Small Business Advice

20 businesses you can start with $5k or less

Starting a small business doesn’t need to cost an arm and a leg. Here are some business ideas that you can use to create a startup for $5k or less (and a few more for $10k or less).

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Many people are often hesitant to chase their dream of self-employment because of financial limitations. The truth is, you don’t necessarily need a pile of cash to start your own business; of course, unless you are eyeing a big-ticket deal like setting up a manufacturing unit. Otherwise, there are plenty of business ideas that you can implement with a budget of $5000 or less.

That’s basically close to what the average American gets in tax refund1 and way below the credit card limit for many30. In fact, there are some online businesses that you can start with no capital at all as long as you have a computer and internet connection. The tradeoff is that you will likely need more muscle to make up for the low startup costs. But if you are willing to put in the work initially, these small business ideas may be your ticket to entrepreneurship.

Is $5000 enough to start a business?

Yes, $5,000 is enough to start a profitable business. According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, most microbusinesses require a startup capital of around $3,000. If you are thinking of setting up a home-based franchise, then the SBA estimates that you will need anywhere between $2,000 and $5,0002.

Of course, the exact amount will vary depending on the type of business you have in mind. And since you will have limited startup costs, you’ll also need to know how to stretch your resources while still offering high-quality. That, combined with perseverance, can turn potential customers into repeat clients.

If anything, having little to no money can be advantageous when you are starting a small business. It will likely push you to be creative when developing your business idea and business plan. You may find yourself asking critical questions that people with a lot of startup capital often fail to ask, which may lead to better answers and a better business strategy.

Another advantage of a business you can start with 5000 is that it presents low-risk, yet has the potential for high rewards. There are real life stories of entrepreneurs who have invested what many may deem little capital and gone on to build huge brands. Subway founders Dr. Peter Buck and Fred Deluca opened their first shop (then named Pete’s Subway) in Bridgeport, Connecticut with only $1,000. Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak sold their prized possessions for $1,500 and used it as seed money to start Apple.

Needless to say, not every new business will grow to the size of Subway or Apple. But you can still start small and create a great business that will make money for you and create employment for others. With that in mind, below are the top 20 low-cost businesses that you can start today. Make sure to read on and find out other businesses that you can start if you have $10,000 in seed money.

What businesses can I start with $5k?

Create and sell your products

If you have a knack for creating interesting products that people want, you can turn your hobby into a full-time business and make money off it. Artsy and crafty items are almost always in high demand, which makes them great business products. Think knitting, jewelry fabrication, pottery, quilting, candle-making etc.

Start with a thought-out business plan, then create a variety of your products and stock them. Take high-quality photos that you can use to advertise your small business on the internet. Create a website and join online marketplaces like Etsy, ArtFire and Amazon, where you can sell your products. But don’t restrict your marketing strategies to online platforms, use in-person techniques too. That’s how to win over potential clients and turn them into repeat customers.

Capital requirements: potentially less than $100, but it will depend on the products you make.

Expected income: up to $50,000 in your first year if you sell on Etsy3 and similar platforms. Kate Antesberger makes in excess of $2.5 million selling her Plannerkate stickers on Etsy4.

Start a consulting business

This is a great business to start with 5k or less if you are an expert in a particular field. You can sell your specialized knowledge in areas such as healthcare, technology, accounting and taxation, social media management, marketing, law etc.

Getting started in consultancy is as simple as building your own website. Let it clearly state your know-how and how you can leverage your expertise for the benefit of potential clients. Make sure your business pitch adds value to them. Print some business cards that you can hand out in person and work on building a professional social media presence. LinkedIn is a good place to start, but you may also explore other platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram.

Once you have a strong network, you can earn from it all year round. The trick is to keep building your brand and properly manage client’s expectations.

Capital requirements: total startup costs should be under $5,0005, particularly if you work from home

Expected income: business consultants make $87,660 or more per year6.

Start a tutoring business

Tutoring can be a great way to make money, especially if you can teach elementary kids all through college students. Or rather than focusing on learners in the education system, you can opt to create online courses for other demographics like DIYers and non-English speakers.

Whatever the case, tutoring is a profitable business that has low startup costs. All you need is a computer, internet connection and video call infrastructure. You will also need a vehicle if you are going to offer in-person lessons alongside online courses.

Start by figuring out your target audience. Will you be teaching school kids and college students or offering tutorials to adult DIYers? What course are you going to offer? Ideally, you will want to tutor something that you are extremely versed in. Make sure to have an outline and offerings for your online course, and then embark on marketing yourself. LinkedIn is a good place to start, but you can also find DIY leaners and college students on Fiverr and other freelance platforms.

Capital requirements: startup costs should be under $1,000 if you have a computer. You’ll only need the internet and a webcam.

Expected income: tutors typically earn $25 to $35 per hour, but you may charge $40 or more as you gain experience. Consider selling your teaching materials to learners who need the material but not the tutor. That’s how Lynda Weinman managed to build a business that she later sold to LinkedIn for $1.5 billion.

Venture into digital marketing

As a digital marketer, your task would involve helping clients to create practical online marketing strategies that can increase their brand’s reach and attract more customers. That may include creating a buzz around a product, generating product campaigns, doing social media ads, and helping with search engine optimization (SEO).

Online marketing is among the best small business ideas because many clients won’t care about your qualifications as long as you can reach their target audience and boost sales. Of course, you will need to learn the ins and outs of this type of business. Luckily, there are lots of free digital marketing materials that you can use to turn yourself from a novice to a pro.

Capital requirements: digital marketing is free to start if you have a computer and internet. But you may need to invest $500 to $2,000 in a marketing course to learn what it’s all about.

Expected income: online marketing consultants earn $40,000 to $50,000 per year.

Become a personal trainer

Are you a fitness trainer or enthusiast? You can make money by being a personal trainer. This mostly involves creating customized workout plans for clients based on their physical strengths and weaknesses. You may also need to coach and motivate them as they go through those workouts.

But before you venture into this business, keep in mind that some states require certifications. In New York, for example, you cannot call yourself a “certified athletic trainer” without licensure. You may also need AED and CPR certifications. Check out the National Association of Sports Medicine and the American Council on Exercise to find out how you can acquire the various certifications required in personal training.

Capital requirements: less than $5,000 for getting business licenses

Expected income: up to $96,000 per year.

Open a dropshipping business

Dropshipping is up there with the most brilliant business ideas that you can start with little to no money. It’s basically a type of order fulfillment where you don’t keep the products you sell. Instead, you only buy those products from a third-party (wholesaler or manufacturer) when your customer places an order.

To build a successful dropshipping business, set up an ecommerce store through Shopify, eBay, BigCommerce, Wix or any other third-party platform of your choice. You can even do dropshipping on Amazon provided you follow the company’s dropshipping policies. Once you have your shop set up, find suppliers who can provide the dropshipping products you need.

Connect your shop with your social media accounts, take high-quality photos of your products, and start marketing the business. Whenever someone places an order, you forward it to the supplier and depending on your agreement with that supplier, they may fulfill the order.

Capital requirements: should be less than $1,000 for setting up your online presence and marketing your ecommerce store.

Expected income: 20 to 30% for every sale you make and up to $100,000 per year7.

Work as a freelance writer

If you enjoy writing and want to turn it into a business, you can look at content writing for blogs, websites and social media. Many small business owners who don’t have large marketing departments often outsource writing services from freelancers.

Your tasks would include writing content from scratch, reviewing written content to weed out errors, proofreading, and optimizing articles for search engines. In case you are completely new at it, consider using tools like Grammarly to help with your grammar and Yoast to optimize your content for SEO. You may also take a short course in SEO writing.

Capital requirements: start for free if you have a computer and internet connection. You may need a few hundred dollars if you are going to use writing tools like Grammarly.

Expected income: between $25 to $50 per hour or a flat rate of $0.05 to $1 per word.

Do search engine optimization (SEO)

Businesses are always trying to improve their website’s rankings in search engine results. The higher the site ranks, the more visible it is, which in turn translates to more traffic and a higher possibility of turning prospects into customers. This is known as search engine optimization.

If you can master this type of marketing, you may start your own business as an SEO expert who gets websites to rank – ideally on the first page of search engines like Google. There’s so much that goes into SEO but the things to keep in mind are keyword research, SEO writing, content marketing, boosting site speed, competitor analysis and Google My Business.

Capital requirements: start for free using freely available SEO tools if you have a computer and internet connection. Over time, you may integrate premium tools like Ahrefs and SEMRush that cost several hundred dollars.

Expected income: up to $150 per hour.

Start blogging

Are you a good writer but don’t want to write for other people? You can try writing content for your own blog. People will read blog articles as long as they are helpful and interesting. Your blog’s theme can be just about anything, from fashion to cooking, traveling or anything in-between.

Most of your effort will go into creating content and writing articles. You may want to use SEO tools to optimize your blog and attract more traffic. Once you start getting a decent stream of visitors, you can go ahead and monetize the blog with affiliate links as well as Google Adsense and its alternatives like Header Bidding and PropellerAds.

Capital requirements: less than $1,000, which will go to web design, domain name and hosting.

Expected income: $2,500 per month in the first year and up to $15,000 per month once your blog is established8.

Offer delivery services

This is a business you can start with 5000 or less if you already have a car or scooter. Food delivery is particularly a viable option because it’s a fast-growing niche that’s expected to expand all through 20259. It’s a great way to earn some extra money if you want to do it part-time. But you can also do it full-time using food delivery apps like Uber Eats, DoorDash and GrubHub.

There’s always the option to create your own delivery app, but that can be capital intensive. If you’re not an app developer, you will need to hire one to create the app for you. From there you can recruit restaurants, hire drivers and set up a customer support center to handle complaints and offer assistance. That will certainly set you back more than $5k.

Capital requirements: free to use with delivery apps.

Expected income: up to $1,200 with food delivery apps like Uber Eats.

Develop mobile apps and games

App development is one of the fastest-growing industries in the tech world, and it’s projected to keep growing10. If you are proficient in programming, UI design, cross-platform development, and back-end computing, you can start a freelance business creating apps and games.

It’s one of the best business opportunities because you can make money developing apps and games for clients, or you can create your own and sell them for a fee or subscription. Start by deciding on an idea, then do some market research to see if it’s viable. Go ahead and create the app/game, and finally focus on marketing it. You are likely to earn more if it’s a cross-platform app that works on Android, iOS, Windows and other mobile operating systems.

Capital requirements: free to start if you are a programmer.

Expected income: many apps sell for between $0.99 and $1.99 on Google Play and App Store. A good app can net thousands of dollars per month from downloads.

Open an event planning business

Depending on the type and size of an event, you can earn a profit margin of 15% to 40%. As the event planner, your role would revolve around coordinating activities and ensuring that event goers have a good time. In addition to choosing and decorating a venue, you may have to hire caterers, entertainers and other vendors.

Events range from birthdays to large corporate conferences and everything in-between. You may specialize in one specific niche or handle all types of events to cast your net wider. Either way, creativity will help a great deal because people are always looking for unique ideas in this field.

Capital requirements: start by working from your own home to save on rent expenses. Equipment, licenses, tax, and insurance costs should not exceed $5,000.

Expected income: event planners make in excess of $51,000 per year, with the top 25% earning over $67,00011.

Provide cleaning services

Offering maid or cleaning services can be an incredibly profitable business. It’s a low-cost trade that requires little startup capital. And if you’re willing to do the heavy lifting yourself in the initial stages, you will have very little maintenance costs as well.

A typical cleaning business entails full cleaning of residential and commercial places. You will often have to vacuum, sweep and mop floors; dust surfaces counters, furniture and appliances; and wash utensils and clothing. Incorporate special services like window blind cleaning, removing trash and cleaning for people who are moving in or out of houses and offices.

Capital requirements: between $1,000 and $2,000 for purchasing cleaning tools and products like soaps12.

Expected income: a professional cleaning business operated by one person may earn profits of up to $100,000 per year. Larger businesses net over a million13.

Start a security company

Startup costs for a private security company are low because you only need the appropriate permits and licenses to start making sales. These will typically vary from state to state and depending on the legal structure of your business, but they shouldn’t be more than $30014.

A fully-fledged security company may offer protection systems such as alarms, keycard entry tools, security camera and public space surveillance, as well as security guards for locations, events, people and goods in transit. If you can, you may also include private investigation to your list of services.

Capital requirements: up to $5,000, with most of it going to insurance premiums.

Expected income: the average security company with five guards makes up to $300,000 in profit per year15.

Be a virtual assistant

Virtual assistants are in high demand16, so if you start your own business in this field, you are likely to strike it big. Many companies and individuals who lack the time, human resources or expertise to handle administrative support in-house usually turn to virtual assistants. Their tasks typically include making and receiving calls, scheduling appointments, organizing emails, and arranging travel plans.

Since virtual assistants work remotely, their online business requires just a computer with a scheduling program, reliable wi-fi connection, phone and a website. In terms of skills, you will need strong communication skills – verbal and written – as well as a knack for organization.

Capital requirements: $1,000 to $2,000 if you have a computer and telephone. The startup cost will go to business formation fees, software expenses and website charges.

Expected income: virtual assistants often charge $30 to $50 per hour17.

Offer telephone answering services

61% of consumers prefer phone support over every other form of customer support18. But since many small businesses do not have in-house call centers, a good number of them often outsource from third parties. You can offer this service and potentially earn a lot of money.

Combine your phone services with web support (email, live chat and other forms of eConsultancy) to maximize your earnings. To launch a successful business, you will need a computer, reliable internet connection, call center software, auto-dialing tools, customer relationship management (CRM) software, analytics tools, and headsets. With your equipment in place, you can go ahead and market your business on platforms like LinkedIn, Upwork, Indeed and social media sites.

Capital requirements: less than $2,500 when working from your own home using a computer that you already own. The money will go to purchasing the necessary equipment and software.

Expected income: customer support centers charge $25 to $65 per hour19.

Become a YouTuber

There are some YouTube content creators who earn a lot of money from their channels. Jimmy Donaldson (known as Mr. Beast on YouTube) raked in $54 million in 2021 while Jake Paul made $45 million20.

While not all YouTube content creators earn as much, the numbers show that it’s a highly profitable niche as long as you give viewers interesting content. There are many ways of monetizing your channel, provided you create original content. They include Paid YouTube ads, selling merchandise, Super Chat & Super Stickers, selling premium membership, and earnings from video sponsors.

Capital requirements: less than $1,500 for buying a vlogging camera and its accessories. You can use them to create original content. Opening a YouTube channel is completely free. 

Expected income: the average YouTube channel earns $3 to $5 for every video view21. A single video with 100,000 views (achievable within the first year) will net you up to $500,000.

Provide online business management

An online business manager helps busy CEOs and executives run their companies. It’s one of the most suitable small business ideas for people with some experience in business management. In this role, you will be tasked with managing the daily projects of a business, overseeing processes (like sales) and providing direction to team members. You may also have to establish goals, measure their progress and track the company’s key performance indicators (KPIs).

Despite the tasks involved, online business managers don’t need much in terms of capital. You can get this business up and running with just a laptop and internet. But if you have no prior experience in business management, consider taking a short course to acquire key management skills. Some companies will ask you to prove your skills and certifications before hiring you.

Capital requirements: a computer and reliable internet connection.

Expected income: charge up to $65 per hour depending on your skills and experience.

Start a research business

Are you good with research? You can make money doing online studies for individuals and companies. For example, a new business can hire you to collect market data for use in developing a marketing strategy. Or an established company can approach you to investigate how the market is reacting to a newly released product.

Regardless of the task, most of your work will involve collecting, organizing, analyzing and interpreting data and opinions. Ultimately, you should provide practical information that can be used to solve problems, explore issues, and predict trends. Over time, you can expand your research business to include traditional surveys.

Capital requirements: start at home with $2,500 or less for buying a computer and installing high-speed internet.

Expected income: up to $35 per hour, depending on your skills and the scope of the research.

Become a fashion designer

If you have a thing for fashion and a creative flair, you can start a business that creates fashion designs. This will involve sketching designs and creating original clothing, footwear and accessories. You can then sell the designs online through artsy and crafty platforms like Etsy.

Alternatively, you may use the designs to make clothing products and sell them. For example, you can create unique designs and print them on t-shirts and hoodies that people can buy. Several internet marketplaces like PrintShop, Teespring and Threadless offer an online platform where you can sell your t-shirts. The good thing with these platforms is that they provide t-shirts, so your only task is coming up with designs.

In case you want to create designs and apply them yourself on clothing, you will need to acquire a sewing machine, fabric, and measuring tape. Otherwise, you can opt to simply create designs and sell them to individuals who are looking for custom clothing or companies that need fashion designs. Needless to say, graphic design skills will come in handy.

Capital requirements: less than $1,000 for buying a modern, computerized sewing machine, fabrics and other accessories. You will also need a computer for creating graphic design templates that will go on t-shirts and other clothing.

Expected income: fashion designers earn a mean income of $74,410 per year22. You can also make up to $12,000 selling custom designs for t-shirts on Etsy and another $11,400 on Merch by Amazon23.

Run an Airbnb

The average host on Airbnb earns nearly $10,000 annually. This is probably one of the best ways to earn some extra cash especially if you have a spare room in your house and have a knack for entertaining guests. While the pandemic might have reduced the number of travelers on the road, the industry is now on the mend. More and more people plan to travel and take vacations in the future as stay-at-home mandates are lifted all over the world.

With Airbnb, you get to decide how much you want to charge for your room. You can vary your rates depending on your location, the day of the week, or the time of the year.

Capital requirements: provided that you already have a spare bedroom in your house, around $2000 to $4000 for insurance costs, new furniture, and decorations

Expected income: $10,000 annually, even more if you live near popular tourist destinations.

Cook meals with a neighborhood Meals-to-Go business

Love to cook for others but can't imagine yourself working restaurant hours? Then a meals-to-go business is a great business opportunity for you to consider. You don't even have to start big and build a commercial kitchen right away. You can start with a small operation and work from your own kitchen; for example, if you have a dish that you're particularly proud of, you can sell just that and take orders from people who might want to try it. Set up a Facebook page, advertise the dish that you're selling on your neighborhood's social media groups, and watch the orders come rolling in.

Capital requirements: between $200 and $2000 for ingredients, food containers, and gas.

Expected income: depends on the demand and the price of your dish. People with this type of business usually put a markup of 20% to 30% per dish.

Offer computer repair and troubleshooting services

People run into trouble with their computers all the time. If you know how to take a computer apart and do some basic troubleshooting, you could make money off of your repair skills. For example, there are a lot of people who don't know how to reformat a hard drive, or how to do a fresh install of Windows. They are more than willing to pay more tech-minded people to do these tasks for them.

Capital requirements: Startup costs would be around $100 to $1000 for PC repair tools.

Expected income: PC repair specialists can charge around $15 to $30 per hour.

Develop and sell your own online courses

If you're skilled at something, whether it be cooking, coding, or playing an instrument, you can share your knowledge with the world and make money from it in the form of an online course. The best thing of all, this requires minimal startup costs, especially if you know how to edit your own videos. You can try hosting the course on your own website or social media pages, or you can try putting them up on a platform like Udemy.

Capital requirements: A good camera and microphone can cost you anywhere from $500 to $2000.

Expected income: You can charge any rate that you want, but as a comparison, most courses on Udemy are priced around $20 to $100 depending on course length and content.

Run a home pet boarding service

Think of this like an Airbnb, but for pets! If you like pets and have space in your home for them to run around and stay in, you can try running a pet boarding service. Some pet owners would need a place for their pets to stay temporarily (if they're going on a vacation or business trip, for example), and they need somebody to look after their fur babies in the meantime. A pet boarding service can charge per night like you would if you're in a hotel.

Capital requirements: between $2000 and $4500 for startup costs related to pet food, minor construction work, toys, etcetera.

Expected income: Pet boarding services with basic kennels can earn $25 to $40 each night per pet.

What businesses can I start with $10k?

$10,000 is enough to start a potentially profitable company in real estate, tours, food & catering, or even pet grooming. These are all small business opportunities that you can explore as your $5,000 startup grows or if you already have $10,000 in hand. Here’s a brief overview of some of the options that are worth a second look:

Real estate company

Real estate agents earn an average of $94,031 per year24. That’s quite a profit margin, considering you can start the business with $10k or less if you bootstrap. Most of your capital will go to funding licenses and certifications, E&O insurance, office supplies, marketing materials, and down payment for at least one property. Real estate arbitrage is also an option if you are unable to raise startup capital of $10,000.

Food truck business

Food trucks are popular for a reason – they have the potential to rake in a lot of money. Depending on your location and business model, you can easily net up to $50,000 per month25. The good thing is that you can start with a limited menu and expand it as you get more customers. Also, consider offering mobile catering services right from your food truck.

Tour guides

This is an ideal small business opportunity for people who live in touristy areas. Guide visitors on local attractions, best restaurants, nightlife, hiking spots, historical monuments and so much more. For all these, you can charge up to $360 per head on each tour. But you will need a car if you are going to offer anything more than walking tours.

Pet grooming

You can start a mobile pet grooming business for $10k or less if you already have a van, RV or pick up truck. Spend your capital on a pet grooming kit, a sizable sink and water supply, a grooming hammock, soaps, shampoos, and conditioners. Pet grooming service providers earn an average of $36,575, which is above the national average26. If you can, combine it with pet sitting to earn even more.

Import/export business

The exact startup costs for an import/export business vary depending on the type of product you want to trade. Ideally, it should be a low-cost, high-demand product like foodstuff or fashion. That way you can buy many units at a low cost and sell them within your area. The high demand will ensure a high inventory turnover. But first you’ll need to determine exactly what the people in your area need (but can’t seem to get) and then find foreign wholesalers who are willing to supply retailers. With a good product, you can make in excess of $100,000 per year.

Hauling company

Help people and local businesses dispose of their junk and get paid for it. This is a thriving business because people are always doing home renovations and cleaning projects that result in junk removal. That is why there’s an ever-growing demand for junk removal service providers27. However, it’s only ideal if you already have a truck. Otherwise, the cost of buying one may exceed $10,000. The typical junk removal company in the U.S. charges between $100 and $800 per load of junk28.

Interior design

Depending on your service offerings, you can start an interior design company with between $5,000 and $10,000. Individuals and companies will pay you to make their spaces safe, functional, and beautiful. And for that, you can earn up to $70,000 per year.

Final thoughts

$5,000 may not seem like a lot of money, but it can give you plenty of options when you want to start a small business. Your possibilities are even more if you can raise your seed money to $10,000. However, one fact remains true: most small businesses – 82% to be precise29 – fail because of cash flow problems. It doesn’t matter how good you are at coming up with small business ideas and grabbing business opportunities, you just have to know how to put the $5,000 or $10,000 to good use and get your vision off the ground.


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