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We highly recommend that prospective business owners do some external research and introspective thinking. Ideally, your strongest skills and strengths will complement your business, and it's important to understand what these are in order to find the right idea. We've listed some of the most common and lucrative ideas in our guide below.
Home-Based Business Ideas
Thanks to technology, online businesses can be easy to start, and there are plenty of great ideas for entrepreneurs. Some reports estimate there are as many as 38 million home-based businesses in the U.S. There is also an increasing number of companies that allow for telecommuting or working from home. The ideas we selected below are ones that various data sources have pointed to being the most profitable and successful.
Why we recommend it: Almost every small business that wants to be successful now needs an online presence, and that need is usually fulfilled by creating a dedicated website. Platforms like Squarespace may scare prospective entrepreneurs away from web development. After all, why start a web development business when customers can now buy prebuilt websites without hiring any developers? Prebuilt solutions could be great for some companies, but a lot of businesses still need customizable solutions that extend well beyond moving around widgets in a prebuilt layout.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that employment among web developers is outpacing average employment growth at 15% year over year. That growth will only continue as long as the intersection of business and technology continues to be more prevalent. Freelancing as a web developer is also a great idea for a home business since it requires little to no face-to-face interaction, and everything can be done from a computer at home.
Challenges: If you're not coming from a programming or web development background, the learning curve can be a bit tricky. Each individual will find different levels of difficulty depending on their own comfort with coding and the amount of time devoted to learning. However, there are plenty of resources to leverage, such as Udemy or YouTube.
Why we recommend it: Retail e-commerce is a behemoth of an industry that recognized nearly $2.3 billion across the globe last year. We have platforms like Amazon, eBay and Alibaba to thank for that. The most eye-catching feature of the industry is how little business owners have tapped into its potential. In fact, e-commerce only represents 11.9% of retail sales in the U.S. There is still tremendous room for growth and a lot of room for new players.
Any entrepreneur considering an e-commerce business has a number of different ways to go about it. One popular way is to set up a private label on a marketplace like Amazon and sell goods there. Another popular way, which requires more effort, is for a company to launch a product via its own site and sell directly to consumers without the help of an online marketplace. Companies can also choose to do a combination of both. Either way, starting an e-commerce business is a great venture, given the relatively low startup costs and the level of growth projected for the industry.
Challenges: The lower barrier of entry in this field means you'll have plenty of competitors. There are thousands of private-label sellers online, and it is increasingly harder to stand out. Building an attractive brand has never been more important. So while you may avoid the costs of having to maintain a physical store and office, you might spend just as much on marketing and advertising.
Why we recommend it: If you want to work from home but don't want to be fully dependent on technology, we recommend looking into starting a furniture-building business. If you have a talent for woodworking or want to explore a field that also provides a creative outlet, furniture building can be a great business to start. You can either sell custom furniture to high-end stores or go to consumers directly. Whichever way you go, you can always leverage your garage or a designated space in your home. If you live in a city, you may be able to rent woodworking centers by the hour or month. If you don't have a large space to fit large equipment, you can still craft smaller items with smaller equipment like pottery wheels.
We recommend a furniture-building business because of the steady growth it has shown. Furniture building is considered by many to be a derivative market of the larger real estate and construction industries. Given how the two have been strongly performing in recent years, it is no surprise that furniture building has grown as well. In fact, it's predicted to grow at a compounded annual growth rate of 4.83% from 2018 to 2022.
Challenges: Recommending this as a home business assumes you'll have enough space in your home for all the equipment, supplies and inventory. If you don't, then a furniture-building business will be tough to manage. Also, you'll want to be sure that you are, with an unbiased opinion, good at your craft.
While you can easily rent equipment from a local Home Depot or Lowe's as you ramp up your business, you'll likely need to explore buying your own as your business matures. Equipment can get expensive, and depending on your cash flow, you'll likely need a loan to make necessary purchases. Just be sure you construct a solid business plan and be confident that you're projected to earn a net profit.
- Tutor: It's already a common practice to host tutoring services from your home. If you're especially knowledgeable in a specific subject or a test like the SAT, tutoring can be a very lucrative business.
- Music teacher: Similar to tutoring, teaching music is a business that can easily be operated from your home but also requires a special skill.
- Massage therapist Becoming a therapist does require a license. However, demand for massage therapists is predicted to grow 26% by 2026.
- E-book author: E-book sales hit are expected to grow at an annual rate of 3% until 2022 and hit a market volume of $13 million. E-books are rapidly replacing traditional paper books, and that's partly due to e-readers like the Kindle. The benefit to e-books is that once they're published, channels to sell your books are nearly infinite.
- Sewing: Sewing requires little investment, as all you really need are some basic sewing tools. However, we like sewing because the skill set directly translates to upholstery, which immediately broadens the services you provide and the customers you can reach.
- Professional catering: If you've got a kitchen and a knack for cooking, consider catering. While it does lack the schedule flexibility that other jobs on this list might have, catering is one business that home-based workers benefit from. In fact, we'd argue that promoting your food as home-cooked meals gives a market advantage.
- Bed and breakfast: If you've got enough space in your home to build a business of it, consider a bed and breakfast. The hospitality industry is tough, but a bed and breakfast is a perfect business for those who want to work from home.
- Day care: If you can easily configure your home to meet the appropriate standards, starting a day care from your home is a highly lucrative business. Americans are working more and more, so the need for child care services isn't going anywhere anytime soon.
- Handmade craft seller: Platforms like Etsy have made selling handmade crafts extremely easy. It's an easy idea to first start off as a part-time effort and then transition into a full-time business based on your success.
- Meal planning: This is a bit different from catering in that the business doesn't focus on making food. Instead, you craft recipes and grocery lists for those who don't always know what to buy or cook.
Remote Business Ideas
As technology enables entrepreneurs to start businesses from their homes, savvy business owners can now travel and work at the same time. This has led to the birth of terms like "digital nomad." If you want to work to live rather than live to work, this could be the route for you. There are plenty of ideas to enable traveling the world while starting a business at the same time. Almost any business could technically be started while traveling, but we hand-selected the business ideas that complement travel the most.
Why we recommend it: There are few more perfect ways to monetize your hobby of traveling. If you're on the road and creating a ton of great experiences that people would envy while they're behind their desks at work, you might as well make some money off of it. Document your travels through a blog that you update regularly. Build a strong following by producing strong content with high-quality writing, imagery and videos. You can then leverage your audience and regular readers into monetizable relationships with affiliate partners and advertisers.
It's a great way to help fund your travels and to make side income at the same time. As airlines continue to expand their routes and the far reaches of the world grow more and more accessible, the travel industry continues to boom. Deloitte estimates that the number of international flight departures doubled over the past two decades and that the global travel industry now accounts for 10.2% of the entire global GDP. As the industry continues to grow, smaller subsections like travel blogging will only continue to do so as well.
Challenges: Travel blogging takes advantage of an obvious synergy, and it is certainly one that has exploded in popularity in recent years. Hit the road, and you'll likely find at least one travel blogger taking pictures or videos by every major tourist destination. It's a strongly competitive field, and it takes a lot of creativity to stand out.
Also, building out a following will take time. It will require a careful combination of search engine optimization (SEO) best practices, content strategy and creativity to get a sizable audience that you can reasonably monetize. If you don't have the luxury of time, then travel blogging may not be right for you.
Why we recommend it:If you're a skilled writer and you want to explore a business that allows for flexible hours, consider copywriting. You won't have to worry about the hours your client expects you to work while you move across time zones. There are few jobs that really allow for complete time flexibility, and copywriting is one of them. You'll rarely need to create or edit content live, and you'll likely be able to do so on your own schedule. That's not to say there won't be deadlines. Still, you can manage and discuss these with clients and make sure they fit your schedule.
Copywriting is a flexible field where you're either helping deliver new content directly or you're helping edit existing content. Starting your own copywriting business as a freelancer will allow for flexibility, but you'll be required to quickly build a portfolio in order for clients to purchase your services. Aggregate data from Payscale and Salary.com show that 80% of all copywriters in the U.S. earn between $35,000 and $65,000. Realistically, it may not be the highest-paying job, but it's more than enough to fully fund a comfortable lifestyle while traveling abroad. It's tough finding a better job with both this level of flexibility and reasonable pay.
Challenges: As a copywriter, you may not always be able to receive credit for the work you put out. Many copywriting assignments call for ghostwriting, which can make it hard to build a portfolio. While it may seem minor, it's a particularly tough thing to get over when your entire business is based on reputation. Over time, it might be best if you develop a speciality or niche where you become a subject matter expert.
Given the dozens of different forms of content out there on the web, it can be tough to predict exactly how much effort you'll be putting as a copywriter. Also, most online content businesses tend to be especially strict with their writing styles and expect freelance copywriters to match them perfectly. Flexibility is important.
Why we recommend it: Professional photography is a field that also pairs perfectly with traveling abroad. You'll be exposed to sights that others wouldn't dream of seeing. If you have a keen eye and a knack for taking pictures, freelancing as a photographer would make perfect sense. Another great thing is that you don't need a formal education to be a photographer. You can sell artistic photographs that will serve as art in someone's home, or work as a wedding photographer.
Entrepreneurs might be hesitant given that the BLS reports the field is on a 6% decline year over year. However, that decline mainly stems from the industry shift to hiring freelancers rather than salaried photographers. This is good news for prospective freelance photographers, as it demonstrates work may be easier to find. WeddingWire reports that wedding photographers tend to charge between $1,200 and $3,000 per gig.
Challenges: Median compensation for photographers is low, at $15.62 per hour. Therefore, we only recommend a photography business as a full venture for those traveling or living in very low-cost areas. Trying to fully fund a comfortable lifestyle with that kind of salary in an expensive city like New York could be difficult. If you plan on sticking around more costly areas, you'll likely need a supplemental source of income.
Also, professional photography equipment can be notoriously expensive. You'll need to buy cameras, lenses, sophisticated editing software licenses and more. Your full set-up costs may run well into the tens of thousands, depending on the quality of equipment you buy.
- Transcription services: Transcribers turn tough-to-interpret audio into text. Many businesses engage in interviews or require transcription services but don't want to hire large transcription companies, making them prime for small-business owners that provide such services.
- Travel planning: As a digital nomad, you've likely picked up considerable knowledge about the travel industry and different destinations. Use those skills to craft perfect itineraries for those who may not know much about traveling.
- Online tutoring: Tutoring no longer needs to be conducted in person. Ideally, you'd like to have a clear webcam and audio in order to keep communication fluid. If you're interested in tutoring but want to continue traveling, be aware that many tutors have moved their services online.
- Digital marketing: If you're an SEO or marketing guru, consider making your business remote. Digital marketing usually doesn't require face-to-face contact, and most of the day-to-day activities can be entirely done online.
- Life coach: Chances are, if you're traveling while starting your business, people probably ask you a ton of questions all the time. Take that as an indication of an existing customer base and monetize off the valuable experiences you've gathered thus far.
- Technical writing: Technical writers create instructions manuals, how-to guides and more. If you've got a passion for writing in-depth about certain subjects, consider technical writing. Also, technical writers make roughly $70,000 on average.
- Translation services: For those who know more than one language, translation services are a big need in every industry. Yes, there is a growing number of tech-enabled translation services, but accuracy seems to be a consistent problem.
- Teach a language: Teaching English abroad continues to be a lucrative source of income for travelers. You can either teach online or in person via programs that partner with local schools.
- Dropshipping: Dropshippers basically act as a connection between wholesale suppliers and retailers that interface with end consumers directly. As a dropshipper, you'd be responsible for shipping sold products to consumers.
- Social media advertising: Social media has grown so large that a new type of advertising has formed. Social media advertising, mainly through Facebook, is an area that many businesses don't know how to correctly perform. Consider learning more about Facebook advertising to build a monetizable skill.
There are more than 30 million small businesses in the U.S. alone, meaning setting up a B2B (business-to-business) company is a great idea. Businesses need goods and services just like consumers do, and there are plenty of ventures one could start to help meet those demands.
Why we like it: Accountants are vital for all small businesses. While there are basic bookkeeping tools, like QuickBooks, they can't yet perform the complex tasks an accountant will execute—like helping form a reasonable business plan or paying attention to industry changes that may affect a business's financial health.
The job outlook for accountants looks strong, as it's forecasted to grow at a pace of 10%, which is faster than the national average. Accountants also typically have a high median salary of up to $69,350, and they benefit when their clients grow.
Challenges: If you start your own accounting business or freelance as one, you'll need a certified public accountant (CPA) license. This can be quite expensive and time-consuming, and it may not be a feasible path for some. CPAs are quite common and are a minimum expectation for freelance accountants.
There are several different fields within accounting, which poses a unique challenge to starting your own accounting business. If you come from a larger accounting firm, you've likely specialized in a specific subset of accounting. However, expect the needs of small businesses to be much broader than your specialization. It is more than likely you'll need to learn additional areas to be able to deliver end-to-end accounting services.
Why we like it: If you have years' worth of specialized experience under your belt, consider becoming a consultant in your respective field, such as management consulting or SEO.
Consulting as a whole has always been a relatively lucrative field. For example, management consultants, while they may be the highest-paid consultants, earned a median pay of roughly $82,000 in 2017. Job outlook is also attractive, with a growth rate of 14%. If you're a subject matter expert in a field that few others understand but deem vital to their business, consider starting a consulting business.
Challenges: Consulting as a freelancer or individual isn't necessarily something you can start without prior experience. You'll need a resume and references to prove you're a subject matter expert. If you can't, it will be difficult to sign on clients.
Depending on the type of consulting you provide, it could be quite common for you to travel to client sites. While this might be great in terms of racking up rewards points, it likely won't translate to a great work-life balance.
Why we like it: Graphic design is a crucial skill that a lot of businesses depend on. Businesses use graphic designers for everything from enhancing their products to improving their websites and more. In addition, it's common to start your own graphic design business as about one in five are self-employed.
Employment for graphic designers is expected to grow by about 4% from 2016 to 2026. That's a bit slower than average, but considering the lucrative benefits, like a relatively low barrier to entry and a huge variety of projects, we'd still recommend exploring graphic design. Given the high competition, we'd only recommend graphic design to those who can build a strong portfolio.
Challenges: While the 4% growth from 2016 to 2026 isn't a massive step away from the average outlook, it's still a drawback as it translates to high competition. Your success as a graphic designer is highly dependent on your portfolio, so breaking into the industry for the first time will be tough. However, there isn't a single business idea in this article that won't have barriers to entry.
- Virtual assistant: A virtual assistant business is lucrative since it's relatively easy to have multiple clients at a single time. The biggest benefit to being a virtual assistant is that you can craft your own schedule by choosing which clients to take on.
- IT support: Plenty of businesses need IT support but can't afford to build up an internal IT structure or an external third-party vendor. Whether they need general IT or more specific support, there's plenty of demand from small businesses out there.
- Social media influencer: If you're able to generate a significant following on your own social media accounts, consider partnering with businesses and establishing affiliate partnerships. It's a cheap and easy way for small businesses to market themselves, and a great way for you to leverage a skill or product they don't have.
- Social media recruiter: Recruiting has evolved well beyond old-school headhunting firms. Platforms like LinkedIn have made recruiting far easier to manage, and you can consider building an online recruiting business.
- Angel investing: If you've got the extra funding, consider angel investing. Even if you aren't necessarily affluent, you can still leverage peer-to-peer lending platforms.
- PR services: Technology and the ease of access to information has permanently changed the world of PR. Plenty of small businesses need help navigating the world of PR and can't afford large PR firms.
- Grant writing: Grants are the lifeblood of many nonprofit organizations, research groups, academia groups and more. However, grants are notoriously difficult to apply for, as most require significant write-ups. Grant writers take that process off customers' hands and write the required pieces for them instead.
- Commercial real estate agency: Most businesses don't have the time and resources to search for a new office or a new building. That's where commercial real estate agents come into play. If you've got a good understanding of the local market and how commercial real estate operates, consider building an agency.
- Corporate training: Small businesses to large corporations all require consistent training for employees. If you're technically adept in a niche skill, consider leveraging that knowledge to start a training company.
- Security services: Job outlook for security guards is progressing at the same rate as the national average. If you've got the necessary skills and knowledge to patrol property and protect assets, starting a security company is definitely an option to consider.
Outdoor Business Ideas
Do you have a passion for the outdoors? Why not consider a business that allows for you to experience it as much as possible? There are plenty of profitable businesses that revolve around the outdoors. While it may seem like the growing intersections of business and technology are making it harder to come up with ideas that don't involve a computer, that doesn't necessarily mean you'll need to stay glued to a desk.
Why we like it: We mentioned it above, but the travel industry is really booming. The job outlook for tour guides is expected to grow at 5% between 2014 and 2024 in the U.S. alone. If you've got a passion for teaching or spreading knowledge, tourism is right for you.
A major benefit of starting a tour guide business is that you don't need formal education beyond knowledge of the specific subject you'll discuss as a guide. Additionally, some locations may require guides to become licensed. For example, New York City requires that all guides be licensed, and applicants are tested on their knowledge of the city.
Challenges: Heavily visited areas and popular tourist destinations are likely already saturated with tour guide companies. Because so much of the industry relies on review sites like TripAdvisor, it can be tough to compete with established businesses with hundreds of positive reviews. Instead, it'd be more advantageous to find an up-and-coming area that isn't overly crowded.
Starting a tour guide business can mean significant initial investments. Whether you're buying a vehicle or an office, these sorts of things are generally expected among the most competitive tour guide companies. We'd recommend exploring either debt or equity financing, as these heavy costs are often difficult to bear alone.
Why we recommend it: According to Statista, the pet market is predicted to grow to a whopping size of $18.26 billion by 2018 in the U.S. alone. Services like grooming, boarding and walking are estimated to grow to roughly $6.5 billion. These stats, combined with the fact that people are working longer hours, point to pet services being a lucrative field.
Pet walking is high up on our list of recommendations because it requires very little upfront investment. You'll likely need a few behavioral and pet care certifications, minimal supplies, and a passion for animals. If you have flexibility in your day job, it's also an easy business to start on the side, provided you can walk pets during regular business hours (9 a.m. to 5 p.m.). Once your business starts to ramp up, you can also start exploring other complementary ideas like pet sitting or grooming.
Challenges: Technology is finding its way into every business possible, and pet walking is no exception. Wag! And Rover are two platforms that pair customers with certified dog walkers and have their dogs walked while they're at work. Owners can also see the routes by which their dogs are walked and how far they've gone. Providing a mobile application with location services is tough to match for a startup or new business, but if you can differentiate on other levels like customer service, trust and pricing, we'd still highly recommend considering pet walking.
Also, customer loyalty is notoriously low in pet walking. Turnover is high, and it's no surprise because the job is relatively easy. Additionally, it's a hospitality business, which means your busiest times will be when people are most likely on vacation. Expect to be busiest during regular working hours, weekends and summers.
Why we like it: Agritourism has grown tremendously over recent years. The USDA started tracking farmers markets in 1994, and the number of markets now stands at 8,720. Farmers markets provide a unique way for farmers to directly sell to consumers without having to go through food processors, allowing for increased margins.
Farms don't always have the resources to attend all markets in their respective areas, so they'll typically hire third-party vendors to represent their stalls at various markets. If you have a natural knack for selling, don't mind sitting outdoors for long periods of time and have a passion for organic food, consider opening a farmers market vendor business.
Challenges: Nearly 24% of all new farmers markets fail within their first year. While that's no number to scoff at, we do want to note that almost all of those failed markets operate in smaller, niche markets, and it's not indicative of the success that markets have in well-established areas like New York City.
Depending on your location, this business could be highly seasonal. If you're located in a seasonal area like New York, you'll have to find alternative ways to facilitate your cash flow during the off season.
- Bike shops - Peopleforbikes states that Americans spend $81 billion on biking annually. While bike shops would require significant upfront investments, the industry has proven to be lucrative in recent years.
- Food truck: While you technically won't be "outside" the whole time, operating a food truck is a great idea for those who want to escape the confines of a desk and computer. There are significant startup costs with this idea, though, so we'd recommend getting a loan.
- Adventure club: Adventure clubs typically craft outdoor activities for customers, and it's a great way for entrepreneurs to stay outside and cater to other thrill-seekers. Adventure clubs typically operate through membership models.
- Billboard installation: Online advertising has definitely increased in recent years, but billboards are still a major piece of advertising. Set up partnerships with local billboard owners and businesses that would like to advertise, and you can handle the installations yourself.
- Canoe and kayak rentals: Similar to bike shops, this idea would require significant startup costs. You can charge a higher premium than your competitors, but your business would be seasonal depending on your location.
- Sports instructor: Are you talented enough in sports to teach someone but not quite good enough to go pro? Starting a sports instructor business is the perfect middleground, and it also allows for a flexible schedule.
- Personal trainer In a similar vein, consider personal training with an emphasis on the outdoors. Personal training doesn't have to be confined to the inside of a gym, and you can specialize in things like outdoor running.
- Landscaping: Landscaping can be a lucrative business for those who like to stay outdoors. While it may be seasonal depending on your location, landscaping could be lucrative for those who have a passion for it.
- Litter pickup: Picking up litter doesn't have to be limited to volunteers. As concern over the environment continues to grow, litter clean-up does as well. Negotiate deals and partnerships with local governments in order to monetize this effort.
- Pool cleaning: Pool cleaners often provide end-to-end services that extend well beyond simple cleaning. A lot of these services are things that actual pool owners don't want to be bothered with. Pool cleaning can also be lucrative because it doesn't require a significant startup cost.
Big List of Small-Business Ideas
If you want a bird's-eye view at a variety of business ideas, below you'll see a comprehensive list.
|Type of business||Business idea|
|Home-based business ideas|
|Remote business ideas|
|B2B business ideas|
|Outdoor business ideas|
Deciding which business idea you'd like to pursue is the first choice out of many that you'll need to make. You'll also need to consider obtaining financing, forming a business plan and checking necessary regulations. There's a lot that goes into starting your own business, and each process will likely be different.
Debt vs Equity Financing
Debt financing is the process by which you borrow money from a lender and you agree to pay back that borrowed amount within a given time period, likely with an interest rate attached. This includes term loans, lines of credit, credit cards and more. The biggest advantage to debt financing is that you traditionally don't give up control or ownership of your business—but the trade-off is that you end up paying interest fees.
Equity financing is the other common financing form, and this is the process by which you raise funds by selling pieces of ownership of your business. While you don't have to pay interest fees, you do give up ownership and control of your business, which isn't ideal for many business owners. There is no definitive answer as to which form of financing is better, so business owners will have to decide for themselves.
Registering Your Business
When you form your business, there are a number of legal options to take. Generally, you can register as a sole proprietorship or an LLC. Regulations will differ by state and industry, but you should do your due diligence to see which registration forms you'll need to fill out.
Operating under a sole proprietorship is the simplest, as you individually own all of the profits, losses and taxes. However, a big downside to operating as one is that you'll need to formally use your personal legal name on all business ventures. This often looks a bit unprofessional, and it doesn't allow for much clever branding. Instead, you can file a DBA to change your business name and operate under a name of your choosing. This process is rather easy and fast.
When your business gets more complex, explore registering as an LLC. There's a number of advantages to registering as an LLC, including flexible tax filings and the ability to profit share with employees.