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The Case for the $100 Business

The Case for the $100 Business

100-dollar-business

I’m working on this concept for a longer project, but for now, here’s the basic principle:

Just as you don’t need someone else’s permission to be happy, you also don’t need a lot of money to start a business.

In fact, to start a very small business, you don’t need any number of things that are frequently thought of as prerequisites or first steps:

  • Venture capital
  • Other outside investors (no need to beg family members for money)
  • Employees or outsourced contractors
  • A 50-page business plan (or any business plan at all)
  • An MBA (or any formal business education)
  • Credit card debt
  • Business cards or office supplies
  • A complicated legal structure
  • Costly memberships in trade associations or networking groups
  • A physical office

To be more precise, I think most small businesses can be started for less than $1,000, and many of them for $100 or less. I know this in part because I’ve done it several times, but I also know countless other people who’ve had the same results.

I understand why someone might object to the $100 business model, but I want to emphasize the fact that there are always alternatives. If you really do need a physical office, can you use a shared one? Look on Craigslist or check out a service like ActivSpace.

Do you just need an address? Get a mailbox. If it’s important for you to go to networking events, then do so.

But really, a lot of these things are unimportant to what most small businesses actually do. You don’t need most, if any, of the things on the list. Here’s the one, absolutely critical thing that you definitely need to have:

You need something to sell that other people want to buy.

That’s it. Perhaps this is rudimentary, but a lot of aspiring entrepreneurs get hung up on very basic things. (They have great ideas, but get stuck in the all-important first steps.) Let’s break down this simple idea further:

STEP ONE: You need something to sell. Don’t wait too long! Better to fail early, if necessary, than to spend years perfecting something no one wants to buy.

STEP TWO: You need customers who are willing to buy. I hear a lot of business ideas, and I never want to discourage an aspiring entrepreneur. However, I do think it’s fair to take a hard look at the product or service idea and clearly identify the market of buyers. Some of the ideas I’ve heard recently include a memoir of a trip across the country, a new kind of poetry, and an alternative search engine.

All of these things may very well be interesting and worthwhile. I’m not judging their value as art or meaningful experiences; I’m just asking, who will pay money for them? That is the key question that any new business venture has to clearly answer.

Cash flow is the lifeblood of a business, and first and foremost, the business must be profitable. That’s just how it works. This does not mean you have to sell out and start busking in the subway (most buskers don’t make that great of a living) or become a spammer– it just means that you need to find the sweet spot between what you love to do and what people are willing to pay for.

Free Ideas on $100 Startups

Every business I’ve started (five so far) has cost me less than $1,000 in startup expenses, and before I had spent the first $100 I knew it would be at least a partial success. I know I’m not alone, so this morning I used Twitter to ask, “What kind of business can you start for $100 or less?” As expected, I received a broad range of responses.

The largest group of responses had to do with setting up a web site (less than $10 for a domain name and $10 a month for hosting) and either creating an information product or offering some kind of consulting service. This would be my vote too– you can’t beat the price– but I know that some people struggle with this option and feel like they don’t know where to start.

The second largest group of responses had to do with buying and selling things through various online outlets like Craigslist, eBay, and etsy. This is an easy, low-cost, set-it-up-in-a-day idea. If I had no money and needed to make at least $20-30 an hour for 30 hours a week, I know I could do this and be just fine. I wouldn’t want to do it because I’m focused on other things right now, but I know it is entirely possible at least in the U.S. and Canada.

In addition to numerous comments about those two strategies, I also heard these ideas earlier today:

  • I started a print magazine w/ $68 on a PO box & business cards. (@peterselsays)
  • You can start your own Pampered Chef business for as little as $65US. (@mllethibeault)
  • Bowling league. Partner with local bowling alley, promise to bring in large numbers of people. Be different, fun, market. (@calebhicks)
  • I would spend the money buying coffee for prospects while meeting with them to see where I could help them. (@brodybond)
  • Small batch specialty food production to sell at farmer’s markets.(@kchrist)
  • I once ran a biz making purses out of album covers. took about $50 to get it started + legwork to get stores to sell them (@madgeylou)
  • Build and sell cigarbox guitars. It’s about $10 in parts (or less), most already have the tools, a couple hours to build. (@weareeverywhere)
  • Lots of craft enterprises (online or craft fairs) can be started for under $100. Screenprinting cards, recycled jewelry. (@anniesmidt)
  • domain & hosting for a year (under 60). WordPress (free) for content. Internet presence alone can create a business. (@gabrielnovo)
  • You could feed yourself for a month with pasta, while working on your idea! (@alextoussaint)
  • Posting a profile on guru, elance or odesk and offering design/coding services (@ericmueller)

Finally, a few other questionable suggestions included window-washing, starting a BBQ stand, buying $100 of lottery tickets, becoming a professional assassin (I’m not sure what the startup costs for that one are), and becoming a squeegee man.

Side Note: I love crowdsourcing on Twitter. The other day I asked for personal finance quotes, and I got a range of responses from sources including Ayn Rand, the Bible, and Pink Floyd. You guys are awesome! I love that.

Big thanks to everyone who wrote in this morning. Here I am if we haven’t connected yet.

Important Note on Not Complaining

It’s very easy to look at some of the suggestions, or the $100 business idea in principle, and think about all kinds of reasons why something wouldn’t work. I’ve probably heard most of the objections, and so have all the other people who found a way to make it work for them.

My response is: don’t rain on the parade! It’s just $100. It’s an idea. Come up with a better one if you don’t like any of the above.

Also, just as I said the last time I wrote about things you don’t need, I don’t mean to imply that money to invest in your ideas is unhelpful; I’m just saying that you don’t need it. When it comes to some small businesses, more money really does equal more problems.

You might see it differently, and that’s okay. Feel free to share your responses and other $100 business ideas if you’d like.

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70 Comments

  • Charlotte says:

    Fantastic post, Chris. It’s gotten me off my hiney tonight and out there Doing The Thing (which happens to be writing a blog post – but hopefully this will inspire people to go for something slightly bigger in their own lives).

    So far it’s taken me a grand total of $84.63 to start my own business – linked above. I made that back the first day, so even if I “fail” tomorrow, I’m still in the black financially.

    I wanted to point out one thing, though. Sure, people who start a business might lose that $100. Or $1000. But think of it this way: you’re paying good money for even better experience. For the chance to do better next time, and move yourself closer to doing what you really want to do. The experience and skills you gain from starting your own business (even if it goes under, as a previous venture of mine did) is worth at least 10x whatever you spend on actually starting the thing.

    There really is no downside.

  • Corbett Barr says:

    Hey Chris. This is a topic I’m very interested in myself. I think it’s also a useful exercise for aspiring entrepreneurs to try to start a business for $100 that makes a profit right away. Too many people get caught in “analysis paralysis” when they think about starting a business. The $100 business is great practice to get past that.

    It’s also quite possible to start a business with serious potential on $100. I recently created a subscription-based Spanish learning service for about $200 and a few weeks’ worth of work. It was cash-flow positive from the day it launched, and it requires very little effort to maintain.

  • I definitely agree that low overheads are the best way to go to build up a business. I think if you can come up with a business idea that you can start on the smell of an oily rag then you are on to a winner. It removes the stress and pressure of borrowing money and allows the business to grow slowly and naturally.

    My husband and I set up website design business in New Zealand working from home. I started doing cold calls and was literally stammering and stuttering down the phone at people for the first few months until I got into the swing of it.

    Our business started slowly – getting the first job is always hardest. But after that we got more work and once we had done a few good jobs the power of word of mouth recommendations helped our business become successful – as well as a top Google ranking a few years down the line.

    I think $100 is a bit low. I recommend a professional logo, business card and website to most people. I think you can definitely get all these things in place for under $1000 and allow your small, home-based, one man or woman business compete with much bigger rivals. There’s no reason why you can’t – we did!

    Good luck everyone:)

  • Moom says:

    Isn’t coming up with the idea, working out whether someone will buy it, and working out how to do it, reach people etc. some kind of a business plan? :) I think that’s the one thing you really need.

  • Chris says:

    Hey guys, thanks so much for your comments. I have no doubt that your input will add at least as much value as the original post. Keep it coming.

    @Moom,

    Yes, true — just keep in mind that all of that info could fit on one page, whereas most business plans in the traditional format go on for dozens of pages.

  • RicNunez says:

    Funny, I’m writing an article for my blog about almost the same thing, although my main concept was “How to start a business with less than $1000″

    Anyway, great article. Keep the good work.

  • Chris,
    I love this premise. Lots of time people think it is so expensive to start a business and in reality they can do it for so little. I don’t like your word choice for step one, although I do like the way you use it in your article. My main fear is that people will be scared off by the word selling. In reality, you need something that people will be willing to pay for, you may not have to do any actually “selling”.

    The idea of a website with lots of information is a great example. If you do it well people will pay for advertising etc. Of course that means you have readers and web visitors and the exposure to those people is what you are selling – your article explains that well. I just don’t think the word “sells” is the best choice today.

  • Roxanne says:

    Love this post. It feels like, to me, you’ve made this more credible by writing about it like you did here. I’ve believed for awhile, that the guts of any business is the purpose, the concept, the saleability of product. Getting a line of credit and acquiring fancy office supplies does not seem, to me, to serve those ends.

  • Think of it this way: you’ve WASTED more money on what this business is going to cost you in an afternoon at Nordstrom. Or wherever. That’s what I thought to myself when we bought into our travel biz opp. People always say they don’t have money to do stuff. I’ve even had people say, “Well, buying/starting a business could jeopardize my unemployment, so I can’t do that.” Uhhhh. That would be the idea. Don’t get me started!

  • Amy Mennot says:

    “A new kind of poetry”? Pray tell, could that be a “yaiku”? : )

  • Tyler says:

    If I had $1000 to start a business I think I would start 10 $100 businesses!

    I’ve started a few (very) small businesses on $10 (yes $10) and have found that for my sporadic and ADD style, operating a few different tiny businesses is more fun (maybe more work, hard to say) than putting all my eggs in one basket.

  • I with Betsy. Good way to use money. Some people may view starting a business as a gamble. Well, if it is, it has the best odds of you winning because so much of the outcome is up to you and not just chance.

  • Dan says:

    I look forward to reading more once this turns into the bigger project you mentioned. I’ve tried to wrap my head around the idea of starting a business with investment partners, business plans, etc., and my brain just does not function in that way, no matter how many books I read about it.

    Thanks for a great posting. Just the thing to give me that little extra boost. You’re like the coach saying, “One more pushup. You can do it.”

  • Dey Irfan says:

    woah, nice post. I’m fired up already

    I better start saving money from now on then.

  • I love this concept, and I’ve done it! I’m in the process of launching a freelance writing agency, and the grand total so far is as follows:
    Domain name: $10
    Hosting: $free (subdomain!)
    Business cards: $50 (and they look awesome!)
    Wordpress professional theme:$25
    Monthly subscription to writers job site: $10
    Business Name registration:$80
    (I’m a bit over $100 but the business name registration was optional – I could trade under my own name without one.)

    More than money, a business launch takes time. Something I’d love to buy some more of!

  • lingvoj says:

    Great! Time’s more important, I started a business with $0.

  • I am a 45 year old man with a full time job, and as a hobby, I like running my own side gigs. I, too, have started several home businesses with low cost including a seminar service and a direct shipping business. But do you want to know what’s made the best money for the buck for me so far?

    Avon! Silly as it seems, I started working as an Avon Rep 4 months ago with a $10 start up fee. For that $10, I got books, samples, order forms and TONS of online training and plenty of support. In the past 4 months, I have become the #48 top seller out of 700+ Cleveland area representatives. My pay out from Avon has consistently more than paid for my new Kia Soul payments. To me, this little part time job is making my car payments (and then some) and that’s not bad.

    There’s a movie in the works starring Hugh Jackman called “The Avon Man” that I’m sure will only help my business.

    Avon is doing a big ‘recruiting push’ right now in an attempt to find more representatives. If you’re interested in investing $10 to start your own Avon business, feel free to contact me. That $10 gets you all of your start up material, online training, and unlimited phone and computer support from me.

  • Dan says:

    In my opinion, many of those $100 businesses are hard to scale upward to the point where you’re actually “breaking out of the 9-5.” They’re often sweat-equity type ventures, so more success means more work for you.

    I’d like to suggest that a $100 business is simply a great way to build a foundation for a $1000 business. Build the $100 business to learn about the market, get your foot in the door, make a little money, and – perhaps most importantly – to see where the bigger opportunities are.

    Then once your $100 business is successful and you’ve made a little cash, start a $1000 business in the same market. At that point it’s not as much of a risk, and you can formulate your $1000 business to be less about “sweat-equity” so you don’t work yourself to an early grave.

  • Kevin M says:

    But isn’t the hardest part usually finding the idea? I’d be more than happy to start a $100 or even a $1000 business if I had a decent idea.

  • Trenia says:

    Wow, Chris.Thanks so much for this post. My business has been start and stop for the past couple of years because I made things too complicated. And I worried myself to death about how to just get things started and not having enough information to get going, but you’ve just made things quite simple and clear.

  • I, too, enjoyed the post, along with many others of yours on this site. Thank you for your contribution!

    One thing that would help me grow further would be a post and discussion on what resources people are using to help determine if someone will pay for a product. I could certainly use more background on this. I will get a million ideas a minute running through my head, then will jot ideas down, consult the pillow and if it keeps popping back up, then I start investigating further.

    But where do you, Chris, and anyone else wanting to chip in here, generally tend to look and to analyze if they have a winner? A top 10 resources list would be great on this, at least for me. I have conducted market research by conducting industry surveys, sought feedback from others, talked with members of target market, etc. Any other primary tools or places people go to in the idea searching/evaluating phase of finding a product people will pay for?

    Thanks!

  • Wow. I just wrote a similar post on this topic (though I did mention angel investors as an option and didn’t set a price limit of $100). I really encourage my clients to avoid credit cards like the plague when starting off. Do whatever else it takes before getting loans and going into debt. Many SBO’s manage their business finances like their personal ones-poorly!

    Great ideas. As a serial entrepreneur, many are tickling my brain. Thanks!

  • Frank Caruso says:

    The one thing you should emphasizes is that it would be best to start it out on a part time bases and as it grows move into into it full time. The failure of many businesses is the lack of re-investment into a growing business. That means investing in possibly raw materials, inventory in larger volumes in increase margins and promotion, may it be brochures or advertising. The starting is easy as you said, It’s the growing of a business that’s hard.

  • Carl says:

    Analysis paralysis is definitely the killer of most aspiring entrepreneurs and people looking to start a small business or side income.

    Really it comes down to like you said 1) having something to sell and 2) having people to buy it from you.

    Getting caught in the larger issues of nitty-gritty business planning, marketing, etc. is just going to slow you down from the start. The hardest part is determining 1 & 2 above, and then actually following through on it.

  • Randa says:

    I’ve recently offered to clean a friend’s home… no offense, but we all knew that they needed it. Cleaning products from my home and a fresh vacuum bag ($3.45), and I came home with $50 for 4 hours work. They insisted on paying more… but they were friends and i actually refused the money but said I would come back every week to keep it in shape. not bad!

    Then I thought, if I have tea with a few more friends and offered a similar deal, I could book myself full time, have enough to hire a part time helper then eventually pay for a license, advertising, and staff! Eventually I’ll not have to scrub a single toilet not even my own!

    Nice dream really, I’m still struggling to make ends meet with my multi thousand dollar home-business… a dream come true!

  • Loved your post here Chris! I started my first business in 2003 for well under $500 and it’s still around today. Bootstrapping is the only way to go when starting a business in my opinion. It keeps you super-focused, forcing you to concentrate on most crucial areas needed for survival. Thanks again for a great post.

  • Laura Roeder says:

    When I started my design business I didn’t buy ANYTHING until I needed it, and while it can lead to some last-minute craziness I think most people would be very surprised by how much they don’t need.

    For example, I ended up not needing checks until I had been in business for about 9 months! I had been paying everyone online. So when someone needed to be paid by check, I got checks.

    When I finalized my first print project I bought pantone swatch books, but not before. The first time someone needed me to send them a fax, I bought online fax service.

    There are many things that I never ended up needing – letterhead, a file cabinet, pencils, calendar software . . . the list could go on and on. These things may seem small but people will spend hundreds or thousands on junk like this to set up their business that they just don’t need.

  • Pratt says:

    Great post. Quick read with lots of information.

  • Matt says:

    Great, I started a business almost 2 years ago with about $1,000. I was unemployed and waiting for a job to start and I thought about how everyone always talks about how they don’t have enough time to do things. I had plenty of time! I financed it with a 0% credit card balance transfer offer and quickly made the money back.

    I’ve made plenty of mistakes in the business, lost money and made money. But that’s the reason I started it. I recently launched a new business and focused on not making the mistakes I made before. This one cost $700 (I bought a custom WP theme) I don’t know how to design websites(although I’m learning.)

    I think it’s also important to point out that you shouldn’t focus so much on how little you can start a business for. Some things are worth paying more for. For example, web design is not something that I know how to do. I could, but it would look like a free Tripod website circa 1995. It is worth it for me to pay a professional to design a site for me.

  • Great Post, Chris

    Over the years I have started a few businesses under $100, some of them became very profitable too.

    About 20 years ago, my wife and I took all the wedding gifts that we had stored in the closet that we had no use for, and sold them at a flea market. Took that money and reinvested into other items, and before we knew it, we had a Dollar store, long before they became popular.

    Then we became an Avon Couple, and I a Tupperware Man. Avon made money, Tupperware didn’t.

    Currently, I am working part-time in my own Balloon Art business, which I started with less $50 and earned over 20K in 2008. Now I am teaching others how to do it. The teaching biz cost $10 to start, first class on 9/28

    Rasheed

  • $100 is really all you need to start an amazing number of businesses. I think a lot of people want to get everything perfect from the start, which leads to expensive website designs, big offices and so forth.

    But just because your business opens in your living room or you only have a few business cards printed with your name doesn’t mean that’s where you’ll be long-term. You can always get an office space next year or print up some fancier business cards after you’ve landed your first client.

  • As always Chris, your posts make me think about scaling down to elegant simplicity. There are things we need to start a business and things we “think” we need. I know many a man of my father’s generation who started a business with a desk, a phone and a phone book. In the end, a successful business isn’t about the stuff – it’s about a solid idea, a solid plan, a solid buying audience and a way to communicate with them. Last time I checked, none of that costs money. But most business that I think of as great are heaviy invested in Sweat Equity – because that is what MAKES them great.

    Thanks for helping me think. :-)

  • Lisa Morosky says:

    This is so right on. I think when most people think of starting a business, the first thing they see are dollar signs everywhere. The Internet has opened doors for starting businesses with little to no start-up cost. I started my VA business, and now my blogging business, for definitely less than $100, and I’m not the sole provider for my family.

    I think it’s also about people wanting to bite off more than they can chew immediately. There’s no shame in starting small (and remaining small).

  • Barb McMahon says:

    Amen, Laura!

    My husband and I ran a food shop for a couple of years. I was sure we’d need a cash register. He said wait. We ran the shop with an Interac machine and a shoe box for the cash!

    Only buy if it’s been proven that you need it. And then buy it used if you possibly can.

  • Chris,
    I love this post–usually “But I don’t have enough money” is the first objection to starting a small business.

    I brought two inventions to market in 2004 and spent WAY TOO MUCH on things I definitely didn’t need (printers, fax machines, a website with custom shopping cart, trade shows, advertising…on and on and on…) and put my family in serious debt. Fortunately, I sold my inventions in 2007 and paid most of my debt off–but I’m still paying the remainder.

    I’ve since started a blog for mom entrepreneurs and have learned to do things very affordably by spending only what’s necessary AND by bartering, which I LOVE.

    I’m now enrolled in Brian Clark’s Teaching Sells and my ILE idea involves starting a “mom-owned” business simply and affordably.

    Thanks for another thought-provoking post.
    Heather

  • Naomi Niles says:

    I think this is technically correct, but doesn’t tell the whole picture. You can spend $100 starting your own business (a small website for example) but then you must spend a lot of time learning basic online marketing, writing your own copy, seo, learning how to update your website, figuring out how to update your design so that it’s unique, doing your own logo/branding, etc. etc.

    So, you have two choices. Spending a lot of time figuring out how to do things yourself and working your butt off or paying an expert to do it for you. Either way, it’s still costly if you place a value on your time.

    I agree with Dan above. I think $100 is a way to start out very basic and test the waters, but if you plan on growing a serious business in the future that doesn’t require you to handle everything, you will need to start thinking about investing in hiring help at some point.

  • Brandon W says:

    Other tips for starting a business for under $100:
    * Get free business cards to start with at http://www.VistaPrint.com
    * Use open source software like Scribus (desktop publishing) to produce flyers (or start a desktop publishing business!), OpenOffice or Google Docs for word processing, Gimp for professional-level graphics editing. All have versions that run on Mac, Windows, or Linux. All are free.
    * Don’t get too hung up on logos. I started a business a couple of years ago with free business cards I got from VistaPrint. One of the free designs they offered had a red square on it. So I used that card template and put red squares on everything I did, including the…..
    * Website – lots of hosts like Netfirms.com, which I use for everything, will give you a site for $10/mo and you can install WordPress or any number of site design systems for no extra charge. They’ll also register 2 domain names for you at no additional charge.

    Hope these are helpful ideas/info. Anyone can feel free to add me on Twitter (@brandoncreates). I don’t have any affiliate links or anything like that to any of the stuff I’ve mentioned. I’d love to connect with other entrepreneurs or aspiring entrepreneurs.

  • Foxie says:

    Love this. Sadly, the business I see myself ending up with will take a LOT of start-up capital, since I’m seeing a few car lifts, tools and such in the final vision. (But I like to keep it under wraps so nobody steals my idea. ;))

    In the mean-time, I started up a blog centered around my passion, cars, and bought my own domain name as my way of committing to writing a bit more. Hoping to get better at writing, develop my blog and possibly turn it into freelance writing work, like for magazines and other print publications. (Or another blog, but a paid position… Or even just regular guesting at this point.)

    I have the whole entrepreneurial drive, I just haven’t found the business that would fit me best yet really. But I do have two things I’m looking to put to use in one: a passion for cars and a love of writing.

  • Nicolai says:

    @Naomi:

    You describe “learning time” as an expense or a loss. For me, I find learning to be valuable. Education is paid for either with time or money, or both. Only in The Matrix is it instantaneous and free. (“I know Kung Fu!”)

    It also sounds like you’re saying that time investment and money investment are inversely proportional, ie. the cheaper to start, the more time it takes. If you have ideas on expensive businesses that can be set up without investing your time, let us know! I’m curious, mainly because I doubt such a thing exists.

    Recently I created a website with CGI written in C++. I couldn’t even write a simple hello world program before starting, but now the code parses user input, manipulates strings, does calculations, and writes and reads files. To have this knowledge is valuable. It now serves as the base of a business I’m building. Total cost up to now:

    - Server: $30 (thirty dollars, and I personally own it)
    - Software: open source / free
    - Physical server hosting + net/power: free, using contacts
    - TOTAL: $30

    This is on the side of another business I recently created, in which I’ve so far invested about $10 for a profit of around $800.

    I’ve paid the bills, learned some things, and had some fun. Life is good!

  • steve says:

    chris, i’m going to be respectfully critical, here. i feel like you are being a little limiting to people when you ask whether “a new kind of poetry” or a book of travel memoir will sell.

    i appreciate that you are up-front about what is required to succeed with a business. but i don’t like that you call into question these specific ideas. i felt a tone of nay-saying–like you are shutting down the people who believe they can make a business through these outlets.

    one thing i enjoyed about your manifestoes was how encouraging you were–how empowering you were. you told people, “yes! believe in yourself.” in this blog post, however, i get a different feeling. although i know you’re just trying to be practical, it felt very limiting to me–it felt like very conventional advice–not the kind of stuff i expected from you.

    steve

  • Chris says:

    @Steve,

    As mentioned, I never want to discourage an aspiring entrepreneur. But I also don’t think it’s very helpful to pretend that something is marketable when it will obviously be an uphill battle. If they can get those ideas to work, more power to them and I certainly wouldn’t stand in their way.

  • Naomi Niles says:

    @Nicolai – I think learning is great too. I guess it’s up to you to decide what’s worth handling yourself or not. For example, I could learn php to do the programming tasks on my website and for internal projects, but it wouldn’t make a lot of sense for me to spend the time doing that because it would take away from my other time where I could be doing paid work nor is it something I enjoy in particular.

    I wasn’t implying that the time investment and money investment are inversely proportional. That would vary greatly depending on the kind of business you are starting. Of course you can still work very hard starting a new business paying for help, but still not as hard as you would have if you had to learn to do everything yourself.

    The only point I wanted to make is that just because something is free in monetary terms doesn’t necessarily make it free.

    Anyway, if you choose to invest your time learning new things that serve you later and get enjoyment from that, all the more power to you! I think that’s great.

  • Robin says:

    My hubby and I have owned and operated our own (tiny) cleaning biz for the past nine years. Start up cost: $59 for a mop bucket. We learned as we went, adding biz costs like licensing and insurance, business cards (hellooooo VistaPrint), and yellow page ads…but to START, $59.

    From time to time I have suffered impostor syndrome because we are not “business people”, and yet our business is successful. We learned as we went. We spent as it became necessary. And our cleaning biz finances our creative and free lives.

    $100 can go far!

  • Heather says:

    I’ve tried starting a couple of businesses conventionally — business plan, then capital, then find suppliers and zzzzzz. Got bored before I even started. I finally decided I was too artistic to be a business person (you chuckle, but I really thought they were mutually exclusive).

    Then, at about the time I was figuring out that you can be both, this article showed up in my email. Start a business for $100? I thought. How nice. Not for me, but a nice idea.

    Two days later, I woke up with the idea for a $100 business fully formed in my head. Quite a bit less than $100, actually, because most of what I’m selling I already have or can get for free. It’ll take a lot of time and effort to build, and I’m not expecting to get rich, but I’m excited to see where it goes. Does this mean I’m a business person now?

  • Jarrett says:

    Gonna have to disagree with the comment “any business plan at all”.

    Starting a business with less than $100 is relatively easy… keeping it going so that it makes profit and doesn’t become a hobby (negative cash flow long term) is a little more challenging.

    One resource that I found to be very helpful in a number of areas for me personally was SCORE. There is lots of advice on all kinds of topics to help you make your Great Idea a Successful Business.

    The most valuable for me was pointing out those areas that I am not strong in (or had even considered) to help my business stay a business and not a hobby.

  • Chris, what a great article! After losing my business in my divorce, I literally had no money left and no business to run. I thought to myself, “what can I do that’s legal, cheap to start, that I already know how to do, can do out of my living room, and start making cash TODAY?” I knew how to give psychic readings, and so I took my last $100, printed up some brochures, and went around town. I went into each business, said “I’m starting a new business, and I just wanted to leave some brochures from the staff,” and left. My cell phone rang within an hour, and within three hours I was sitting down with my first client.

    Since then, my business has been able to cash flow all my other business expenses with no need for loans or credit cards. While I agree with many of the posters that businesses that are cheap to start are often difficult to take to the next level, I have been able to hang in there with my little business for over 8 years now, and I love it!

    I have also worked as a high school teacher, and I always remind students that they already know how to do things that other people will pay them to do, even if it’s just yard work, house sitting, cleaning, or tutoring. Everyone can start a tiny service business for less than $100. Use the cell phone you’ve got, get free business cards from Vistaprint.com, pound the pavement and work the phones a little bit, and sooner or later you’ll get your first client. You can always reinvest your profits in getting fancier: websites, equipment, etc.

    My favorite story of this is of a woman in my town. Her husband, who was also father of their five kids, abandoned them all with no notice. She hadn’t even finished high school and had never worked outside the home. She took her mop, broom, and all her cleaning supplies and loaded them into the car. She then went around to local businesses and said “I’m starting a business, and I’ll clean your office once for free, right now, if you’ll promise to seriously consider taking me on as your regular cleaning service provider.”

    That was six years ago. She now has seven people working for her, and she is thriving!

  • Shane says:

    Great post!
    I can attest to the message as well. I’ve started several businesses (three of which are currently still running) and I’ve never spent more than a few hunderd bucks to start them.
    Practically any business can start out very small and if you invest your profits into the business, it can grow to become a big business over time.

  • Dianne says:

    My husband and I opened a business with $ 600. That was 5 years ago. It has supported us ever since. I don’t have the exact numbers right now, but it it probably worth more that 1000 times that number. Don’t get me wrong, we paid in work instead of dollars.

  • How about RedBubble.com? They claim to take care of the selling and shipping for free. They sell the upload of a printed work of art and take the base price for themselves (example: small framed print base price : $ 28), while you get to set your price of your art above that, and keep that for yourself. What I don’t understand is how they can do the framing, shipping, and selling to the customer at such a low profit for themselves! Anybody know more about that?

  • I think starting some sort of website is the best option. I’ve launched two so far, and they are doing quite well. If you are looking for some information on the internet and can’t find it quickly or easily, and when you do find it it’s in a bad format, make a page and take out your competitors!

    Just be careful who you go after. If they have a long reputation (10+ years) in that specific market, you will probably have more trouble. I’ve been there and done that. Go after some weaker, less well-known competitor.

  • Hi Chris,

    A huge opportunity exists for people with real-world skills and abilities to work as consultants. Sometimes it’s as easy as taking what you do in your job (for your boss) and finding people who would pay you success-based fees to do it for them.

    A friend of mine became an accidental entrepreneur when his boss asked him to head up a email marketing campaign. He then took these skills to smaller businesses, offering a “no fish no fee” consultant deal.

    Maybe $30 or so dollars spent on coffee meetings… probably around $10,000 ROI.

    Most people wouldn’t even allow themselves to imagine this kind of simple success.

  • Bobby B Singh says:

    Great Post! I started a business with about $80, it was selling Soft Pretzels outside a Stadium. Did That for sometime and graduated to setting up Kiosks In Malls..again selling soft pretzels. No Office, No Business Cards, just grit. That $80 gig allowed me to finally get the success I dreamed about. Bootstrappers are forced to succeed because in a way they have their backs to a wall..no way out, but to fight it out!

  • Danny Davis says:

    I love the post and thumbed it up on stumbleupon and added you to my RSS feeds. I am currently in college and my start up business is just beginning. I have started dry-market testing and currently awaiting the results. The only question I have is where do people gather the knowledge to build a sleek looking website. Since I am in college capital is extremely low and I know I can hire a web designer for a hundred bucks to build one for me, but my concern is that after it’s built I will have no idea how to manage it and will have to invest more money into a programmer to tweak it for me.

    Anyone have any advice? How did you become proficient with web design?

  • Monica says:

    I know it sounds funny, but my husband (who is a teacher) actually started a BBQ stand for about $800. He bought a large trailer hitch grill on craigslist and operates legally outside of an existing business. He works it one night per week and occasionally cooks for parties too. You would be shocked at how profitable it is – enough to cover our mortgage some months! The extra cash has kept me from having to get a job while in grad school. I was so upset when he bought the grill and paid for the license – I thought he was NUTS! I’m amazed by how much this has helped us. I’m able to concentrate on my research without waiting tables and he’s having tons of fun.

  • Hot damn, I am inspired by not only this post but also the comments. I have been putting off a couple of ideas for years now. Going to get to work on it right now. Thanks for the post, Chris!

  • Wyman says:

    Brainstorm every day for a week thinking of $100 businesses. Pick one and implement. Then think of ways to double it every week. Think big and test small. Fits the $100 model. Voila, your 10k/mo. empire

  • Christopher says:

    Chris,
    Thanks for the valuable post. I love the part where you say:

    “You need something to sell that other people want to buy.”

    It can’t get any simpler can it? My highlights in that statement are
    (1) Something to sell (giving value)
    (2) people who need it

    Maybe not the only things one needs but certainly what one cannot do without.

    Thanks for your inspiration.

  • Matthew says:

    Cool.

    I didn’t know you were doing this so it’s a bit of a coincidence that in the next 2 weeks I’ll be starting my own $100 biz.

    So far expenses have totaled a website, domain and hosting, plus one or two other things, but I’ll actually be the owner-operator of a stretch limousine. No capital down. I just found a bunch of “limo for sale” listings and began to call operators who were selling privately, offering to lease the limo directly from them for a year until I had financials to show to the bank, then buy it off them…

    I had begun to call people but the first one said yes, and is going to be mentoring me as I enter into the business. I’ll pay him the lease money at the end of every month and help him with his website and Adwords advertising. The best thing is that the limousine has lots of bookings on it already and I’ll be profitable from day dot.

    Hopefully others will find this encouraging. Think outside the box.

  • JP says:

    I think the key is to start small and scale things up.

    When I got started, I made a blog about military airplanes (just a random interest of mine), and the ad revenue from that blog paid for my web hosting every year. Even after I stopped updating it, I still made around $100 a year from it.

    Once I had my web hosting paid for every year, then I just added more domain names to my hosting account, and started up some small business there. Even if the idea flopped, I just let the domain name expire after a year, and didn’t lose any money on the site (I used WordPress for all my sites).

  • Coconhia says:

    Hey Chris I just finished reading ur book, got it as a gift from my girlfriend and we both absolutely loved it!

    We really admire all the work u’ve done and want to let you know how you inspire us. You rock man!!
    Thanks for this post, it was something we kinda needed.
    We planning on starting a small business together soon. Hope everything goes well ! :)

    We’ll come back n let you know how things go, soon as we get started.

    Cheeeeers Chris and tell Jolie we said HI!!

  • Craig Morton says:

    Hi Chris. When I read this book, I get excited and the feeling of “holy shit I’ve got so much to do”. It’s a good balance to have. Every time I say to myself, “OK, that’s enough of this book today”, I’m still reading 20 minutes later. Appreciated Chris

  • Kenneth Charis says:

    Good information I need more $100 business ideas. Thanx

  • jerry says:

    In Illinois it costs about $600 to purchase an llc from state. Criminal…

  • Wonderful post! We are linking to this particularly great content on our website.
    Keep up the great writing.

  • Gisele says:

    You really make it seem so easy with your presentation but I find this matter to be really something that I think I would
    never understand. It seems too complicated and extremely broad for me.
    I am looking forward for your next post, I’ll try to
    get the hang of it!

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