There’s a lot to like about running a small business. When you’re your own boss, you get to make your own rules and set your own hours. And if you’re lucky enough to run a successful business, it can pay more than a 9-to-5.
But what kind of business should you start?
Often, we hold a romanticized view of what it takes to come up with a business idea. Does it need to be a genius invention? A scientific breakthrough? A Shark-Tank-worthy smartphone app?
No. You don’t need flash to start a profitable business.
What you need is a real, concrete business idea that will gradually generate enough income to sustain you. Think about your typical local businesses. You probably see advertisements every day for dog walking, landscaping, catering, and more. Guess what? Those are all great small business ideas.
If you’re still searching for that perfect business idea, read on.
What Makes a Good Small Business Idea?
At their core, good business ideas identify existing problems and offer a solution. Could you solve problems with a scientific breakthrough, a smartphone app or a genius invention? Sure, but plenty of successful small business ideas are a lot easier to get off the ground, with a much lower initial investment.
A good business idea doesn’t have to be glamorous. It just needs to be realistic.
Kathyrn Gratton is the president of the Hagerstown, Maryland, chapter of Score, a free small-business resource network and partner of the federal Small Business Administration. In addition to practicality, she said that business ideas should revolve around you, the owner.
“Where’s your interest? Where’s your passion?” she asked, noting that your small business ideas need to be more than potential moneymaking ventures: You should also enjoy the work to some degree.
Once you think you’ve settled on a good small business idea, Gratton said, recruit a brutally honest friend to see if it holds any water.
“We all have that friend that will tell you you’ve gotten fat,” she says. “They are the best to run things by. You know they will tell you the truth.”
Turn Your Current Skills Into Business Ideas
Take a moment to think about what you’re good at.
It could be something you create, niche knowledge about an interesting topic, an artistic ability — anything. Chances are, you’re a master of something, and someone else out there is looking for what you offer.
Stumped? Here are some profitable business ideas to get you brainstorming.
Sell Your Creations in an E-Commerce Store
Compared to brick-and-mortar stores, e-commerce websites offer entrepreneurs a less risky way of selling their products. You’re already familiar with Amazon, but there are tons of other ways to sell stuff online.
Once you’re established, you can integrate an online store on your own company’s website, but for starters, try Amazon, eBay or Etsy, depending on what you’re selling. These websites are great options for those who make products but don’t want the overhead of a storefront.
It’s free to create a basic account on each of these websites, but they do charge fees once you make a sale:
- Amazon: Charges a 99-cent fee for vendors who sell up to 40 items per month. Above that, you’ll need to make a Professional Seller Account for $39.99 a month. Paid accounts aren’t charged the 99-cent fee, but both accounts incur additional selling fees that range between 3% and 45% of the item’s selling price.
- eBay: eBay Stores are are fee-free if you list under 250 items per month. Once you start to sell more than that, a membership is required, which runs between $4.95 and $29,999.95 a month. For each sale, a final-value fee between 2% and 12% is deducted from the selling price.
- Etsy: There’s no limit to how many sales can be made on a free Etsy account, but each sale is subject to a flat fee of 20 cents plus 6.5% of the listing price. Etsy stores in good standing are eligible for an Etsy Plus account that costs $10 a month. This membership includes website customization features, ways to promote your listings, discounts and other perks.
Screenprinting duo Adam and Coryn Enfinger used to design and manually print T-shirts for fun. Then Coryn made an Etsy account to sell their shirts, and their hobby spiraled into a $350,000-a-year ecommerce business called Dark Cycle Clothing.
Coryn chose Etsy because the website caters to more handmade and artistic products. In addition to its online sales, Dark Cycle keeps a presence at several local and regional indie flea markets to make sales in person — an excellent, low-cost way to diversify income for businesses without a centralized location.
There will always be a need for childcare. That’s why sites like Care.com attract so many parents – and workers. But this article isn’t about side gigs. While those apps can help you get your start — similar to freelancing platforms — they’re not the end goal. Use them to sharpen your skills, establish a customer base, then launch a full-time business of your own.
To establish yourself and earn the trust of clients, try earning a relevant certification.
For animal lovers, pet care can be a fun, rewarding, and profitable business idea. And there is always high demand from the legions of pet owners out there.
- For pet care, register with the Professional Animal Care Certification Council. Certifications require some hands-on animal care experience, and it will run you about $350 to take the exam. Certifications last for three years, and you will be logged in the PACCC database, where anyone can verify that you’re legit.
Where’s your interest? Where’s your passion?
A niche within pet care is dog walking. Dog walking requires a very low initial investment — just buy some leashes.
The popularity of Housesitter.com shows just how much demand there is for a reliable housesitting service. What’s stopping you from setting up an independent operation?
Housesitting businesses require very little overhead and have the potential to grow quickly. Once you book a client nearby, ask for a referral to expand your services to the whole neighborhood. That will help establish trust from your community and give you an edge over random people from websites or apps.
- While there aren’t any legitimate house-sitting credentials on the market, it may put potential clients’ minds at ease if you had a related certification in a topic like fire safety.
While it may require modest overhead costs, a cleaning business has the potential for long-term, steady work that is easily scalable as you find more customers.
To get started, you’ll obviously need all the staples of house-cleaning equipment — dusters, brooms, mops, a wringer bucket, chemicals, gloves, a vacuum and a solid face mask. For quality materials, that could run you up to $2,000. But you may have most of the equipment already, and much of it doesn’t need to be replaced on a regular basis.
For some, cleaning is a no brainer. But it can definitely get complicated.
What chemicals become toxic when mixed? How do you deal with black mold underneath wallpaper? If you don’t know the answers off the top of your head, it’s a good idea to invest in a membership with the International Janitorial Cleaning Services Association, which offers certifications, training, janitorial insurance, discounts on cleaning supplies and more.
As with many of these options, word-of-mouth advertising works wonders. Start with your neighbors, rack up a few referrals, and soon you’ll be plotting the takeover of your entire block.
The great thing about a pressure washing business is that there’s always high demand. If you’ve seen a dirty driveway, deck, or sidewalk, you’ve seen a potential job.
To get started, you need a commercial pressure washer. That will run you about $750 to $2000, depending on the model. Since pressure washing businesses charge between $25 and $100 per hour, that’s not a bad investment!
There will always be high demand for lawn care, tree trimming, and every other variety of landscaping business.
True, the overhead costs can be a little intimidating if you don’t already have the equipment. A zero-turn lawn mower, for example, will run you about $3,000.
Still, if you love working outside (or supervising people who do), landscaping could be a great business idea for you.
Flea Market and Vintage Flipper
Got a good eye for what people want? You can build a business around buying low-cost garage-sale, flea-market or thrift-store items and reselling them online for a sizable profit.
Robert Stephenson, aka the Flea Market Flipper, does just that, and he makes upwards of $80,000 a year working part-time hours. On weekends, he peruses garage sales and thrift stores for a few hours to scout out and buy items that have resell potential. Throughout the week, he fixes them up and lists them on e-commerce sites, particularly eBay.
The only overhead in this business model is the price you pay for the used items and any materials needed to fix them up. To keep startup costs down, you could begin with thrifted clothes that don’t need any repairing and resell them on websites with a vintage aesthetic, such as Poshmark.
Ebay, Amazon and Etsy are all solid options as well.
In our guide to selling on Poshmark, Alison Gary, a successful fashion blogger and Poshmark seller, lays out her advice on making a successful listing:
- List multiple pictures.
- Haggle for the best price, but know when to say no.
- Give fashion advice along with your clothing. (Hello, upsell!)
To become a seller yourself, first download the Poshmark app. Then you can create your own listing using Gary’s advice.
For each sale, Poshmark charges a commission fee. For sales $15 and under, there’s a flat $2.95 fee. For everything over $15, the commission jumps to 20% of the sale price.
The good news is Poshmark handles shipping for free. It will send you a pre-labeled package for you to load your clothes into and send to the buyer.
If this model works for you, you can stick to it. Or your profits from reselling vintage clothes can fund the overhead to start buying and fixing up more items.
Apps such as Instacart highlight the demand for people to perform everyday errands, like grocery shopping, for those who don’t have the time.
What they shouldn’t do is discourage you from starting your own business as an in-person assistant. In fact, these apps can serve as templates for tailoring a more sensible, local business.
Study side-gig apps, and use their customers’ pain points as ways to strengthen your own business idea.
For example, Instacart only delivers groceries. Your business can run plenty of other related errands, and it doesn’t require your customers to download and use a different app for every task on their to-do list. Sure, you won’t be automatically matched with clients. But by this point in the guide, you should be a pro at landing recurring customers.
Another example to build upon is the service called Papa. It’s a budding app that pairs college students with seniors who need help around the house, transportation or even tech lessons. Great idea, right? Except there are plenty of seniors who need assistance but don’t have the technological skills to download the app or apply through the website.
That’s where you come in: the neighborhood assistant who doesn’t require tedious apps. As you collect client referrals, you can spread your services to other neighborhoods. Or, you could opt to be more niche and scout out retirement complexes where your services could be more centralized and in-demand.
Ready to Start Your Own Business?
Do you feel overloaded with examples of small business ideas? Good. You’re ready to get started and get your brain flowing with all the potential opportunities out there. None of these recommendations are ready-made business plans, and they’ll require a little tweaking to make them your own. The important thing is that you narrow down the ideas that work best for you.
Once you’ve got a few great business ideas in mind, you’re ready for your next steps: opening your business bank account, creating a business plan, and launching your social media accounts, for starters.
Ciara McLaren is a freelance writer with work in HuffPost, MoneyGeek, and The Penny Hoarder. You can find her on Substack (@camclaren). Lisa McGreevy is a former staff writer at The Penny Hoarder.
Adam Hardy, a former staff writer at The Penny Hoarder, contributed to this report.