Ask An Expert: You don't need a lot of money to start a small business

— -- Q: I was recently laid off from my job of 10 years. I don't really have any savings. Could I start a business somehow given my circumstances? Even if I could do something part-time until I get another job would help. Thank you. — Ellen

A: Of course the conventional wisdom is that this is a bad time to start a business, and one thing I know about conventional wisdom is that it is there for a reason; that is, maybe the group knows a thing or two.

No, this is not the greatest time to go into business for yourself, but that said, it can be done if you do it right.

What do I mean by that? One way to succeed right now is to start an inexpensive part-time, home-based business.

None of the ideas below are get rich quick plans, but they certainly can help you get some extra money now, and maybe even more later. Here then are some businesses that can be started without a lot of time or money:

• Deliveries / Driver: Especially with the price of gas coming down so much, this might make sense. Businesses of all sorts (in bigger cities especially) need stuff delivered every day. Print up some flyers, charge less, and away you go!

• EBay sales: I once had a pal who spent every weekend at garage sales buying old motorcycle parts which he then sold during the week on eBay. He made several thousand dollars a month. His motto? It's all in the buying. Think of something you know well, hunt it out, and resell it on eBay. Buy low, sell high.

• Residential and commercial cleaning: Housecleaning is a tried and true home-based business, and it can lead to more lucrative commercial contracts. The cost to get into this sort of business is almost zero.

• Transcription: Doctors and lawyers especially contract out transcription services.

Window washing / pool cleaning / snow removal: Simple service businesses like these can be started with very little time and money and require nothing but some elbow grease. Again, especially in this economy, the secret is to undercut the competition in terms of price.

• Pet-sitting and house-sitting: No, you won't make a ton of money, but these sorts of businesses can be a nice source of extra income.

• Hauling: With a truck and a classified ad, you can have a business removing junk for people.

• Independent sales representative / manufacturer's rep: Thousands of companies hire independent contractors to get their products into stores and handle their product lines. This job would likely take you on the road for long stretches. Consider handling the products of several different companies.

• Gardener: If you have a green thumb this might be the right business for you, but it tends to be seasonal work with most of it coming in the spring and summer, along with some leaf cleanup in the fall.

• Childcare: Of course this is a business that requires extra responsibility and due care, but it can also be very rewarding and can be started with little money.

This list, of course, is just a sample to get you thinking. If you have a specialized skill, such as automotive repair or being bilingual, you could parlay those as well into a shoestring start-up. The important thing is that you open your eyes to the possibilities.

Today's Tip: If you own a tech business and are thinking about expanding internationally, you should know about a contest that can help you. Called the Technium Challenge, the contest gives to the winner from the U.S., along with finalists from 12 other nations, a business-class flight to Wales for a week-long "Learning Journey" that will include one-on-one sessions with British legal, business and skills experts.

The overall winner will receive one year of free office space within one of 10 Technium incubators in Wales and ongoing counsel on financing, business planning and technical issues. You can learn more here.

Ask an Expert appears Mondays. You can e-mail Steve Strauss at: you can click here to see previous columns. Steven D. Strauss is a lawyer, author and speaker who specializes in small business and entrepreneurship. His latest book is The Small Business Bible. You can sign up for his free newsletter, "Small Business Success Secrets!" at his website —