Starting a business is hard work, and there’s no way of getting around that. But what most people don’t realize is that it doesn’t have to cost much. You might think that in order to start making your own living, you need to budget for a professional web designer, a graphic designer, a copywriter, or a business coach, and while all of those expenses will, ultimately, give your business an edge, it’s also true that you can start first, and build up to being able to pay for all that.
In this blog, we’ll walk you through how, with less than $100, you can achieve the very compelling dream of becoming your own boss. If you search online for what it’ll cost to start a business, you might find figures such as $30,000, per the AARP,1 or $3,000, per the Small Business Administration.2 We’ll show you that it actually doesn’t have to cost more than the price of 20 cups of coffee.
Table of Contents
Business ideas (Cost: Free!)
Ideas, as the title of a popular business book indicates, are free.3 This is the most time-intensive part of establishing a business: identifying what a market might want, and figuring out how to deliver it. Remember that the hard part isn’t starting the business; it’s getting people to pay for what you’re selling. A good rule of thumb is to think about selling your product or service to three people.
You’ll need to put a lot of time and energy into your business plan — a detailed outline of how you will implement your idea. How much time you devote to brainstorming your business plan and name will likely determine the success of your enterprise. You can search online for examples of a business plan, or head to our online database for form-fillable templates. To create this, ask yourself the hard questions. Who are your customers? What do they want? You can use free online survey tools or social media to do a little research. Who are your competitors? Google them. What do they charge? What are customers saying about them? Answering these questions will help you to determine what sets your business apart from all the rest.
You’ll also need a name, which won’t cost you anything, either. There are online tools you can use to check which names are already taken, or you can call your county clerk’s office.
Online presence (Cost: Starts at $12)
Gone are the days of needing a brick-and-mortar storefront or office building to run a business. Now, you can host your whole operation online. And while you probably want your site to look nice — you are, after all, facing fierce competition for online real estate and attention — what matters most is that it’s clean, simple, and makes it easy for customers to contact you. You can host a site using WordPress and reserve a domain for $12 per year.4 WordPress also offers a premium account for $8 per month, or a business account for a monthly $25; both options allow you to monetize your site and collect payments.5 Building your own website requires watching a lot of tutorials and doing a lot of your own research, but if you’re looking to keep your start-up costs extra low, the investment of time is worthwhile.
There are free online sites you can use to make sure the domain name you want isn’t taken. You can focus on a social media platform or two to expand your reach. This, too, is free. You can use a free email account, or if you want your email address to appear more professional, you can also get an email with your domain name through Google Workspace for just $6 per month.6
Business Tools (Cost: Free!)
There are a host of free services to help you get your business off the ground. (Later, when you’ve started turning a profit, you can upgrade your equipment, software, and options.) Online banks and some brick-and-mortar banks offer free, if limited, business banking. You can use Canva, a free website that allows you to easily design logos, invoices, brochures, and other marketing collateral. There are other sites, too, that you can use to do basic design and marketing work, including Fiverr and Logo Genie. A host of free online tools can help you to manage your business; accounting software, such as QuickBooks, can help you to track your profit and loss, and project management software, such as Asana, can help you to manage your to-do list.
Moreover, Invoice Maker can help you get paid with free invoice software.
Once you’ve actually started the business, you might need additional funding to support your selling. There are low-cost or no-cost options here, too; you can apply for a credit card or a loan, or you can seek support from investors.
Registration Fees (Cost: Varies)
One way to keep your shoestring budget below $100 is to hold off on registering your company. The process varies by state,7 but incorporating usually involves fees. In some but not all states, you can register a limited liability company for less than $100, but incorporating might tip your budget over the edge. One option is to begin operating your business as a sole proprietor, and waiting until you’re making more money before you legally incorporate. While there are real risks to this — running your business under your own name allows angry customers to access your assets in litigation — many entrepreneurs begin this way.8 When you’re ready to incorporate, check out our database of free, downloadable operating agreements; for now, you can just focus on refining your idea and testing it in your target market.
Total cost: as little as $12
|Business Idea||Free||Online resources can help you identify customers and learn about the market|
|Online Presence||Starts at $12||Hosting and domain fees on WordPress start at $12/year, with more amenities starting at $8/month|
|Business Tools||Free||There are free versions of software for business basics like banking, graphic design and accounting|
|Registration Fees||Variable||While this may eventually cost more than $100, many businesses delay paying these until they are more established|
Even within the limits of staying under $100, there are options, depending on things like the level of online presence you are seeking, and your comfort with delaying registration. The point is, it’s possible to start your business with a lot less than you might think. If you’re just starting out, you don’t need a new laptop, an accountant, a design firm, or top-of-the-line project management software. In the age of information, you don’t even necessarily need a business coach. All of that can come later, when you’re established. For now, all you need is a dream, a willingness to work hard and do a lot of your own research, and less than $100.