’ll need to spend lots of time--and money--traveling to various colleges. If you have a regional or even statewide specialty, your costs will be lower.
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Business Plan Designer
Do you like the idea of dreaming about starting a business more than actually starting one? You might consider becoming a business plan consultant or designer. These individuals work with startups who are gearing up to ask for funding. Before you can get investors, after all, you need a solid, viable, well-written business plan. That’s where business plan designers come in.
With this specialty, you need to be an excellent communicator. And you need to have a solid understanding of what makes for a viable business plan. Many business plan consultants also have an MBA, which shows that they have this basic level of business acumen. However, if you have experience writing successful business plans, you can likely launch this business without paying tens of thousands of dollars for your MBA first.
The key to making this type of business successful is to come up with a good process. You’ll need to plan time for discovery meetings with clients, where you understand what they’re trying to do and how they want to do it. Some clients will already have a good idea of what they want. Others will need more help figuring out basics like their target market and financial goals.
Once you get through discovery, you’ll do much of the business research, including researching how viable the business model will be and how much the business could expect to earn. You’ll put this information, along with what you’ve gathered from the business owners, into a formal business plan.
Another option is to offer lower-touch consulting. In this case, you might give business owners a template for their business plan, and then review it once they’ve done most of the writing themselves. This could also be a second package option that you offer as part of your larger consulting business.
If you think you can start this business without an MBA, costs are incredibly low. You don’t need an office space. Just pick a nice local coffee shop where you can conduct meetings over a good brew. So you’ll need a website and other marketing materials, and that’s about it to get going.
Don’t Forget a Business Credit Card
If you’re starting a small business, you should also consider applying for a small business credit card. Using a business card can help you keep your business and personal expenses separate and can offer lucrative rewards.
One example of this is the Brex 30 Card. The card offers a number of financial tools, including a cash account that you can use as a business checking account. You can use the card to buy any supplies your business needs to take advantage of its payment terms and rewards.
The Brex 30 Card is a charge card, which means you cant carry a balance on it. However, you have thirty days to pay for anything you buy, which is valuable time for a small business that needs to carefully manage its cash flow.
As for rewards, you can earn 50,000 points when you sign up for the card and Brex Cash. For ongoing spending, you’ll earn:
- 7x points on rideshares
- 4x points on flights and hotels through Brex Travel
- 3x on dining
- 1x on everything else
You can redeem your points for cash back, gift cards, or travel. You can also transfer points to airline loyalty programs.