5 low-cost start-up ideas to launch on a budget

We offer some inspiration for starting a business on a shoestring

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Key industries to launch a start-up in on a budget are:

  • Interior Design
  • Tutor
  • PR Agency
  • Catering
  • Crafts

So you've decided you want to start a business but you don't have much cash to invest. Take a look out our budget business ideas and see if any of them take your fancy:

Interior Design

What is it? Initially you might start small with furnishings and curtains. But this can grow into a complete interior design service through visiting the client in their home, having a consultation to making up and fitting. This might cover anything from carpets to lighting through furnishings and curtains.

What's the appeal? Every job is obviously different and meeting people to talk through and combine their and your ideas can be challenging. It's fairly flexible though it can mean evening work

What skills do I need? Any design experience or training is helpful but if you intend to start with a small business it may be enough to have an eye for colour. You will certainly need practical cutting and sewing skills.

What does it cost? A domestic sewing machine won't be sufficient. You can get a good industrial machine second hand for about £400 and an industrial overlocker (allows multiple thread feed and different stitching) will start at £1200. You'll need pattern books from material manufacturers, £20 to £80 each.

What can I earn? This varies according to the size of windows to the size of the room to cost of fabric. But for a width of hand-sewn curtain, for example, you might charge anything from £20 through to £40 to £60. And a small two-seater sofa could be anything from £300 upwards plus fabric (at around £18 plus a metre)

Any red tape? If you're going into people's houses do work you need insurance just in case you accidentally break something. This also applies if you have subcontractors working for you

Prospects for growth There is always a demand for this kind of work as people are constantly on the move. Within an area you can quickly build up word of mouth recommendations.

Tips for success Be genuine with your customers. If they choose a fabric that won't work – tell them in a friendly way and suggest alternatives.

Pros In the beginning you'll be doing all consultations (and making and fitting) personally. This works to your advantage though as customers know they're always getting the top person and something special

Cons If you do expand, however, this can mean that pressure remains high – as the ‘face' of your business, you will always be busy


What is it? Additional tuition that provides children and young people (from primary to A-level) with one to one or few to few attention they can't get in school or college. Tutoring can take place either in the home of the tutor or that of the child, generally after school though sometimes daytime for sixth form students

What's the appeal? This is a profession that is ideal for people who need to be at home for certain times of the day – for example people with children. It can be operated from home – although by travelling to your clients you can increase your appeal and income

What skills do I need? You must be have a comprehensive knowledge across the complete range of your subject. This means being at least one level in advance of the level you are tutoring. It isn't essential that you are a qualified teacher but having some teaching experience can reassure parents

What does it cost?At home, you will need a room with desk and chairs this shouldn't cost you – as long as you can be undisturbed, you can use a dining room table. You will need access to that year's syllabus (around £2) and sample exam papers (50p – £1) and a range of up to date relevant text books (£10 upwards)

What can I earn? Lessons are generally charged by the hour. Fees vary across the country and for different levels but you might charge between £15 and £20 at home plus a few extra pounds for travel

Any red tape? There are no specific regulations – although if you register with tutoring agencies to get your business started you will need to adhere to their criteria and they will check your background

Prospects for growth This isn't a big money business but it can easily be built up into much more than a part time one – if you are prepared to work at weekends and longer evenings

Tips for success Keep up to date with the curriculum. And as word of mouth is so important, make sure get on with your pupils and that they get better grades than predicted.

Pros Good extra source of income that can be made as much or as little as you have time for.

Cons The work ties up your evenings and is physically tiring because it is intensive.

PR agency

What is it?A PR and Communications agency promotes and represents businesses in the general marketplace, in its specialist field and within the media. It is concerned with creating a name for the client and helping it succeed

What's the appeal? The chance to work closely with a variety of companies identifying their needs at the same time as focusing on an area of personal interest and increasing relevance to the clienteles' core business

What skills do I need? You need to understand the objectives of the client and identify a strategy for achieving those objectives through increasingly diverse communication channels. Then you have to sell that story effectively to a chosen audience

What does it cost? A very basic breakdown: rented office premises (£650), computers (£2000), printer (£300), desks and furniture (£700), telephones (£200), print costs (£1000) and legal expenses (£120)

What can I earn? A sample hourly rate for executive time is £70.You should focus on securing retained clients on a regular monthly income. In theory, therefore, two executives should be able to generate a fee income of circa £150,000 per annum

Any red tape? Usual office rules apply when setting up the business such as insurance and providing amenities for staff

Prospects for growth It is essential that you identify a market area to focus on what is new but also experiencing growth (competition so proven demand). For example Tim Lewis and Greg Moore of Synapse Communications specialise in corporate social responsibility (CSR) – working with companies that promote responsible business practices to benefit business and society

Tips for success Remember that this is a people business – there's no point in going into it if you don't like talking and you will need to be friendly and persuasive. It is also very important that staff are aware of this when you employ them. Keep focused and don't forget to market the company, even when busy

Pros This is a fun and diverse industry – you will speak to different people each day. It is also mentally stimulating

ConsThe media can be influenced but not controlled – you will find this frustrating until you learn to accept it


What is it? Providing and delivering food and drinks to the customer's premises in return for a fee. This will usually be for corporate clients that need food for board meetings, events, training courses conferences etc. Private sector clients might include special occasion catering such as weddings, funerals, anniversaries and so on

What's the appeal? It's a chance to work more flexibly and independently than you would be able to in a restaurant or café and obviously to be the boss

What skills do I need? As well as being interested in catering you really need a background in food so you have a feel for the basics such as supply and costing. And high food safety standards are a must – you and all staff need at least basic food hygiene and food handlers awareness certificates

What does it cost? It's possible to trade from home if your kitchen has been modified but you will need catering equipment including large fridge/freezer (£1000), commercial microwave (£900), vegetable preparation units (£1000) as well as trays, utensils, knives etc. To transport food you need to keep it less than 8°C which means you should be able to manage with insulated food containers for short journeys

What can I earn? Clients are charged by the head according to the type of food they require. A cold buffet might be anything from £6 to £10 a head rising to up to £20 for a more substantial fork buffet. Full meals might be £30 and upwards – depending on what's involved

Any red tape? You must register with the local authority before starting to trade and be inspected by Environmental Health (for non-porous services and separate areas for hot/cold and raw/cooked food). With premises not previously used for catering, you need planning permission and must comply with numerous food safety regulations

Prospects for growth To grow the business you will need to go out and sell it. This means advertising, good word of mouth and cold calling – there are a lot of small firms which will be competition to you

Tips for success If you lose a client that could simply be that they want to try someone new – this can happen. But make sure you know why and alter the menu regularly to guard against it

Pros A truly independent business, which can grow and grow with the assistance of favourable word of mouth recommendation

Cons Stringent rules and regulations must be observed at all times – you could be spot checked by environmental health at any time and potentially immediately closed down


What is it? An example of this is a blown glass design business which involves individually designing and making individually glass awards, vases, bowls, paperweights and commissioned sculpture

What's the appeal? Working with people to design something that they want and then physically constructing it. There are definite enjoyable aspects to the job

What skills do I need? Design training either from a university or college to give you the formal practical skills. Susan Nixon of Susan Nixon Design spent over two years on a glass blowing scholarship, demonstrating in a museum. Learning in someone else's business can be invaluable practical experience

What does it cost? Varies but to go into a glass blowing business it is possible to rent a studio one day a week (around £130) to blow the glass and give yourself enough work for the rest of the week. Susan established a workshop for under £4000 including £500 for a compressor and £500 for a sandblaster

What can I earn? Commissioned they will be sold directly otherwise trade shows are the main market. Studio glassware starts at around £20 rising to £1000s. For exclusive pieces, £150 upwards and around £100 for retail vases

Any red tape? If the craft involves a workshop you need to observe certain health and safety rules such as goggles and ear muffs when using machinery. Also insurance for when people are working with you

Prospects for growth There are a lot of competitors as the market for individually designed artwork is booming. People no longer want traditional products (such as cut crystal)

Tips for success Don't be persuaded into accepting all commissions that come along. It may seem tempting to try and do everything but its much better to pick the better ones as these will help build your reputation for quality

Pros Going along to national and international shows can quickly build up contacts and colleagues in the business

Cons Establishing yourself as a known artist can take time though

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