Are you interested in starting a small business, but worried that you don’t have the proper education or funding to make it a reality? Relax. While some business ideas might require advanced degrees and generous startup investments before you can actually launch them, there are many small businesses you can create with little more than a laptop or a simple certification. In episode #112, Elizabeth Larkin and Gene Marks offer their suggestions for home-based small businesses that don’t require a formal education.

Executive Summary

0:40—Today’s Topic: Which Home Based Small Business Can I Start Without Any Prior Skills?

1:29—On-demand retail businesses offer individuals the opportunity to outsource the production and shipping components of their businesses, while leaving them to focus only on the marketing aspects.

4:42—Although becoming a home inspector requires special credentials, obtaining them is not a rigorous or time-consuming process; once certified, you can rely on real estate agents for customer referrals.

6:51—You could offer to become someone’s virtual assistant if you already have significant knowledge or experience in their particular industry.

10:26—Starting a courier service is a great option for those who live in a large city and don’t mind a lot of traveling.

12:33—If you have the right demeanor and aren’t afraid of conflict, creating a debt collecting service for other companies could prove very lucrative.

15:14—As the owner of a junk removal business, your two main responsibilities would be to find customers and assist them in disposing their unwanted item.

18:56—Gene encourages small business owners to use the Nomorobo app to prevent the hassles of robotic phone calls.


Submit Your Question


Elizabeth: Gene, today’s podcast is all about being lazy as a small business owner. It’s something that’s kind of the opposite, when you think of a small business owner.

Gene: It is.

Elizabeth: You don’t usually think of them as being lazy, and frankly, if you’re going to start any of these small businesses you’re not lazy. The person that wrote in asked, “What’s a small business that I can start from home when I have no skills?” Basically, what they’re saying is, they want to start the business without an office, so they don’t want to start a coffee shop or something.

Gene: Right.

Elizabeth: They don’t have any skills, meaning they don’t have to go get an MBA, CPA, a law degree, a medical degree.

Gene: Right.

Elizabeth: After we hear from our sponsor, we’re going to run down some of our ideas for the kind of business you could start from home with very little education or money involved.

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QUESTION: What’s a Business I Can Start with No Skills?

Elizabeth: Okay, we’re back, so I’m going to start off with one that I was really surprised by, when I did this research.

On-Demand Retail

They’re on-demand retail businesses. You actually don’t need any skills for this, and you don’t need a lot of startup money. What it means is you start an online store, so you say you’re selling t-shirts, or some type of clothing or artwork. You contract out to a business that’s going to create those items on demand, and then they also ship them for you.

Gene: Nice.

Elizabeth: You literally don’t have to do anything except the marketing.

Gene: Yeah, of course you have to find customers.

Elizabeth: You have to find customers, so you have to come up with the idea. I know someone who sells tee-shirts. She has a dog. We’ve haven’t talked about dogs in a while.

Gene: We’re going to in a minute.

Elizabeth: She has a dog. She loves little, those little hotdog dogs. What are they called? Those German Dachshunds.

Gene: Yeah, Dachshunds, yeah.

Elizabeth: She created a bunch of tee-shirts for people that love Dachshunds.

Gene: Nice.

Elizabeth: She drew out the design. She sent it off to this company. They made it better. They made it into a real design. She chose t-shirt materials. This place literally drop-ships the t-shirts to her. They come to her house. She opens the box. She gets orders in off her Etsy site, and then she mails them out with really cute tissue paper. I know this because I ordered from her for a Christmas gift for someone else.

Gene: It’s cool. Right.

Elizabeth: She’s making a pretty, a couple thousand dollars a month doing that.

Gene: Wow, that’s fantastic.

Elizabeth: She has a very popular Instagram account, and she gets a lot of people following her that also love that type of dog, so is that something you could support yourself on? Maybe not, but it could at least be a side hustle that grows into a bigger business.

Gene: Yeah, a couple comments on that, and I think a lot of the other business people talk about, I’m not sure any of these businesses, well they could be a livelihood that you could actually support yourself, maybe, but I do want to caveat. When we started this off with businesses you could start with no skills, running a business takes a skill. This woman that you’re talking about, she’s hustling, right, to doing this.

Elizabeth: Oh yeah, I’m not saying … What I mean by that is you don’t need a certain type of education.

Gene: Yeah, I understand.

Elizabeth: You don’t need a degree to do these.

Gene: You have to be skillful in what you do, and you have to do it well, right?

Elizabeth: Yeah. I mean she’s a great marketer, that’s her skill.

Gene: That’s right. Good for her.

Elizabeth: Alright, what’s on your list?

Pet Sitting

Gene: You mentioned about, talking about dogs, pet sitting is a great business that you can have for yourself.

Elizabeth: Pet sitting, yeah. You don’t need an office.

Gene: You don’t need an office. If you have a back yard, if you’re … Again, if your skill happens to be you’re good with dogs, then …

Elizabeth: Or cats.

Gene: Or cats, that’s certain a skill, and pet sitting is people are willing to pay. You can do that during the day. You can board pets over the weekend. You can charge for that and you don’t need any specific certifications or ability to do that, so pet sitting.

Elizabeth: You go to other people’s homes too, so you really are leaving your home to just go to someone else’s home to do that.

Gene: Right, or you could do it at your home.

Elizabeth: Right, you could do it at your home.

Gene: You board, again, if you’ve got some outdoor space, or a big basement, and you want to offer to people that go away on vacations, and they need a place to board their dog with that special love and care, that’s the place you can do it, so pet sitting is a good one.

Home Inspector

Elizabeth: Okay, my next one is a home inspector. Now you do need to take a class for this, and pass a test, but it’s not like getting a law degree.

Gene: Right.

Elizabeth: What you do is, you find some real estate agents you can work with. They refer you to their clients, and you go and inspect homes. I worked with a home inspector. He showed up in jeans that were ripped, like construction boots, a hoodie, and basically no materials on him, like a notebook.

Gene: Sure.

Elizabeth: In his beat up, old truck, and he did a home inspection, and then he followed me to an ATM, and I gave him $300.

Gene: Oh my goodness. Okay.

Elizabeth: He spent an hour with me, if that, so that’s $300 for an hour’s worth of work. Now you do have to leave your home, and you do need to have a few skills, but I think you can take a class for that.

Gene: You can, and again, if you’re already, as a hobby, you’re good with stuff around the house, or understanding systems, or have got some background in construction or building, it’s a fantastic little business that you could have for yourself. There’s a big need for that.

Elizabeth: Okay, what’s next on your list?

Uber or Lyft Driver

Gene: Look, let’s do an obvious one. Uber driver, right? I mean your skill needs to be driving. You need to have a car to do this, but Uber, Lyft, any delivery services that are out there that are always looking for people to drive for them. Being a driver is a low-skilled work, and very much in demand.

Elizabeth: Set your own hours. Yeah.

Gene: By the way, for relatively low barrier of entry, with just getting a license to drive bigger vehicles or a truck, Elizabeth, the trucking industry are dying for drivers.

Elizabeth: Really?

Gene: I mean there is, the industry is booming, and they have a huge lack of good, experienced drivers, or at least people that have that background, so if you’re willing to leave your home for a couple weeks, and drive long distances, you can pick up a pretty penny for doing that, and then take a few weeks off. It’s a relatively low-skilled …

Elizabeth: Would you do that?

Gene: Low barrier of entry.

Elizabeth: Are you employed as an independent contractor?

Gene: Independent contractors, they’re all independent contractors.

Elizabeth: Okay, interesting, okay.

Gene: Yep.

Virtual Assistant

Elizabeth: Next on my list is virtual assistant.

Gene: Oh, that’s a good one.

Elizabeth: You could do this. What I’ve seen people do that have been successful at this is there are companies that employ a bunch of virtual assistants. You could go work for them, but you’re not going to make as much money going to work for someone else as you would for going to work for yourself. What you need to do is say, “I’m going to be a virtual assistant to social media influencers.”

Gene: Right.

Elizabeth: Then you learn everything you can about social media influencers, and then you market yourself to them as, “Hey, I could take care of all of this for you. I could take all this off your plate,” or you market yourself as a virtual assistant to startup founders, and then you’re going to be doing a lot of booking restaurants, and travel, and specializing in that, or you could market yourself as a virtual assistant to just general small business owners, like maybe they don’t have the need or the money to hire an actual personal assistant, but they could use someone to book their travel, or take care of a little work with their bookkeeper, something like that. You really need to find your niche, and do that. You can’t just go out and be like, “I’m a virtual assistant.” Figure out an industry that you’re interested in, and then learn all you can about it, but you don’t need any skills for that. I mean you need skills, as far as marketing yourself.

Gene: Sure.

Elizabeth: You need to be able to pick up …

Gene: Hopefully you’re organized, right?

Elizabeth: You need to be organized.

Gene: Those are skills, but like you said, not like a whole lot of money you have to spend on education or certification, anything like that.

Elizabeth: Yeah, and you can do it out of your home.

Gene: That’s great. Okay, US Senator. Apparently, one doesn’t need many skills to do that. With a little bit of effort, it’s a 6 year job. I don’t even think you have to come to work that much.

Elizabeth: You have to market yourself.

Gene: Yeah, you have to market yourself a little bit, but … Okay, I’m just kidding. How about being a tutor, is a good job, right? I mean …


Elizabeth: That’s a wonderful job.

Gene: Yeah, so being a tutor, again, no one said that you have to tutor some kid in advanced physics, unless maybe you’re good at advanced physics, but there are a lot of children, a lot of adults, that need help with reading. Literacy is a big area of need in this country.

Elizabeth: Your wife does that, doesn’t she?

Gene: My wife does that, yes. Well she’s a literacy teacher, so that’s her job, but then she’s done a little tutoring after school as well. She’s inundated with requests for tutoring, that she can’t fulfill because she does, a lot of times it’s people from within the school, or she just doesn’t have the time to do it all. She could go and quit her job and be a full-time tutor, and be busy 40 hours a week doing it.

Elizabeth: Make as much money as …

Gene: She could charge over $100 an hour for her tutoring. Now that’s in downtown Philadelphia, so you could probably charge more in New York, and maybe less in St. Louis, but being a tutor is, and for either math, SATs, specific types of tests for high schools, or for younger kids and adults that need literacy.

Elizabeth: To make that into a business, business, she could hire other tutors.

Gene: She could if she wanted to do that, but this gets back to, listen, if you can charge $100 an hour for tutoring, and you can get 30 hours a week, that’s more money than you would make, most school teachers make when you add it up, so not a bad little business to be in.

Elizabeth: Once you start doing that, you could think about, “Okay, what could I do to earn some passive income as well? I already have clients.”

Gene: Right.

Elizabeth: You could start a YouTube channel, when you give little lessons on how to do things.

Gene: Look at you. Now she would disagree with you on that because she feels you have to have face-to-face, to do the kind of tutoring that she does.

Elizabeth: She’s not thinking about making money though.

Gene: That’s exactly, you and me, I’m telling you, Elizabeth, we need to talk to her because I had the same opinion as you, “Are you kidding, put this on YouTube and charge subscriptions.”

Elizabeth: A downloadable workbook or something.

Gene: Sure, why not.

Courier Service

Elizabeth: Okay, next on my list is a courier service. You kind of hit on this before with the Uber driver.

Gene: Yep, yep, yep.

Elizabeth: These are people that, it could be local or long distance. You’re couriering things, so let’s say someone’s like, “I really don’t want to use FedEx because they’re so expensive and I really just need to make sure this gets there.”

Gene: Yep.

Elizabeth: This is probably only cost effective if you live in a big city, but you can make a lot of money couriering things around New York, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, maybe not Los Angeles.

Gene: No, definitely. Okay.

Elizabeth: What’s next on your list?

Freelance Editor

Gene: How about this, being a freelance editor is always good.

Elizabeth: Interesting.

Gene: Now, as you know, I write for Small Biz Ahead. I write frequently for, you know, every week. I’m assuming you’re publishing my blogs.

Elizabeth: Yeah, you know, Gene’s blogs get a ton of comments, usually people telling him he’s wrong.

Gene: Yes, that’s correct. That usually seems to be the general consensus, but I write for a bunch of different places, well-known places, I mean Forbes and Inc., and I write every day.

Elizabeth: You’re not allowed to mention them, Gene.

Gene: Am I not allowed to mention, okay.

Elizabeth: Yeah, you are. I’m just …

Gene: Can I? Okay, so I write for all these different places, and the reason why I mention those names is, because these companies are trying to get content out there as inexpensively as possible, and editors, as employees, cost money. They often parcel out work. They outsource work to editors, freelance.

Elizabeth: You do have to have, I’m going to defend this because this is part of my job.

Gene: Go ahead. Sure.

Elizabeth: You can’t just, like any Joe Schmo off the street, can’t be like, “Oh, I’m going to edit this.”

Gene: I agree. It depends on if you … It’s just like any Joe Schmo can’t be a virtual assistant.

Elizabeth: Yeah.

Gene: Any Joe Schmo can’t be a good Uber driver, in my opinion. I mean, I think you need some skills that just innate within you.

Elizabeth: Yeah.

Gene: There are some people that are just good with words, and can be good at editing.

Elizabeth: You have to know advanced grammar.

Gene: Correct, or can take an online class, or something relatively inexpensive to kind of hone those skills together. You’re absolutely right. It’s like any other profession, it’s like any other business. There’s always skills involved, but I think it’s a low barrier to entry, and I think there’s a lot of work out there for freelance editors. There’s a lot of websites and publications, and magazines and newspapers, both online and offline, that are looking for help.

Debt Collection

Elizabeth: Definitely. Okay, next on my list is debt collection, so this is not a very expensive business to start up, and I know whenever we talk about this, Gene gets very upset. All the clients who just don’t pay you. This is the kind of company that you go out and you collect those debts. You send people very threatening letters.

Gene: Right.

Elizabeth: You call them, you harass them. Now, I wouldn’t want to do this. I don’t think Gene would want to do this.

Gene: No.

Elizabeth: This actually makes good money.

Gene: It does, and you charge … The way debt collectors work, by the way, you’re not … This isn’t like an episode of The Sopranos. You don’t have to walk around with a baseball bat.

Elizabeth: Baseball bat.

Gene: Threaten people, that’s not what it’s about. Like you said, harassing via email and mail. You’re sending letters and there’s a bunch of templates that you can follow to do that. A lot of people do get scared after a while, or they get, it works to a certain degree. Whatever you can collect, what you do is you take 30 to 50% of what you collect, because for a business owner like me, 50% of nothing is still nothing, so I’d rather share in the spoils.

Elizabeth: It’s a very profitable business.

Gene: Correct.

Elizabeth: If you have the stomach for that, or you can hire people to do it.

Gene: Okay. I’ve got one more.

Elizabeth: Me too, go ahead.

eBay Salesperson

Gene: Okay. Be an eBay sales person, and what I mean by that is, everybody’s got junk in their houses. Everybody’s got stuff that they want to get rid of, so it is a … None of us have the time to do this, or whatever, so … I remember when eBay first started up, thinking like, “It’s kind of a cool business.” People have learned to do this successfully. You go around to your neighbors, or people in the community or whatever, and you go to the house and you offer to look around, and find whatever junk that they want to get rid of, and say, “We’ll put this on my eBay store, and whatever I sell, you get 20% of or 50%,” of whatever you work out with them, and you sell junk on eBay.

Elizabeth: Can you imagine going around to your neighbors?

Gene: I know, it probably wouldn’t be my neighbors. I would probably pick another community to do that, but a business is a business, and if it’s, if you’re doing it the right way, and you set it up in a credible way, and it’s professional and all that.

Elizabeth: It’s like that show, American Pickers, or something.

Gene: Kind of like that.

Elizabeth: Yeah.

Gene: Do you know who got her start doing that, and here we go. Kim Kardashian got her start, she was selling stuff online. She used to go and reorganize people’s closets, and then she would resell stuff on eBay, online.

Elizabeth: You know, I think also Felicia Sullivan, who we just had on a couple episodes ago, when eBay started. She started a little eBay store, and she was selling high-end fashion that she would buy at discounted rates.

Gene: Right.

Elizabeth: She lived in Manhattan, and would sell it for full price, or almost full price, on eBay.

Gene: Right.

Elizabeth: That is a great.

Gene: You’re providing a service for people and there’s a value add there.

Junk Removal

Elizabeth: My final business idea actually dovetails very nicely with that. Mine is junk removal. A lot of people, this is especially, I think this is a very, very profitable …

Gene: Isn’t that the same thing as the eBay idea that I had, junk removal?

Elizabeth: No, because that stuff isn’t junk. It’s someone’s trash to treasure.

Gene: You haven’t seen some of my stuff that I … Okay.

Elizabeth: It’s junk, so you have a parent, they have … They’re getting older. They have a huge house. They never moved, and then they pass away, and then you’re like, “Oh my god, I have to clean this house out,” so a huge industry now are professional organizers, who only focus on that market, people who are downsizing, when they’re still alive, or working with that person’s children to downsize their house.

Gene: Okay.

Elizabeth: Kind of organize what’s left, “We’re going to sell this. We’re going to consign this. We’re going to give this to Aunt Suzie,” and then the rest of it is junk removal.

Gene: Okay.

Elizabeth: People who come around, and they have one of those huge … Oh my god, what is it called?

Gene: What, like an auction?

Elizabeth: No, like a …

Gene: Estate sale?

Elizabeth: What you throw stuff into?

Gene: Oh, a bin, like a …

Elizabeth: Yeah, the big one.

Gene: Dumpster.

Elizabeth: Dumpster.

Gene: Yes.

Elizabeth: All you need to do is you buy a dumpster, and you’re like, “Hey, I’m the junk removal guy or girl,” and then you go into people’s homes, and you help them haul out their trash, so this is the same thing as 1-800-JUNK.

Gene: Right.

Elizabeth: If you can aim it at people in a certain niche like, or market like it’s for help for parents when their kids are moving out of the house and they left all of this crap behind.

Gene: Sure.

Elizabeth: Weren’t you telling me that you found, behind some piece of furniture, your sons had thrown a bunch of bottles or something?

Gene: Yeah, it’s a little story, a bunch of Gatorade bottles on the top of our entertainment center.

Elizabeth: They just finished them and like launched them to the top?

Gene: Yeah, there was like 100 of them, literally, yeah.

Elizabeth: You just pick a different market, and you’re like, “Oh, we do that kind of junk removal.”

Gene: Right.

Elizabeth: You can charge even more if you do a specialty, like if you clean out people’s garages, or car parts, that type of stuff, anything involving chemicals, you can charge more than that.

Gene: I like it.

Elizabeth: You could start a business just called, Basement Clean Out, and people that come around, you haul out all their crap. You go through it and see if you can sell any of it in your eBay store, and then you help people organize their basements.

Gene: None of these businesses are easy, because nothing in life is easy.

Elizabeth: No, there are a lot of sweat equity.

Gene: Yeah, everything takes work, but again, we’re trying to get into a business at a low cost, or no cost, without any certifications, or a lot of education or whatever, that you could start up really out of your house, or just with your own sweat, and any of the ones that we talked about today, I think are all doable.

Elizabeth: Okay, to recap, here is our list, possibly not in order, but we’re going to get them all in. Mine was on-demand retail business.

Gene: Pet sitting.

Elizabeth: Home inspection.

Gene: Editing.

Elizabeth: Virtual assistant.

Gene: Being a tutor.

Elizabeth: Courier service.

Gene: Being an Uber or a truck driver.

Elizabeth: Debt collection.

Gene: eBay sales.

Elizabeth: My last one was junk removal.

Gene: Mine was being a US Senator.

Elizabeth: We’ll be right back with Gene’s Word of Brilliance.


Elizabeth: Okay, we’re back. I always say that, “Okay, we’re back.”

Gene: We’re back. Oh, I’ve got a great Word of Brilliance.

Elizabeth: Okay.

Gene: You guys are going to love this one today, you ready? I know you don’t know this one. Ready for the word?

Elizabeth: Yes.

Gene: Nomorobo.

Elizabeth: No more robo calls?

Gene: No. Nomorobo, N-O-M-O-R-O-B-O, and yes, you’re right. It’s no more robo calls. It’s an app.

Elizabeth: I say, “No more robo calls,” and you say, “No,” and then repeat it.

Gene: No, it’s called Nomorobo, is the name of the app that you want to get. Are you getting a lot of robo calls? Do you get these robo calls on your phone?

Elizabeth: Yeah, you know what’s … Okay, so I have a 917 area code number.

Gene: Right, and you get spoofed calls from other people in the 917 area code, am I right?

Elizabeth: Yeah, but see this is how, this doesn’t work on me though because I lived in Manhattan when I first got my Verizon number.

Gene: Right.

Elizabeth: Then, I moved to Connecticut, so now when I get calls, I expect every area code to be either 203 or 860.

Gene: Right, right.

Elizabeth: I have some friends in 617.

Gene: That’s good, so you’ve got it sort of built-in.

Elizabeth: When I get a call from another 917, 209 number, I’m like, “That’s spam.”

Gene: That’s good for you. The rest of us peasants, right, that don’t have … Didn’t live in Manhattan for a number of years, with a 917 area code, I get calls all the time. Actually, I’d like to say that I used to get a lot of robo calls all the time.

Elizabeth: Did you engage with them? Did you know people?

Gene: No. The worst thing you can do is pick up on the calls, because a lot of them are computer generated. You ever pick up the call and there’s nobody on the other line, and you’re like, “What the heck is going on?” The reason why is because there are these services that are sending out all these millions of calls just to see if there’s a live person on the other line, and then they’re like, “Oh, there’s a live person here, so this is a good number,” and then they sell that number to somebody else, who’s then going to be calling you in the future. I get a lot of those. I get a lot of them for like, I’ve gotten those Medicare, health insurance, all sorts of whatever, and I get a lot of them that are …

Elizabeth: You’re not that old, Gene.

Gene: I know, sad. Then I get ones that are spoofed from my local area code, which is the 610 area code.

Elizabeth: Yeah.

Gene: It’s like the same, whatever. Anyway, it was driving me nuts, and they would call 8, 10 times in a row. It was relentless, so anyway, I researched around. I did a lot of research, and I found a great app, and the app is called, Nomorobo. It’s on the app store for iTunes, as well as on … I have a Samsung S8. It’s 20 bucks a year. They’ve been around now for a couple of years.

Elizabeth: How’s it work?

Gene: They have this huge database of bad numbers that they are tracking somehow, so any call that comes into my phone first gets checked. They intercept it and quickly check it against the database, and if it matches anything in the database, I never get it. It just goes, I never receive it, period, no voicemail, no nothing. It just goes away. If it doesn’t match it, but they think it might be a suspected robo call, I’ll get a little dialogue screen saying, “Potential issue, do you want to answer this or have it go to your voicemail, or report it?” I can answer that. Since getting this Nomorobo, which was about a month ago, I get maybe one or two calls get through during the course of a week, at most.

Elizabeth: Wow, that’s great.

Gene: It has almost eliminated all robo calls, just amazing.

Elizabeth: You used your phone.

Gene: Yeah.

Elizabeth: You use for your business and your personal use.

Gene: Oh yeah, I have one phone, so all my calls get directed to my phone.

Elizabeth: You’re not one of those dorks who walks around with multiple phones.

Gene: Multiple phones, no. I just have one phone, and that’s it, so everything gets directed to that phone, and it was becoming a big issue, and Nomorobo solved it for me, so that’s my Word of Brilliance.

Elizabeth: That’s great.

Gene: Yeah.

Elizabeth: I love that.

Gene: Highly recommend it.

Elizabeth: Totally recommend that. Okay, that’s going to do it for us on this episode of the Small Biz Ahead Podcast. We would love it if you would go to Apple Podcasts, aka iTunes, and leave us a review, just search for Small Biz Ahead, and leave us a review. Tell us what you like about the show, what you don’t like about the show. Tell us what topics you want us to cover, if you have any questions. We would love to get your feedback so we can tailor the podcast to exactly what you would like it to be.

Gene, thanks for being here.

Gene: That was awesome. See you Elizabeth.

Elizabeth: Bye.

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