One of the biggest obstacles to starting a business that we hear from the Foundr community—something people seem to always be struggling with—is finding enough money to get off the ground.
This is an understandable concern in an age of eye-popping VC funding. But you actually don’t need to spend thousands of dollars to launch a new business.
Contrary to popular belief, there are many startup business ideas you can work on without spending very much money at all. These low-cost online business ideas all offer wonderful opportunities if you’re just getting started on your entrepreneurial journey.
It won’t be easy. You still need to develop a strong brand, invest your time in marketing and operations, and provide an excellent user experience. But the big costs you may associate with a traditional business won’t be needed—no rent, no electricity bills, few if any salaries, and so on.
In the following, we’ll outline five low-cost startup business ideas that we hope will demonstrate that money isn’t everything when launching and online business—it’s all about passion and creativity.
Start a Consulting Business
If you think about it, you have probably spent the majority of your life studying. Whether that’s in grade school, high school, college, or old-school hard work, the first 20 or 30 years of your life were likely spent learning skills.
Some of these skills you have developed over the years can be used to generate profit. That’s what a consulting business is all about—using your knowledge and talents to solve the problems of other people, your clients.
Your only investment is your time, and a bit of money to set up your website and the like. To learn more about the costs of setting up a consulting business and what’s involved, you can check out this article.
Launch a Digital Product
Providing services can be very lucrative, but another equally profitable and low-cost way to deliver a solution using your skills is through a digital product.
Whether that’s an ebook, a course, an article, a template, or anything in between, you can help people by digitizing your knowledge.
The premium courses we have developed at Foundr come from some of the biggest experts in the respective fields of each course—ecommerce, consulting, landing page optimization, etc.—to deliver what they know to our audience.
Interestingly enough, some of these experts are consultants themselves. This means they are sharing the exact same ideas they use with their own clients so you can implement them in your own business.
In contrast with other traditional ways to deliver knowledge, like seminars, books, or consulting, digital products allow you to help people at scale. This means you create the product once and then you sell it as many times as you want with almost no recurring costs involved.
Some of the costs associated with the launch of a digital product include the fees from a payment processor (Stripe, PayPal, etc.), which typically charges 2.9% plus $0.30 per sale, and the platform where you sell your products (Podia, Teachable, etc.), which typically charge a low monthly fee.
So if you add up these costs, you can expect no more than 5% of your entire sales to go to the fixed costs of running your business. Of course, we’re not counting the marketing, operations, and costs of developing your product. That all depends a lot on your own offering.
The courses we develop at Foundr, which involve a team of a dozen people, including video producers, lighting crew, and more, cost above $10,000.
But this isn’t something you necessarily need to do. We choose to incur these expensive costs because we want our courses to stand out as premium offerings. You can spend as little as $5 to design an ebook cover on Fiverr and start selling your product using just your personal Instagram following, if that’s what you want.
The point is that if you have less than $100 and you have skills that people already demand (whether that’s through consulting or a job you hold), you can package it into a digital product and start making money right away.
Here are some resources to get you started:
Grow an Instagram Following
You probably think of Instagram as a fun way to kill some time, liking your friends’ pictures and sharing your own. But nowadays, commanding a following on Instagram is an asset in and of itself. It’s a way to leverage influence to make money.
Companies know this all too well, and are willing to pay good money to enlist others to promote their own offers.
That’s the entire business model of becoming an “influencer”—the people who amass loyal armies of followers they can develop strong relationships with, even if only through an app.
If you can build a following on Instagram by taking and sharing photos that connect with an audience, you can make money from it.
The key to monetizing an Instagram account isn’t to grow it as big as possible, but to build a loyal group of followers.
As explained by Simon Moss, micro-influencers—people with audiences between 1,000 to 50,000 followers—are as capable of driving value to their business partners as influencers with larger audiences.
Aside from your personal time, the costs of growing an Instagram account are negligible. All you need is a phone (maybe a camera), editing software, and your creativity.
Since you probably have a phone with a camera that you bought for other purposes beyond growing an Instagram account, that’s taken care of.
Also, most mobile editing software is free—albeit with some limitations. Apps like Adobe Photoshop Express, Snapseed, Canva, or even Instagram’s own editing software are all free in some form and enough to help you get started.
So there are no direct costs associated with starting your Instagram following. All you need is to publish the right content for your audience and have a bit of patience.
As you start to grow your following, you need to think about monetizing it. To that extent, you have some different options:
- Publish sponsored posts on behalf of brands
- Become an affiliate of other companies
- Sell your own products (physical or digital)
- Sell a service
- A mix of all of the above options
Here’s a good resource on how to make money on Instagram using these methods.
The amount of money you can expect to make will depend on your space, the engagement rate, the audience size, and the offer.
A rough estimation from the influencer marketing platform The Social Club found that a sponsored post can start at $50 per post from the smallest audience’s size and go beyond $2,500 for larger followings.
If you want to get a clearer idea of the amount of money you could expect to earn, you can use this calculator to analyze other influencers in your space.
Growing an Instagram following can take time, but with the right tools and strategy, you can see real results.
For example, at Foundr, we grew our Instagram account to 10,000 followers in two weeks and over 500,000 in 12 months, just by having a clear idea of our audience, the right content to publish, and a consistent publishing schedule.
To get more tips about growing your Instagram account, check out this ultimate guide we put together.
Start a YouTube Channel
With over 30 million daily active users, YouTube is one of the most popular websites in the world. It works not only as a site for entertainment, but for education as well.
For the past 10 years, thousands of independent channels have been launched by regular folks with nothing but a camera and a computer. And the results have quite often been spectacular.
Many YouTubers have made thousands, if not millions, of dollars from a mix of advertising, sponsored videos, affiliate offers, and the sale of their own products.
Last year, eight-year-old Ryan Kanji and his parents, who run the toy-review YouTube channel Ryan ToysReview, made $22 million from a mix of advertisements, sponsors, and affiliate products.
Obviously, you don’t need such a large audience to succeed with YouTube. Just like with Instagram, the goal is to have a loyal audience that trusts your brand, regardless of its size. In this case, like in many other cases in life, quality trumps quantity.
In order to start a YouTube channel, all you need is a camera and editing software. The camera doesn’t have to be like the ones used in professional television production. Your phone camera is enough to get you started.
Lighting equipment can make a big difference in the quality of the video, so you can consider buying a cheap set like the ones you can find on Amazon.
Alternatively, you can use natural light for free. All you need is to find the right angle (often by facing the light) and a diffuser, which redistributes and balances the lighting.
Diffusers are also cheap, going for around $40 at Amazon.
Finally, you will need editing software, which is a bit harder to figure out than the photo editing one, but still manageable and cheap. You can use free tools like Blender and Lightworks, or premium ones like Adobe Premier Pro (which starts at $21 per month).
What’s truly important is that you think long term—it will take you time to develop an audience, so you will have to publish consistently every week, looking for new content ideas that engage and connect with your audience.
If you need more help, read the YouTube playbook to get some tips that will result in faster growth of your channel.
Start a Blog
Blogging has been a popular way to build an audience since the late 1990s, and not long after, people started to make money using the medium.
The same revenue streams mentioned in the ideas above apply for bloggers, the most popular in this case being affiliate marketing.
Thanks to affiliate marketing, a blogger can generate income (what some call “passive income”) without having to spend any money beyond the original content creation costs.
The costs you’ll need to incur to get started as a blogger include:
- Hosting: Cheap and reliable hosting companies like Bluehost and GoDaddy start for as little as $2.75 per month
- Domain: A .com domain costs $12 per year, while others range between from $1 for a .live TLD (top-level domain) to $14 for a .org.
- Design: Premium WordPress themes can start at around $30 and go over $100. Some popular companies that sell WordPress themes are StudioPress and ThemeForest.
Given the fact that starting a blog is quite easy and cheap to do, the competition can be tough in many industries, especially those related to health, marketing, and business.
Most of the work needed to drive traffic to a site requires for you to find a unique angle, create highly useful content, and promote it to the right audience. But if you manage to grow a blog successfully, it can become quite lucrative.
People like Tom Rogers and Anna Faustino, the travel blogging couple behind the popular blog Adventure in You, started with $60 and in four years grew their blog to $30,000 per month from a mix of affiliate products and their own digital products.
Here are some blogging resources to help you get started:
It Doesn’t Always Take Money to Make Money
You may have noticed, all of these ideas have one thing in common: influence. If you are able to build a following—whether that’s through Instagram, YouTube, your own blog or other channels—you can make money with little monetary investment up front.
Your job is finding the right ideas to delve into that will make people want to enjoy and share your content and then come back for more.
None of these low-cost startup business ideas are easy or quick to implement. Building the trust needed to gather a following takes time. But if you keep at it and look for ways to improve, you can build something impressive without much cash.
Now let’s hear it from you:
Are you looking to start your own low-cost business? If so, which of these ideas are you considering implementing?