If you’re set on the idea to start your own business in 2021, but you don’t have a lot of money for it, you’re in the right place. In reality, you actually need more courage than money to start your own business, especially in a year like 2021. Why? Because it’s scary. As heck! After a never ending and unique 2020, for all the wrong reasons, starting anything in 2021 is daunting.
Thanks to a little thing that we call the internet, opening a business online is not that hard, nor expensive. In fact, I remember myself letting go of my full-time journalism job and starting this business 5 years ago. Although the health situation was not like what we’re dealing with today, it was still a challenging thing to start a business from nothing. And with close to zero bucks.
In this guide:
How I started my own business with less than $100
This freelance writing business of mine began 5 years and a few days ago. Writing that last line just now, I just got struck by the idea that, as of this moment, I’m in my sixth year of full-time freelancing as a content creator. If I let that sink in, I’ll be overwhelmed, so I’ll just keep writing! They say that businesses that have made it past 5 years last forever. I can’t see why that’s not true!
Coming back at the idea at hand, in 2016 when this writing enterprise started, I had no money in my pocket for things. I was still doing a part-time job at an online newspaper and, for the majority of 2016 and 2017, that was my main income. I then started to slowly perfect my English and take my first tiny jobs on Fiverr, and then Upwork. Still, I’d invested no money so far.
This was the year when I’d really started to write for money. In 2017, I’d done it as well but only managed to earn close to $1000 from it. Over the entire year. Thanks for the free food and accommodation, mom! But then in 2018, after better management of my time and skills, I’d managed to earn 10 times more. With absolutely no money invested besides a website.
Setting up this website, although at a much more basic level of looks and functionality, was the first-ever expense for this business. It costs $10 to make a website and $3 for hosting per month. Even a beginner entrepreneur with almost nothing can afford that. Once you have your website, and thus your online presence, you can start to promote and sell your stuff. You’re on!
In 2019, things really took off. This was the year when Upwork started to really work for me. I got my first big clients, or as I call them, “whales”, and then started to make real money from freelancing. Also, 2019 was the year when the first direct clients came to me. This has happened because I was constantly writing on my blog, and people saw that and wanted to hire me as a writer for their blogs and businesses. It’s what they call a funnel in marketing.
In 2020, I can safely say that I’ve put the most money into my business than ever before. Not particularly because I needed to do so, but because I wanted to! I was desperate to have a new website with a fresh and clean design, so I got my dream theme and now it looks and feels just how I wanted it. I paid around 50 bucks for the theme, and another 10 for the setup and hosting.
Still, that is a lot less money than I had ever thought about putting into my business in a year like 2020. I did try my luck with some advertising on Facebook, which worked, but not as expected. I am not saying Facebook is useless, I’m just saying that it didn’t work for me. So at the end of my first 5 years of freelancing, I have spent less than $100 for my business.
Business ideas you can start for under $100
Let’s look at some business ideas that you can implement in 2021 and start for less than 100 bucks. Most of these ideas are not going to make sense to you, so this is why you need to determine what is your passion, what is that hobby that you can turn into a full-time business online. This might be hard to determine and implement first, but these examples will help you.
Business idea #1: Freelance writer – web designer – photographer
If you’re good at writing, you should have no issues starting an online business as a freelance writer. The same goes with web design, photography, programming, and many more skills. It costs zero bucks to open your Fiverr and Upwork accounts. The same goes for LinkedIn, writing a CV, and then advertising your services on social media. A website is $15, including hosting.
Business idea #2: Direct seller of goods
You might think that direct seller jobs are dead by now, but you’d be very wrong. Huge companies and brands are counting on these people to sell their stuff, such as Avon, Oriflame, Mary Kay, to name just a few. A starting kit is either free, or way below $100, so you can start selling to your friends and family, and then the rest of the world, in just days after applying.
Business idea #3: Consulting/Virtual assistant
Most people lack discipline, although they have the money, power, and resources. Sometimes, it gets overwhelming. If you’ve got the knowledge and are friends with deadlines, in a domain where discipline is principal, becoming an online consultant or virtual assistant is the way to go. Take some low-paying jobs at first to build a portfolio. Then, aim for the big dogs!
Business idea #4: Language tutor
Chances are, you’re speaking at least two international languages if you’re reading this post right now. One of them being English. And the other, your native language, or a language you’re really passionate about. Sign up to online language tutor sites and sell the language you’re so amazing at, as it is your native tongue, to the people all over the world. It literally costs nothing.
Business idea #5: Delivery of foods and goods
Although it happens online, the actual business of delivery has all of the offline elements true fans of the outdoors love. You basically conduct the operations online, such as receiving orders, setting your destinations on the map, and then being paid for it. But otherwise, everything about the delivery of food and other goods business is outside your apartment. Which is incredible!
How to start your business for under $100
Businesses cost money to be put up. If you have your own idea of a business, you’ve probably done your homework by now and are aware of its general costs. However don’t let yourself down just because of a Google search that’s telling you, you need $40.000 to open up shop. New businesses, like the ones above, cost close to nothing to open.
Rule #1: Cut out the unnecessary
People usually have the wrong idea about what a business means. One of the many preconceptions is, you need to expose your business as it’s some huge conglomerate and you’re all for shiny things just to prove it. In order to cut costs, cut out the unnecessary, such as business cards, accounts, LLCs, branding, web designers, expensive coaches, and so on.
In all honesty, I’ve had no idea that there was such a thing as a business brand specialist, when I started my business years ago. Business cards? Coach? No, these are the shiny things you literally don’t need at the beginning. When you start out, you need the bare minimum, no matter how nice these things look, or sound. Maybe you’ll need some of them later, but not at the start.
Rule #2: Win your first few clients
Instead of wasting time and money on fancy stuff nobody cares about, focus on landing those crucial first clients of yours. For me, it was easy, as freelancers can get their first jobs on Upwork, for example, in virtually no time. It takes about an hour to create a profile, and then start responding to some job proposals. A few hours later, you’re working!
As a rule of thumb, I’d say if you manage to land your first three clients, you’re doing it right, as this is a definite check that your model is working well. And remember, you haven’t spent any money so far. It means your service or product will bring profit. Once you’ve successfully handled your first three customers, you’re ready for the next three, and so on.
Rule #3: Gather testimonials for your next clients
Now that you’ve managed your first three clients successfully, don’t even count the money. At this point, if you’ve made enough to buy beer for Friday night, you’re set on the money front. The most important thing you can do now is to use the success of these jobs to your advantage. This is done by asking your clients for some testimonials. As in, having them say nice things about you.
Testimonials are social proof that you’ve done your job right, and that the clients are happy with your rates, your services, and the overall experience. They’re better than any immaculate business cards, coaching gurus, or social media experts. Once you’ve set up your website, the first thing people should see on it are these testimonials from happy clients.
Business plan, paperwork, banking
I’m in love with the content that Latasha, a freelance social media manager and Youtuber, podcaster, and a generally incredible source of inspiration, is putting out. In all honesty, I’d gotten the idea about this post from her podcast below. In the podcast, by the end, she gets really into the idea of managing a business on the financial and legal side. This varies from country to country.
Variation is the reason why I’m not going to go into it that much. For my first year, I’ve had no idea about this part of the business, and you shouldn’t care about it either. You’re in a trial period and everything that matters is growth. But after a year or two, when you get to those bigger clients, you’ll need to be ready on all legal aspects of what a business represents.
What you can buy for under $100 for your business
In my 5 years of full-time freelancing, I’ve kept my expenses to the minimum. It costs me more to pay my monthly subscriptions to Spotify and Youtube Premium than to run this business, obviously not taking the taxes into account. Which are not that bad. For 100 bucks, if I were to make a plan that would be valid to most new online gigs, this is what I’d buy:
#1. The ideal domain – $10/year
Your .com is your online signature. It’s the thing people will type into their browsers when entering your website. If you’re an artist, digital person, photographer, content creator, programmer, or whatever else, I’d suggest buying the domain name with your name and make yourself into a brand. If you have a better name for your business, go for it!
#2. Hosting – $50/year
Next comes the hosting, which is usually about 5 bucks for the first few years. You don’t need more than that unless you somehow blow the Google algorithm up and you end up with 30.000 visitors a day overnight. That alone is a reason to celebrate and expand your bandwidth. But until then, keep it simple and go for the cheaper option, payable monthly or yearly.
#3. What you really don’t know – $40
We’ve all got that thing that we’re not that good at when thinking about a new business. It can be about the logo and appearance of your future enterprise. Or it can be about the legal aspects of it. Whatever you cannot do to start up your business on your own, pay someone else for help! You might not get a lot for the rest of your $40. But it will at least stir you in the right direction.
What you can get for free for your business
Most things you’ll be using for your online enterprise are free, luckily. Even now, entering my 6th year of content creation and doing business exclusively online, these tools have stayed free with me for all this time. And they’re absolutely amazing, never failing to impress me and make my life easier by the day. Get ready, for this is my free toolbox for my online freelancing business.
#1. WordPress – Easily the best website platform in the world, Extremely simple to use, almost intuitive, and what you can’t figure out, you can learn from a 2-minute Youtube search;
#2. Google Docs – A life-saver. I can’t remember when was it the last time I’d opened a Word document. I can access my work from wherever, do changes, and then save and send away;
#3. Gmail – Another amazing tool that’s free and still has no ads that are bothering. It works completely flawlessly and it has a great interface in which you know what’s where at all times;
#4. Analytics – This service is a need for those who’re making a little money from ads. It shows you where traffic is coming from, what people like and don’t like. It’s a must for marketing;
#5. PayPal – My personal favorite when it comes to invoicing and getting paid. I still consider the 5.5%-6.5% fee on any transaction low, considering the service works everywhere;
#6. Upwork – Most freelancers start here and get their first clients for free on this platform. Sure, you’re paying about 20% off of your first contracts for it, but it’s still a great tool on the long run;
#8.WordCounter – The best online tool for counting characters and words in any text. Essential for content creators like me who’re on a count when it comes to their orders. Works wonders;
#9. BeFunky – Although a full photo editor and whatnot, I use BeFunky for the Collage Maker function. You can add multiple photos and have them put into a nice collage for your main pics;
#10. Canva – My main design tool, completely free and extremely well made. It’s one of those tools I’ll happily pay once I get to a certain level of financial stability. It does the job so right;
#11. Snapseed – This editing tool is great for photos taken on smartphones. It gives you everything a program like Photoshop would, but in pocket-size format. Also completely free;
#12. Slack – No freelancer would survive without Slack. This is the main communication tool that everybody uses to keep in touch with clients and teams. Easy to use, in-browser/phone;
#13. Youtube – Perfect for entertainment but also for keeping up with the latest trends and information on your industry. Follow your masters, learn from them, and steal their tricks;
#14. ING – I’ve been doing my entire banking on one ING account for 11 years now. I’ve never had a problem, regardless if it was payments, invoices, international withdrawals or pays. ING rules!
#15. LinkedIn – Great for meeting other freelancers as well as clients. Facebook without the drama and the conspiracy. Business and not much else, but packed with great content.
Tools and gadgets that I use for my business
#1. Phone: My iPhone 11 Pro Max is now one year old. It surely costs a ton of money, but honestly, it is well worth it. Never had a single issue with it so far, and it is imperative for me to keep in touch with my clients at all hours of the day. It just works flawlessly!
#2. Laptop: I’ve been using the HP Probook 450 G6 for about 3 years now. It’s a great laptop, extremely light and super fast, which is what I need for work and for some fun at the end of the day. It runs all of my tools effortless and it was just around $600 when I got it. A steal.
#3. Microphone: Last year, excited to open my own podcast (I’ve not renounced on that yet, but I’m just not ready for it right now) I’ve bought a Trust semi-professional microphone for about 70 bucks. It was a great investment, as my calls have been buzz-free and I can send voice memos to my clients and colleagues in a heartbeat.
#4. Notes: Call me outdated, and you can call me whatever you want, but I still cannot use virtual notes for my to-do lists. Nope, not for me! I am using a notebook, just the way I used to from the start of this full-time freelancing, years ago. I love physically “checking” items!
#5. Desk and chair: Investing around $500 in a desk and chair that are designed for gamers was the best buy of my life. One year in, these two tools have transformed the way I work and get through my daily tasks. The chair is sublimely comfortable, the desk is sturdy, and I am happy!
#6. Decorations: I have a big pyramid that I’ve got from right in front of the Great Pyramid of Giza. I’m 99% certain I’d paid way more than it counts for, but it’s a great piece and makes me happy every single time I see it! It reminds me why I work for money, not just for the pleasure of writing.
It might sound weird or even unfair that you can start a business for just under $100, because people have the tendency to believe starting something successful needs loads of money. No, it doesn’t have to be that way, as I’ve covered it in this lengthy post. All it takes is a great idea, a beautifully mastered skill that you love doing, as well as the willingness to fail, and then try again.
Whenever I tell people that I have no permanent office, no expenses to pay but taxes at the end of the year, and no team to direct, or boss to respond to, they usually say I’m either lying or doing something funky. All those international trips, expensive gadgets and whatnot (I’ll do a separate post on why I buy the most expensive things soon) all seem impossible to be coming from a business that’s basically run with a laptop and a notepad.
But as you saw in this post, it’s all possible, and rather simple to implement if you put in the work. It’s no mystery, just putting in the time and effort, using the right tools, and coming up with a product or service that caters to the needs of the people. The rest is just adding those working hours up, and surely, by the end of the month, your payments.
Alongside the satisfaction that you’re doing what you love, and that what you love doing adds value to the lives of others.