Back in 2016, I started a business for less than $15 based on one of the ideas below. Little did I know that in one year, I’d leave a job I’d had for a decade to run that business full-time.
Ideas are the first step to starting a profitable business. But how do you come up with an idea today that you’ll be happy about in the future?
One way is to look for small-scale businesses with growing demand. If you start your business in a field that’s expanding, you’ll have more options and flexibility down the road. It’ll be easier to carve out a niche, or to scale-up when you decide it’s time to move from small-scale to the big time.
15 Hottest Small Scale Business Ideas
This article highlights 15 of the hottest small business ideas right now, broken down into online and offline opportunities.
Obviously, there’s a little bit of crossover between those two classifications. For example, if you start a small-scale bookkeeping business, you might find most of your clients online but also work for a few local clients. In today’s marketplace, the line between “online” and “offline” is much less rigid than it used to be.
Best Online Small-Scale Business Ideas
#1 — Online Publisher
Since 2012, global internet use has grown by 87%. That trend isn’t slowing down, as almost one million new users sign-on every day. One way to take advantage of that growth is to start a blog.
Most people think of blogs as a form of online journal, where one person occasionally writes about a topic for a handful of readers. But that stereotype couldn’t be further from the truth.
Blogs are wildly popular and can be a lucrative business. Remember that idea I mentioned in the intro — the one that made it possible for me to quit my job in the financial industry? It was this blog, which is now read by hundreds of thousands of people every month.
And by the way… it’s a great source of passive income, because you’ll keep making money from work you’ve already done.
There’s a lot that can go into running a blog as a business. Many bloggers hire ghostwriters to produce content, salespeople to sell ads, social media managers to run Facebook and Twitter campaigns, and the list goes on. There’s no limit to what a blog can cover, which means there are no rules about how big it can become.
Of course, you don’t need any of those people to get started. You can start making money blogging on your own, and then scale-up your business as your readership grows. The key is finding the right niche — a topic that readers are looking for that also provides solid revenue opportunities.
There are a lot of good blog niches. Maybe it’s a site like this that dives deep into a subject like personal finance. It could be a recipe blog, a news blog, or any other topic you’re passionate about.
If you’re interested in learning more, sign up for my free step-by-step course. In it, I cover everything you need to know about picking the right niche and making your first $1,000.
Resource: How To Make Your First $1,000 Blogging (click the image below to sign up).
#2 — Content Agency
As noted above, there’s a lot that goes into running a blog as a business. When your blog grows to the size of a site like The Ways To Wealth, you may find that you’re spending a surprisingly small portion of your time writing, and most of it on other aspects of the business.
These days, I spend more of my day managing staff, researching revenue opportunities, networking and strategizing than I do producing new content! For some people (like me), that’s great; while I love writing, I also love the business side of things.
For other people, that might sound like just the opposite of what they’re looking for. If so, sorry to burst your bubble, but…
…the reality is that it’s difficult to make a blog profitable if the only thing you’re interested in doing is writing.
The good news is this: there’s an equally profitable alternative. You can start an agency and produce content for other people’s publications.
At the most basic level, this is freelance copywriting — and it can be super lucrative. Some freelance writers make $100 per hour or more. But freelance writing is a job, not a business. And as with any job, there’s a limit to how much you can make, because you’re only one person and you can only put in so many hours.
When you start a content agency, you lead a team of writers (it can be as few as one other person) who produce content for clients.
Websites of all shapes and sizes — not to mention magazines and countless other types of publications and businesses — need content.
And here’s the thing: transitioning from a freelance writing job to running a content agency offers exponential growth opportunities.
Why? Because as one person, you can only produce a little bit of content. So your pool of clients only includes people and companies that need an article here and there. But when you start adding writers to your roster, you suddenly have the ability to take on clients who need dozens or hundreds of pages produced.
And those companies tend to pay a lot of money for their content.
So, how do you get started? Well, with this one, you need to start with the basics. Building up your reputation as a freelance writer will give you experience and a base of clients.
As that happens, you can start taking on more and more clients, until you’re able to hire another writer. But if you don’t have a profile of successful content production, you’ll have a hard time convincing bigger clients to work with you.
Getting started with freelance writing is easy and it has zero startup costs (all you need is a computer and an internet connection). If you’re good at it, you can probably build it out into a small-scale business within a year.
#3 — Digital Marketing Firm
As more businesses turn to the internet to sell their products and services, the demand for digital marketing specialists is skyrocketing. And while you can get started in digital marketing as a one-person show, it’s also a prime opportunity to develop a business.
That’s because there are numerous niche skills within the field. You can try to master them all on your own, but you can also build a team of people who are experts in one or two skills, and then offer a complete package of high-level services to your clients.
Clickminded’s guide to digital marketing lists seven different areas of specialization inside online marketing. They are:
- Sales funnels: writing and organizing content that turns prospects into paying customers.
- Content marketing strategy: producing and promoting content that helps brands build their profile.
- Search engine optimization (SEO): optimizing content so that it performs well on Google.
- Email marketing: writing great emails that drive action, and targeting them to the right people.
- Digital advertising: buying targeted ads on Google and other online platforms.
- Social media marketing: buying micro-targeted ads on platforms like Twitter and Facebook.
- Web analytics: reading and interpreting traffic trends to help clients better understand their website visitors and customers.
Out of all of those, one of the best places to get started if you’re new to digital marketing is with social media — and particularly, with running paid Facebook ad campaigns.
Facebook has tools that allow for ultra-specific targeting of users based on things like age, place of residence, and interests. If you understand how to use those tools effectively, you run ad campaigns that are extremely cost efficient and thus produce big returns for your clients.
A great way to get started is by taking The Facebook Side Hustle Course offered by Bobby Hoyt. In the course, you’ll learn how to run great campaigns that have a huge impact on your clients’ bottom line.
I’ve taken one of Bobby’s courses, and I learned a ton. The Facebook Side Hustle Course only opens up a few times each year, and you have to sign up for the waiting list if you want to lock down a spot.
Another great option is to focus on search engine optimization, which is easy to learn and incredibly valuable for clients. Mike Peterson’s Stupid Simple SEO course will get you up-and-running in no time.
Case study: How One Person Built a Seven-Figure SEO Agency.
#4 — Bookkeeping
You may be a little surprised to see bookkeeping on this list of the best small business ideas. But the fact is that more and more people are starting their own bookkeeping businesses.
The reason why is pretty simple: as more people leave the traditional workforce to start their own businesses and/or work in the gig economy, there’s more demand for part-time bookkeeping services.
Think about it like this: if you start a blog or a content agency, will you know how to properly monitor and account for your revenue and expenses?
Sure, you could do this yourself with Quicken or some other software suite. But that’s time-consuming, and often difficult to master. And if your business is thriving, you should be spending your time working on that instead.
So, people in that situation turn to freelance bookkeepers.
#5 — E-commerce Company
You probably already know this, but internet shopping has exploded in recent years. These days, people buy literally everything online — and especially on Amazon. That makes this a premier online business.
Not all that long ago, everything offered on Amazon was sold by Amazon. But that’s not the case now. Today, Amazon is also a platform for third-party sellers… and getting started is easier than you might think.
There are a few different ways to operate an Amazon e-commerce business:
- You can list your items on Amazon, and ship them to your customers. You’ll pay Amazon about 20% of the final sale price, and you’ll be responsible for all aspects of customer service and delivery.
- You can ship your items to an Amazon warehouse, and sell them through the Fulfillment by Amazon (FBA) program. With FBA, you still get to set your own prices, but Amazon takes care of customer service and delivery. One of the main benefits of FBA is that your items become Prime-eligible, which makes customers more likely to buy them.
- You can “dropship,” which is selling items you don’t have. With a dropshipping business, you don’t even touch the product. When a customer places an order, you simply pay your supplier to ship the item directly to the customer. You’ll still be responsible for customer service, but this dramatically cuts down on your workload and overhead costs.
Here are a couple other useful tidbits about starting an e-commerce business:
You can use FBA to sell items on platforms besides Amazon. Want to list your items on eBay, Etsy, or your own Shopify storefront? The shipping rates offered by Amazon are often much lower than what you’d pay on your own. Amazon even has non-branded boxes (i.e., plain brown boxes with no Amazon tape), which you can choose for an extra fee.
One of the best ways to make money selling on amazon is through white-labeling, which is when you purchase items in bulk — often directly from the manufacturer — and then brand them with your own name and packaging. This is something I’ve done myself, and while I’m just a few months in, I’m very excited about the potential.
#6 — Web Design
The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated a 27% increase in demand for web designers between 2014 and 2024 — a rate much higher than most careers. That alone makes this a great business idea.
What’s even better is that although web design isn’t difficult to learn, people are willing to pay huge sums for quality web development work. Complete websites can fetch anywhere from a few thousand dollars up to $100,000+ for corporate clients, with average rates often well over $100 per hour.
Graphic design is a key element of great web design, and a lucrative business option in its own right. Graphic designers typically start with rates around $50 per hour, but can earn well above that.
Learning how to do great graphic design work can be a good first step on the path to establishing a web design agency.
If you’re interested, Creative Live has outstanding graphic design courses. They offer video classes on a periodic schedule, and the best part is that classes are free to watch when they air live. If you want to access the classes later on-demand, there’s a small fee.
#7 — Sell Hand-Crafted Items on Etsy
Etsy is a favorite of entrepreneurial-minded stay-at-home moms because it offers both unlimited potential and unmatched flexibility.
If you’re looking for a creative way to make money, Etsy is a site where you can list your products for sale. Anything from digital art to crafts sell on this fast-growing platform.
Etsy store owners generated close to $350 million dollars in sales in 2016. That was up from $273 million in 2015.
Case study: How One Crafty Mom Earns $70,000 a Month on Etsy.
#8 — Make Money at Flea Markets, Garage Sales, and More
Do you love going to flea markets, garage sales, or browsing thrift stores? If so, you can make money flipping items you find for profit.
Think of this side hustle as buying an asset and selling it for a higher price. Your inventory can be anything you may find — from rare books to vintage clothes and everything in between.
The goal is to have an information advantage. That means understanding the market for what you’re buying better than the person selling the item.
Best Offline Small-Scale Business Ideas
#9 — Airbnb Host
Setting yourself up as an Airbnb host can be one of the fastest and most lucrative small-scale businesses — and you don’t need to live in a mansion or an exotic location to make it work.
In fact, there are multiple ways to turn almost any space into a money-making asset.
Most people are familiar with the platform, but if you’re not, here’s how it works: Airbnb is a website and app that lets people offer their homes to travelers who are looking for short-term accommodations.
- You can list almost any type of accommodations — from an air mattress in your basement to an entire home.
- In most cases, you’ll have the opportunity to screen and interview guests before accepting a booking request.
- You set your own nightly rates, and have the option to add on cleaning fees.
- You’ll keep most of what you earn, as Airbnb only takes a 3% to 5% commission.
People will book all kinds of spaces on Airbnb. Couches typically go for $25 to $35 per night, depending on location, but private rooms and full spaces (such as an entire apartment or house) can bring in a lot more.
Plus, you have the ability to use your skills and expertise to offer your guests add-ons. Are you a master chef? You can charge more for offering breakfast or meal service. Know the best destinations and experiences in your hometown? You can offer everything from casual tours to custom itineraries based your guests’ particular interests.
If you’re worried about inviting strangers into your home, know that the overwhelming majority of Airbnb experiences are positive.
One of the reasons travelers opt for an Airbnb over a hotel is because they’re looking for a more authentic experience. They often want to get to know the place they’re visiting and the people who live there, as opposed to just hitting up the usual tourist traps. As a result, many Airbnb hosts and guests have gone from clients and customers to friends.
Plus, you’ll be able to view the guests’ feedback from other hosts before accepting their booking request.
Getting started as an Airbnb host is free and easy — just click here to learn more and open your account.
#10 — Dog Walking
In some ways, Dog Walking probably seems more like a job or a side hustle than a business. I can see why: ultimately, you’re earning money for the time you’re putting in to provide a service to clients.
But if you’re looking for ways to make extra money and have an entrepreneurial mindset, it can pay to apply your business acumen to this gig.
Rover is a great place to get started walking dogs. Think of it like the Uber for pets — people will pay you good money to show up at a set time and take their pup for a walk. (Or a stroller ride, in the case of some English bulldogs.)
As you’re building up a clientele and reputation on Rover, you should also be thinking about ways to scale up and transition from being a freelancer to being a business owner.
What does that look like in practice?
- Come up with a name for your business. I recommend something with a pun. In my case, how about The Ways To Woof? (OK, maybe puns aren’t such a good idea…)
- Get a local/state business license — they usually only cost $20 or $30.
- Set up a simple, but professional-looking website. You can set up a WordPress-based site with a premium theme for less than $100.
- Order some business cards with your logo, website address, and email address to hand out to potential clients.
People turn to services like Rover because of trust. Remember, clients have to be willing to hand over the keys to their home and entrust their four-legged best friend to your care. That makes many pet owners reluctant to hire a stranger off Craigslist or other sites like it.
Branding yourself as a business allows you to establish a name that people know and trust. As your reputation grows, you’ll find that it’s easier and easier to lock down new clients.
Plus, having the structure of a business in place right from the get-go will make it easier to transition from you doing the dog walking to hiring and managing other dog walkers.
But, like I said: Rover is the best way to get started… and it doesn’t hurt that you can often make between $20 and $40 per hour.
#11 — Wedding Planner
Planning weddings is a small-scale business with big-time earning potential, but you may find that there are some barriers to entry that you’ll need to overcome.
For most people, their wedding is among the most important days of their life. And for better or worse, the rise of social media has made the day even more important. After all, there will be thousands of pictures taken by both the professional photographer and the guests, and those pictures will be enshrined on the internet forever.
So, understandably, brides and grooms tend to feel pressure to get the planning right and ensure that everything looks incredible.
On one hand, this is a boon for the wedding planning industry. If you can keep the trains running on time and know how to make a wedding look great on Instagram, you can earn a huge price for your services. But on the other hand, people are reluctant to take a risk on a planner with little experience or a limited portfolio.
Working for a wedding planner in your hometown (even for a little while), can be a good way to gain some legitimizing experience. If that’s not an option, you might be able to offer to help your friends and family with one specific aspect of their wedding for free, and then use your successful execution of that responsibility as part of your portfolio.
#12 — Cleaning Service
Cleaning is hard work, and the pay isn’t always great — especially when you’re just getting started. But this can be a good option if you don’t have much in the way of resources… and especially if you lack a college degree or have limited work experience.
In a case like that, taking any full-time job you can find — like one in retail — might pay just as much to start, and it would certainly be a lot easier. But the reality is that opting for one of those positions, while completely honorable, leaves you minimal upside for career growth.
If you’re reading this post, you came here looking for something more than just a paycheck — you came here looking for a way to build something that will give you the chance at a more prosperous future. And that’s why, if you’re in the situation I described above (few resources and limited education), starting a cleaning service isn’t a terrible idea.
People need all kinds of things cleaned. Some examples include:
- Offices and restaurants (which are almost always cleaned at night)
- Tools and equipment
- The list goes on
Here’s the thing: almost anyone can do this work, do it well, and do it for little money.
But not everyone has the wherewithal or motivation to research business ideas and put them into action. So you’re already a step ahead of the pack.
If you want to start a cleaning service, you’re going to need to get your hands dirty. You’ll be working for your first clients yourself, and it will not be fun. But as you demonstrate your reliability and trustworthiness, you’ll build a reputation and you’ll be able to get more (and better-paying) clients via word-of-mouth.
You should follow the same steps I recommended for starting a dog-walking business:
- Decide on a name and get a low-cost logo
- Get a local and/or state business license
- Set up your own website
- Get business cards printed
From your first day “on the job,” you want to think of yourself not as an individual earning a wage by scrubbing and mopping, but as the founder and CEO of the business defined in those four steps.
Your goal is to scale-up your number of clients as quickly as possible, so that your business will have more revenue and can start hiring other people to do the cleaning.
Having the structure of your business in place right from the get-go serves as a legitimizing force. But it also helps you stay focused on the endgame. Work like this is tiring. Spend a year doing it, and you might be too exhausted to even think about starting a business. So, focus on this right from the outset and let your goal guide the decisions you make along the way.
#13 — Handyman Repair Services
Being a handyman (or a handywoman) requires a more high-level skill set (and sometimes, more licensing and certification) than being a cleaner. But if you’re interested in transitioning from laborer to business owner, the process should look very similar.
The key concept you need to understand is that there’s a difference between seeing yourself as a handyman and seeing yourself as the founder of a company who just happens to be utilizing his handyman skills for the time being.
As a handyman, your income will always be limited by factors like the economy, the going hourly rate, and how much work your body will allow you to do.
But as a business owner, there are no such limits or constraints. As such, your goal should be to transition from the former to the latter as quickly as possible.
With that said, one of the upsides to running a handyman or repair service business is that you have the potential to move into more lucrative fields like remodeling and flipping houses.
Resource: How to Flip a House.
#14 — Start a Delivery Service
Admittedly, this is more of a side hustle than a business, but it can still be a good place to start making extra money. These days, people get everything delivered. And that makes delivery one of the fastest-growing sectors of the economy.
One of the best ways to capitalize on this trend is by signing up as a Postmates freelancer. As a Postmates courier, you’ll pick up and deliver customer orders (primarily to-go food).
The payout is based on the time the delivery takes and how far you have to drive, and you’ll keep 100% of your tips. Getting started is fast and easy, and you can typically make $15 to $25 per hour. Plus, you can get paid instantly.
#15 — Create a Star Business
One of the most important lessons I’ve learned in business is the idea of a Star Business. I first heard of the concept from Richard Koch, #312 on the list of London’s richest people, and it’s one of the simplest yet most important lessons I’ve learned.
Richard defines a Star Business as a business in a high-growth market (at least 10% but aim for 30% growth rate) AND which is the leader in its niche.
The good news for you is that the business ideas above are already in high-growth markets (with high demand). The hard part, however, is creating a business that’s a leader in its niche.
My advice would be to not just think about becoming a virtual assistant (another great opportunity that could have made this list) that helps any and all kinds of small businesses. Instead, create a business as a virtual assistant that specializes in helping business owners in a high-growth market, e.g., online publishing or Airbnb hosts.
Being the leader in the niche allows you to have higher prices than a similar business that’s not the leader. Then, you add the natural market growth your industry has and, before long, you go from a small-scale business to something that’s wildly profitable.
Further reading: How To Get Rich.
Hottest Small-Scale Business Ideas — Summary
You don’t need a formal business plan to take advantage of these small-scale business opportunities, but you will need to spend a little bit of time thinking about how they mesh with your current level of resources, as well as your current and future life goals.
Do you have the time it takes to start one of these businesses, and do you have the wherewithal to stick with it even if success takes longer than you expect?
The reality is that even a good business idea will face obstacles and suffer setbacks along the way to success. That’s the nature of the beast. But the rewards for becoming your own boss are immense and absolutely worth it. In most cases you’ll have more income, which gives you more freedom to prioritize the things in life that matter the most to you.