Starting a business today doesn’t always mean you need a lot of capital or investors. The internet and gig economy has opened the flood gates for side-hustles, and those looking for a low-risk way to start their entrepreneurial journeys.
You can even start a cash flowing business for $500 or less, so what are you waiting for?
We picked the 14 Best Businesses To Start With $500:
Table of Contents
1. Travel Agent
Description: Becoming an independent travel agent
How to get started:
What is a travel agent?
Well, simply put, they book travel and vacations for clients; everything from flights to hotels and they make a commission doing so.
This market is not booming like most of this list.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, travel agent jobs are expected to decrease from 2016-2026 by 9,500 jobs or 12%.
The allure of utilizing a travel agent is they take the work out of finding and searching for the best deal. Some people enjoy the hunt of finding the best deal for travel, and much like other things in life, you can pay someone else to do the work for you. Enter the travel agent.
So, you’re interested in becoming a travel agent; here is a step by step guide
1. Determine your niche
Will you be a travel agent for leisure travelers for businesspeople?
Will you focus on luxury, cheap, and/or niche?
Are you focused on a certain part of the world or culture?
2. Research certifications
Most travel agents do require a high school diploma. Additionally, there are travel agent courses and classes that can be taken.
The Travel Institute lists specific certifications and tests that can be achieved and taken.
- Certified Travel Associate, CTA
- Certified Travel Counselor, CSC
- Travel Agent Proficiency (TAP) test
3. Ensure you can successfully perform the duties.
Typical skills of a travel agent as follows:
- Researching and booking transportation tickets
- Researching and booking lodging
- Handle money for deposits and payments
- Work within the client’s budget (where possible)
- Check visas, passports, and other guidelines needed for travel
- Ensure accuracy of up to date travel restrictions, warnings, and weather-related risks
Although none are required to be a travel agent, they may allow you to stand out amongst the crowd in the competitive market.
Most states do not require a specialized license to be a travel agent. Check with your state of residence to be sure.
Training classes- $99-$450
Travel agents can earn between $30,000-$45,000 and very good, established agents can make $60,000 or more.
You can expect to earn between 5%-10% on the gross travel cost.
Imagine you can book $300,000 year one and then $550,000 in year two.
If your average booking is $10,000, that is 30 trips in year one and 55 in year two, or about one per week.
This scenario would net you $15,000-$30,000 in year one and $27,500-$55,000.
Description: Baking cakes, cookies, brownies, and other sweet treats
How to get started:
You likely already have access to an oven and making sheets, bowls, and mixers.
If you don’t, go to your parents to a friend or neighbors to shamelessly borrow their oven.
This business is beautiful, as you don’t need supplies until you have secured an order. Once you have your first order and payment, you can take that money to fund your baking supplies.
Note: In most markets, it is illegal to bake and sell goods out of your own home. You might consider renting a kitchen here
We interviewed Vegan Baking Ninja founder and owner, Angela Wohlleber and she described her journey this way-
“I found my niche in vegan and allergy-free cookies and baking mixes. I started with an investment of under $500; this included state-required training, packing supplies, ingredients, and $50 in Facebook ads.”
Angela shared that she has been thriving in her niche and can make custom recipes and orders.
Vegan Baking Ninja turned an under $500 investment to almost $5,000 net in year one. Her tips are to focus on social media, baking tips, and how-to videos!
- Baking sheets, pans, and mixers: $100
- Down payment on a shared kitchen: Up to $300
Salaries for bakers range from $18,000-$40,000 and much higher if you own and grow a successful baking operation.
3. Mobile Public Notary
Description: Becoming a mobile notary public
How to get started:
You youngins’ out there may have never needed to get anything notarized and wondering what we even use them for.
- Loan Papers
- Property Deeds
- Power of Attorney
- Court documents
Much like many other industries, people in 2020 and beyond enjoy their needs coming to them.
Enter the mobile public notary who will come to your desired location.
In Minnesota, it only cost $62 to become a public notary and $60 per year.
In California, one must:
- Attend a $175 six-hour seminar (offered online or in-person)
- Plus, a $139 basic fee
You may want E&O insurance, which may protect you from costly lawsuits due to errors at $33 per year.
You will need to renew your commission that expires on 1/31 every year
Minnesota: $60 per year renewal fee
California: $140 basic fee per year and 3-hour training $179.
A fee you can charge as a notary public can be around $20 per document.
With drive time, gas, and fees, this would be difficult to become a full-time job unless you were able to scale. Will you create the next great industry-shaking app? Cite Ventured.com as your inspiration as you ring the NYSE bell when your company goes public.
4. Landscaping / Yard Work Company
Description: Mowing grass, raking leaves, and improving the look and feel of properties.
How to get started:
The bad thing about having a yard is that it needs grooming, cutting, and tending to unless you want your neighbors to look down on you. For starting a business, this is a good thing as yards are everywhere in most climates!
A 2015 survey by Mintel showed $29.1 billion spent on lawn care, enough for $90.23 for every person in America.
- A basic, entry-level lawnmower costs around $200. Here is one at Lowe’s with 4.4 stars.
- Large Yard garbage bags: $40
- Garden Sheers: $30
- Weed Killer: $25
- Work Gloves: $20
- 6ft Ladder: $60
- Total: $375
- Expected Income
The first year you may make $5,000-$50,000, and when you have established a client base and have hired additional employees, your earning potential is well into six figures and beyond.
Lawncare is largely dependent on seasonality. Oftentimes, those with lawncare businesses will have snow removal and plowing companies in the wintertime. If this isn’t appliable to your climate (lucky you!), you can cut grass all year long.
This business may be slow at first depending on competition if you want to deeply discount rates to get clients to open up accounts and hope they turn into long-term accounts.
5. Cleaning Service
Description: Start a residential or commercial cleaning service
How to get started:
Whether you own a house or live in an apartment or a dorm with roommates cleaning needs to occur every so often, and cleaning sucks!
After a long, hard week of work, the last thing you want to do is dust, vacuum, sweep, clean the bathrooms, and tidy up. This is where a cleaning business comes in!
Here are the main cleaning tasks that a cleaner may perform:
- Clean showers, toilets, and tubs
- Dust, especially in hard to reach places
- Clean mirrors and windows
- Clean grout and tile
- Mop, Swiffer, and deep clean tile and wood floors
- Light reorganizing
- Vacuum carpet
- Steam clean carpet
- Power wash driveways, sidewalks, and brick
It is valuable to select a specialty, niche, or differentiator if you choose to enter this space
- What type of cleaning products will you use green organic supplies or budget supplies?
- Will you specialize in an area of the house or a specific function, i.e., power washing or steam cleaning?
- Will you focus on residential or commercial clients or both?
Cleaning supplies will be needed as things might get messy. You may have many of these items already, but you may need to stock up. All of these could total $50-$80.
- Clorox Wipes:
- Glass/Window Cleaner:
- Mops & brooms
- Washcloths and paper towels
- Trash bag
A nice, budget vacuum can range from $200-$300.
According to HomeAdvisor, the average wage for a cleaner may be between $25-$45 per hour. Again, the profit of your cleaning business will expand when you hire others to perform the work for you.
6. Voice Over/ Voice Acting
Description: Becoming a voice over or voice actor
How to get started:
You might hear a voice-over artist more often than you think. You might hear one in a T.V. commercial, an Instagram ad, a Hulu ad, or a YouTube ad.
The voice-over industry is a $4.4 billion industry with the United States leading the way.
You must be talented or develop your talent for this one. Not everyone can become an actor or actress, to do so takes some talent, hard work, and good looks. A voice-over expert needs only the first two, as they don’t appear on screen!
So, you want to find work but don’t know anyone in the film or advertising industries, how do you find work? There are several websites for that.
One, in particular, is V.O. Planet. It is a free marketplace to post voice-over roles and post your profile.
Professional Microphone and headphones:Amazon product
Education and training courses: $99
Lots of water for when your throat is dry from recording the next Disney movie: $12 for a case of 24 water bottles
- Voice actors may get paid $100 for a 15-second clip.
- Up to $250 for a commercial, 30 or 60 seconds
- An audiobook may each up to $3000.
7. Video Editing Company
Description: Becoming a video editor
How to get started:
Did you know that 300 hours are added to YouTube every minute!?
That is a lot of content that equates to 24,000 days of videos added daily to the internet.
Some of these videos are amateurs, being shot from an iPhone and uploaded directly to YouTube, but many of these are professionally edited.
You can tell which videos are professionally edited within the first few moments of watching a video.
What exactly does a video editor do?
- Create sound effects
- Graphic overlays
- Cutting, splicing, and adding video footage
- Special effects
People are watching more and more videos, and the job market backs that up. The job outlook for film and video editors and camera operators is rated as much stronger than average. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows an 11% growth rate from 2018 to 2028.
If you want to start your own YouTube channel, jump down to #8 YouTube channel.
You likely already have a computer, which is required to be a video editor. If not, this Acer Chromebook below has the optimal 32gb of ram that is suggested for Above After Effects.Amazon product
For basic video editing software, Adobe After Effects: $20.99 per month
If you have a Mac and want a higher-quality software, Final Cut Pro X: $299
Compared to others on this list, video editors get paid very well. A salary can be expected of $40,000-$70,000 if working for another company. If working for yourself, you likely will not see those wages until years 3-5 as you build up a client base and refine your skills.
8. Start A YouTube Channel
Description: Create your own YouTube channel
How to get started:
You may have aspirations to have the popularity of PewDiePie, who earns about $1,000,000 per month on YouTube off of ad revenue alone.
In February, Alphabet, the holding company for YouTube, disclosed earnings from YouTube ads, and it was a whopping $15.15 billion. That ad revenue is higher than ABC, NBC, and Fox combined.
People watch a lot of YouTube videos, and the earning potential on the platform is limitless for high-quality content creators.
Find Your Niche
First thing’s first, what do you want to talk about?
Logic says to make videos about what you already know about. Often, topics you are aware of you also enjoy!
Here are YouTube’s self-declared categories
- Movies & Shows
If you like a particular sport, it may make sense to make videos about that. If you are a fashionista, you may choose to share your knowledge and opinions about the fashion world.
Rising Above the Noise
Nearly 5 billion videos are watched on YouTube daily with 1.3 billion users. How do you stand out among the crowd and to the right people?
It has been said to be successful on YouTube; one should be consistent and stick to the plan.
Oh, what’s that, you don’t have a plan yet?
Let’s make one.
Here you will need to consider
- Channel name
- Intro & outro
- How many videos will you post per week or month?
- Different series or types of content you will post
Consistency is important. Once your first few subscribers have watched your videos, they now know what you are about and what they can expect. But, on the flip side, keeping viewers engaged with new and different types of content, as well as keeping up with trends in your niche, may lead to long-term success.
Don’t become discouraged
Do not feel poorly about having low production quality in the beginning stages.
Do This: Look at the first few videos of your favorite YouTube content creators. It will look like 1995 quality compared to the videos they produce in the present day!
By continually improving your speaking, video editing, and SEO skills along with learning more about your topic, you can ensure improved quality and thus higher viewership.
When your first video is ready to upload, share it with friends on social media, and watch the views come rolling in.
Camera: Your phone may suffice, but if you are serious about this venture and can afford it, you may want to splurge on a nice camcorder: $150
- Microphone: $99
- Lighting: $80
- Tripod or Gimbal Stabilizer: $70
- Video editing software: Adobe Premiere Elements 2020 is $69.99 on sale
Out of any business on this list, this is one of the hardest to gage.
Simply put, if your content is engaging and well-received, your earnings potential is limitless. You could also have fantastic, high-quality videos, and your SEO sucks, and no one can to find you. Don’t expect to become a millionaire overnight as starting a YouTube channel takes months and years of consistent hard work to become a success.
9. Vending Machine
Description: Owning and operating a Vending Machine
How to get started:
I wrote about a different type of machine as a business idea in my 13 Best Businesses You Can Start with $1,000 article, an ATM.
According to Vendingmarketwatch.com, the vending, micro-market, and office coffee market is a $22 billion industry.
A vending machine is much cheaper to get started as opposed to an ATM, think about how much cheaper the inventory is (an ATM’s inventory is money for those of you scratching your head!)
With companies like Amazon, it’s subsidiary Whole Foods, and others promising food delivery quickly. There is still plenty of room to operate in impulse buys in highly trafficked areas.
There are many types of vending machines:
- Pop / Soda / beverage machines
- Snack vending machine
- Cold food vending machine
- Coffee Vending Machine
- Frozen Food vending machine
- Medicine Vending machine
- Pizza Vending Machine
- Toy vending machine
- Gumball / Candy vending machine
- Game / Claw game vending machine
- Newspaper Vending Machine
There are also weird and wacky vending machines such as gold, cupcakes, crabs, and even used underwear vending machines in our 45 Weird and Wacky Vending Machines that make money.
The vending machine business is all about relationships and location. You will need to find a place that will allow for your machine to be installed so you can be open for business. These places can be retail, offices, schools, colleges, malls, hotels, or wherever there is ample foot traffic.
For the sake of this article, let’s go with the most popular categories; cold beverages and candy/snacks make up around 80% of all vending machine sales.
Vending machines can cost up to $5,000; that won’t work for our $500 budget, so you may have to get strategic (and lucky) as you search for your ideal machine.
Tabletop machines will cost around a couple of hundred dollars: $199.99
You will need to restock the machine every so often with additional inventory.
A vending machine with a great location might make $100 per week in net profit once established.
10. Dog Walking / Watching
Description: Walking dogs, watching, and boarding dogs.
How to get started:
Well, first thing’s first, you kind of have to like dogs.
Next, determine how serious you want to be in this business.
Oftentimes, dog walking is a good starting point, as it takes the least amount of funds and experience.
Like most items on this list, there is a website where you can find clients. The largest and most well-known are Wag.com and Rover.com.
Wag specializes in dog walking mainly, which Rover includes dog-sitting, boarding, and even bathing.
I had the pleasure of interviewing my wife with this business, we both owned and operated Loving Arms Dog House from 2016-2018, then more critical business came calling (kids!)
We loved our dog business and focused on boarding and did occasional sitting.
We focused on DogVacay, which was acquired and merged with Rover in 2017.
It was very lucrative, especially with multiple dogs, even better if it was the same owner, and we loved it. If we can do it, you can too!
Dog Walking may cost you close to $0 depending on what the owner provides, but you should be prepared.
Dog leash: $15
Doggie bags: $15
Dog treats: $15
Also, depending on gas, but that should be reimbursed as part of your hourly rate or service fee.
Dog sitting and boarding can be expensive if your house isn’t dog-proof yet.
Gates & fencing: $50-$300
Dog bags & a pooper scooper: $30
My wife and I charged $38 per night per dog in the Midwest.
This one largely depends on how often you want to work with dogs, and cities with a higher cost of living can charge higher prices.
Dog Walk: $10-$60 depending on the length of the walk
Boarding: $75-$85 per dog
Dog Sitting: $20-$40 per dog
11. Organization Company
Description: Becoming a full-time organization aficionado
How to get started:
Admit it, you watched the entire season 1 of Marie Kondo on Netflix, you folded your clothes with that special way for two weeks, and now you’re back to hocking them in the drawer.
Oh, that was just me…
If you enjoy neatness and are an anti-clutter prince/princess, then this is the business for you.
Professional organizers need to have an eye for making the most out of every space in the home and coupling that with the knowledge of advances decluttering techniques.
Here are areas of the home that organization companies can affect.
- Bedroom closets
- Garage shelving
- Bathroom drawers
- Playroom bookshelves
- Living rooms entertainment centers
- Kitchens cabinets
Being a professional organizer takes a lot of social proof and clout. This means posting before and after pictures and videos on social media, having a swath of raving followers, and positive reviews you can point toward.
A couple of things to consider:
What is your method, and what items will make you special?
Will you focus on helping moms get organized with kids’ clothes and toys?
Will you focus on the often-neglected areas and become a garage or shed organizing expert?
To be an official KonMari Consultant, there is a seven-step process that includes classes, testing, and submitting photos of your tidy home. Then you are eligible to pay the $500 annual fee and be searchable on her website.
You may want to create a business contract to ensure you will be paid in full: $39.99
Shelving and organizer drawers: Not required but it may be helpful to have samples in hand, and you can sell them to clients: $20-$150
A starting organizer can start at $50 per hour up to $200 per hour for an established, organizing expert.
Keep in mind you can meet with clients virtually through FaceTime or Skype to view and critique their stylings. The crème de la crème may even be paid to be flown into the client’s homes in-person.
12. Laundry Service
Description: Start a laundry and ironing service
How to get started:
All industries are being disrupted by the advancements of technology. Luckily, for the foreseeable future, we will all still to wear clean clothing.
There are now robotic machines that fold laundry. Foldimate has not released to the public yet, but it makes the claims five minutes all for $800.
Not everyone will be able to afford the Folidmate, and it doesn’t even wash the clothes.
There are a couple of things to decide before starting your own laundry service business:
- Do you have access to your own washer and dryer, or will you need to go to a laundromat?
- Will you focus on commercial or residential?
- What services will you offer?
Here are some possible services to offer:
- Dry cleaning
- Pick up and delivery for all of the above
Commercial laundry service is expected to reach $40 billion in the next five years. Will you grab a piece of that pie and wash other people’s dirty britches?
This market has lots of competition, and many others can do this task, your business has to be priced right. We highly recommend conducting market research in your local area to see what other businesses are charging.
If you do choose to get into the commercial side of laundry, here are some ideas of businesses that you could service:
- Beauty parlors (hair, nails, etc.)
- Athletic teams
A new set of a washer and dryer would likely be over our $500 budget. However, you might be able to find a used set for under $500, but you will need to have hookups ready in your residence.
Laundry soap: About $0.10 per load.
There are two main ways to run a laundry service business:
- Prices based on weight
- Prices ala carte
Weight-based prices can run around $0.90-$3.00 per pound.
Prices ala carte can run per item or per load.
For instance, dry cleaning may start at $5 per item, whereas a load (including washing and drying) of laundry may run $10.
There are many variables to this business based on if you own the washer and dryer, as opposed to having to go to a laundromat and if you pick up/delivery.
Let’s say you can make $10 per load of laundry, and it costs $4.00 at the laundromat to wash and dry. If you were able to do three loads per day, that would equate to $540 per month! Or, if you don’t need to go to the laundromat, that equates to $900 per month.
You may be able to get your income up with offering pickup and delivery as well!
13. Tutoring Business
Description: Starting a private tutoring business
How to get started:
If you want to become a tutor for something, you need to have extensive knowledge in the area at hand, and so much so, you can teach someone else.
For instance, I could not be a horse instructor, as I am not a subject matter about horses, plus there is the pressure of someone paying you, I would want them to get their money’s worth!
That being said, being a tutor is not for most people, but some may be successful.
To be a successful tutor, you will need these qualities:
- Very good at taking standardized tests.
- A strong inclination on how standardized tests should be studied for
- An ability to explain complex scenarios and topics to those who might not understand
- Plenty of patience
A very popular trend in the world of tutoring is VIPkids.com, teaching foreign children English
There are no licenses required to be a tutor
A college education is one of the most expensive purchases of most people’s lives. That being said, they are willing to pay to get into the right college.
Tutors can expect to make $30-$50 starting out. High-class professional tutors and those that focus on grad school entrance exams may make up to $85 per hour or more.
14. Tour Guide
Description: Becoming a local tour guide or a traveling tour guide
How to get started:
You must first love history, facts, and generally not hate being around people as you will be around them a lot!
Being a tour guide is not on an eternal vacation; it takes hard work and dedication, and it is a highly-competitive field.
There are two main types of tour guides:
- Local Tour Guide
This type of tour guide stays put in one location and is an expert in their area. To be a local tour guide, your city needs to have ample tourist attractions and a high volume of tourists. Think of cities like L.A., New York, Chicago, Paris, Rome, etc.
- Traveling Tour Guide
This type of tour guide travels the globe and guide a group of travelers on tours of multiple locations over many days.
For the sake of this article, let’s suppose you are a traveling tour guide as the local tour guide is self-explanatory.
Things to consider before taking this jump
- This is both a job and a lifestyle
Many jobs on this list are simply that, at the end of the day, you get to sleep in your own bed. As a traveling tour guide, you may miss birthdays, events, celebrations, and events back home while you are out on the road.
- Determine what type of traveling tour guide you want to be.
- Hiking and walking tour guide
- Cruise Tour Guide
- Historic tour guide
- Religious tour guide
- Your level of commitment
Being a tour guide takes extreme commitment, outside of traveling halfway around the world and being away from home on weeks on end. It takes commitment to the acquiring of knowledge. As a tour guide, you know the ins and outs of the destinations and sites, you need to know 110% about every detail. Also, be prepared to answer questions, which means your knowledge needs to extend beyond your rehearsed talking points.
Tour guide training: Often cost well over $1,500, some learning may need to occur online if your budget does not have wiggle room.
Passport Book: $145
Work requirements: Certain counties may require additional licenses and qualifications to collect an income in their domain.
CPR Training: $65
A tour guide can expect to make $12-$18 per hour on average.
This might be $23,000-$38,000 per year if on salary and annualized.
But, imagine traveling the world and seeing places and sights that only most can dream, plus get paid to be there sharing your knowledge with eager fellow sightseers.
Note: In addition to startup costs listed above, be aware of your state’s business registration fees.
Plus, you may need a website, business cards, and other costs that may be considered.
What business interests you the most, and you want to try?
Disclaimer: We selected the majority of these jobs as many of them require limited skill or training, most simply take hard work. Most businesses start by simply conducting the required responsibilities of the selected specialty. In all of the below, the real money and business growth come when you can hire people (employees) to do the work you are doing. This allows for scalability, but it is often difficult to find the right people who have the interpersonal and job-specific acumen that you have built as you grew your business.