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Low-Cost Business Ideas

9 Low-Cost Business Ideas for College Students

It can be difficult for students to balance a part-time job with a heavy class schedule. Here are nine low-cost business ideas for under $100.
9 Low-Cost Business Ideas for College Students
Image credit: Todor Tsvetkov | Getty Images
10 min read

It takes money to have fun in college, and it’s no secret that tuition and costs go up every year. But with classes scattered throughout the day and even at night, how can you add a job? That’s why more and more college students are opting to go into starting their own business to fit their skills and limited time.

Here are nine ideas for low-cost businesses that you can build while still in college.

9 Low-Cost Business Ideas for College Students

Residential cleaning service

Residential cleaning service
Image credit: heshphoto | Getty Images

In search of a part-time job that caters to your busy class schedule? A residential cleaning service can be a viable option.

In 2009, 21-year-old Kristen Hadeed posted an online ad offering residential cleaning services. After successfully cleaning her first home, Hadeed was able to build her network of clients solely off referrals. 

“With cleaning, it’s a trust thing. When you trust someone, they’ll refer you,” explains Hadeed.

Cleaning homes granted Hadeed the flexibility to balance a heavy academic schedule while maintaining a part-time job based on her own availability. She eventually recruited other students to join her business, founding one of Florida’s largest independently owned cleaning services, Student Maid.

In the beginning stages, keep it simple, advises Hadeed, starting with an online ad for your services. From there, the opportunities should flow. To avoid heavy startup costs, require all of your clients to supply the majority of the cleaning supplies and use recyclable rags and a diluted white vinegar solution to clean.

For residential cleaning services, you can charge starting at $20 an hour. Other advice? Always overestimate the amount of time it will take to clean, and charge an hourly rate in case you’ve got a large space.

9 Low-Cost Business Ideas for College Students

Moving service

Moving service
Image credit: Juice Images | Getty Images

Whether moving back for the fall semester or moving home for the summer, movers can make an incredible income helping on-the-go students. A mover can make up to $200 for a single job. Stephen Vlahos and Cameron Doody noticed this need and created Bellhops, a student moving service that's expanded nationwide.

“It’s twice what students could make working at a pizza shop, plus they get regular tips,” Doody told Pando. “And they can work whenever they want.”

What’s the catch? Being a mover is hard work and involves a lot of heavy lifting, so having the ability to move large items and furniture with ease is a must.

Joining or starting a business like Bellhops, where you’re able to have flexible hours and build your own schedule, can be great for college students. If you’ve got a large network already, spreading your services through word-of-mouth, social media, online ads, flyers and a website can jump start your entrepreneurial career for little to no startup money.

9 Low-Cost Business Ideas for College Students

Child caretaker

Child caretaker
Image credit: Caiaimage/Paul Bradbury | Getty Images

Good with kids? A position as a babysitter or nanny could be the perfect opportunity for a college student seeking a part-time job. Whether it’s taking care of kids on date night or picking them up from school, there’s a constant demand for babysitters.

Web babysitting services like SitterCity.com and Care.com make it simple and easy to promote your services and tap into a network of busy parents. Many colleges also offer their own career listing sites that connect students to local babysitting and nannying opportunities, though the best way to pick up new gigs is often through trusted referrals.

Babysitting involves an incredible amount of responsibility, so it’s important to have confidence in your skills as a caregiver. Providing a background check and taking first aid and babysitting training classes are great places to start.

Babysitting rates can vary between $8 to $40 an hour depending on your experience, the city you live in, children's ages, number of children and the amount of responsibility involved (driving, cooking meals, handling pets, etc.).

9 Low-Cost Business Ideas for College Students

Tutor

Tutor
Image credit: Prasit photo | Getty Images

If you’re in school, chances are you can pull your weight in at least one subject. Whether it’s math, essay writing or chemistry -- or even standardized testing -- use your knowledge to make money and teach others who might be struggling in the areas in which you excel.

There will probably always be a high demand for tutors in college, and the resources for promoting your services are expansive. Students who wish to pursue a job as a tutor have multiple options, such as tutoring through a college’s peer-tutoring center. By applying and registering as a tutor at your school, you’ll be able to earn extra cash without having to market your services yourself. If you wish to go independent, find out if your school has an online community board where you can post your services and rates, or go into your student center and library and leave fliers at the front desk.

If you excel in a certain subject, talk with the relevant professors to see if they’ll help spread the word. Many schools often allow you to officially register as a tutor so that students are able to look up your information on the school’s website.

Also, consider tutoring high school students in your area. One area particularly in demand is SAT tutoring for both the general SAT and specialized subjects. Nationally recognized SAT prep companies such as Kaplan and The Princeton Review list available job opportunities on their websites for tutors around the United States.

Tutors can charge anywhere from $10 to $100 per hour depending on subject matter and the city; however, the going rate for SAT tutors tends to skew higher. Look up what tutors are charging in your area before setting your rate.  

9 Low-Cost Business Ideas for College Students

Event organizer/promoter

Event organizer/promoter
Image credit: Brandon Stachnik

It’s undeniable that a number of college students get wrapped up in their school’s social scene. Why not capitalize on it?

During his junior year in college, Alex Sanchez cofounded Edgework Entertainment, an event management, promotion and consulting startup. Sanchez noticed an unmet demand for off-campus events in the community.

To bridge the gap, he networked with local venue owners and musicians by acting as a liaison between local entertainers and venues. He was also able to plan and execute successful events that his company promoted on-campus through guerilla marketing tactics, such as passing out fliers, putting up posters and speaking to students one-on-one to create buzz among the student body.

The compoany also utilized major social media channels and created a website to get word out to the community.

It could be considered a win-win for all parties: Venues attracted more customers, musicians received exposure and Edgework Entertainment took a percentage of cover charges and ticket sales.

“Find the right people to work with and make sure you have good chemistry. Everyone is painting a small part of a larger picture so communication is key,” says Sanchez.

On top of exceptional communication skills, having organizational skills as well as a grasp on the fundamentals of business, marketing and finance are necesssary as an event organizer.

9 Low-Cost Business Ideas for College Students

Résumé writing service

Résumé writing service
Image credit: Pali Rao | Getty Images

Whether applying for a summer internship or preparing for life after college, a majority of college students need a well-written résumé. Internship and job opportunities are competitive, and the way a résumé looks and reads can make or break a student’s chances for a position at his or her dream company.

First and foremost, it’s important that your résumé be impeccable so you can guarantee your services to other students. Go into your school’s campus career counseling center to learn about résumé writing, and perfect your own. The internet will also be your primary tool to help with research of résumé formatting.

If you’re an excellent writer with a sharp eye for how to organize information clearly, résumé writing is an easy opportunity for you to help others and make money on your own time.

Professional résumé writers can charge hundreds of dollars per résumé; however, as a college student catering to other young up and comers, start off by keeping your hourly rate fairly low (maybe between $15 and $20 per job).

9 Low-Cost Business Ideas for College Students

Bookkeeping

Bookkeeping
Image credit: Johnnie Davis | Getty Images

Oftentimes when you think of bookkeeping, numbers, math, accounting and finance pop into your head. However, you don’t need to be a finance major to pursue a job as a bookkeeper.

According to Ben Robinson, a certified public accountant and business owner, having a basic knowledge of accounting may be helpful, but it’s not a necessity upfront. If you have decent computer skills and the ability to navigate real-world problems, bookkeeping could be a great option for you.

All businesses are required to maintain bookkeeping records, so there is always a demand for bookkeepers; outsourcing a college student as a bookkeeper is an easy way for companies (especially smaller ones) to limit costs and avoid hiring an expensive professional.

Startup costs are low. They include software such as QuickBooks or Xero, which cost anywhere from $5 to $70 per month, and marketing your services to businesses through job listings, referrals or your in-school network. Robinson recommends charging around $60 per hour for bookkeeping services, although this fee can vary depending on the complexity of the work and the extent of your experience. Consider starting out with a lower price, and after you build your skills and referral base, you can increase your prices. 

9 Low-Cost Business Ideas for College Students

Jewelry maker

Jewelry maker
Image credit: Hero Images | Getty Images

You don’t need to be a world-class jeweler to start your own jewelry line. LeiLei Secor, founder of Designed by Lei, started off by making simple knot friendship bracelets. Years later, Secor began making wire-wrap jewelry, which she began to sell on Etsy, an e-commerce platform that charges a small fee per listing.

Without any formal education in business, Secor learned how to sell online by doing thorough research and watching online tutorials, which she recommends to any aspiring jewelry maker.

“I also focused a lot of on photography,” she says. “I think great photos are one of the most important aspects to successfully selling online.”

Focusing primarily on Etsy search engine optimization and promoting designs on social media platforms is the best way to drive traffic to your products, Secor advises.

Startup costs are minimal; creating an Etsy account is completely free, and listing an item is $0.20/listing. The kind of jewelry you make will determine the cost of materials -- for example, if you wish to work with wire, you will need basic wire wrap tools that come bundled in a kit, such as a wire cutter and several types of pliers.

Avoid using expensive materials such as real gold and silver or precious stones. You can upgrade your materials once you’ve started selling your items online and have built up a reserve.

9 Low-Cost Business Ideas for College Students

Delivery and errand service

Delivery and errand service
Image credit: PeopleImages | Getty Images

Starting a delivery service that offers running errands, picking up takeout or even going grocery shopping for a busy professional or someone who is elderly is a great way to make extra cash.

Like the leading food-delivery services, Postmates or Seamless, you can make a fortune doing tasks for others, especially if you go to a smaller school in an area where these food-delivery services don’t exist yet.

Start by setting up a website where people can place orders. For a low fee, there are a number of platforms already available that make this step simple such as 1&1TemplateMonster and GoDaddy.

Save all receipts and charge customers after you’ve completed a task -- and add a 20 percent fee to the total costs of a purchase to generate your revenue. Market your services through word-of-mouth, fliers and social media pages.

  • 9 Low-Cost Business Ideas for College Students
  • Residential cleaning service
  • Moving service
  • Child caretaker
  • Tutor
  • Event organizer/promoter
  • Résumé writing service
  • Bookkeeping
  • Jewelry maker
  • Delivery and errand service
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