10 cheap small business ideas to start on a shoestring

Whether it’s construction, market trading, or hairdressing, unleash your inner entrepreneur with these low cost business ideas

Starting a business. It’s a dream many hold but few put into action.

But what holds them back? It could be personal matters, a lack of experience, or just because it can cost so damn much…

But it doesn’t have to. There are cheap small business ideas you can bring to life on a shoestring – provided you’re in the right sector.

Many of these businesses require vocational skills that can be picked up on a course or in your spare time. Another common thread is that they are often very localised operations that can benefit from good word of mouth in a community.

Below are 10 low cost business ideas you can start with limited up-front cash and resources.

Building or construction

If you’ve got the necessary skills and a well-equipped toolbox, it’s fairly easy to set yourself up as a small contractor or set up a small building business.

After that your main expenditure will be advertising your services locally.


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The construction sector encompasses a huge variety of trades and roles including carpenters, roofers, plasterers, electricians and electricians. You could specialise in one particular trade or offer a number of different services.

Working in the construction industry will require you to be aware of a variety of construction regulations and health and safety issues.

If you employ anyone you will be responsible for making sure they have the necessary skills to carry out their job in a potentially hazardous environment.

Read more: How to start a construction company

Cleaning

Get yourself a few basic essentials and you’re ready to fight grime. Cleaning is a very lean start-up model that requires few complicated skills. Many of the houses you work in will have their own equipment and supplies you can take advantage of.

All you have to decide is if you want to start a domestic cleaning business or a commercial cleaning business. Residential is a more accessible enterprise and more manageable if you’re a one-person band.

Cleaning relies on customer retention so doing a thorough job is a must if you want to be asked back. Doing a good job will ensure good word of mouth and create additional business.

Even in a digital age, a local door-to-door leafleting campaign is an effective way to win customers, as well as advertising in local businesses.

Read more: How to start a cleaning business

Mobile hair or beauty

Hairdressing or beauty can be a trim idea for a business, especially if you’re mobile as it mitigates the overheads associated with buying a salon. Again, it’s just a matter of having the right equipment, being willing to travel to clients’ houses and advertising your services.

Although there are no set qualifications, hairdressing will definitely require some training before you start snipping away at people’s hair. If you want to be taken seriously as a beautician you should have a minimum NVQ Level Three qualification in beauty therapy or holistic treatment.

After that it’s just a matter of being personable (you’ll be spending a lot of time one-on-one with people) and organising your time effectively.

Read more: How to start a hair stylist business, How to start a mobile beautician business

Gardening

If you’re green-fingered and love the outdoors you could get yourself an arsenal of gardening equipment and set yourself up as a gardener. Like with cleaning, houses you work at may have their own equipment and tools, meaning lower overheads for you.

And if you don’t know a carnation from a chrysanthemum, you can brush up on your horticultural knowledge by completing a course from an organisation such as the Plant School.

There’s very little regulation you need to abide by as a gardener, as long as you have the correct insurance and training if you’ll be using chemicals as part of your operation.

Read more: How to become a gardener

Street food business

Street food is a rapidly growing sector in the UK, with festivals, street fares and urban street markets giving you the chance to set up a lean, mean food-focused business and get close to consumers.

You don’t have to have a background in catering or hospitality either. If you have an interest in food and cooking, and the wherewithal to put in long, busy shifts then its fairly easy to find a spot at a local market and start plying your trade.

That said, it can be a risky one and you could lose trade at the mercy of foul weather or stiff competition – and there will be lots of competition. That’s why the sector rewards creativity and bold ideas. Give consumer a taste of something unique and exciting and you’ll have queues round the block.

Read more: How to start a street food business

Dog walking

We are a nation of dog lovers. But we are also a nation of increasingly busy people who struggle to give our four-legged friends the attention they deserve.

That means there are plenty of opportunities for you to get paid to take the pets of time-poor people for a walk. The entry requirements for this are minimal; mainly a love of dogs and experience handling them, and a love of walking (you’ll be doing a lot of it).

Insurance is a must if you’re walking dogs as there are always risks. You also need to be aware of a few rules and regulations including the legal requirement for dogs to wear leads at all time and of course, your legal requirement to pick up their poo…

Read more: How to start a dog walking business

eBay business

Want to start a business that barely requires you to leave your bedroom or interact with people? Becoming an eBay entrepreneur could be the lean business opportunity for you.

When starting out – especially with an un-tested product – start small and slowly build to avoid wasting time and resources. You don’t want to blow all your money on loads of stock only to find you can’t shift it. Research what sells and find out who else is selling it. There are many sites online where you can buy stock wholesale.

Once you’ve identified your niche and started selling it’s essential to build up positive feedback. Good customer service is essential. If something goes wrong in the delivery process and it’s out of your hands it’s still important to placate a dissatisfied customer by offering them something extra. Bad ratings can sink an eBay business.

Read more: How to start an eBay business

Personal trainer

There’s no shortage of people that want to get fit and healthy. If you’re a fitness fanatic with a buff body or toned physique you’ll be your own walking advert.

The job requires you to teach a client how to use equipment, motivate them to improve their physical fitness and wellbeing, as well as set long and short-term goals. Some personal trainers will take a more holistic approach to their clients’ wellbeing and advise on health and nutrition.

As a self-employed personal trainer, you should have at least a Level 2 certificate in Fitness Instructing, Health, Fitness, and Exercise Instruction, or Instructing Exercise and Fitness if you want to be taken seriously by clients. These are available through private providers or colleges.

Read more: How to start a personal trainer business

Home tutor

If you’re highly qualified in a particular subject then tutoring could be the job for you. While it’s not necessary to be a fully qualified teacher you should still have a thorough understanding of the UK education system and the school curriculum. Gov.uk has plenty of accessible information about the curriculum.

You need to decide whether to conduct your tutoring sessions from your home or to travel to your students’ houses. Parents of younger children will most likely prefer them to be taught under their own roof. It’s essential you have had a Disclosure and Barring Service check to prove you are suitable for working with children. Though there’s no legal obligation, you’re unlikely to find work if you’re not checked.

Rates can vary from around £15 to £30 per hour.

Read more: How to start a tutoring business

A market trader

Becoming a market trader is a great first experience in business and fairly accessible if you have limited resources. It’s also a great way to test a new product without fully committing to investing a huge sum of time and money in a business idea.

As with a street-food stall it’s fairly easy to find a spot at a local market – how much it costs will depend on your location. Many permanent markets will supply the stalls so all you have to do is bring the product. You’ll also need public liability insurance and obtain a market stall licence from the local council.

After that it’s just a matter of having the right product, having a personable attitude, and the will to work long hours.

Read more: How to start a market stall

Excited to get started with a low-cost business idea? Smarta has essential tools to help you register and build your business.