These low-investment small-business ideas make a great entry point for beginners, bootstrappers, or anyone with a busy schedule and let you pick up a side business without having to drop everything else.
You still need to come up with a solid idea, build a brand, put effort into marketing, and provide excellent customer service. But there are ways you can bypass many traditional startup costs, such as initial inventory, warehousing, and retail space.
Here are examples of business ideas you can start on your own with a small investment.
1. Start a dropshipping business
Dropshipping is an easy business to start and the first of our good business ideas. Dropshipping is a fulfilment model where third-party supplier stores and ships inventory to customers on your behalf. It’s one of the best businesses to start because it’s low overhead, hands-off, and scalable.
You don’t need to handle any products yourself—you just need to make the sales and pass orders on to your supplier. In fact, it’s one of the quickest and cheapest businesses to start. Dropshipping is a low-investment way to test product-market fit and launch a business before you invest in your own original products. Just be sure to always order a sample for yourself to make sure your supplier is reliable and that the quality of the products is fit for selling to your customers.
2. Design and sell print-on-demand t-shirts
Another dropshipping model, print on demand puts inventory, shipping, and fulfilment in the hands of a third-party supplier. But unlike the dropshipping idea above, the focus here is on customizing products with your own designs to create something original.
T-shirts, hats, phone cases, hoodies, skirts, tote bags, and more become canvases for your creativity. You can think up witty slogans for developers or references that resonate with cat owners—if there’s passion and pride within a community, there’s a potential t-shirt business you can start.
Even if you’re not a designer, you can find one to work with using freelance sites like Fiverr, Upwork, Dribbble, or 99Designs.
With many print-on-demand services, you’re paying per-product, so the base price per unit will be more expensive than if you were to order in bulk. But the advantage is that if a certain t-shirt design doesn’t sell, you haven’t actually paid for the item yet (only the design, if you outsourced it).
3. Launch your own book
A book is just another type of product when you think about it. As such, you can create one to serve a particular demand in the market.
Cookbooks, picture books, comic books, poetry books, photo books, coffee table books, novels, and even ebooks—if you’ve got the knowledge or creativity, there are a variety of original books you can bring to the market. The options are endless—that’s why it’s one of the best businesses to start.
Print-on-demand publishing is a relatively safe way to test the waters and get started with self-publishing. It also gives you control over the quality and looks of your book.
Launching your own book can be a great way to monetize a blog if you have or are looking to start one.
4. Create digital products or online courses
Digital products like music, courses, and templates are unique on this list of small business ideas. Unlike the others, they’re not tangible. There aren’t recurring manufacturing or shipping costs to worry about, so your margins can remain high while generating passive income, making it another no-brainer for the best businesses to start.
The trick is figuring out what makes for a good digital product. What is useful enough that people are willing to pay to download it?
The answers range from original instrumental beats to stock photos that can be licensed to other creators to information products and templates that help people level up their skill sets in a particular field.
If you’ve got a talent that can be turned into a digital product, think about packaging it into a new stream of income.
5. Sell print-on-demand
posters, greeting cards, and prints
If you’re artistically inclined or know your way around a camera, you can dropship using a print-on-demand business model to let others physically own a piece of your work. Just be sure you have the rights to the content you want to print or are using public domain assets you can freely monetize.
If you’ve already got an engaged online following—say you’re a cartoonist or an urban photographer—you’re in an especially good position to give this small business idea a try.
Depending on the printer you work with, you can turn your work into products such as posters or framed wall art, even greeting cards. There are plenty of digital templates and mockup generators like Placeit you can use to showcase your products without having to print out each item and conduct your own photoshoots.
6. Start a charitable business
Starting a non-profit organization isn’t the only path you can take to help fund a better world.
Having a mission to go along with a business, and setting aside some profit for a cause, gives social entrepreneurs a unique way to position their company in the market while addressing the issues they care about most.
While many social enterprises offer their own original products, you can also take any of the small business ideas above and partner with a non-profit or execute that social good with your own hands, as long as you’re transparent about how it works.
As part of your marketing, you can share the impact that your customers are having by supporting your business, such as a blog post covering your work in the community or a real-time impact calculator on your website.
7. Sell a service
Offering services isn’t passive, but it can certainly be a lucrative way to gain self-employment. With services-based small business ideas, “time” is your inventory and your biggest investment. You’ve only got a limited supply of hours in your day. However, that makes it easier to get up and running if you’ve got skills that are in demand.
Writers, graphic designers, virtual assistants, SEO consultants, cleaning service providers, dog walkers, real estate professionals, and more can build a business around their skills.
It’s one of the best business opportunities because it can be expanded with any of the other ideas above to create additional revenue streams by “productizing” services through physical or digital goods.
A photographer, for example, can service a local event while selling prints online through their Instagram account. A freelance writer can sell a copywriting swipe file of high-converting sales copy. Coupling your service-based business with physical products can give you another source of income that isn’t directly tied to your time.
You can use the BookThatApp or Acerill Appointment Booking for Shopify to let customers easily schedule a session or consultation or buy tickets to a class with you through your store.
You can also offer your services through a freelance marketplace like Upwork to increase your chances of getting discovered by the people who need your skills.
8. Create an online fashion boutique
If you love fashion and sharing your sense of style online, you can consider creating your own online fashion boutique. You don’t need to become a fashion designer—you can simply curate items from other vendors into your own online store (using the dropshipping model we discussed earlier).
Dresses, shoes, swimwear, accessories, and more—you can build your own fashion brand using one of the several product sourcing apps for Shopify, model them in your own product photos and social media posts, and build an online following as a trendsetter.
9. Sell handcrafted and homemade goods
If you’re a maker—whether you DIY soap, candles, sauces, or pottery—you’re in a unique position to find an online business idea, because product development and procurement are literally in your hands.
Unlike many of the other ideas on this list, you will need to consider shipping and inventory management, but you can start simple on a per-order basis or with a small batch until you start generating consistent sales.
In fact, many makers on Shopify started with a home business idea, selling on Etsy or eBay, or to friends and family through word of mouth, and grew into full-time small-business owners after establishing a demand for their products.
10. Build an audience you can monetize
In today’s connected world, the ability to capture and keep the attention of others is an asset. It’s one that many businesses are even willing to pay for and one that many creators can convert into a business with multiple revenue streams.
Whether you choose to grow your following on YouTube, Instagram, or a blog (ideally a combination of different channels), you have many avenues for monetizing your audience:
11. Start a pet business
The pet industry is ripe with opportunities for all kinds of small business ideas. And it’s an industry worth nearly $100 billion, so it’s an easy one to get started in, with guaranteed demand. Your pet business could be product- or service-based—selling accessories, food, or toys, or offering to groom, walking, or training expertise.
12. Create a membership program
Online memberships aren’t just a hot new business idea that materialized from people being required to stay home during the COVID-19 crisis. Online memberships are ideal for entrepreneurs with an established active and engaged community. They work much like a subscription-based business—customers make recurring payments in exchange for a virtual product or service.
Memberships are great for managing members-only access to content on a website, and even for physical businesses that offer guided sessions online. Yoga studios, gyms, clubs, and art schools are a few examples of businesses that can easily take advantage of this low-investment business model.
Since this content is behind a gate that only paying subscribers can access through their customer account, you can also host exclusive live streams in addition to (or instead of) downloadable content.