If you're thinking of starting up your own business, but don't want to make a huge investment, you're in luck. We've compiled a list of 20 cheap startup business ideas that won't break the bank, and you can work on in your spare time.
1. Sales Consultant
Avon, Mary Kay, Pampered Chef, and Tupperware all enlist the help of local sales representatives to get the word out to shoppers about their products. If you're comfortable talking to people about a product, this business idea could be for you. To start, Avon costs just $5 to register, Pampered Chef is $80; both Tupperware and Mary Kay cost $100 to start with each company.
Beverly Kemner of Pottstown, Pa., sees being an Avon representative as a way to earn money to supplement her income and has been running her part-time business for about four years. To get started, she paid $5 to register with Avon.
"I could do it out of my own home on my own time," she says. "They give you everything you need to start the first campaign ... I think it's perfect for this economy."
Kemner says the harder you work at building your customer base, the more sales you make, and that flexibility appealed to Kemner, who suffers from a chronic illness. "You do the best when you can put the time in to it," she says. "You need to give it a little bit of time, but it's not as time-demanding as some other (businesses)."
2. Lawn care
This is a seasonal job that can be lucrative if marketed to time-crunched homeowners who have better things to do on their days off than mow their lawns. It is a good job for someone who likes to be outdoors, and can be started inexpensively with fliers, business cards and a lawnmower. Also, it's a business that you can easily scale into a bigger operation.
3. Homemade gourmet foods
A love of cooking turned into a full-time business for Nancy Neal of Melbourne, Fla. She makes jams, jellies and spreads right in her home kitchen, now has about 50 products including soup mixes at her Nancy's Pantry Corner in a variety of markets.
If you're just getting started, the cost is cooking supplies, packaging, and basic marketing materials, and depending on where you're going to sell your goods, either the cost to set up a website or rent a retail store.
Babysitting isn't a teenager's job anymore. If you like children, then this could be a side business for you. Network in your community and be prepared to be available for work at night and on the weekends.
5. Cleaning services
Where there are people, there will be a need to clean. Whether you focus on cleaning houses or go after business from companies, this cheap startup business idea will cost as much as supplies and the fliers needed to get your name out in the community. The hours for the cleaning service could dovetail nicely with a standard Monday through Friday job—businesses usually want their buildings cleaned at night and on weekends.
If you like to cook and can plan out a meal from beginning to end, this could be a side business for you. Offer party catering as well as business lunches as a way to keep business opportunities available. Build a customer base by creating relationships in your community and ask for client testimonials as a way to show potential new customers what you have done at past events. Costs would include making fliers and possibly having samples of your cooking available for tasting by future clients.
If you like helping people, you may like running errands for people in your community. Market to those in your community who don't have a lot of time for chores or may be housebound.
If you can fix a rain gutter, do simple electrical repairs or know how to spackel, turn those home-improvement skills into a side business. Make sure to check with your state about any possible permits or licenses needed to work.
9. Virtual assistant
If you like organizing things, weeding through e-mails, posting to social media and keeping people on a schedule, market those skills to small-business owners who are too busy growing their own businesses to take care of those things themselves. The costs of starting this business could include a computer and stable Internet connection to maintain contact with your clients.
Maybe you've changed careers during your working life. Offer your skills to that former industry as a paid consultant. Since you worked in the industry, you already have contacts you could market to as being available for hire.
11. Snow removal
This seasonal business can be lucrative, but is dependent upon the weather. When looking for potential customers, think houses as well as small businesses. The costs for starting this business can be as little as the price of fliers, business cards and a shovel—or higher with more equipment.
12. Online content production
If you have a knack for grammar and love to write, content production for websites could be a cheap business startup for you. Cost to kick off this business includes a computer and an Internet connection. Market your skills on sites including elance.com, where potential employers look for contract workers.
13. Pet groomer
With the American Pet Products Association predicting Americans spent $4.11 billion in 2012 on their pets for grooming and boarding, it just goes to show people are willing to spend on their furry friends.
You must like animals to start this business. Cost to get into this business includes permits, insurance and equipment.
14. Pet sitting and walking
Combine a love for animals and a love of the outdoors. Many people leave their pets at home alone most of the day while they are at work, but are willing to pay people to check on their pets and walk them during the day. Cost to start this business would be marketing materials and a reliable car to get from client to client.
15. Delivery service
Do you like going to different locations through the day? A courier business may be a good fit for you. Market your services to businesses.
If you have good penmanship, a business addressing envelopes—like wedding invitations—could be a nostalgic business startup idea. You'll need samples, as well as a business cards.
If you excel at a certain subject, you could use that skill as a private tutor for students of all ages. Adult learners also need help sometimes with their school subjects. Cost to get started would be marketing materials.
18. Home day care
Parents look for alternatives to big day care centers where their children are grouped with many other children. Fill that need by offering home day care. Check with your state on regulations for these start-up businesses—licensing may be required depending on the number of children you hope to have at your home.
Speak another language? That valuable skill can be turned in to a business by offering your services to businesses and government offices.
20. Elder caregiver
With a growing older population, this service-based business is filling an important need.
Market to senior citizens who may not want to live in assisted-living communities, but could still benefit from help with minor day-to-day activities including light house work. Cost includes marketing materials and a reliable car.
Looking for more business startup ideas? Check out our Startup of the Week series.
Linda is an award-winning journalist with more than more than 22 years' experience as a reporter, editor and blogger. Linda blogs via Contently.com.