9 Surprising Business Ideas That Are Free to Start

The concept of starting a business is intimidating even before you consider the prohibitive costs of commercial space, employees, insurance, and other startup and maintenance fees. But not all professional pursuits require upfront monetary investment, a true “office,” or even a helping hand. Explore any of the following business ideas, promote your services in digital and local marketplaces, such as Craigslist and local bulletin boards, and you can build your own enterprise without destroying your savings.

Tutor/coach: Got an enviable skill? Inspired to teach others? You can earn income sharing your knowledge. Despite the myriad tutorials on YouTube, people still desire all kinds of personalized one-on-one help, especially with the potential for ongoing seasons of “distance learning” and sheltering in place. Possible coaching/tutoring opportunities that can be held in person or digitally include:


See more tutoring flyer templates!

Pet sitter or boarder: You’ll be surprised at how much you can make staying at someone’s house and keeping Fido company while his owner is out of town. In Chicago, rates start at about $50 per day for overnight stays. Daily pop-ins run about $18. Bonus: you get paid to explore new towns or neighborhoods in your area.

Advertise your services with Adobe Spark’s free pet-related templates!

Personal assistant: If you’re game to do just about anything asked of you (within reason), offering yourself up as a personal assistant may be the perfect gig for you. Job skills, requirements, and pay vary widely; a recent quick Craigslist scan showed options in the San Francisco Bay Area ranging from house management for two busy executives (20 hours per week at $25 per hour) to a veterinarian seeking someone to pick him up and stay with him for three 14-hour shifts per week for a negotiable fee.

More resume templates to help you get any gig!

Artist/craftsperson: Do you create beautiful works of art? Generating revenue may be easier than you think. Take Los Angeles-based Niki Ford for example. Ford was a personal chef before the Shelter in Place order of 2020. With no mouths to feed or revenue coming in, they turned to drawing with ink and paper and putting the works up for sale on their instagram page. Within two months, Ford more than doubled their income despite a far shorter workday. Platforms, such as Etsy.com and Artpal.com, make marketing your works effortless.

Related: Learn how artists boost their social media presence

Home Organizer: If you hang your shirts from lightest to darkest, know the exact location of every utensil in your kitchen, and have a passion for finding just the right container for various spaces and items, you may be primed to leverage your brilliant organizational skills to help streamline the spaces of others. On Long Island, such efforts can fetch $20 or more per hour.

Nude model for art classes: How about getting paid to literally stand around and do nothing? In truth, striking a naked pose and keeping it for 20 minutes at a time is harder than you might imagine. (Try standing with an arm raised for five minutes to see what we mean.) But the pay reflects the effort, with prices ranging anywhere from $20 to $70 per hour.

Vacation rental manager: Who decorates, cleans up, and schedules repairs and maintenance for Airbnb’s approximate 600,000 vacation rental units in the U.S.? It could be you. Like any rental property manager position, the job requires you are responsible and resourceful in ensuring rental units are well-maintained. Get a few properties under your purview and you could generate a nice income.

Food mogul: All those big food brands on market shelves started somewhere, often quite small and likely in someone’s kitchen. If you have a special cookie, jam, granola, or other food recipe, you may want to follow local cottage food laws and start making and hand-selling your specialty to friends and local businesses. How big can you dream? Consider this: Justin Gold started making nut butters for himself, writing his name on the jars to deter roommates from eating it. A mere 12 years and many farmers markets, grocery store expansions, and chocolate peanut butter cups later, he sold the Justin’s brand to Hormel for $286 million.


Social media marketing consultant/content creator: Today, every brand needs to tell their story on every platform possible, yet few know how to do that visually (Pinterest, Instagram, Snapchat), through compelling storytelling and sharing (Facebook), succinctly (Twitter), or via video (TikTok). If you know how to craft and perpetuate an authentic, distinctive visual and written voice, leverage digital tools to promote visibility and track metrics, you’re ready to embark on one of today’s hottest, great-paying jobs. Bonus: you can manage more than one account, so there are no bounds to how much you can earn.

Erika Lenkert is a writer in San Francisco and founder and Editor in chief of GFF: Gluten-Free Forever Magazine.

Photo by Mike Petrucci on Unsplash