Can you start a business with no money? You bet!

Starting a business is one of the most fulfilling ventures you can take on. It’s an opportunity to bring your ideas to life in the form of products and services and create something truly valuable for customers and employees. A lack of money shouldn’t stop you from doing that.

With some out-of-the-box thinking, there are several ways you can get your business off the ground with little to no cash.

 

How to leverage your current skills, interests, expertise and experiences to start a business.

Maybe you already have an idea about what kind of business you want to start. Are you passionate about cleaning and organizing and want to help others tackle their messy closets? Do you make the best baked goods your friends have ever had and want to spread the joy to more people in your community?

If you have an idea about which kind of business you want to start, you’ve already completed the first step. But if not, don’t worry. Start thinking about your passions, hobbies, schooling, or existing professional qualifications. How can you use those skills to solve problems for others?

If you haven't landed on the right business idea yet, we've got a few to spark your entrepreneurial spirit!

 

What are the cheapest businesses to start?

Here are some of our favorite business ideas that require little to no investment:

Creative services

Are you a painter, illustrator, writer, designer, or social media expert? If so, you can make money by providing products and services to individuals and other businesses. Whether you work on a freelance basis or sell products in an online store, a creative business doesn’t need a lot of capital to get started. You can sell crafted items through portals like Etsy, sell freelance services through Upwork or Fiverr or sell your designs through print-on-demand services like Printful.

How much does it cost?

Starting an Etsy shop is free, but the company does charge a $0.20 fee per listing, a 5% transaction fee, and a 3% + $0.25 payment processing fee. Services like Upwork and Fiverr are free to join for freelancers, but the company will take a percentage of what you earn from the gigs you complete.

Home help

People always need help around their homes, and they’re happy to pay for the tasks they don’t want to do. Businesses like dog-walking, yard work, babysitting, and landscaping have low startup costs.

How much does it cost?

You’ll only have to put a little money toward basic supplies needed to start your business. For example, if you’re starting a landscaping company, you’ll probably need to purchase a lawnmower and a few other tools if you don’t have them already.

Consulting and Expert Advice

If you have insight, expertise and experience that’s useful to others, you could get work as a consultant, like for a marketing agency or a business’s HR department. If you have an extensive background in a particular field, think about the type of advice and services other people would be willing to pay for.

How much does it cost?

You will most likely need a website to appear more credible and start marketing yourself for this type of business. Some providers, like Wix.com, are free or very low cost. Here are a few easy ways to start your website as a new business.

Trade services

If you have a trade you’re trained in, you can leverage that into a professional services business. You could become a web developer, accountant, interior designer, carpenter, builder, plumber, electrician or a general consultant.

How much does it cost?

This depends on the type of business you want to start. Will you need a website? If so, Wix.com offers a free website plan. Will you need software for accounting? Some software may offer a free trial to get you started, but make sure you understand the monthly or yearly plan costs after that free trial ends.

For other businesses, like anything in the home repair industry, you may need to get a license which can cost a small fee. We recommended researching what those fees are in your state before starting your business.

Selling goods online

While most retail requires you to buy stock and inventory upfront, there are a few other options when it comes to starting an e-commerce business with little money. Dropshipping allows you to sell products that are shipped directly from manufacturers to end customers, and you don’t pay until the order is made. You can also get into affiliate marketing, where you send people to another website to purchase something and get a commission on any sales you refer.

How much does it cost?

Depending on which providers you use for dropshipping, there may be a subscription cost to keep your store up and running. For example, if you choose to use Shopify as your e-commerce platform and Oberlo as your dropshipper, you can get started for free using Shopify’s free trial and Oberlo’s free plan. However, you will have a monthly fee when your Shopify trial runs out. You will also need to create your own website, which can cost money depending on which provider and plan you choose.

For other businesses, like anything in the home repair industry, you may need to get a license which can cost a small fee. We recommended researching what those fees are in your state before starting your business.

The Gig Economy

The gig economy also provides plenty of opportunities for starting a small business without much capital. If you have a spare room, you can rent it through Airbnb, and if you want to drive others around, there’s Lyft or Uber. For local tasks, you can try out TaskRabbit or set yourself up as a personal concierge for people in your area.

How much does it cost?

Starting your business through Airbnb, Uber, or Lyft will only be low cost if you already have a home/room to rent or a reliable car. However, even if you have those things, there may be increased insurance costs or bills (like gas and utilities) to keep your business going. Taskrabbit is a little more budget-friendly. If you want to start doing jobs and tasks for people in your community, the site charges a $25 registration fee.

No matter which type of business you want to start, Incfile has several tools, resources and guides to help you get it off the ground.

 

How to get funding for a business

Just because you can’t put up your own capital to start your business doesn’t mean you’re out of luck. If you’re willing to be a little more resourceful, there are plenty of ways to get outside funding for your small business.

1
Bootstrapping

Bootstrapping is the discipline of starting a business with very little upfront cash. This means you rely on limited personal savings and revenue created by your business to grow it. Bootstrapping has created many successful businesses — Dell, HP, Apple and Microsoft all started with very little cash, and now they are some of the biggest companies in the world. Got $500 in savings? There are plenty of great businesses you can start and bootstrap your way to success!

2
Small business loans

There are plenty of small business loan options out there, each with its own advantages, disadvantages and requirements. There are traditional bank loans, Small Business Administration (SBA) loans, online and non-traditional loans, lines of credit, and startup loans. Read more about each type of loan here.

3
Specialized grants

Free money for entrepreneurs? Yes, please! Your small businesses may be eligible to receive grants from various agencies and funds. The great thing about grants over loans is that you don’t need to repay them — you just need to use the funds in a specific way depending on the grant. The SBA provides grants to businesses for research and development, exporting, and more. You can also look for grants on Grants.gov, the U.S. Economic Development Administration, Challenge.gov, GrantWatch and the State Business Incentives Database.

4
State programs and government support

The SBA is a federal agency that assists small business owners and entrepreneurs looking to expand or those in financial need. One of the options offered by the SBA is its guaranteed loans that provide business owners with reduced risk and easy access to capital through lending partners that offer long- and short-term working capital and fixed-term rates and microloans. Another lever of support includes disaster assistance loans that are low-interest loans to help businesses recover through a declared disaster. This includes business physical disaster loans and COVID-19 relief loans. Find your state and local SBA district office here.

5
Crowdfunding

Crowdfunding is a great way to get the word out about your business to prospective fans. With the power of social media, you can build grassroots support for your idea through TikTok, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Many potential small-dollar investors search Kickstarter, Indiegogo and other crowdfunding sites for cool new gadgets, food products, artwork and other innovative ideas that bigger companies might not pursue yet.

 

Do you have a business plan?

All businesses need a business plan that details how the company will generate sales, provide services and make money. If you do it yourself, writing up a business plan is totally free. Plus, if you do it sooner rather than later, you can start acquiring customers and generating revenue from day one.

All business plans vary depending on the company, but they should cover the following:

  • 1

    An executive summary with the most essential points from your business plan

  • 2

    Your goals and what you hope to achieve with your business

  • 3

    A description of your business, background information and context

  • 4

    A market analysis and likely demand

  • 5

    An overview of how your business is structures

  • 6

    Your business model

  • 7

    How you will market and sell your offerings

  • 8

    Financial projections, revenue and profitability

  • 9

    Appendices

Need help coming up with your complete plan? We’ve got the perfect guide to writing your business plan right here.

 

How to form a business in your state

Now that you probably have a better idea of what type of business you want to start, it’s time to make it a reality. That starts by choosing the right structure or “legal entity” for your business. Over 80% of small businesses choose to go with an LLC because it's fast, simple and inexpensive to set up and maintain. However, each state has different filing times, costs, rules and regulations for forming an LLC. Check out our interactive map to figure out exactly what you need to do to start a business in your state.

Map LLC

Common questions about starting a business with no money

What is the easiest business to start with no money?

The easiest business to start with no money is to do something you’re already skilled at and won’t have to hire employees right off the bat. If you have a skill like writing, coding, or graphic design, offer those services to other businesses in your community. Then, once you do a great job, you can ask current clients for referrals and grow your businesses from there.

How much money do you need to start a small business?

This depends on what the business is. Starting a local bakery will be more costly than starting an accounting business from home. If you’re using skills and equipment you already have and working from home, the cost to start a small business is very low. Even when it comes to setting up a legal entity, like an LLC, business owners can do that for $0+ state fees with Incfile’s service. Start your LLC here.

Can I start a business without forming a legal entity?

Sole proprietors that want to conduct business can file for a DBA — or “doing business as” — name. In most states, registering a DBA name gives your business the ability to use a fictitious business name. However, a DBA name is not the same as a legal business entity. It doesn’t give you the same limited liability or legal protections as an LLC or other corporate structure for your business. Want to get your DBA filed? Learn more about Incfile’s DBA filing package.

Form your business today for $0

Setting up a legal entity, like an LLC, for your business shouldn’t break the bank. With Incfile, there’s no monetary blocker when it comes to getting your business off the ground. Start your LLC today for $0 and get a free registered agent for a year.

Form your LLC now