5 Businesses With Low Startup Costs

There are many ways to save money in the early days of your business. Here are a few to get you started.
Man with leaf blower
Lawn care businesses benefit from repeat customers. (Photo: Sokolova23/Shutterstock)

Americans across all demographics dream of becoming entrepreneurs. For one reason or another, many of those dreams are never realized. One of the biggest deterrents to starting a business is money, so we’ve outlined a few enterprises you can start with money you’ve saved working for someone else.

Before you open your business, we have a few words of advice. First, go get experience. James Bird, a financial advisor who advises small business owners, suggests working in the industry you want to break into beforehand. “This way,” he says, “you come to know the inherent challenges in the work, you can safely make mistakes, learn about (and potentially build) your customer base, make contacts and determine where to buy the products you need to help your business succeed.”

Another bit of key advice from Bird is to rent­-to­-own, or rent when you are starting out, to avoid a big capital expenditure. “If you’re renting rather than owning, a lot of things become possible. Renting means a low barrier to entry.”

Most, if not all, of the following business types could use a point-­of­-sale system that runs on an iPad or iPhone so you are paid immediately, meaning you don’t have to rely on a system of invoicing clients, waiting for a check or keeping track of cash.

1. Lawn care

One way to ensure success of your business is to have repeat customers, which means filling a need that requires maintenance. Lawn care is one such niche and lends itself to low startup costs. The less expensive the lawn mower, the longer it will take you to mow a lawn. But, if you’re just starting out, you likely won’t have enough lawns to fill your time. You will want to buy the nice mower when you have more laws to mow (thus are making more money) and need to get them done faster. And remember – it’s not just homeowners that need their lawn maintained. There are plenty of commercial properties with lawns that need to be kept trim.

2. Home cleaning service

If you worked in the home cleaning service industry for six to 12 months, you may form relationships with many clients who, when you’re ready to start your own business, would prefer to stick with you. You know their house, their preferences, their quirks – and they know you. Assuming you have a mode of transportation, your costs are limited to the cleaning tools and products, which at first blush will run you about $250.

3. In­-home personal trainer

This business concept is similar to home cleaning. By working as a trainer at a gym first, you’ll receive not only the training necessary to know the job requirements and how to do it properly and without injury, but you’ll also build a client base that can move with you when you make the transition to self-­employment. Clients may feel more comfortable training in their own home, and they may also invite friends, which means extra money for you. A National Association of Sports Medicine exam costs $600 and increase in price as you add study materials. There are less expensive options through the American College of Sports Medicine and the American Council on Exercise, but you can expect to spend several hundred dollars on an exam. As for equipment, we estimate $600­-$1,000.

4. Window and pressure washing

Window and power washing in a neighborhood setting, like lawn care, is going to take some gumption. Your marketing will have to be face-­to­-face, accomplished by canvassing neighborhoods and knocking on complete strangers’ doors. But! This is a business you could start for $100 and grow quickly. People rarely realize how dirty their windows are, instead thinking of window-­washing as skyscraper maintenance only. You can point it out to them, perform the service, leave a flier or magnet with contact information, and say you’ll return in three months. You could bring a power washer along (rent for $75/day) the first time, or bring it with you when you revisit the houses you first serviced and clean their driveway, siding, deck, patio or porch. If they’re happy with the work you’ve done, ask them to let their friends know.

5. Food truck

A quick search of Craigslist in various cities turned up food trucks available for lease. This will run you about $500 to $650 per week. Craigslist is also replete with food trucks for sale. Bird, the financial advisor, suggests asking a food-­truck owner for a rent-­to­-own agreement. “They have a big, expensive piece of equipment that isn’t making them any money at all,” he says. “They just might be willing to rent to you in order to make some money off of something that wasn’t profitable for them.” The average truck will cost $30,000-­$40,000, so at $500 per week in rent, you’ll have it paid off in a little over a year. Price of ingredients will depend on what kind of food you’ll be serving your customers, so you’ll have to budget wisely. Don’t start out with truffle oil and artisanal cheese plates for the first go­-round. As you make more money and become a street food staple in your city, you can experiment more with the menu.

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