Steve Strauss headshotQ: Do you know of a business I could start with little or no money?


A: Over on my new site, TheSelfEmployed, this – by far – is the most common query we get. It is not surprising that people are looking to start businesses on the cheap; after all, it has been a pretty weak economy for a while now and a lot of people are still hurting. This is especially true of the millions of unemployed and underemployed folks who see little prospect of getting gainful employment.

So, what do they do? They start their own small business. And many do so with very little money up front.

This is certainly true of my pal Eric (name changed). When times were good, Eric made good money, but when the economy fell off the cliff, Eric was laid off. He was on unemployment for almost a year, and then got a job that offered no benefits and paid him 1/3 of what he made previously. To supplement his income, Eric started a mobile notary business. In the evenings and on weekends, Eric stamps official documents. No, it doesn’t pay great, but as he says, “at least it is something.”

At the other end of the spectrum are folks like my former assistant, Vivian. Smart, capable, and in her 20s, she freelances for a number of different clients – building websites, being a virtual assistant, and managing projects. She knows that the days of great jobs with big benefits are ending, as more and more companies outsource and hire part-time workers in order to save money. But she doesn't mind, as she says, “Hey, it pays the bills, and I’ve got my freedom.”

If you would like to start your own business for little or no money then, and therefore with little risk (love that!) here are some of my top options:

1. Mobile notary: Like my pal above, this is an easy business to start and there is always a need for notaries to officiate the signing of important documents. Getting your notary license and getting started only takes a few weeks and a class. Put some ads on Craigslist and a sign on your car, and away you go.

2. Auto related: It would cost almost nothing but your sweat equity to start an auto detailing business. You could work at the home of your customers, or even in your own garage. Similarly, a delivery or hauling service costs nothing to start.

The key to either of these sorts of businesses – in fact in all of these businesses – is in the marketing. You have to Get The Word Out. Make fliers and pass them out. Create a magnetic sign for your car. Advertise your services on Craigslist – it’s free. Share your new venture on Facebook. Create a website.

Market your new business, and then market it some more.

3. Blogging: Blogging? Yes, blogging. If you have something interesting to say and can say it interestingly, then blogging is for you. Once you build a following, then you can get advertisers and then you make money. For example, Robb Sutton loves biking, and makes a living blogging about it at

4. Taking care of other people’s things: What about creating a dog-walking or pet-sitting business catering to busy professionals? What about starting a housesitting business? What about a business that cleans and services tropical aquariums? What about becoming a gardener, or a housecleaner? There is no shortage of possible businesses you can start helping today’s super-busy professionals stay on task. Speaking of . . .

5. Assistant or virtual assistant: More and more people are using the services of virtual assistants these days. You could help people with email overload, running errands, setting appointments, returning calls – the needs are many.

6. Childcare: You do not need a special degree, but you do need a good home and a warm heart. If you have those, you can also have a nice little business.

As you may have gathered, the key to starting any kind of business for almost no money is to start a service business, from home. By doing that you are spending your efforts instead of spending dollars. With other types of businesses, you need to buy inventory, pay rent, etc. Avoid that, and good luck.


Today’s Tip: Not a few entrepreneurs have a difficult time taking an idea, turning it into a project, and then turning that project into profit. That is why I was happy to see recently an e-book that helps with just that:

Winning Opportunities, proven tools for converting your projects into success (without a business plan) can be downloaded free of charge here. As a proven alternative to writing a business plan, this simple guide shows how to identify opportunities, how to avoid failure, how to identify the key success factors, how to build a robust plan of action, and also how to obtain buy-in for your projects.


Want to be part of this column? Then ask Steve a question! Visit his new site for TheSelfEmployed to get in touch with him.

Steven D. Strauss is a lawyer and writer and is one of the country's leading experts on small business as well as an international business speaker. The best-selling author of 17 books, his latest is the all-new 3rd ed. of The Small Business Bible. You can listen to his weekly podcast, Small Business Success Powered by Microsoft, visit his new website for the self-employed, TheSelfEmployed, follow him on Twitter, and "like" TheSelfEmployed on Facebook. You can e-mail Steve at: © Steven D. Strauss

About the Author(s)

Steve Strauss

Steve Strauss is one of the world’s leading entrepreneurship and small business experts. He has been seen on CNN, CNBC, The O’Reilly Factor, and his column, Ask an Expert, appears weekly on

USA TODAY Senior Small Business Columnist and Best-Selling Author

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