The entrepreneurial bug often bites when we need money the most, leading us to wonder what the best business to start with little money is. It’s easier than ever to start a business with very low start-up costs. It seems like nearly everyone you meet has some sort of side-hustle going on, and that’s because there’s a very low barrier to entry when it comes to launching an online business.
In this post we’ll:
- Cover the most common types of online businesses that people gravitate towards
- Break down the basics of the most common business types
- Look at the three business types that are often the most profitable
- Find out how to get started in one of the three most profitable business ideas and how to make money online
How to start a small online business with little money
- Small business ideas to start with little money
- The best businesses to start for cheap
Honestly, the options are limitless, but most people tend to gravitate to one of the more common options.
Not all online businesses are created equally though, and depending on your goals what works for one person might not work for another.
I’ll break down the seven most common online business ideas that you can start for cheap, and then discuss what I believe the most profitable three are. (If you’re looking for more inspiration, check out these business ideas for women.)
Online coaching is a common entryway into entrepreneurship. It usually means trading your time for money and meeting either one-on-one or in a group to walk clients through a specific topic.
To be an online coach, all you really need is something to teach and a solid marketing plan. Coaches can cover topics from health and fitness to meditation and art creation. If you’ve got a skill, you can get coaching clients and make money.
Coaching online is great because you can reach a larger audience than you’d be able to with a local business, and you can automate large parts of your business—meaning working full time is not required.
As far as a marketing plan goes, this is where people tend to have to make an investment.
Invest in yourself
Whether you decide to create a website, sign up for an email management system, or market solely on social media, you will need to spend a few dollars instead of going the completely free route.
Here are the potential investments a coach might (but doesn’t necessarily need to) make:
- A professional website and hosting – ~$250
- An email management system – ~$25/month
- Social media automation – ~$10/month
- An HD webcam for video calls with clients – ~$50
Nowadays, just about everyone has a blog, and it’s not too difficult to start a blog and make money, either.
You can monetize a blog through ads, affiliate marketing, or working with brands to promote their products. Blogs can be very profitable, but it can take months or years to build enough influence to make any real money.
With that said, if you’re willing to put in a few months of profitless leg work, you can build the foundation to a successful blog and passive income.
Turning blogs into profit
I’ve been earning money through my blog for several years now, and have found that bloggers can expect to make around 1% of their average page views. If a blogger gets 50,000 views a month, they’ll make around $500. So if you’re able to devote yourself to driving traffic, you can end up making a fair amount of money each month.
It’s not a perfect formula, and one that blogger Amy Andrews came up with, but if you’re earning using ads and affiliate income I’ve found that it rings pretty true. On the other hand, if you begin to partner with brands and do large sponsorships, your earnings can be much higher depending on the scope of the partnership. You can find sponsorships on websites like Social Fabric.
Having a blog is beneficial down the road. We’ve talked in the past about launching your online course using your blog, so if you ever decide to sell a product, you’ll have a marketing site already built and a loyal audience already ready to buy.
Here are the potential investments a blogger might (but doesn’t necessarily need to) make:
- A professional website and hosting – ~$250
- An email management system – ~$25/month
- Professional headshots and images for your blog – ~$150
- An email management system – ~$25/month
- Zapier, for making all your platforms work together – ~$20/month
- A professional quality camera – ~$300
- Photo props or outfits for shoots – ~$100/month
- UpWork fees – between 5% and 20% depending on your overall earnings
Online courses and other products are a great way to earn money online for beginners if you’re serious about starting an online business.
With strategic target audience building you can build a warm audience and customer base while creating your online product. By the time you’re ready to create an online course and launch, you’ll already have a group of people primed to buy.
But more on that later.
For now, let’s talk about why online products are so profitable. In short: Depending on the price of your product, you only need to make a few sales a month to be extremely profitable.
If you can get 20 people to pay $200 each month, you’re making more each year than the median of American workers.
There’s a joke out there that every teenager with a camera is an Instagram model now, but the thing is, it’s not a bad business plan.
For perspective, social influencers, especially on Instagram, can make five figures on a single sponsored post. Even influencers with just a few thousand followers can make several hundred dollars per post.
Social influencers basically accomplish these three things:
- Grow their followings to establish influence
- Create a curated or “themed” account to attract sponsors
- Get paid to promote sponsors
Anyone can do it
Anyone can be a social influencer. Heck, your pet could be a social influencer. My friend Stephanie is a social influencer herself, but her following is a fraction of her roommate Atticus’s.
Stephanie has established relationships with brands like West Elm and Book of The Month Club all through her hedgehog’s account.
If you’re willing to get creative, you can be a social influencer without ever stepping foot in front of the camera. There are accounts like Men and Coffee that are curated and post solely other people’s content (with permission!) and have established huge followings and monetize their influence.
Here are the potential investments an online influencer might (but doesn’t necessarily need to) make:
Becoming a YouTube content creator
YouTube has always been one of the most profitable ways to make money online without having to know a thing about business.
When I was in middle school, I used to watch other middle school girls share their beauty and makeup expertise, and now those same girls I watched a decade ago have continued on YouTube and make six figures monthly from the platform.
Now, not everyone who joins YouTube will be an instant success, so like with blogging, you need to be patient and dedicated to grow your following. YouTube also recently added new restrictions to monetization, so brush up on the requirements and make it your goal to reach them.
You can earn money on YouTube through ads running on your videos, affiliate links in the description box, and paid partnerships with brands.
The amount you make will be directly correlated to the amount of influence you have. Typically, YouTubers make more than bloggers even for equally sized audiences. This is for a number of reasons, but a big one is that video is more “shareable” and converts better.
You can also sell your products—physical or digital—on online marketplaces. A popular website to do so is Etsy. On Etsy, you’ll find everything from artists selling custom family portraits to developers selling WordPress themes to print on demand services to crafty grandparents peddling crocheted baby booties.
Etsy is a little different than the other options I’ve mentioned because it tends to be a lot less passive.
Unless you’re selling something digital like a WordPress theme or a meal planning template, every time you get an order you’ll need to fulfill it by creating the product, packaging it, and taking it to the post office.
For some people, that process is very rewarding, but others want a more passive business model.
If you do decide that Etsy is right for you, get excited! There is massive earning potential with the top earners in 2017 making millions of dollars.
And even if you aren’t in the seven-figure club, no worries. There are thousands of makers earning five and six-figure salaries on Etsy.
If you have a way with words and a wallet crying out for some extra cash, you might want to consider becoming a freelance writer. Freelance writing simply means you write for multiple brands without being tied down to any of them.
There are a lot of ways you can get started freelancing—whether you reach out to publications directly or build a portfolio and wait for customers to come to you. You can also sign up for websites like UpWork, though you should be aware that there’s a lot of competition there. Still, UpWork isn’t only for writing gigs; it’s also a great resource for finding other online-based business jobs, and ideal for freelance virtual assistants, website designers, event planners, and more.
The more proactive you are the more successful you might be.
The average full-time freelance writer makes $42,000 a year, or $3,500 a month, which is just under the median earning wage for employed adults in the United States.
If you’re still not sure which online business to start, check in with friends and family to see if they can offer feedback on some of your natural gifts and talents.
After digging into the numbers and evaluating the startup cost and time, the tree top ways to earn money online with a minimal investment are:
- Creating and selling your own online product or service
- Creating and maintaining a YouTube channel
- Developing an online coaching business
I’ll break down how to make money online—specifically the foundation you need to establish to get started. We’ll start with online products because they are the number one way to make money online quickly with very little startup fees.
Creating and selling an online product is great because you can create the product once and sell it over and over again for the next decade should you choose.
You can also recycle your marketing materials, sending the same emails to all of your new subscribers and recording and sending out the same webinars.
We have the tools, but you have the skills. Our Free Plan is the perfect place to start flexing those skills. Sign up today to share what you know (no credit card needed).
How to get started selling your online products for free:
You can sell just about any online product through Teachable and we have a free price plan with our most basic features—so get started even if you’ve got zero dollars to your name.
You can start with our free plan and build out your mini course to grow your audience. A mini course is exactly what it sounds like—a small-scale course—that helps you build your audience.
Mini courses will cover one very targeted aspect of a topic in your niche, and might only have a total of ten module max. People either give their mini course away for free as a lead magnet, or they’ll charge very little for it.
We see so many people offering “mini courses” that could be stand alone products selling for hundreds of dollars because the creator got carried away. And while it’s incredibly generous to give away all of that for free, that’s not our goal today.
Creating a mini course is actually quite formulaic, too:
- Create ONE section in a Teachable course.
- Add course information as text lectures.
- Implement a valuable download.
- Add images to your text if necessary to explain what you’re doing.
Try to use only one section, and try not to add more than five to seven steps.
You can also use video in your mini course, but again, try not to get carried away. Instead, create a single introduction video and a single video in your mini course. Keep with text lectures and valuable downloads for most of your content. We’ll save the high-value videos for your main offer!
Grow your audience
Once people have signed up for your mini course and you’ve began to grow your audience, consider creating and launching a full scale course.
Once you know what your online course will cover, begin creating the curriculum. Your curriculum acts as the skeleton of your online course. You’ll build everything around your curriculum, it acts like an outline.
Here’s an example of how I might create a curriculum. Notice that I’ve got a transformation and then listed the steps people will take to reach their desired result.
After taking my course, people who are trying to start a blog will have beautifully designed websites and they’ll have a clear idea of what content to publish. They’ll feel confident about the direction of their site, and have ease when it comes to choosing which content to publish and promote. People who take my course will be able to:
- Choose and purchase a domain
- Set up hosting
- Set up WordPress
- Choose a theme
- Create an editorial calendar
- Set up social media sites for their blog
- Create and promote their content
You’ll see above that I have seven main “milestones.” As a rule of thumb, we generally recommend choosing between five to 10 milestones.
The thing about milestones
If your course has more than ten milestones, ask yourself “why?” Is it because your topic really is so extensive, or should you break your topic down into multiple smaller courses? If there are too many milestones, you may want to go back and redefine your topic.
On the other hand, too few milestones might mean that your course would be better off as a mini course. Trust your gut.
Once you’ve defined your milestones, break them down into lessons.
As a rule of thumb, each lesson should cover one major takeaway and won’t take more than ten minutes to explain.
Let’s break down one of our example milestones into lessons:
- Milestone: Create an editorial calendar
- Lesson one: What is an editorial calendar and why do you need one? (eight minutes)
- Lesson two: Digital or physical planner? (four minutes)
- Lesson three: Everything to include in your editorial planner (seven minutes)
Now all that’s left is to film! While not all courses require video, we do find that the majority of our course creators are at least a bit interested in including video in a few lessons. If you want to use video in your online course, you can set up a home video recording studio.
Once you’ve began creating your course, you should also start building your audience. If you’re going to build an email list (which we highly recommend), MailChimp is free up to your first 2,000 subscribers, so I recommend signing up there.
When it comes to actual video production, use equipment that you already have. Don’t be fooled into thinking you need the nicest DSLR or a $600 microphone. You can get away with your cell phone or webcam.
Programs like Canva make creating beautiful marketing materials easy. Even if you don’t have a design savvy bone in your body, you can use their plug-and-play templates. Once you’ve created marketing graphics, turn to social media.
Accounts on the most popular sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are all free so long as you’re not looking to pay for ads.
YouTube certainly isn’t for everyone, but if you’re interested in being in front of the camera, it can be an incredibly lucrative career.
You get paid via ads depending on how large your audience is, but you can also partner with companies to promote products that you love. In the future, you can also harness the content you’ve already created and your audience on YouTube to create and sell online products.
The key to being successful on YouTube is being consistent and creating high quality content. Unlike with online courses, you probably can’t get away with just filming on your webcam. But even a high quality cell phone camera can make the cut.
How to become a YouTuber for free
Obviously, you’ll need a YouTube account if you don’t already have one. YouTube accounts are easy to sign up for, and they’re free.
From there, decide on what type of content you’d like to create and start creating. The only way to really find success on YouTube, though, is to consistently show up with great content. Even the people who seem to have been overnight successes usually have been working at it for months and finally have a video go viral.
Once you’ve reached your threshold for video views and subscribers, you’ll be eligible to monetize your account via Google Analytics.
You can also monetize by partnering with brands. On websites like FameBit you can apply for relevant sponsored video opportunities, some of which come with a five figure paycheck.
Online coaching is great for people who really want to work hands on with their customers. Coaches exist to help people solve problems they may be having or improve certain areas of their lives.
The thing about coaches is that they are limited in the number of clients that they can take on, so they’re able to charge premium pricing. So even if they’re only working with eight people a month, that could easily translate into $5,000.
Getting started coaching is probably the most difficult out of the three options because first you really need to establish yourself as an authority.
People will buy courses from someone even if they aren’t quite familiar with them, because selling a course establishes somebody’s authority off the bat. Most people are more skeptical with coaches.
I recommend building up your reputation on just one or two social media sites. Depending on your niche, I would recommend Instagram, Quora, Twitter, or Facebook.
How to get started for free:
Sign up for relevant social media sites and start sharing niched content. Engage with others in your industry and answer people’s questions. Your goal here is to get your name out there and build people’s trust.
Once you’ve established a bit of authority, start pitching your coaching services. You can sign up for a free Teachable account, and sell your packages through us.
We’re here to help
Teachable makes handling transactions easy, and you can create a beautiful sales page without having to fuss with a lot of technical know-how. If you want to sell coaching packages on Teachable, set up your sales page and make the only lesson an introduction video and a link to relevant resources your clients will need.
Whether there is a private Facebook group or a calendar to sign up for coaching sessions, make Teachable the one stop shop for your clients where they can find everything in one place.
What business can I start under $500?
It’s easier than ever to start a business with very low start-up costs. In this post, we breakdown the seven most common online business ideas that you can start for cheap, including coaching, blogging, selling products and/or services, social influencing, content creating, and freelance writing.
What is the easiest business to start?
There are pros and cons to different online businesses, and it really depends on your strengths and preferences. The top three ways to earn money online with a minimal investment are: creating and selling your own online products or services, creating and maintaining a YouTube channel, and developing an online coaching business.