With the United States economy on an unprecedented 10-plus-year period of expansion, entrepreneurial activity has been hotter than ever. But with so many different types of businesses to start — be it online or brick-and-mortar, local or national, products or services — it can be tough to know which businesses are the best to start.
In order to help you figure out which businesses you should start, we assembled a list of some of the best businesses to start (see also the 'Reasons To Start An Online Business'). Rather than look at side hustle-type businesses or small ways to make money — such as delivering food or getting paid to take online surveys — this list covers businesses that could perhaps start off as side gigs but can be scaled into a full-on business. Other considerations for identifying the best businesses to start include startup and overhead costs, educational and certification requirements and ease of setup - you should also read our 'What is SWOT Analysis?' post. Finally, in the process of starting up a company, you may do well to seek a legal advice from the best LLC formation service/ best registered agent service out there as already described in our Nolo Review, Rocket Lawyer Review, Zen Business Review, or IncFile Review.
Here are 20 of the best businesses to start:
1. Business Broker
Businesses in America are bought and sold every day, but have you ever wondered how this process works? A business owner can of course personally reach out to people interested in buying a business, however, this is isn’t always easy or convenient. That’s where business brokers come in. Business brokers connect with people wanting to sell their businesses, prepare a valuation of the business for fair market pricing, list and market the business for sale, qualify potential buyers, show the business to potential buyers, help negotiate an appropriate selling price and assist in closing. Business brokers make a commission based on the selling price so it's in their best interest to get clients the highest selling price.
One of the best ways to get the most profit out of this business idea is to specialize in selling a specific type of business such as restaurants, hotels, retail stores or manufacturing companies. When you specialize in a certain business or industry, you can quickly garner a reputation as an expert in that area. This can lead to more business from referrals as business owners recognize your company and expertise in selling companies. Bear in mind that in 17 U.S. states you do need to get a business broker license in order to go into business as one. Fortunately, you can run a business broker company online and out of your own home if you wish.
2. Affiliate Marketing
Affiliate marketing is a business model in which bloggers, influencers and publishers — the affiliate — recommend services or products they like or find useful, typically something that is genuinely helpful for their audience. When a user on your blog clicks the ad or link you’re showcasing, it will take the user to another site, usually a merchant, where they buy the service or product. If the user purchases something from this merchant site, the transaction will be recorded by the affiliate network company who then pays you — the blogger, influencer or publisher who hosted the ad. You thus earn a percentage of profit for each sale that can be traced back to your site. In order to get started, check out and register with some of the major affiliate networks such as Amazon Associates, ShareASale, Rakuten or Awin.
3. Food Truck
Food trucks have sprung up all across the country in recent years, due in no small part to the wide application of convenient point-of-sale devices that can take credit and debit cards and other forms of non-cash payment such as Square and PayPal (see other payment processing alternatives, too). A food truck business can be very profitable. A major advantage of food trucks is that they provide the services and benefits of a restaurant without the costly initial investment in a physical brick-and-mortar establishment. Restaurants, with so much food to be purchased, cooked and served (not to mention, wasted), have high operating expenses and tacking on a lease (see 'capital lease vs operating lease' post) or mortgage only makes the margins tighter.
If you are a cook or just have a passion for food, you might understandably dream of opening your own restaurant. But if this isn’t possible, starting a food truck business is an excellent, less expensive alternative to the cost of opening a restaurant. What’s more, if your food truck business proves successful, you can evolve it into a full-on restaurant business.
4. Coffee Shop
Coffee is always in high demand. Despite the proliferation of massive chains like Starbucks, individual coffee shop businesses have seen explosive growth, too. If you’re starting a coffee shop from scratch, you will need to buy various pieces of equipment, like an espresso machine, which can cost as much as $20,000. However, if you keep your menu limited and focused on your core product, you can avoid the higher costs of a bigger restaurant. Coffee is a comparatively cheap commodity and consumers expect mark-ups to be high, which is great for you as a business owner.
5. Content Marketing Agency
Many digital and online companies have championed the phrase, “content is king.” With strong demand for written content of all different sorts, content creation is a booming business. But there are several ways to get in on the action, some more profitable than others. Starting a content creation agency can be great because you can get hired and paid for the content you deliver to your clients. This can often be more lucrative than trying to create and grow a blog to a size big enough that you can charge advertisers for ad space.
Starting a successful content creation agency requires writing, editorial and marketing skills. It also requires you to create relevant and valuable content for your own business so that you can attract the attention of prospective clients. In addition, other skills like research and SEO are important because you’ll want to cater your content to the objectives and goals of your clients and their business as much as possible.
6. Courier Services
Despite the massive growth of the internet, or perhaps because of it, courier services are still in demand. While the internet may have eliminated some areas of the traditional courier business, many documents still must be delivered physically and in a timely fashion. Plus, you can craft your courier business to include all types of package types and sizes to maximize profit potential. In terms of permits or licenses, you should investigate getting a courier’s license, which is usually regulated on the local level.
There are various ways to go about starting a courier service business. The cheapest way, though usually the least profitable, is to subcontract your services to an established courier company. In this situation, you’d supply yourself and the transportation to pick up and deliver packages. The more profitable move is to start your own courier service in its entirety, hiring other owner-operators of vehicles to make deliveries, typically on a revenue-sharing basis. This model is great because it can free you up to focus on other crucial areas of the business such as marketing, managing and building your company.
Related: How to Start a Business With No Money
7. Online Courses
Creating online courses is one of those side hustles that can turn into a full-fledged small business. If you just want to get started with creating online courses, check out Udemy, where you can create online courses and get paid when a student purchases your course. From here, you can move out to really build out your online courses business.
What’s great about this business is the endless opportunities for courses you can create. For example, you could teach a second language, news writing, graphic design, SEO techniques, real estate brokering, auto repair or stock market analysis. Once you establish a base of students, your online course business can take off into a profitable business.
If you’re a skilled writer, you might want your name appearing alongside everything you write that gets published. But sometimes this isn’t the most lucrative way to make money off your skills. With ghostwriting, you might not get the credit for what you write, but there is ample opportunity to make substantial profits. Ghostwriting is also a great side hustle idea which you can then grow and transform into a full-fledged business.
As with freelance writing gigs, you can find ghostwriting jobs from platforms like Freelancer, Workana, Contena and more. If you’re just getting started, you can expect to earn roughly between $15 and $30 per hour depending on the quality of your work. However, once you gain experience and build a portfolio of published work, you could significantly increase your profits from ghostwriting.
9. Self-Storage Business
When you live in a heavily populated urban area like New York or Los Angeles, finding room for all your belongings can be very difficult. In an apartment, it can be nearly impossible. These types of conditions are what have helped propel self-storage facilities into a booming business. Indeed, according to SpareFoot, self-storage businesses generated annual revenue of $38 billion in 2018. What’s more, the self-storage industry is very open to small-sized operators, which account for 73 percent of self-storage companies, while the six largest public companies control only 18 percent. According to one estimate, the average profit margin of a self-storage business is about 11 percent, considerably higher than many other kinds of small businesses.
10. Tax Preparation
There are not a lot of Americans who look forward to tax season, unless of course, you’re an accountant. Depending on your personal circumstances, taxes can be either quite simple or very complicated. While some people can easily file their taxes on their own in just a few minutes, it's not so simple for homeowners or business owners. Plus, with how frequently tax laws change, tax preparation specialists are always in demand.
Starting a tax preparation business carries several advantages. Being a tax preparer gives you the ability to work from home. Because Americans have to pay taxes every year, it has recession-proof qualities that most other businesses do not possess at all. Technically, you don’t need to be a CPA to be a tax preparer, however, those kinds of certifications come with advantages. If you don’t want to pursue becoming a CPA, you should definitely think about getting certified as an enrolled agent (EA) by the IRS. It involves training and an exam, but it comes with privileges like going before the IRS instead of your clients if they’re audited.
11. Leasing Agent
A leasing agent is an interesting business opportunity in which you match clients up with lending institutions that specialize in providing financing solutions on a lease basis. The types of purchases leasing agents deal with can range from automobiles to computer equipment for businesses use to apartments and other residences. A leasing agency acts as a go-between but also critically as a marketer of the equipment or property to be leased. Leasing agents secure clients who want to lease a product, providing them with lease documents to complete and then submit these to a couple of leasing companies or financial institutions. Based on which leasing companies offer you the best lease rates and terms, you’ll then connect your clients with these companies. When it comes to profit, the leasing agent charges the financial lenders a fee typically based on the value of the total lease amount.
12. Property Management
Landlords might own the properties they rent out, but many of them are not exactly in love with or motivated to tend to repairs, maintenance, complaints and other tenant issues. Many landlords own multiple properties, so they often are too busy to address the concerns of their renters effectively. This is where starting a property management company can be a big win. As a property manager, you oversee the daily operations of the property and maintain its value. The areas that a property management company covers include accountability, control, utilization, disposition and maintenance of the property. Property managers handle the marketing of the property, inquiries by tenants, application screening, lease agreements, inspection and, of course, collection of rent. With home prices still out of reach for many Americans, the share of households that are renters has held steady or increased in many cities. This makes starting a property management company a solid opportunity to create a successful business.
13. Fulfillment by Amazon Business
Amazon might be trying to take over the world, but they at least do offer the small guy a chance to get in on the action. The Fulfillment by Amazon (FBA) program allows sellers of products to market their items through Amazon, which is, needless to say, the largest online retail platform in the world. As the FBA seller, you will pay fulfillment (see Square and Stripe payment options) and monthly storage fees to Amazon who then handles all the storage, packing, shipping, returns and customer service queries. You as the seller are responsible for shipping their products to an Amazon fulfillment center as well as for creating product listings on your Amazon store, but they take care of much of the rest. After your listings go up live and sales are transacted, you’ll begin receiving a percentage of the proceeds on a weekly basis. Using the Amazon FBA program is a solid method of getting into the online retail space from which you can grow your business into much more.
14. Wedding Planner
Weddings seem to get ever more lavish, organized and intense these days. With so many aspects of a wedding to account for — caterers, florists, performers, travel arrangements, photographers and more — it’s understandable that couples can’t manage it all themselves. Hence the central importance of wedding planners.
Being a wedding planner can be quite lucrative, with the average wedding planner earning around $40 an hour for their services. Take note, however, that weddings are very seasonal, so even if you are successful, you may encounter some fluctuations in your business and earnings. It’s also best to have or line up a network of contacts, such as caterers, florists and the like, before you get into the wedding planning business. Once you pull off a few weddings and get your brand out there, this business can earn you a lot of money indeed.
Learn: 6 Ways to Position Your Business for Growth This Year
15. Business Consulting
Consulting is a great business to start if you’re an expert in your industry and have extensive experience in the field. If you’ve spent years at a desk job rising through the same industry, then getting into business consulting could be your way to escape the 9-to-5 while harnessing everything you’ve learned over the years at work. In fact, many of the most successful consultants are those that made the move into consulting later in their careers, have specialized expertise and are well organized, with a large network of contacts. As a business consultant, you can help clients in the long-term too, if you want to, helping companies get started but also scale up their business. Consulting can start off as a nice side hustle, which you then build out into a fully developed business.
Learn: How to Get a Loan for Your Business
16. Stock Photography
Digitalization and the internet may have hurt the fortunes of some photography and camera businesses, namely Kodak. But the internet has also opened up a whole world of business opportunities in the form of stock photography. Blogs, websites, ad banners, social media, brochures and online PDFs all rely on stock photography to get their message across. Armed with a digital single-lens reflex camera (DSLR) and solid Photoshop skills, you could stand to make good money by selling your images to stock photo websites including Pexels, Unsplash, and Shutterstock. Whenever a person licenses your photo through the stock photo site, you get paid with a markup amount. With time and effort, you can go on to build your own website and secure different clients for other projects like custom photography.
17. Facilities Support Services
This business is different from property management, but there are some similarities. Facilities support or management businesses handle a wide range of tasks and services for other businesses, including janitorial, maintenance, security, painting, moving, administration and reception responsibilities. It’s a great business to start because, like with property management, your clients are simply too preoccupied to handle these internal and external tasks around their workspace. You also can focus on one or two specific areas of facilities support or you could offer a full range of services. Either way, most businesses need these kinds of support services, making this one of the best businesses to start.
Read: What Percentage of Small Businesses Fail?
18. Senior At-Home Care
With America’s massive Baby Boomer population retiring and growing old, senior care services have experienced dramatic growth in recent years. However, many elderly people and their adult children are wary of the treatment and quality provided at senior care facilities. Nursing home costs have been soaring and many existing facilities have become very overcrowded. Thus, starting an at-home senior care business can be a lucrative venture while also offering a great alternative for seniors who are still functional.
Since you’re going to be taking care of elderly people, you will need trained staff that’s experienced with handling medication, appointments and other household duties for seniors. They’ll also likely need to know how to work different types of equipment a senior may need for use. On a related note, see also here how to start a daycare center for kids.
19. Event Planning
If you’re organized and detail-oriented, but aren’t hot on weddings, then perhaps event planning could be the move for you. Of course, event planning can include weddings, but it also extends to other areas, such as company meetings, corporate outings, birthday parties and much more. Event planning can also cross into the realm of PR services, for example, if you’re hired to create and manage a kiosk for a business at a marketing convention. Event planning is also conducive to repeat clients and referrals, which is a great source of continuing revenue.
20. Cleaning Services
Whether it’s a home or a business, people want clean premises. Fortunately for you, many people don’t like to do the cleaning themselves. This is especially true if they have carpets or other surfaces that are particularly tough to clean. If you focus your cleaning services on especially frustrating or difficult things to clean, then your business can be far more than a simple maid service (see also laundy and dry cleaning business). You’ll need to invest in a very good vacuum cleaner, cleaning agents, carpet brushes, steam cleaner and maybe some equipment with industrial-level cleaning capacity. These pieces of equipment will add to your overhead, but they can help separate you from competitors who have less capabilities. What’s more, if you put in more money for quality, serious cleaning equipment, then you can take advantage of getting both consumer and commercial clients for your business. For more on this, check out 'Starting a Cleaning Business Checklist' post.
The Bottom Line
There are way more business ideas out there for you to choose from like, for example, gym business among other things. However, these are some of the best businesses to start in terms of their lower startup and overheads costs, ability to either or both be done online or from your home and are comparatively easy to set up. Plus, a major theme running through these small business ideas is that they are in demand, will continue to be in demand and are likely to increase in demand. Just remember that the key to launching any successful business begins with a well-researched and thought-out, well-written business plan. Once you have this done, the sky’s the limit.