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17 Businesses You Can Start With Little or No Money in 2020 (Updated with New Examples)

startup_ideasYou want to start a business but do not have an idea or spare money. Check out these ideas below. You can start these businesses with little or no money. These businesses can teach you all the basics of running a business – setting up a shop, basics of accounting, pricing, negotiations, marketing, and promotion. You will also get a taste of what it is like to be an entrepreneur.

I always tell people to start early as an entrepreneur. If you are still young then pick one of these ideas below, based on your interest and skill set, while you are still in school and get going.

Do not worry if you are not an early starter, you can start any of these businesses at any age.

Click on Any Idea Below to Start

  1. Consulting/Coaching Biz
  2. Dance/Music School
  3. A Blog Based or E-commerce Biz
  4. Real Estate Agency
  5. Content Writing
  6. Creative Agency
  7. Fitness/Yoga Trainer
  8. Web Maintenance Business
  9. Career Guide
  10. Teaching Business
  11. Professional Speaker/ Trainer
  12. Event Manager
  13. Corporate Gift Specialist
  14. City Walk Host
  15. Professional Photographer
  16. Chocolate Maker
  17. Tour Operator
  18. Mobile App Developer (BONUS IDEA 1)
  19. Virtual Assistant (BONUS IDEA 2)
  20. YouTuber (BONUS IDEA 3)

1. Consulting Business

Pick an area you have expertise in. Personal finance, brand, marketing and get going.

The idea is not to start next McKinsey or Accenture but a small business that starts with you selling your skills or you working with 1-2 employees.

I started my first profit-making a business like this when I started a digital marketing consulting biz. A friend referred my name to a company that he worked with. I met the directors and after some back and forth we started with a monthly retainer. My only investments were my skills, a domain name and hosting that I used to create a website overnight.

I am sharing this because this is how it happened to me but you don’t need a website to start.

2. Dance/ Music School

Are you good at dance or music? Then get some practice with a local dance/music institute and start on your own. Start with basic courses. Keep on learning and upgrade your offerings side by side.

There are two ways to go about it.

One, you can start a YouTube channel, build your audience there and announce your classes. The second option is to join a reputed institute, learn there for a while and then partner with some friends you make there to start on your own. Each partner brings 2 students each. If you are 4 partners you’ll start with 8 students in your first class. It is a good start.

My favorite dancers who followed this model are Shivani Bhagwan and Chaya Kumar. Shivani and Chaya started posting dance that they choreographed on BhangraFunk (now BFunk) channel and made quite a name for themselves. They now run sold out classes in LA. They also have been on stage in big-name award shows like IIFA and have partnered with labels like Sony Music, Warner Music and brands like RedBull.

3. A Blog Based or E-commerce Biz

A blog can be turned into a business but you need to put a lot of work and it may take longer than any other business to establish. The upside is that you don’t need to work at any specified time. You can learn to code and develop various apps or get into affiliate marketing.

Another path is to start an e-commerce business. You can create your own site using Shopify. You can even use Amazon and Flipkart’s platforms to start and sell your stuff. Do thorough research before you start and see what are fast moving items on Amazon one that you can procure. And, start on your own.

NIFT students Praween KR and Sindhuja K set up Young Trendz couple of years back and sold t-shirts to make Rs 20 crore in 2 years. They sold on Amazon, Flipkart and Paytm.

4. Real Estate Agency

It is simple. You go around in locality, check online and print listing for properties that are to be leased. With this info advertise in the classified section of a local newspaper or craigslist. You will also need to contact the property owner and take their consent to represent them.

The simplest way to start is to hang out in local Facebook groups where people are looking to rent. Observe where there is maximum demand. Then go to that area and get in touch with landlords who have a to-let sign. Offer to get them their tenants. Now go back to the Facebook group and reply to those who are looking for a place to rent. You’ll have to go one by one and be patient but if you keep doing it for a couple of months you will have your first customers, hopefully, sooner.

I rented an office on behalf of a brand I worked with. I looked through newspaper classified listings and spoke to many brokers. Finally, I found one who I decided to work with. It took him 2-3 months to close the deal but he made good money. Enough to buy a year old small car. Not bad for one deal. I guess he was also working on other deals at that time.

These days global brands like ReMax are also in India – you can get in touch with them and see if they have a good proposition for those who want to start in real estate. This may be a good path if you are looking to invest money upfront and have a process driven business.

5. Content Writing

If you have some writing chops then you can start as a writer/ blogger for hire.

If you are confident of your writing skills this is the gig to start with. Use LinkedIn to get started. Reach out to content managers and head of marketing and offer to work for them and show your portfolio which can be a simple Google doc URL with some of your best work in there.

I know writers who charge more than $1000 for one content piece of 1000-1500 words. You don’t start there. The point is to start even if it is $10 a piece as a newbie and quickly moving up the chain with increased experience and skill set.

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6. Creative Agency

You can start a graphic design, web design or online marketing (offering services like social media marketing, search engine optimization, online advertising etc.). Start with one and add more services as you move ahead.

For this and the content marketing biz – you can start with Upwork, Freelancer or Fiverr to get work. Once you have a steady flow of work you can pitch outside with your own brand.

You can also start a service like DesignPickle that charges clients around $300-$900 a month for unlimited work. They serve clients from across the world outsourcing design to the Philippines. Last year they were on track to do $4.7 million in revenues. India is in a great place to run such a business. You can focus on doing quality and sell to international markets using LinkedIn and cold outreach.

I see many companies in Ahmedabad selling to international markets and working with global brands.

7. Fitness/Yoga Trainer

If you love to work out and have trained professionally this is an option for you.

You can also look at new trends like Zumba. There are a lot of professionals who learned it while they were working in a job. Some of them like Shwetambari Shetty have created a big name for themselves and attracted big brands as clients. She was a banker who took a course 7 years and now has brand partnerships, her own fitness chain, and TV show and more.

8. Web Maintenance Business

A lot of small businesses get their website made for cheap and then wait for their designer to update it. You may become their angel by offering website maintenance services. Offer once a month contact and take up to 20 clients. Later as your business grows and you move on to bigger things – hire an employee to take care of this part of your business.

If you want to go a step further, you can specialize in a web platform. WordPress is a good platform to start. It powers more than 30% of the world’s website.

WPCurve is one such service. Dan Norris the founder failed while working on a software startup. He thought of offering WordPress maintenance services and posted his offer in an online group. He got three customers who bought $29/month support services. In a couple of years, WPCurve’s became a million dollar revenue company. That’s when Godaddy bought them.

Both parties did not disclose terms of the deal but I am sure it was good money that gave founders a good life. Dan now focuses on his brewery that he started.

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9. Career Guide

Millions of youngsters and their parents are confused about what to do next. You can research relevant career options for youngsters and what it takes to succeed in each area. Do not the promise the world.

Just share what you know. It is better to see yourself as a research assistant. Ask for the interest area of the youngsters and offer options based on that. If are young then pitch this as your USP as you are well versed with the thought process and aspirations of your clients.

Sameer Kamath worked in technology, and management consulting for a long time. Later he started advising students who were willing to go for MBA abroad. Now his venture MBA CrystalBall.

10. Teaching Business

As boring as it may sound it is well paying. Check out this story to see how lucrative it can be. This story is about when Gwyneth Paltrow offered $80,000 to hire a teacher for her children.

But you don’t need to be working with her to make big bucks while teaching. There are other ways to do it. Byju’s is a billion dollar company now. But like all big businesses it started from scratch. Byju’s founder started as a teacher who later started teaching online to large groups and turned it into a billion dollar company in 7 years.

Key is to start where you are and aim high.

11. Professional Speaker/ Trainer

If you have been working for a while then this is one option you can give a shot. You can start with free and move on to fee which can go up to $50,000 for a day. But thinking about $1500 a day is more realistic and you can aim for it right away.

Talk like TED is a good book to read if you want to go this path. You can also join Toastmasters to hone these skills.

Once you have some practice and a topic prepared to reach out to colleges to get some practice. Record these talks and start posting on YouTube. This is how public speakers like Priya Kumar and Vivek Bindra have built big businesses.

12. Event Manager

You can choose to be a corporate event manager or specialize in managing weddings.

A good starting point for this is to work with an established events company and then brand out on your own.

There is another path which is more difficult than the one I shared above. You can start by hosting not for profit events like TEDx or smaller events for your community and then move on to bigger paid gigs.

I was an early TEDx host in India and because of this, I had companies reach to help them professionally. I didn’t do it because I have other things on my plate but for someone who is keen on this path, it can be a good starting point.

13. Corporate Gift Specialist

There is good scope in this space that is why this is cluttered. You need to identify unique gifts at various price points and establish this as your USP.

This is a commodity-based industry and dependent on contacts. So, good if you have established connections with corporates through your family. You can also make these connections on your own but it will take time.

This is seasonal biz in the beginning so I’d suggest that you prepare for the upcoming festive season.

Here is a 4-step plan that you can use to get started on this one.

Step 1. Decide on your product

As a corporate gift specialist – first, you need to figure out what you want to sell. Figure out your product. Choose 3-5 based on what you like and what is already selling in the market [1-2 months]

Step 2. Sourcing/making

Will you be buying from someone else or making yourself (like handmade chocolate)? Also, think of a name of your business or other related details. Take care of this [1-2 months]

Step 3. Learn to sell

Start with family and friends. Use Instamojo to list your product and collect payment. You can set it up in 20 minutes.

Then learn to use content to market your product. I love what Zeenal Tank is doing on LinkedIn with her brand Zest Chocolates.

LinkedIn is the best platform to sell to businesses. But you can start on Instagram or Facebook to practice first. [2 months]

Step 4. Launch

Launch to a bigger market, and work to get your first corporate customer [1 month].

After you do this, repeat what works and get more customers.

14. City Walk Host

You know more about the city you live in. You have been blogging about it for years and love to go out. Create a city walk and show people who what they have been missing.

At one point I worked with a person whose wife was an art historian. She used to run these custom tours of Delhi for expats, as most of her guests came via embassies I am sure she made good money doing it.

These days it is even simpler to start something like these because you can use event platforms like Explara to list, promote and sell tickets for the walks you’ll organize.

photographer_business_card15. Professional Photographer

Pick your niche – people, fashion, or events. You need to invest in training and gear but break even should not be far away if you play your cards right.

Nishant Verma is a professional photographer. He started learning photography while studying. He now works with SAIL and still pursues photography on the side. He is also the official photographer for the famous Baja Rally in Mexico. He has a B.Sc. in Zoology. I shared it because you don’t need to study arts to become a photographer. Anyone can do it. It works the same for any other profession.

16. Chocolate Maker

People across the world love chocolate and if you learn to mold it in different shapes you have a business on your hands.

Search for a term like ‘chocolate making workshop’ to find a class near you. Learn and then share what you make with friends and family. Offer to make custom chocolate for the birthdays of their kids or for them to gift on special occasions and you’ll have a business on hand.

Chances are you’ll first get seasonal business but once you serve a lot of people you will make a steady clientele who will give you regular business.

17. Tour Operator

Get creative with this one. Organize gap-year programs for students or cultural heritage tours. You can also go niche. I met Laxmi from Rajasthan while I was an adventure film festival a couple of years back. She had then started ‘Travel My Ladies’ for all the ladies who desire to travel. She turned her love for travel into a project. You can do the same.


18. Mobile App Developer

Mobile app development is booming now because the entire world is mobile. Don’t worry if you do not have a background in this area. You can always learn using a platform like Treehouse.

19. Virtual Assistant

It is like working as an assistant but online. You can offer your services in Facebook groups where entrepreneurs hang out. Those who hire a virtual assistant hire them for a set number of hours. You can offer 5, 10, 20 hours package based on how many hours you have available and people can pay you. This is quite popular in the US and gaining ground in other countries.

20. YouTuber

YouTube is the world’s second largest search engine after Google. The entire world goes to YouTube to find answers to their questions and for entertainment. Do you have a skill that you can showcase on YouTube then this path is worth going? Then choose this.

You may have heard about a 7-year old boy who made $22 million in a year on YouTube. Closer home you have brands Technical Guruji, Amit Bhadana who have become big in recent times. Stories like these are for real. But don’t be fooled by the promise of immediate riches. To reach this level you need effort, planning, skills, and some luck.

Technical Guruji studied electronics as a student and publishes 2 videos every day. Amit Bhadana was doing voice-over spoofs become he became big on YouTube, and the 7-year boy thought an exception but has his family supporting him in a big way.

YouTube values consistency a lot. So, see if you can make videos consistently at least once a week, and can do it for a long haul without disrupting whatever you are doing at present.

Hope this helps you get started.

For some of the above options, you need to train first. An online presence can help.  But you need to start first before you build it up.

Important: Keep These In Mind.

    • You learn best by doing. More so in case of a business. So, pick one area where you have some expertise and start. You’ll along the way.
    • Chances are you’ll not find success on day one. Stick with whatever you start for 6 months and see how it turns out.
  • Don’t risk everything you have to start a business. It is tricky. Have a fallback. It is ideal if you start it on the side – while you continue doing whatever it is you are doing.

I am sure you got a lot of ideas to start.

If you are looking for guidance on how to start a business then I created an entire series of posts on the topic. You can check it out below.


How to Start A Business | Complete Series 


Thanks to Abhishek, Manasi, and Yukti for their ideas and feedback.

If you have more ideas just share in comments and I will add it here. Feel free to ask questions in comments also.


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