The idea of starting a business is exciting. But many ideas require time, money, and risk.
Contrary to popular belief, there are actually many ways to start a business that let you focus less on the logistics and upfront costs and more on getting started.
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.
1. Start a dropshipping business
Buy stock, store it, pick it, pack it, ship it. Managing inventory is a big commitment when you’re running a business.
Dropshipping is an easy business to start and the first of our good business ideas. Dropshipping is a fulfillment 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.
You can curate products from one or more suppliers into your own online store under a theme that focuses on a specific niche, like gear for yoga enthusiasts or water bowls for dog owners. When a customer buys a product from you, the order is sent to your supplier, who fulfills it on your behalf. However, you are still responsible for your own marketing and customer service.
Learn more: Trending Products to Sell in 2021
There are both local and overseas suppliers you can work with, as long as you can establish a relationship with them built on trust—and unreliable suppliers will reflect poorly on your brand.
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.
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2. Design and sell print-on-demand t-shirts
Another dropshipping model, print on demand puts inventory, shipping, and fulfillment 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.
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).
You can even use t-shirt mockup templates so you don’t need to spend money on a full photoshoot for every new design.
There are a variety of print-on-demand platforms you can work with, many of which can be integrated with your Shopify store for seamless order fulfillment. However, be sure to always order a sample of your product (often offered at a discount) to make sure your custom products look good.
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 look of your book.
Lulu xPress and Blurb are popular platforms to create, order, and distribute your own books as physical and digital products. You could also sell it on third-party marketplaces like Amazon or Powell’s.
While you can order one book at a time, costs naturally go down when you buy in bulk. Consider pre-selling or crowdfunding your book idea to ensure there’s demand, and guarantee a certain number of sales so you can feel confident making a bulk order.
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.
Shopify has a free Digital Downloads app that lets you offer digital products in your store as easily as physical products.
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.
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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.
The Give & Grow Shopify app makes it easy to partner with charitable organizations and incorporate your mission into your business. You can set it up to donate a specific amount or a percentage of sales, or ask your customers to add a donation at checkout.
- Social Entrepreneurship: How to Become a Changemaker Through Business
- How This Social Entrepreneur Is Building a Better Detroit By Empowering Its Students
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 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 out simple on a per-order basis or with a small batch until you start generating consistent sales.
In fact, many makers on Shopify started out 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 demand for their products.
Just be mindful of any regulations in your product category, especially for anything customers will eat, inhale, or put on their skin.
Brooklyn Candle Studio is one of many maker-owned businesses on Shopify that started on Etsy.
And Arounna Khounnoraj and John Booth are a couple who have been operating bookhou, an online and physical shop selling handmade homegoods and functional bags.
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 are able to convert into a business with multiple revenue streams.
- Sponsored posts on behalf of brands
- Becoming an influencer
- Selling physical or digital products (via any of the ideas on this list)
- A combination of the above (they’re not mutually exclusive)
Taking an audience-first approach to your small business idea means you’re playing the long game (it might be months until you’ve figured it out). But you don’t need millions of followers to do it—Instagrammer Kat Gaskin, for example, pulled off a $10k product launch with only 3,000 followers.
11. Start a pet business
The pet industry is ripe with opportunity 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 grooming, walking, or training expertise.
Perkie Prints makes personalized printed pet products—everything from apparel to framed prints, plus fun projects in between.
On the service side of things, Let the Dog Out offers dog walking and “bathroom breaks” to its customers.
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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.
Regardless of the route you take, be sure to record in a quiet space so the audio is clear and distraction-free.
It’s also a good idea to use email marketing to keep your members informed of new content. Emails, video teasers, and customer testimonials are great ways to build excitement for new launches.
And it’s easy to start your membership-based business in Shopify. Set up a new product just like you would for a physical product, but create a name and description that tells people about your membership services.
Make sure to unselect “This is a physical product” to remove shipping options at the checkout. (Note: Some of the setup required might change depending on which apps you choose to use later in the process.)
If you want to offer different options for your memberships, create variants. You can set different prices for each option and limit the number of times available, if needed, by editing each variant.
13. Join an affiliate marketing program
Affiliate marketing refers to a performance-based marketing tactic where a business pays people, aka an affiliate, to promote and sell products for them. Every time the affiliate brings in a new customer, they receive a commission from the business.
Affiliates can promote products on their blogs, social media accounts, website, or communities. For many, affiliate marketing is a low-cost side hustle that turns into a profitable business over time.
To join an affiliate program, take the following steps:
- Find an affiliate program on sites like ShareASale, CJ Affiliate, or LinkShare.
- Choose offers you want to promote.
- Get an affiliate link.
- Promote that link across your assets.
- Get a commission every time someone signs up or makes a purchase through your link.
Commission rates vary depending on the company and offer. You could earn as low as 5% for each sale, while some commissions can be as high as 50% if you’re promoting a class or event. Some affiliate programs also offer a flat rate versus a percentage.
14. Housesitting and petsitting
As travel increases, so does the need for home and pet care while people are away. And with the increase in remote work, long-term holidays are becoming more commonplace—so while you might be able to leave your home unoccupied for a weekend, a month-long trip may require some more care.
Housesitting and petsitting are good business ideas to start if you feel comfortable caring for and staying in a stranger’s home, potentially with their pets.
You can create your own website on Shopify to market and sell your services, and there are also dedicated home and pet care websites and apps you can use. Here are some examples:
- HouseSitter.com: This website is for both housesitting and petsitting. You can create a profile and apply to postings. People who need house/petsitting can also browse sitters and reach out to them.
- Rover: Rover is a website and app specifically for petsitting. On it, you can create a profile and apply to gigs. These arrangements include drop-in visits but not overnight visits or housesitting.
- Care.com: Care.com is a listing place where petsitters can create a profile and list their experience. You can also apply to jobs posted by people seeking petsitters. Care.com is also a good site to use if you offer senior care, tutoring, housekeeping, and childcare services.
- TrustedHousesitters: TrustedHousesitters is a great place to start if you need experience or testimonials. The platform specifically prohibits paid gigs, so these arrangements are viewed more as an exchange—you get a free place to stay, and they get free sitting.
Note, some pet sitters offer on-site services while others care for pets in their own homes. Regardless of your choice, it’s important to communicate this upfront.
If you want to try these successful business ideas, it’s always important to invest time into creating a great profile. Choose pictures that show you happy and smiling—ideally with animals (be sure to get permission from the pet owners first). Fill out every section of your profile so it’s complete. Be specific about your history caring for homes and pets, and remember to include any specific qualifications or certifications that may give you a leg up against another potential sitter.
Ultimately, the best plan of attack for these new business ideas is to use a combination of your own Shopify site and third-party platforms.
15. Phone accessories
Because so many people own cell phones now, there’s a huge market for phone accessories. And there are many different ways you can go with these accessories—print on demand, handmade, niche by product type, dropshipping, and more.
Some ideas for phone accessories to sell include:
- Phone cases
- Car and desk holders
- Bluetooth speakers
- Portable chargers
- Wireless chargers
When listing your phone accessories for sale, remember to include which devices they’re compatible with. You don’t want to create a negative yet avoidable experience for customers who receive an item they can’t even use.
16. Sell subscription boxes
If you’re not interested in creating your own products to sell, you can curate them. One of the best small business ideas is to sell subscription boxes with curated products that follow a certain theme.
One of the great parts about subscription boxes is you can create them for pretty much every single niche out there. For example, featuring merchants and makers in your community is one of the best local business ideas for subscription boxes. You can also go for themes like yoga, beer brewing, or pets—the possibilities are pretty much limitless.
Like memberships, subscriptions are good business ideas to start because they create a recurring revenue stream. People have to proactively cancel their subscription if they don’t want to continue paying for it.
Subscriptions also lend themselves to collaboration. When you curate products from different merchants, you can get in front of their audiences—a whole group of potential new subscribers.
17. Invest in vending machines
Here’s a unique business idea with low investment: vending machines. Yes, there’s money to be made with vending machines. Though the industry took a hit in 2020 with the COVID-19 pandemic, projections say vending machines will bounce back as the economy does as well.
Some of the reasons for decline include decreased foot traffic—fewer people shopping, traveling, and going to work—and hygiene-related hesitations around touching surfaces. So if you’re opting to go this route, you may want to take a forward-thinking approach and look for vending machines that offer touchless options.
The key to making this a successful business idea is to offer the right products at the right location. Do your research to find high-trafficked areas and understand exactly who is walking by and what they might need at that moment. With a strategic approach, vending machines can be a profitable business idea with a small investment.
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