Business Ideas on a Budget

10 Legitimate Businesses You Can Start for Under $20

Business Ideas for Under $20. Getty Images

Whether you're starting a business on the side while still employed elsewhere, a student or homemaker looking for extra income, or unemployed and trying to figure out what to do, there are plenty of business ideas on a budget that can be started up and quickly grown into a profitable side business.

It's unlikely any of these budget business ideas will make you a living within the first few months, but they all have the potential to grow into full-time businesses with hard work and persistence.

Let's take a look at 10 of these cheapest business ideas with strong potential and we'll show you exactly what to do with the $20 you'll invest in getting it off the ground.

1. Blogging.

It's what everyone who's ever surfed the Web dreams of—just launch a simple website and watch the cash roll in! Well, that just doesn't happen overnight, but the fact of the matter is that it's really not very difficult or expensive to start a blog. To do it right, start by picking a subject matter you know a lot about. Then get a domain name and create a website. Choose an easy-to-learn platform like Wordpress to build your website on and start creating original content that'll eventually help your audience solve meaningful problems within your niche. Now find some appropriate affiliate programs—that's where your revenues are going to come from. Next, learn everything you can about search engine marketing, build relationships with other bloggers and website owners within your niche and promote your site heavily.

Last of all, set aside time every week to put new content on the site, delete dead links, and other maintenance. Now do this three or four times, and you've chosen your topics well, you might actually have some decent income from it.

Spend the $20 on: $8 or less for a domain (see our Online Business Guide's list of cheap domain name registrars) and $12 for a year of hosting (search for "$1 hosting").

2. Consultant.

Getting into consulting is relatively simple if you've built up an expertise throughout your career. All you have to do is know how to do something better than most people do, and be able to either teach people how to do it or be willing to do it for them on a contract basis. Networking is the key to success in this budget business idea, so start by making a list of everyone you know that could use your services and giving them all a call.

Spend the $20 on: $10 on a box of clean looking business cards from Vistaprint and the other $10 buying your first prospects a cup of coffee to chat about consulting.

3. Housesitter & Petsitter.

Particularly since 9/11, people feel an increased need for security, and housesitting gives them some reassurance while they're out of town—making it a great budget business idea. Moreover, this opportunity requires no particular skills, just trustworthiness and reliability. Be sure to have personal references available, and you'll also need reliable transportation. If you're an animal lover, pet-sitting is an easy add-on.

Spend the $20 on: Flyers to put up on bulletin boards and allocate the majority of your time to spreading the word about your services throughout the community and amongst friend groups.

4. Professional Organizer.

So many people these days are simply overwhelmed by their "stuff". While there is an ever-growing trend of people wanting to simplify their lives, most of us haven't done it yet. It's not that people really have no clue how to get organized, it just keeps moving to the bottom of the stack, both figuratively and literally. There's a prime opportunity for people to come in at a reasonable rate and get houses organized. And while there is a National Association of Professional Organizers that you can join when you're ready, mostly it takes common sense, organizational skills, and a familiarity with what can be had at your local office supply and The Container Store.

Spend the $20 on: Locally targeted Facebook ads.

5. Avon Independent Sales Representative.

Cosmetics is a virtually recession-proof business  because it's an inexpensive way for people to feel good about themselves.

Avon is the largest consumer direct sales company in the world, with annual sales of nearly $6 billion. In business for well over 100 years, they have both a highly reputable product line and one of the few highly reputable multi-level marketing structures (in fact, they invented it). They also offer fashion and wellness products in addition to their beauty products. And while they bill themselves as "The Company for Women", a fairly substantial number of men have actually been very successful as Avon reps. The secret to making a living at it rather than just a little extra spending money? Build your downline—just like with any other network marketing or direct selling business.

6. Personal Services—Shopping & Errands.

This is a great business idea especially heading into the holiday season. Believe it or not, there are people who wouldn't be caught dead going anywhere near a mall, but they're not comfortable with buying certain items online, either. Alternatively, signing up to run errands on an app like Task Rabbit or deliver food through services like Postmates, can immediately provide you an existing client base. If your car's not reliable, pick something else. Also, you won't need cash, but you'll need available credit on your credit cards if you're not working through an app like the two above. Consider an American Express or a Diner's Club that don't have preset spending limits. Or use a card that gives cash back rewards or frequent flyer miles, and you'll make a nice little bonus for yourself.

Spend the $20 on: Gasoline to fuel your first day's work.

7. Graphic Design and Desktop Publishing.

It's amazing how many people have a computer and still don't know how to make flyers, presentation decks and other visual assets for their business. If you've got a good design sense, are familiar with your word processor and already have a laser or high-quality inkjet printer, you can get into desktop publishing. Create a really great-looking portfolio for yourself and go door-to-door.

Spend the $20 on: Some high-quality paper to create your samples on. Spend the majority of your time networking with small business owners in your area.

8. Tutoring.

With the growing dissatisfaction with our education system and the huge growth in homeschooling, there's an unprecedented need for tutors these days for kids of all ages—even adults. If you've got a topic you've learned a lot about through work or have retained well since school that you can tutor in, contact the local schools, particularly private ones, local homeschool groups and offer your services. Don't be concerned if your topic is highly specialized-even those are in demand, especially at local colleges and universities.

Spend the $20 on: $10 on clean business cards and $10 on flyers to post on bulletin boards around local schools.

9. eBay Selling.

Yes, there really are people who make a decent living buying things at garage sales and flea markets and selling them on eBay. The big secrets? Stick to products you know (or learn before you start) extremely well, package your goods carefully, and provide impeccable customer service. It helps to have a digital camera or a scanner, but it's not required.

Spend the $20 on: Your first inventory at a garage sale.

10. Secretarial Service—Typing, Transcription and Proofreading.

Many small businesses and individuals have a need for these services, but not enough need to hire a full-time employee or temp through an agency. Assuming you've got a computer, a printer, and email (and the necessary skills), you're all set. Be prepared to charge by the job, not by the hour.

Spend the $20 on: $10 on clean business cards and $10 on flyers to post at local small business organizations and centers where business owners frequently stop by.

One last thing—beware of home-based business scams that require a substantial buy-in, such as envelope stuffing or craft item assembly. You may not lose money on it if you stick with it long enough to get really fast at it, but you'll probably never make the kind of money you're expecting to. Better to do something on your own.

Spend the $20 on: $10 signup fee, and $10 on brochures and a few samples.