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14 Best Low-Investment Business Ideas You Can Start Online

low investment business ideas

Contrary to popular belief, there are actually many ways to start a business that let you focus less on the logistics and upfront costs and more on getting started.

These low-investment business ideas make a great entry point for beginners, bootstrappers, or anyone with a busy schedule, letting you pick up a side business without having to drop everything else.

You still need to come up with a solid idea, build a brand, put effort into marketing, and provide excellent customer service. But you can bypass many traditional startup costs, such as initial inventory, warehousing, and retail space.

Here are some of the low-investment business ideas you can start today.

Best low-investment business ideas you can start on the side

To think of emerging low investment business ideas you can start today, you need to assess your strengths, skills, assets and financial scenario. Once you figure these out, you will have a foundation with which you can assess the business models that work for you. Let’s begin by understanding a useful framework that keeps your business investments low.

A framework for thinking about low-investment business ideas

Think about what makes a business idea a low-investment one. What are the ways in which businesses can drive their costs down today? Some of the ways are discussed below: 

  • Sell without holding inventory

Buy stock, store it, pick it, pack it, ship it. Managing inventory can be a big commitment when you’re running a business, not to mention the expense. You can significantly bring down your investment and operational expenses by eliminating the hassles of inventory altogether with third-party fulfilment models like dropshipping.

  • Sell a service

As opposed to products, which require development, manufacturing, sourcing, stocking, shipping etc., services are by and large businesses with lower overheads and operational costs. Essentially, you would be selling a skill or expertise multiplied by time. Therefore, depending upon the service you choose, you will have greater opportunities to drive down your upfront investment and running expenses.

  • Create and sell digital assets

Products and assets that are entirely in the digital realm are a special case, where once created, they can be replicated an infinite number of times into copies without any additional expense. This means, your marginal cost of scaling is effectively zero. And the cost of production is limited to your computer and the tools you may use to create the digital product. 

  • Turn a hobby/passion into a business

If you already spend time doing something as a hobby or a passion, and if there’s a market for the things you do/create, you can turn it into a business without too much additional effort or investment. 

  • Explore emerging niches

The success of any business depends ultimately on reaching its consumers and making sales. Therefore, marketing is quite a significant expense. Targeting emerging niches is a great way to bring down your marketing investment since your potential customers will be easier to reach and convert online, even if your market size is limited by the niche.

You may use more than one of the above methods to keep your investments low. For example, if you choose online teaching as a low-investment business idea, you will be creating and selling digital assets while turning a hobby into a business and exploring an emerging niche in the subject you teach.

Also, do note that the businesses discussed in this article exclude less active options of making money on the side which may be considered as opportunities to earn a passive income – for example, renting out your property. You could check out our blog about passive income fundamentals to learn more about how you can earn money even while you sleep.

So, let's walk through the business ideas listed below keeping the above considerations in mind.

  1. Dropshipping
  2. Design and sell print-on-demand products
  3. Start a customised gifting store
  4. Sell your digital creations online (music/photography/digital art)
  5. Sell courses or webinars
  6. Turn your skill/ expertise into a service
  7. Start your own curated fashion boutique
  8. Sell handcrafted and homemade goods
  9. Grow an audience you can monetise in multiple ways
  10. Cloud kitchen or bakery
  11. Start a lending library of your own books
  12. Self-improvement coaching
  13. Create an app
  14. Digital Marketing 

1. Dropshipping

[Sell without holding inventory] [Explore emerging niches]

Dropshipping is a fulfilment model where a third-party supplier stores and ships inventory to customers on your behalf. You just need to make the sales and pass orders on to your supplier; you don’t need to handle the products yourself.

Therefore, dropshipping is the very definition of selling without holding inventory – the way to make almost any business selling physical products to consumers, a relatively low-investment business.

To lower your investments further, you can curate products from one or more suppliers into your own online store under a theme that focuses on a specific emerging niche, like gear for yoga enthusiasts or water bowls for dog owners. When a customer buys a product from you, the order is sent to your supplier who fulfils it on your behalf. However, you are still responsible for your own marketing and customer service.

There are both local and overseas suppliers you can work with, as long as you can establish a relationship with them built on trust—an unreliable supplier will reflect poorly on your brand.

Dropshipping is a low-investment way to test product-market fit and launch a business before you invest in your own original products. Just be sure to always order a sample for yourself to make sure that your supplier is reliable and that the quality of the products is fit for selling to your customers.

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2. Design and sell print-on-demand products

[Sell without holding inventory] [Explore emerging niches]

Another dropshipping model, print-on-demand puts inventory, shipping, and fulfilment in the hands of a third-party supplier. But unlike the dropshipping idea above, the focus here is on customising these products with your own designs to create something original. If you have an eye for creative graphics and aesthetics, you could easily leverage this into a profitable business.

T-shirts, hats, phone cases, hoodies, skirts, tote bags, and more become canvases for your creativity. For example, if you can think up witty slogans for developers or references that resonate with cat owners—if there’s passion and pride within a community, there’s a potential t-shirt business you can start. This would also help you reduce your marketing costs by targeting a niche.

Even if you’re not a designer, you can find a designer to work with using freelance sites like Fiverr, Upwork, Freelancer, Toptal or even LinkedIn.

With many print-on-demand services, you’re paying per product, so the base price per unit will be more expensive than if you were to order in bulk. But the advantage is that if a certain design doesn’t sell, you haven’t actually paid for the item yet (only the design if you outsourced it).

If it’s a print-on-demand t-shirt business you want to explore, you can even use t-shirt mockup templates so you don’t actually need to spend money on a full photoshoot for every new design.

Source: Printrove app on Shopify

There are a variety of print-on-demand platforms like Printrove and Owlprints you can work with, many of which can be integrated with your Shopify store for seamless order fulfilment. However, be sure to always order a sample of your product (often offered at a discount) to make sure your custom products look good.

Source: Owlprints

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3. Start a customised gifting store

[Create and sell digital assets] [Explore emerging niches]

Personalised gifts have their own merits as a business idea. You can find your niche and have multiple occasions to boost your sales. The idea of custom gifting is exclusive as it helps people celebrate important dates and conveys close affection. As an emerging niche, where you have multiple small players. However, as mentioned before, you can find your forte in various niches in two broad categories:

  1. Individual ideas, such as photo frames and key-chains
  2. Group gifts, such as commemorative gifts which can be considered a B2B prospective. 

You can distinguish your business by offering speciality items and customisable packaging. Customised gifts can provide a viable business option for those with creativity and tenacity.

Confetti Gifts is one such business that has curated a unique collection of gifts for all occasions. You can choose and make your own gift box if needed or can buy their creative gift ideas.

Source: Confetti Gifts

4. Sell your digital creations online (music/ photography/ digital art)

[Create and sell digital assets] [Explore emerging niches]

Digital products like music, courses, ebooks, and templates are unique on this list of ideas. Unlike the others, they’re not tangible products. As a result, there aren’t recurring manufacturing or shipping costs to worry about so your margins remain high.

The trick is figuring out what makes for a good digital product. The answers range from original instrumental beats to stock photos that can be licensed to other creators, to information products and templates that help people level up their skills in a particular field.

Even books – cookbooks, picture books, comic books, poetry books, photo books, coffee table books, and novels—if you’ve got the knowledge or the creativity, there are a variety of original books you can bring to the market. Launching your own book can be a great way to monetise a blog if you have one or are looking to start one.

You can consider pre-selling or crowdfunding your book idea to ensure that there’s demand, and guarantee a certain number of customers for a bulk order. Check out the multiple crowdfunding platforms available.

If you’re artistically inclined or know your way around a camera, you can dropship using a print-on-demand business model to let others physically own a piece of your work. Just be sure you have the rights to the content you want to print, unless you’re using public domain assets that you can freely monetise.

If you’ve already got an engaged online following, say you’re a cartoonist or an urban photographer, you’re in an especially good position to give this business idea a try.

If you’ve got a talent that can be turned into a digital product, you can think about packaging it into a new stream of income.

Shopify offers a free digital downloads app that lets you offer digital products in your store as easily as physical products.

Additional resources:

5. Sell courses or webinars

[Create and sell digital assets] [Explore emerging niches]

If you consider yourself having a skill set or abilities that are transferable and teachable, you could look at this as a serious venture. Your expertise can help others and build them that essential skill set.

People look at online courses to majorly upskill themselves and achieve a career change or promotion. However, some people now look at courses because they are interested in the subject and want to pursue it passionately. You have a dedicated audience ready to pay and commit to the course.

You can select a niche topic in the category or trending skills in the market currently. All you need is a qualifying certification or expertise to show, a camera and editing software.

Various platforms list your courses, like WordPress plugins and Udemy. If you do not want to invest in a course, you can consider webinars or workshops.

Additional resources:

6.  Turn your skill/ expertise into a service

[Turn a hobby/passion into a business] [Sell a service]

With services-based businesses, “time” is your inventory and your most significant investment. You’ve only got a limited supply of hours in your day. However, that makes it easier to get up and running if you’ve got skills that are in demand.

They can also expand their business with any of the other ideas above to create additional revenue streams by “productising” their services through physical or digital goods.

A photographer, for example, can service a local event while selling prints online through their Instagram account. A copywriter can sell a copywriting swipe file of high-converting sales copy. Coupling your service-based business with physical products can give you another source of income that isn’t directly tied to your time.

Some of the major services you can build around your expertise are:

  • Photography and Videography- Set up your website, showcase some of your finest pictures and let your neighbourhood know that you're offering photography as a service. Of course, you can always undertake smartphone photography if not for professional cameras. Here's a guide on how to do smartphone photography.
  • Interior Decorating- If you're passionate about interiors and think you'd love to build beautiful homes, offer online consultation or interior decorating as a service. However, you need to
  • Pet sitting- If you're someone who has always wanted a pet or have more than one but can't keep so many, this might be the right business idea for you. The best thing is that all people look for in such a business is that the person is genuinely in love with animals. That's all it takes to start this business. Platforms like PetBacker are available for you to get listed on.

    PS. You can even start a pet supply store online with Shopify. Here's how Heads Up For Tails did it.
  • Fitness Training- If you are passionate about promoting fitness as a lifestyle, this is your forte. With the help of online classes and other certifications, you can be a freelance consultant. Until you gather some loyal clients, you can consider enrolling in applications like Urban Company. You can also take classes and train clients online.

You can use the BookThatApp or Book an Appointment app on your Shopify store to let customers easily schedule a session, consultation, or buy tickets to a class with you through your store.

You can also offer your services through a freelance marketplace like Upwork to increase your chances of getting discovered by the people who need your skills.

Additional resources:

7.  Start your own curated fashion boutique

[Turn a hobby/passion into a business] [Sell without holding inventory]

If you love fashion and sharing your sense of style online, you can consider creating your own online fashion boutique. You don’t need to become a fashion designer either—you can simply curate and source readymade products directly from manufacturers and sell those under your brand.

To keep investments low, you can accomplish this without stocking any inventory. Simply add fashion dropshipping apps like Trendsi to your store. From dresses, shoes, swimwear, accessories, and more, you will be able to select products from their catalogue, determine your markups and sell it on your store. While you handle the front-end of the business, Trendsi handles inventory, shipping, returns and customer invoicing for you – and all the collaterals will reflect your branding.

Source: Trendsi

The major investments for you will be a Shopify subscription, domain cost and marketing. Cross-selling and upselling will give you more avenues for profit. 

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8.  Sell handcrafted and homemade goods

[Turn a hobby/passion into a business]

If you’re a maker—whether you DIY soap, candles, sauces, or pottery—you’re in a unique position to find an online business idea since product development and procurement are literally in your hands. This is purely a skill-based business model. Unlike many of the other ideas on this list, you will need to consider shipping and inventory management, but you can start out simple on a per-order basis or with a small batch until you start generating consistent sales.

However, the biggest investment in this venture will be your time and attention. Each product should be as close to perfection as they can be. The more you grow, you will be able to increase your efficiency as you will discover many process improvement ideas.

In order to scale, you need to be able to teach/transfer/outsource the skills. This is why you need to have an optimised process in place. Out of the three, teaching could be the most beneficial way in terms of cost-effectiveness and control. Scalability requires crafting a cost-effective strategy to achieve the best results.

Many makers on Shopify started out with a part-time home-based business, selling from their homes on Etsy or to friends and family, growing into full-time business owners after establishing a demand for their products.

Source: Kraftedwithhappiness

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9. Grow an audience you can monetise in multiple ways

[Turn a hobby/ passion into a business] [Explore emerging niches]

In today’s connected world, the ability to capture and keep the attention of others is an asset. It’s one that many businesses are even willing to pay for, and one that many creators are able to convert into a business with multiple revenue streams. There is no product or inventory holding involved here. It is an emerging niche where you can leverage multiple social media platforms. You can find your niche in this idea; you can be a fashion influencer, lifestyle influencer, food critic, Movie reviewer, Tech enthusiast and many more. Pick a category closest to you. Even if there are multiple fashion influencers out there, you can set yourself apart by adopting a philosophy, a distinct style of presentation or by simplifying fashion to your audience.

Whether you choose to grow your following on YouTube, Instagram, or a blog (ideally a combination of different channels), you have many avenues for monetising your audience:

  • Do sponsored posts on behalf of brands
  • Become an affiliate
  • Sell physical or digital products (via any of the ideas on this list)
  • Let your audience fund you (Eg:Patreon)
  • A combination of the above (they’re not mutually exclusive)

Taking an audience-first approach to starting a business means you’re playing the long game (it might be months until you've figured it out). Growing your own audience is not an easy venture. You have to be creative and post regularly. If you snooze, you will lose out on your followers. Your follower count matters; however, you don't need millions of followers to get out of the blocks with this business idea.

Aishwarya Kaushal Jain, for example, is a fashion influencer who slowly rose to prominence and has now leveraged her celebrity to create a bigger business – her own fashion store named Karwarya.

Source: Instagram

Source: Karwarya

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 10.  Cloud kitchen or bakery

[Turn a hobby/passion into a business]

Are you fond of cooking and baking? In that case, this is one of the best low-cost business ideas for you. You could decide on a menu for your cloud kitchen/ bakery, set up an online store for it and let those close to you get their food either delivered or picked up. This is an emerging niche business model which found its momentum during pandemic.

What's more? You get the flexibility of how much business you want to run or how many orders you want to deal with in a day.

Ambrosia The Bakery is just one among many such successful ventures that have launched their own Shopify stores.

Source: Ambrosia The Bakery

11. Start a lending library of your own books

[Turn a hobby/passion into a business] [Sell a service]

Are you someone who hoards books? Time to lend your reads to others too. You can start an online store to sell the books you've read too many times or those you know you're not going to read anymore. In business terms, they are assets that can be monetised.

You can consider starting a book club and initiating book exchanges. Yet another thing you can do is start a membership library – a great way to monetise your expansive book collection without giving away the ownership of your books.

Half Price Books, a Shopify store, promotes a membership plan along with the option of purchasing used books.

Source: Half Price Books India

You can always expand your collection by asking for book and resource donations through social media or through sponsorships.

 12. Self-improvement coaching

[Create and sell digital assets] [Explore emerging niches] [Sell a service]

There are people out there with vast skill sets and ambitions. But they don't know what to do about them. They lack the guidance and the direction they need to feel like they're fulfilling their dreams. It is a service-based business model. You are providing them inspiration and charting out a way to their intended goal. You can even specialise in niches with courses and certifications.

In this business, you could create digital courses, or have live sessions – either for a group, or one-on-one. There are multiple niches in self-improvement;

  • Productivity
  • Health and Wellness
  • Finance and money management
  • Career
  • Relationships and family etc.

You can explore the niches you have great insights about. Plus, if you do well, you will directly make a difference to people's lives.

For example, popular YouTuber Saloni Srivastava produces a lot of content in the productivity niche. She monetises her YouTube content in multiple ways, and she also sells one-on-one mentorships on Upfluen, a Shopify store.

Source: Upfluen

13. Create an app

[Create and sell digital assets] [Sell a service]

Are you a problem solver? Can you code? Do you like building out solutions that other businesses could make use of to achieve their goals? Well, you could become an app developer/ creator. In fact, did you know that Shopify is home to thousands of apps that were built as solutions for ecommerce merchants?

This is another model where you create a digital asset. If you have a great app idea, you could develop and run it. However, you should be ready to spend a lot of time on development, testing, market research and marketing. If you are able to figure it out, you can turn your app into a business in itself.

App creator business ideas are very rewarding because it is becoming easier to create mobile applications. You can develop your app simply either through coding or using app development platforms like Telerik that have automatic coding, direct API connection, preview facility, and more.

Alternatively, you can sell your coding skills as a service to clients by developing apps for them. Also, you could build and sell ecommerce apps on the Shopify app marketplace, where online sellers could licence your app to use on their stores.

14. Digital Marketing

[Sell a service] [Explore emerging niches]

There are exciting opportunists available in the area of digital marketing. Every company which intends to take their business online are in need of digital marketers who are adept at conversions and creating engagement.

Although a service-based business model, your skills matter here the most. It is pertinent that you upskill yourself and be adept at different aspects of digital marketing – unless you already are. You must also be up-to-date with the latest innovations in this rapidly evolving field.

Every company is working on its website, online marketing, social media, campaigns, and more. As this requires high specialisation skills you can narrow down to multiple categories under digital marketing itself like influencer marketing, content marketing, Social media marketing etc. You could also explore specific niches like say, fashion and lifestyle, to target prospective clients in that specific niche, while keeping the expertise of your team more or less constant.

Music Promo Plug, for example, aces digital marketing to a niche by providing Instagram, SoundCloud, Spotify and YouTube marketing services to musicians and bands.

Source: Music Promo Plug

This is a low-investment business because your overheads will be minimal. The work lends itself to having a remote workforce and you can always increase your team strength by hiring freelancers for most aspects of digital marketing.

Choosing from the business ideas: Three tips to get started 

The business ideas we’ve covered might be easier to run when it comes to logistics, but that doesn’t make them easy. There are at least three things you should keep in mind as you consider your options, no matter what you decide to start.

1. Focusing on a niche makes marketing easier

As with any business, marketing is what unlocks your success. It’s not enough to know that there’s demand for your products—you need to figure out ways to reach the people that are most likely to buy them. You need to get the right visitors to discover your products.

Luckily, marketing is a lot easier when you're catering to a specific audience or identity (e.g. vegans, board game lovers, photographers in your city). You can produce social media content that resonates with these people or run ads that target their interests. Taking this approach also helps you project a consistent brand because you’ll have a more specific idea of who exactly you’re talking to.

Think about how you can zero in on a specific audience for your products and how the business you build can serve them. If you already have a sizable audience (a blog, a YouTube channel, or an Instagram account), maybe you can even find a way to base your business off of that existing audience.

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2. Pricing is about more than profit

Price your products too low and shoppers might assume they’re low quality. Price them too high, and you might scare some customers off. In any case, you’ll need to find a sweet spot that also lets you factor in the cost to acquire customers and offer discounts, especially if you plan on paying for ads.

With many of the business ideas we’ll explore in this post, you may not be shipping your products, but you still need to cover the cost of shipping. Consider your shipping costs and how they will vary in the different states or countries you want to serve.

Many online sellers try to bake their shipping costs into their retail price so that they can offer free shipping, or at least a reasonable flat rate. Others focus on encouraging shoppers to add more items to their cart with conditional free shipping (e.g. free shipping on orders over $50) to maximize their profit.

At the end of the day, your prices can be tweaked and you can experiment with a variety of pricing strategies until you find one that works for you.

Additional resources:

3. Test, learn grow and optimise as you go

The pursuit of perfection can be one of the biggest hurdles in getting a business up and running. Keep in mind that nothing is set in stone.

Products can be swapped in and out fairly easily (especially when you're not stuck with stock). Your store can be redesigned. Your prices can be adjusted. You can switch to a better supplier. And you can validate all of these decisions based on the dozens of signals you have at your disposal (traffic, how much time people are spending on your site, reviews, abandoned carts, etc.).

If your idea just isn’t working out the way you planned, think about how you can pivot before you quit.

There are aspects of your business that you can always salvage if you try a different product or approach. The brand you invest time into creating and the followers you amass on social media or in your email list can be assets you repurpose for your next business idea.

Additional resources:

Supply without as many demands as you tap into these business ideas

Thanks to a combination of technology, third-party suppliers, and the ability to quickly test ideas online, it’s easier than ever to build a business and start making sales without getting caught up in sourcing products, renting space, and managing inventory.

With this approach, you can test ideas before you invest in them, or start making money on the side without all the inventory-related commitments that might stand in your way.

The business ideas covered above can even be combined in a variety of ways to start a business that’s uniquely yours. If the idea of sourcing, storing and shipping inventory kept you from starting a business before, begin with an inventory-free, low-investment business model and grow from there. 

Frequently Asked Questions about business ideas

What are the best business ideas in 2022?

The best business ideas in 2022 include the following low-investment options:

  • Dropshipping
  • Design and sell print-on-demand products
  • Start a customised gifting store
  • Sell your digital creations online (music/photography/digital art)
  • Sell courses or webinars
  • Sell your skill/expertise/interests as a service (pet walking, videography, etc.)
  • Start your own curated fashion boutique
  • Sell handcrafted and homemade goods
  • (Sell eyeballs) Grow an audience you can monetize in multiple ways
  • Open a cloud kitchen or bakery
  • Start a lending library of your own books
  • Become a self-improvement coach (productivity, wellness, etc) 
  • Create an app
  • Digital marketing

How do I find good business ideas?

The best business ideas are the ones that have a demand in the market and work specifically for you. To find good business ideas to choose from, follow these steps:

  • Take stock of your assets, finances, skills and time
  • Make a list of things you are passionate about building a business on,
  • Research consumer and market trends in your niche, domain or area of interest/expertise
  • Do competitor research
  • Find gaps that need to be addressed
  • Build your USP
  • Check the viability of your business idea

What are the best low-cost businesses to start?

Starting a dropshipping store is one of the best low-cost business ideas. Dropshipping will allow you to operate without overhead and infrastructure cost and is the best business model out there. You could pick a niche or simply open a store of products you'd like to sell, without having to stock up on inventory. If you have an inclination towards creating graphics and digital art, you can sell your creations online. Alternatively, you can also start selling your services like web designing, content writing and others.

Among the best low-cost businesses to start are:

  • Dropshipping
  • Design and sell print-on-demand products
  • Start a customised gifting store
  • Sell your digital creations online (music/photography/digital art)
  • Sell courses or webinars
  • Sell your skill/expertise/interests as a service (pet walking, videography, etc.)
  • Start your own curated fashion boutique
  • Sell handcrafted and homemade goods 
  • Grow an audience you can monetize in multiple ways
  • Open a cloud kitchen or bakery
  • Start a lending library of your own books
  • Become a self-improvement coach (productivity, wellness, etc)
  • Create an app
  • Digital marketing

How can I start a business with no experience?

If you have no prior experience in starting and running a business, be willing to learn. Take advantage of free online courses and success stories shared by other entrepreneurs to learn from their mistakes. Also, consider taking a consultation from someone who is more experienced, or getting yourself a business mentor. You can find trusted experts in Shopify who offer services for Shopify merchants like development and troubleshooting. 

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