Tight Budget

Big Dreams, No Cash: 10 Businesses You Can Start Today on a Tight Budget

Don't let low finances get in the way of high hopes. There's no need to wait any longer to open your small business. Selling your talents and services is a low-cost option. Here are 10 ripe leads for starters.

Eden Reff dreamed all her life of opening a restaurant. But she couldn’t dream up the money to pay for it.

By 2003, Reff’s financial situation still hadn’t changed. Her resolve had. She decided to stop letting poor finances and a tight budget stand in her way and her future as a businesswoman.

“I saved money from my tax returns and started out making southern-style pies,” she says. “I sold them around the winter holidays.”

The pies were a hit. Today Reff, 31, operates Artistic Edibles, a full-service, home-based catering company in Mount Rainier, Md.

Starting a service- or talent-based business out of your home is an ideal choice for first-time entrepreneurs, and for a simple reason: They don’t require a lot of capital.

“If you have a talent that others are willing to pay you for, the business startup phase is usually easy,” says Henry J. Turner, executive director of the Small Business Development Center Network at Howard University. “The easiest home businesses to start are janitorial and technological services.”

But starting out small doesn’t mean it’s cost-free.

“I always recommend a cash-flow analysis for the first 12 months,” Turner says. “That will tell the entrepreneur what they need to spend and how much they will need from various sources, such as credit and personal finances.”

Related: Startup Ideas You Could Launch Tomorrow

10 Ripe Areas for Starting Your Business

If you’re hot to get going with a startup, but your finances aren’t, here are some independent businesses – requiring little more than a certificate or license – that you can start today:

  1. Tutoring: The last U.S. Census reports more than 76 million school-age children. Federal laws like “No Child Left Behind” and state requirements that students pass tougher standardized tests before moving to the next grade have led to booming demand for tutors.
  2. Hair Care/Makeup: Women – and men – spend big money on grooming services. Assisted-living homes, nursing homes and senior centers are great places to get started, and sharpen your skills.
  3. Child Care Provider: U.S. Census figures also show that more than 20 million children live in single-parent homes. Many of those working parents need and are looking for childcare – especially outside of regular business hours.
  4. Catering: This is a great first step to opening a restaurant. Home-based catering is an inexpensive way to build clientele, test recipes and find out if you’re suited for the rigors of food service.
  5. Cleaning/Lawn Service: With unemployment low, more people have less time – but more money – to spend on taking care of their homes and lawns.
  6. Online Professor: Have an advanced degree or a lot of experience? Selling your services as a virtual instructor can be lucrative. Web-based and traditional colleges and universities offer online courses.
  7. Financial Services/Business Consultant: If you know your stuff and have a proven track record, financial planning and/or business consulting can pay big.
  8. Party Planning: Kids’ birthday, sweet 16 and graduation parties, bat and bar mitzvahs and other celebrations today involve a lot more than just buying a cake and inviting people over. Besides event planning, other niche opportunities include making invitations, decorations and party favors.
  9. Computer Services: Whether you fix the machines, develop software or are able to translate technical jargon into everyday language, this growing field needs experts who make house calls. Many new users, especially older people who once avoided computers, now are giving in to lower prices. This new wave needs help with everything from setting up their new box to using the Web.
  10. Personal Organizer: If you have a knack for neatness, you can turn it into money by starting a service to organize anything from closets to computer desktops.

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Now take one last tip: Plan carefully.

“Don’t start until you have a business plan,” Turner says. “The reason a large number of small businesses don’t survive beyond three years is the lack of financial and marketing planning.”

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