Small Business Center

Hit the Jackpot: 15 Business Categories to Get Into for $500 or Less

500 or Less

Will this be the year you start your own business? You don’t need to spend a lot of money to get started. In fact, this feature highlights 15 different small business ideas that you can launch for $500 or less. Even if you have no business experience, you can start your own enterprise this year. There are many free resources to help you start and run your business. If you bookmark, you will have access to a wide variety of assistance from the United States Small Business Administration.

Read how one of the SBA programs helped these entrepreneurs grow their business: In 2003, paintball enthusiasts Judy Wessels and Kenny Docken opened their paintball store, Rocken Paintball. The store carries a large supply of paintball markers and accessories for all the popular markers. Additionally, Judy and Kenny strive to provide the very best in customer service and support to anyone interested in the sport and work hard to promote the fair and safe sport of paintball at all times. 

Both Judy and Kenny have played for several teams over the years. Judy Wessels, known as “Judge” Judy, is certified on the Intimidator and the Dye/Proto series of markers. Kenny Docken, known as “Rocken” Docken, has also played for many teams, and has worked in the industry for more than 10 years and is factory certified on the Autococker, Angel, Intimidator, Spyder, Tippmann, PMI series and the Dye/Proto series of markers. 

Prior to starting the business, Judy attended a business start-up workshop at the Small Business Development Center-North County (SBDC-NC). In addition, the SBDC-NC counselors worked with Wessels to formulate a business plan, conduct an industry analysis, and educated her on financial projections and understanding costs. Wessels also plans on taking a SCORE workshop on marketing in the near future. 

What advice does Judy Wessels offer for other new business owners? She recommends that new business owners create a business plan and get as much education on business ownership as possible. Plans for Rocken Paintball include expansion of the business and possibly opening a paintball field or shooting range. 

The entrepreneurs recommend that you get to know your local resources, too. Looking for small business counseling and training close to home? The SBA provides small business counseling and training through a variety of programs and resource partners across the country. Check out the resources below to determine which resource best suits your needs. 

SBA District Offices

SBA operates full-service district offices in every state. Counseling, training and business development specialists at your local office are available to help you start and grow your business. Chances are good that there’s a district office in your area. 

Small Business Development Centers (SBDCs)

SBDCs provide management assistance to current and prospective small business owners. SBDCs offer one-stop assistance to individuals and small businesses by providing a wide variety of information and guidance in central and easily accessible branch locations. The program is a cooperative effort of the private sector; the educational community; and federal, state and local governments. It is an integral component of Entrepreneurial Development’s network of training and counseling services. 


SCORE, “Counselors to America’s Small Business,” is a resource partner of the SBA dedicated to entrepreneur education and the formation, growth and success of small businesses nationwide. There are more than 12,400 SCORE volunteers in 364 chapters operating in more than 800 locations who assist small businesses with business counseling and training. SCORE also operates an active online counseling initiative at 

Women’s Business Centers (WBCs)

Women’s Business Centers represent a national network of nearly 100 educational centers designed to help women start and grow small businesses. WBCs operate with the mission to “even the playing field” for female entrepreneurs, who still face unique obstacles in the world of business. 

To find all of the sites related to free SBA resources, visit 

15 industries you can get into for $500 or less:

Flea Market — Real and Virtual: Everyone loves to roam around flea markets to find fun little items or hard–to-locate collectibles. Flea markets — both real and virtual — are popular in any economy. It is implied that shoppers will get a bargain, whether they are visiting the local street fair or flea market in their own town, or surfing the Web at bargain sites to scan merchandise. 

You can become a flea market entrepreneur. All you need is a good product to sell — or a line of good products to sell — and a wholesale supplier and you are ready to go. One such supplier is Kaeser & Blair Inc. You can get started selling its products on a part-time or full-time basis. You only need $85 to get started. Visit for information. 

 You can specialize in a product such as the Solar Sunglasses. Its website is Its startup package is $300. 

Another site that offers goods you can sell is Its startup package is about $299. Another website from which you can purchase items to sell is Its startup is $199. 

Sell at your local market or start a website. Visit to learn how you can easily add a PayPal button to your website checkout. This will enable you to sell more goods to your customers without waiting for checks or money orders to come in if you don’t have merchant status with a credit card company. Any products you can sell at a flea market or street fair can easily be sold via mail order, too. All you need is an ad to draw in customers. 

PowerSellers on eBay — and there are thousands of them — generate sales that total $150,000 and more per month. You can start small, on a part-time basis, and with the right products to sell, you can join the ranks of these super sellers. 

Move-In Service: How many times have you or someone you know moved into an apartment to find the refrigerator in need of cleaning, the stove quite unkempt, the bathroom grout full of mildew, the walls in need of a paint job, etc. Well, you can make some money by starting a move-in service. 

You get everything ready for the folks before they move in. It is well worth the $250 to $1,000 you’ll be charging for them to move into a clean environment. Many individuals (especially single parents) simply don’t have the time to get all this work done. They would gladly pay someone to take care of the cleaning and shaping-up of their new digs. This service could also be marketed to people who buy a new home. The windows will have to cleaned, the tile washed, the floors vacuumed, etc. You can make additional money by offering to handle the “waiting game” for the cable installer, phone company, etc. 

Kid Biz: Making money in the children’s area might be very easy if you live in the right neighborhood. There are many types of businesses you can launch that are kid-oriented. 

Many can be launched with $500 or less. Party businesses are fun, and the only experience required is that you’ve thrown a few parties for kids in the past and know what they entail: a theme, invitations, balloons and decorations, food, and entertainment. You can provide a “Party in a Box” to your clients from several different characters or motifs. 

Coaching kids is another possibility — in sports or any other activity that they need extra help with to better their game or studies. Busy parents will pay an expert to assist their children. If you have an expertise in any field, use it to launch your business. Tutoring is another opportunity. 

If you have a van or large SUV, consider a Kid Taxi enterprise. Basically, you will transport kids from one event to the next, a mainstay for busy parents who can’t get the kids everywhere on a given Saturday. You will need to be bonded and will also need to beef up your liability coverage on your auto insurance. Get letters of recommendation from people in the community who have used your service or can vouch for your fine character. It will add credibility to your new business and make parents feel safe. 

If you have artistic talent, consider starting a business doing portraits of children. You can have them pose or work from a photograph. This would be a nice business to start as a part-time venture and see if you can grow it into a full-time enterprise. 

Survey your community and see what types of businesses are available for children. What is lacking? Fill in the blanks to fulfill a need in your marketplace and you will be on your way. There are many more businesses to consider in the Kid Arena, such as inflatable rental, but they require more than the $500 startup fee focused on in this feature. If you can spend more to start, visit our website at: and review our Business Opportunity resources for more ideas. 

Cyber PR: If you worked in a corporate environment and were let go from your job because of the recession, consider doing something that you did in the corporate world on your own. Did you work for a public relations agency? Then start your own Cyber PR business. Your clients will be local executives who want to publicize their names and projects, rock bands, entrepreneurs who have new products and services to introduce, the local retailers, etc. 

All you need to start this business is a cell phone and a computer. You’ll charge a monthly fee with perhaps a three-month minimum to provide your clients with the names of appropriate media outlets and websites that might be interested in featuring them. You’ll help your clients create a “Video Press Kit” that you’ll host online at your website. Clients send it out to the media with a letter that they create customized to each media outlet, website or blog. 

You can sell additional services such as Insurance Inventory (where you compile photo/video and written records of their items for insurance purchases) and other services as you go along. To help you learn how to start an Insurance Inventory business, visit and to get started. 

Services for the Elderly: Senior citizens need help and there are plenty of them who will pay to get someone to assist them with a variety of tasks. We’ve been hearing about “the graying of America” for years and it is here. In the next few years, there will be 75 million senior citizens in the United States. They all need some type of help and assistance; you can start a small business catering to these needs. 

Your Elder Services business will perform chores ranging from picking up prescriptions and doing the food shopping, to lifting heavy furniture, moving items and taking pets to the veterinarian for their checkups and appointments. You can add just about any other service you think senior citizens might need you to perform. Picking up items at the department store, assembling furniture, and doing chores around the house such as power washing the shed or cleaning out the garage. You can also offer to hold a garage sale for the individual. You keep a percentage of everything sold. 

You could contact local senior citizen centers and offer to teach “how to send email” or any other technical wizardry they would want to learn. You could also contact assisted-living housing communities and see if you can come by and perform on the piano on Friday nights or offer to set up a croquet game in the main quad. 

Make a list of all the services you could offer to individual seniors who live alone and to seniors who live in a group living situation. Figure out what to charge based on what your market will bear. If there is a large enough population in your community to support an Elder Services business, you can start printing up your brochure of offerings on your computer and start mailing it and distributing it to your client base. If you are going to be in the individual’s home, look into beefing up your liability insurance and perhaps getting bonded. Talk to your insurance agent and get their input. 

Web Enterprises: You can turn your home PC or Mac into a moneymaking cash machine. Start a website and sell a product, or write web material for others. You can research Affiliate Programs, add a link to your website and every time a visitor clicks on the ad you make some money. You’ll make even more if the visitor actually goes on to make a purchase. 

Google AdSense is designed for bloggers. Google will sell ads on your blog that relate to the topics you are covering. Every time a visitor clicks on the ad you have the potential to make money. Consider starting blogs for small business owners in your community. They need someone to set it up and provide the content. 

You can teach a Web or Internet class at a local senior citizens center. You can start a mailing list service for local businesses. Publish an e-zine on a topic you are passionate about. Sell ads. Start an online community bulletin board and sell ads to local merchants who want to get noticed. The possibilities are endless. Make a list of things you enjoy doing and then figure out how you can start a website or blog and get paid to follow your passion every day. If you build it, they will come! 

Temporary Tattoos: A temporary tattoo artist set up a small kiosk on a cruise ship and proceed to rack in the cash for the next four hours charging anywhere from $8 to $20 for a temporary tattoo. You can do it, too, with help from They have a program that is under $500 to help you get started with your own temporary tattoo business. Their website is full of testimonials from entrepreneurs who make anywhere from $400 to $7,000 a day with this business! 

Crafts: You can turn your hobby into a big moneymaker! Do you love putting together jewelry or some other made-by-hand item? Consider turning it into a small business. It has never been easier to take your crafts and turn them into profit, thanks to websites like  

In addition to selling the items you make at these popular sites, you can sell them on consignment at local stores, and sell at flea markets, street fairs and other local venues. 

You can also make money teaching your craft, whether it is sewing, crocheting, knitting, dried wreath making or creating tables from mosaics. 

Don’t rule out going to trade shows in the Gift and Novelty industry either. Do a Google search and locate upcoming shows in your area, or travel to a national show. One entrepreneur put a fun, cheap clock in a hole cut out in a briefcase. He took several of his fun briefcases to a gift show and, using the prototypes, collected checks totaling $12,000 for the briefcases in a two-day period. He used the money made at the show to purchase the raw materials he needed and hired high school students to help him assemble the cases after school to fulfill the orders. You can do something like this, too! 

Aquarium Maintenance: Tropical fish are a big market. It has been determined that they help reduce stress and are just plain fun to look at. This is an easy business to start and run especially if you already have fish as pets in your home. If you don’t, you can still learn how to care for them and turn this hobby into a lucrative business. Your clients will be homeowners and business owners, too. Think of how soothing it would be for a doctor’s waiting room to have a fish tank. You can sell the products to a wide variety of businesses and then generate additional income by servicing the tanks on a weekly basis. 

You should have a minimum fee for cleaning the tanks. You could charge $1 or $2 per gallon. So, a 30-gallon tank to clean would range from $30 to $60; see what your market will bear. It is a good idea to limit the area that you will service so you won’t be spending a lot of time driving to and from clients. If you can land a couple of industrial/corporate parks with multiple clients in each one, and service each center on a different day, you will be making a nice profit without traveling too much. 

A local fish store will make sure you have everything you need to start. Bleach and a filter brush, rubber gloves and algae scraper pads, and more. Your startup will be less than $500. 

You can visit to learn more about fish and cleaning fish tanks. Once you establish a client base, you can hire others to do the actual maintenance and concentrate on selling other services such as fish food, tanks, new filters, decorations and more. 

To promote this business, prepare a simple flier with your name, number, service offerings and your website if you have one. If not, consider making one, as it is an essential marketing tool of any small business in 2012. Advertise in the local newspaper and ask pet stores and veterinarians if you can leave your business cards or fliers in their public areas. 

Personalized Products: Everyone loves to see his or her name or company logo, the date of a cherished anniversary or the name of a boat or pet on a coffee mug, pillow, cap or throw. These are perfect items to sell to your family and friends and expand to kiosk setups at the local mall or tabletop setups at the local flea market. Start a website and sell them via mail order as well. 

You can start a business providing personalized products to your clients. You can do a Google search to find companies that can help you get started. Here are a few you can contact to learn more about their products and offerings: has a system that will help you create wrappers for candy bars, water bottles, wine bottles and a wide variety of other products. The startup ranges from $99 to $495. Visit the site to learn more on how you can offer these fun products to companies, wedding planners, sports groups, community clubs, reunion attendees and much more. can help you establish your own personalized-products business for about $249. Visit their website to see how you can get started right away. sells fun drawings, key chains and more that you can merchandise to your clients. Perfect for parties and events, too. The startup fee is $495. 

Cleaning Services: In any economy, cleaning services seem to do well. Clients including franchises, business owners and homeowners all need help. You can start one type of cleaning service — such as a maid service — or combine a variety of cleaning businesses and hire workers as you need them to complete the tasks. 

A company that offers a business opportunity for $199 can be found at The business owner says one can make as much as $60,000 a year working part-time with a cleaning business. They provide you with the knowhow to get started. 

You can also add on cleaning services such as gutter cleaning, window washing, graffiti removal, and the cleaning of blinds, carpets and drapes. Check out the business opportunity resource guide on at where you can research various companies that offer packages to help you get started with these businesses. 

Research your marketplace and see what type of competition is out there. Could your community support another residential cleaning service? sells a business opportunity package for $249 that will teach you how to make money cleaning out foreclosed homes, apartments and other properties for banks, realtors, investors and so forth. Check it out. is a $199 package that will help you establish your very own cleaning business. Small businesses in your area are potential clients, too. Consider the local dentist, accountant and attorney’s offices. They need their windows cleaned and bathrooms maintained and might not have the staff to see to these necessary chores. Determine what your market will bear, print up a brochure on your service offerings and start distributing them to your potential client base. Start today and earn a six-figure income this year. 

Is there a need for a parking-lot cleaning business in your area? There are small businesses that make $100,000 a year and more cleaning parking lots for strip malls and other business locations. Go online and do a Google search on cleaning businesses and see what other resources you can find. 

Sports-Related Biz: There are so many different types of sports-related businesses you can start and you don’t need a fortune. Use your imagination as you analyze your community. What sports are popular? Are there corporate teams? Community ball fields? Indoor sports such as bowling? What can you sell to this population? 

If you have a lot of teams in your community, you can sell customized sports merchandise. Visit websites such as and and you’ll learn how you can provide uniforms, plaques, bags, hats, etc., to local teams and organizations. You can start these businesses for less than $500. Contact the companies to learn more about their business opportunity programs. You don’t need a store to run this type of business, either; you can work from your home. 

You can pick up a video camera for less than $200 and take HD video of golfers, tennis players, etc., and show them their swings, stance and more. You can offer this service at local clubs and schools. It is so easy to take your digital video and download it to a DVD to mail or drop off to your clients. 

Another way to get into sports is to sell a specific product that athletes need. You can purchase the item at wholesale prices and then sell to your customers for a profit. Sell at the games, sell online, sell from the trunk of your car or set up a stand. Sell, for example, sunglasses. You can purchase 12 dozen glasses and a free display for $300 from They have something for every interest and taste and include sports-oriented sunglasses in their inventory. In addition to sunglasses, you could also order reading glasses, handbags, hats, scarves, clips-ons, cases, cords, goggles and gloves from It’s a fun business and something you can try on weekends at this low investment opportunity. 

If you have an attraction to sports, consider starting a business that revolves around your interest or passion. What a motivating force to pursue something you love. 

Pet Sitting: Pet sitting is as simple as it sounds: You take care of pets while their owners are away on business or vacation. Some pet sitters make more by taking in mail, watering plants and even waiting for the cable guy to come. You can charge by the visit and that translates to $10–$30 for a 20-minute to 30-minute visit. You may or may not have to actually take a pet outside and walk them. Some pets stay inside and you will simply refresh their food, clean up and give them some companionship. Some pet owners will want you to make two visits a day, so if they are right on your block that could mean $50 for walking next door twice a day. 

If you think one can’t make a six-figure income with a pet-sitting business, think again. According to a recent survey by the Pet Sitters International association, annual incomes for pet sitters range from $15,000 to more than $125,000. Those making six figures usually have help and work in teams to maximize profits. 

Because you will be in homes, it is a good idea to look into bonding and liability insurance. It costs about $200–350 a year. If something breaks in the home, you will have insurance to cover it. 

It is a good idea to visit the home where you will be pet sitting before you accept the gig. Make sure it is an environment that is safe and clean for you and the pet. Also, make sure you understand what types of pets are involved. You might want to specify that you specialize in dogs and cats if you are unwilling to care for a snake or reptile. 

Prepare fliers, brochures and business cards and distribute them at vets’ offices, pet stores and apartment complexes. A local ad is a good idea, too. Set up a simple home page on a website to give your business a current image. This will all cost much less than $500 to launch. 

Here are some resources for your pet-sitting enterprise:,, (to learn about small dogs). 

The legal how-to website, has a Pet Care Agreement form that you can purchase and use in your small business. It is also an excellent site for any entrepreneur. 

Landscape Services: You might have the glimmer of a green thumb. You might have worked indoors for years at a job that kept you hostage in a cubicle and you longed to break out and spend your days in the great outdoors. Maybe you are now out of work and this is the perfect time to take your interest in backyard landscaping, and love of nature and being outside, and turn it into a lucrative small business of your own. 

Landscape services can include anything from lawn cutting, leaf raking, fertilizing, aerating lawns, weed pulling, flower-garden maintenance, herb-garden planting and perennial plantings, to providing wood in the fall and winter for your clients’ wood-burning stoves and fireplaces to snow removal. The idea of providing landscape services is to maximize your earning potential all year long in any season. Another service to offer in the fall-winter season is holiday decorating and dried flower wreaths. Water gardens are another option. 

If you have a garden, photograph it and use it to get other jobs. If you don’t, brush up on local nonprofits in your area and/or senior citizen centers, community group headquarters, etc. Offer to plant a small garden at no cost, or at no labor cost if the group is willing to pay the out-of-pocket expenses for plants, mulch, etc. You will gain so much positive word-of-mouth publicity for what you’ve done that you will be on your way to establishing a strong client base. 

Research other landscape/lawn mowing companies in town and see what they charge. Offer discounts to first-time clients to see if you can get their business. Some flower-garden planters charge anywhere from $25 to $50 an hour. Leaf removal is $400 to $600 for a small yard. Advertise in your local newspaper and print up an easy-to-read flier to leave at local garden centers. Many homeowners love to plant annuals, etc. but they don’t have the time to weed them and care for their other landscape needs. 

If you have the space, you might want to plant perennials in your own nursery and use these in your customers’ yards. Don’t forget commercial clients, too. The dentist’s office down the block would benefit from having a nice flower walkway that leads from the parking lot to the main entrance. 

Use your imagination to start your landscape services business and the sky is the limit. You’ll need basic gardening tools to get started and a flier. You can do this for less than $500. You can go online and research startup kits. sells a business opportunity package for $99, and has a downloadable package for less than $50. 

Your Dream Business: This could be the year you start your dream business. Maybe you’ve had the idea for a long time but didn’t know how to start. Perhaps you didn’t have the time because you worked long hours in a job you didn’t really care about and now you are out of work. Perfect timing? All you need to do is to commit to starting your own dream enterprise. 

Make a list of all the questions you have about starting this business. Go online, read, research, talk to others in the field and learn the answer to every question you have. This will build your confidence as you prepare to launch. You can also use the Q&A as a template for your business plan. Where do you want to go with this business in six months? In two years? 

If you don’t have a business selected, make a list of all the things you love to do and really enjoy. In another column make a list of all of your skills, talents and experience. Where the two columns intersect could possibly be the answer to your dream biz. 

For example, say you love golf. And, in the second column you say you are good at and experienced at putting together sales meetings and conferences. Your dream business might be as an organizer for sports companies at trade shows, or an entrepreneur who works to set up speakers for sports merchandising shows. 

Another example might be your love of gardening. And column two specifies that you are a great detailed worker. Consider starting a perennial garden-design company. Or, you love biking. Start a business selling bike accessories or booking bike tours to eco-friendly destinations. The possibilities are endless. 

When Small Business Opportunities launched its family of small business magazines 22 years ago, Ben and Jerry, the ice cream legends, were their first big interview. SBO asked them the single most important pieces of advice they could give first-time entrepreneurs, and they gave two great pieces of insight: No. 1, don’t be dismayed by the naysayers who will be jealous of you as you embark on your dream journey. Friends and family might say they are looking out for your best interests, but they want to distract you from the small business prize because they are jealous of what you are doing. The second piece of advice is start, and just start working on your dream business. Whether you work out of your car or van, a spare room, the garage, a small desk that is also your kitchen table, just start. Once you get into working on it, you will enjoy it, and as you enjoy it, you will work harder at making the business a success. Make 2012 the year you become your own boss!  

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Find True North When Biz Goes South
Stay in Touch with Mobile Strategies
Explore a "Business Opportunity"
Go with the (Cash) Flow
Train for a Tough Economy
Got $500 or Less? You’re on Your Way
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