Why not have a business you really love? These ideas are so much fun they won’t even seem like work.
You can start this business in your garage with just one item!
Start part time and build this business carefully! Only buy items you are confident that you can sell relatively quickly for a good mark-up, and avoid getting stuck with slow moving inventory. To really succeed, develop deep expertise in a specialty and build a loyal customer base.
I see two routes to success in this business: 1) Focus on artists with well- established followings that you are comfortable that you can sell or 2) Take on less well-known artists on a consignment basis, meaning you don’t actually buy the painting from the artist until the day you sell it. This can be a finicky business–people’s tastes can change and a gallery that is successful one year can find itself struggling enough. So, keep your overhead manageable and watch for changing trends.
Sign up for a bar-tending course at the local community college or adult education center, get a safety certificate if your state requires it, and then you’re ready to start serving. Usually the client will provide the booze and the glasses, you might bring a few mixing tools or even a service cart if you want to get fancy. Demand for this service will run strongest on the weekends, making it a great part time gig!
You don’t need to own a big boat to take people on evening boat tours! You can lease the boat, market the tours and build a business without the overhead.
To make it more fun, you can buy a few small drive-it-yourself speed boats and lead your customers around the local harbor. What could be more fun than that!
I can barely “cook” a frozen dinner, but you may have the cooking skills that I lack! People will pay good money for a really awesome cake for special occasions. Get some great cake pictures up on your website, promote your skills to event planners and build your clientele!
My kids did an upscale sneaker and related goods boutique. This can be a lot of fun but it may be harder than you think to make money. First make absolutely sure your location has great foot traffic—stand there and count heads before you sign a lease! Then develop a distinctive plan for merchandising, and don’t be afraid to mark down what isn’t moving.
Yes, you can start your own clothing line with just a few items, be successful and have a lot of fun along the way! Look at Ralph Lauren who started by selling a couple neck ties and then built that into a multi-billion-dollar empire. Contract out the manufacturing which is the really hard part of the work. Then focus on developing eye-stopping designs and talking it up with potential re-sellers, or sell the items yourself online!
Wouldn’t you enjoy making kids smile and laugh? What a great way to earn some good money, especially at kids’ birthdays and Bar and Bat mitzvahs! Business will be heavily focused on weekends, so you can hold onto your day job as you build your clientele. I met a professional clown who told me that he charged $200 an hour…for that price I’ll put the clown suit on right now!
Coin or Stamp Dealer
I loved to collect stamps and coins when I was a kid. In Boston, the dealers’ stores were all side by side on Bromfield street. Today some coin and stamp dealers still have retail locations but many others work primarily online. This is a great business to start part-time and then consider going full-time later on. Or is it just a hobby with the potential for making a lot of money? American President Franklin D Roosevelt would spend many enjoyable hours alone with his stamp collection.
Coffee Bar/Tea Salon
Yes, you can compete with the Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts of the world! However, these chains have raised the bar, so your coffee or tea must be not just good, but awesome! Your ambiance better be good too. Your location needs to be good as well. Plus, you need to be distinctive. One way to stand out is to compliment your world class beverages with some fabulous foods. So yes, you can compete, but you’ve gotta be firing on all cylinders in this competitive space!
I met Wally Amos who made a blockbuster success out of famous Amos cookies, which he launched after a career as a Hollywood talent agent. Wally eventually lost control of his company to outside investors. However, he came back again with still another cookie line. Everyone loves a fancy cookie and it’s an easy food to both differentiate and to charge a premium for.
Craft Beer Pub
A few years ago, I overheard a conversation in a gym about a fellow who was planning on starting an Irish pub, of which there are close to million (well almost a million) in Boston, but then changed his mind and opened a pub focusing on craft beers. It was wildly successful! In addition to being a unique idea at the time, he also chose an excellent location and developed a solid food menu. Unless your overhead is extremely low, you are probably going to need to serve food to make a go of this business, so yes you can be extremely successful–but it is no small undertaking.
Creative Arts Day Camp
You could run this as a seasonal camp during the summer. But I find it’s tougher to make lots of money at seasonal businesses, so instead I would first consider offering a creative arts day camp after school or on weekends. I suggest doing surveys to find out what age groups of kids and what specific art activities have the most appeal.
There’s something magical about a cupcake that says fun and silliness and makes you feel good! You can cash in on that feeling and make others happy. But if you are specializing in cupcakes, people expect them to be excellent! And if you want to be remembered, they should be world class awesome!
Gardening is big and growing. And it is a business that is less likely to move totally online than many other businesses. You could start out with a supply center, expanding over time to add some plants to sell, and then, eventually vertically integrate with your own plant nursery. You could also expand into providing onsite services.
Wouldn’t it be fun to make a gift-basket overflowing with a bunch of carefully selected and really attractive items? Of course, it would! You could have a lot of satisfaction putting together distinctive gift baskets that will delight your customers and bring in sales!
Yes, I had a couple golf lessons–but you’d never know it to watch me play! I don’t think I had the right personality for this sport–relaxing and being patient isn’t my thing! But if you have some talent at this challenging game, you can charge some good money and bring your gift to others. Golf is an excellent lifetime sport and people are willing to pay to try to master it!
Gourmet Candy Cart
One of my friends developed a great retail business with several small gift locations inside of shopping malls. She taught herself to make mouth-watering candy by practicing up in her kitchen. Most of her candy she made herself, but she did compliment her offerings with a few products she bought wholesale.
Hot Air Balloon Rides
I’m not going up in one of these balloons–but I know plenty of people who have, and have had a fabulous experience! This is a good vacation area business, but it could also be a good gift for special occasions. Nail down all of the licensing and safety requirements, and this could be fun business that quickly builds by word-of-mouth.
Ice Cream Shop
Yes, you can make a lot of money with a simple ice cream shop! Perfect your ice cream before you start, find a good busy location without a crazy rent and consider starting with a smaller footprint to minimize your overhead. I’ll have an ice cream sundae please—with everything on it!
What a great excuse to travel and get paid for it! Yes, there are some really cool craft items you can find around the world for really low prices. It could take a little bit of patience to get going, and specialization helps. But this is a very doable business. One of my friends built up a successful import/export business while still in college.
So, you start out with some stunning jewelry designs but how do you turn it into a business? One of my friends’ sisters turned her jewelry hobby into a full-time job by selling her products to a few local jewelry stores. Another woman I know built her business into a much larger enterprise…all built around a strong unifying theme. That’s the key here, success will come a lot easier if you build a distinctive overall brand, and ideally have closely matched collections within the brand.
The closest I came to knitting was repairing rips in the sails on my boat, but there a are a lot of people who want to knit and crochet—and you can show them how! You could start with a class at your house or perhaps at a local knitting store. Maybe offer an entry level course at the local adult ed program to get going.
There are lots of graphic designers out there but not so many people specializing in logos. Yet in the age of the Internet, a good-looking logo is more important than ever! Most businesses don’t give enough thought to their logo and end up with a weak result. You can help them create a great logo–one that can help define their business and bring them customers!
Everyone wants to feel special now and then. If you can create the right setting, you could make your customers feel great and be happy to pay top dollar for a sophisticated beverage! Get everything just so–the name, the furniture, the wall coverings, servers’ attire, the lighting, and the background music. If you get all the details right, this could be a really fun and highly profitable endeavor.
Miniature Golf Course
Wouldn’t it be cool to have your own miniature golf course! Now that’s the type of golf I think I could handle! Having a well-designed course is nice but what really matters here is the location. You need to be on a highly visible road, a vacation area is a plus, and ideally your competition is a good distance away.
You should have some decent equipment that makes your audience happy but that could mean different levels of investment for different audiences. Are you going to be playing for large event venues or for junior high school birthday parties? I know a fellow who started a successful mobile DJ business even before he was old enough to have a driver’s license. He would either have a friend give him and his equipment a ride to his gigs, or he would get a taxi.
Night Club Promoter
Put together parties for your friends and get paid for it! Sign me up! For starters, you should have a strong following on social media. Then if you have a knack for promoting, see if a nightclub will pay you to help boost their attendance.
I’ve seen promoters begin in this business by first promoting regular nights at established night clubs, then by working a deal with a club to have their own exclusive night, then eventually launching their own club venue.
Choose an adventure really carefully. One that people will easily pay good money for. “Focus group” it. At least informally ask lots of people for their feedback on a suggested adventure before you put any money into marketing it. Then when you do offer your first trip, make it incredible! Research it carefully and surpass people’s expectations. On your first few trips it is more important to build a great experience and a great reputation, then to make a lot of money right out of the gate.
You can start as a personal trainer at a local gym. Then try going out on your own. Being known for a particular expertise can help. Then someday you can open your own gym. Maybe even franchise it and go global!
This is another good example of a business with booming demand that you can start with very little money and no business experience.
Rare Book Dealer/Search Service
There is something special about the first edition of a rare book and people will spend big money to find the exact book they want. And then there is the shop itself, a rare book shop is such as wonderful antidote to our way-too-busy Internet world. Yes, you can make money with rare books but this is a profession that I suggest you ease your way into gradually, getting very comfortable with market demand and pricing, before investing in inventory.
Sport Fishing Charter Boat
Getting started in the sport fishing charter business may not be as expensive and difficult as you think. Unless you are going into particularly rough waters you don’t need to start with a large cabin boat. Furthermore, you can finance much of your purchase. And if your fishing skills are a little weak, hire a boat hand with some strong local fishing knowledge. In the right location, you can charge some serious money in this business.
Vintage Toy Producer
Parents and grandparents are only willing to buy their kids so many computer games! What they would really prefer to be buying are beautifully hand crafted vintage toys that the kids can use their own imaginations to play with! Hand crafting takes time, so carefully figure out what interesting toys you can bring to market at a reasonable price.
I love wine bars! There is even a successful wine bar in the small village on Cape Cod where my summer house is. How did it become successful? The owners found a location near the center of the village but at a low rent. They started with a very limited food menu but eventually expanded it to become a full-service restaurant. They also offer live music on most nights. Beware that many customers expect truly exceptional wines at a wine bar.
You don’t need to offer a full food menu, but you should have an excellent cheese plate and a few other excellent-quality, wine-matching foods.
Best Home Business Ideas
You can save a ton of money by starting your business in your home. I started most of my businesses in my house. For more on how to start your business, see the courses at BusinessTown.
My father spent year after year remodeling our basement—and I’m glad he did because that’s where I located my model railroad! However, a lot of homeowners aren’t willing to invest the huge amount of time it takes a novice to remodel their basement—that’s where you come in! Remodel your own basement, put together a website with the before and after photos, and hang out your shingle!
I published a book by Don Dwyer who was the king of the carpet cleaners—having made many millions building a gigantic carpet cleaning business franchise system. This business isn’t glamorous, I remember Don talking about the best ways to get dog urine stains out of carpet, but the demand and the money-making opportunity is huge!
A neat bonus of attending a craft class is that not only do you learn how to do something new, but also that you get to go home with something tangible—your finished craft project! People are often willing to take a craft class if you can market it in an appealing way. And focusing on what the finished project will look like is one way to get people excited about signing up!
One of my friend’s mothers who had performed as a Radio City Rockette, founded a highly successful dance studio for young girls. She was successful enough to rent large commercial space, but this is a business you may want to start in your home.
Starting a business in your home is a great way to save money and reduce your business risk. However in many towns and cities you may be taking a risk with local zoning regulations. I cover more in my article: Are Home Businesses Legal?
Day Care Service
The market for daycare is gigantic! Of course, you can start in your home or in the workplace. Corporations may consider providing you with free space if you provide day care for their employees’ kids. Safety and licensing are essential for this business. You can quickly build a steady income and a valuable business.
While you may first think of wedding planners or reunion organizers, there are many, many types of event planners out there. Some may specialize in parties for young kids, others in large corporate events. Think carefully of a specialty that you could do well in and meet participants in that field, before you open shop.
Years ago, my grandmother freelanced articles for national magazines typically about life on “Olde Cape Cod.” Today there are still some freelance writing opportunities at traditional publications, but the big opportunity is online in content marketing. Business and consumer-oriented websites alike are rushing to post more and more content related to their business space, to try to attract traffic from search engines and to position themselves in the minds of potential customers. Some businesses will require that you have expertise in their industry to write for them, but others will consider buying articles from you, as long as they are well researched and well written.
For most people, successful investing will involve selecting mutual funds or ETFs, not individual stocks or bonds. That means to become a financial planner you don’t need to be a Wall Street wizard. You will need to understand the basics of investing (such as the importance of being diversified and understanding and respecting your client’s risk profile!) but this is very learnable. Study hard for this profession and you can do a tremendous service for people by helping them protect and growth their hard-earned money.
Gardening is really big. Many people like to do their own gardening but they can use a little bit of help! That’s where you come in! Maybe you specialize in flower gardens or vegetable gardens, or even something more exotic. You will need solid expertise, but you will find a clientele willing to pay for it.
One of the challenges of running a home bakery will be finding customers. That basically means going out and selling your products to stores, restaurants, cafeterias, caterers or anyone else. You want to find customers that you can service on an on-going basis and that you won’t have to travel too far to reach. You may want to canvas potential resellers even before you decide what products you plan to be baking.
Home Inspection Business
This is a good solid business. Everyone needs their house inspected before they buy it. Network with real estate agents. Become known for being a meticulous home inspector. Leave you clients with a thorough, detailed report.
There is a big difference between mowing a lawn and performing a full landscaping service. At the highest end are landscape designers, who design elaborate and unique landscape changes for your property.
Sometimes these are full-service firms that not only do the design but also perform the work. The closer your expertise and confidence allow you to get towards high-end landscape design, the higher an income you will be able to command.
This is one of the most popular small businesses because everyone wants a house cleaner. The work is repetitive. But if you can show up on time and do a good job consistently (I find many the work of many cleaners deteriorates after the first few weeks), you will build a healthy clientele. And if you can charge enough so that you can delegate, you can grow this into a large business.
This seems like a fun and easy business and it can be very rewarding. However, it is very competitive and can be hard to break into. Interior design is also increasingly sophisticated, with software design simulation and specialized educational backgrounds becoming more common.
Local Marketing Service
With the wide array of digital marketing options to consider, not to mention traditional options, local businesses increasingly need outside help to develop and execute the best marketing strategy. To get going in this field you will need to be familiar with the most popular online and offline marketing venues, and be comfortable selling your services to local business people.
Even in this digital age, there remains a huge market for independent sales reps who sell the products for a number of different companies to other businesses. You will typically work on a commission basis which means income will start slowly, but established manufacturer’s reps can make a lot of money over the years.
Refusing to accept that I had no musical talent, my parents took me to many music teachers over the years, from a home based piano teacher to school based trumpet teachers. If you are patient with young students or talented enough to work with more experienced musicians, this could be a very satisfying way to make some good money.
What could be easier? You sit in the chair and watch the dog chase its tail! OK so there’s a little more work to it than that, but still this is not the toughest job in the world–especially if you like animals! I am surprised to hear how much money people will pay for pet sitters if they believe their pets are being really well cared for.
You can make a room in your house into a photography studio, but you’ve got to get out to promote your services or do some clever marketing. Doing photography for groups (typically at their location) is one way to get going. Another is to develop a specialty (such as children’s portraits).
There is a huge market and a big opportunity selling promotional material. Your best market will be mid to larger sized businesses, who are willing to spend some money to both promote their business to their customers or to use promotional items as incentives and rewards for their employees. Basically, you are reselling the product lines for other companies. I would suggest you have a good diversity of lines to increase your chances of getting your foot in the door, to increase your chances of holding your prospects’ attention and to increase your income. T-shirts, pens, hats, jackets: there are all kinds of promotional items you can sell.
Do you have an extra room in your house or condo? You could rent it out by the day like the Airbnb model, or you could rent it by the week, or you could rent it by the month. Then maybe you could use the income to help subsidize your expenses as you start another business!
While there are all kinds of training that corporations will pay for, I am focusing on sales training because the demand is so widespread. It is an absolutely critical function, even for small businesses. If you don’t have great contacts at larger companies I would suggest you target smaller firms, such as those with sales forces of 6 to 20 people. Small enough so that everyone isn’t trying to sell them training, but large enough that they are likely to be willing to pay for it.
Soap and Lotion Making
What’s your favorite color and scent of soap? Wouldn’t it be fun to play around with variations to be make it even better? And then you could take your finished product and go show it off to potential customers!
Sports Coaching and Training
One-on-one sports coaching is the obvious play here. But you could set up sports clinics or sports camps. You could build up a business based on your expertise in a particular sport or you could offer more general fitness training for athletes of many sports. Often sports coaches get started with a part time job coaching a school sports team, which then leads to private coaching work.
Being a virtual assistant not only gives you the flexibility of working from home, but often you get to set your own hours. Virtual assistant work is frequently part time, so it could be a way to get some income coming in while you develop a plan for another business.
Best Part-Time Business Ideas
I’m a big supporter of keeping your day job and starting your first business part-time. But you still need to learn about business and plan your business just as carefully as you would for full-time business – and I show you how with my courses at BusinessTown.
One of my friend’s mothers offered art lessons in her home after school. She had a steady clientele and they made some really cool art! You may already have an art specialty that you want to teach to others. Or you may find that you are better off learning the basics of a new art skill and teaching that, or offering a survey course covering a number of art skills—most of the market will likely be beginners anyway.
Most bicycle repair isn’t that hard—I taught myself some when at the age of 19 I opened my first business, Bob’s Rent-A-Bike.
Learn the basics of how to repair the gears—the most difficult part of repairing bikes–then you’re ready to start. You can begin this business slowly, part time, out of your house.
To succeed at car resale, you need to find a great source of used cars at a good price. Sources to buy cars include: car dealer auctions, bankruptcy auctions, new car dealers selling older cars they don’t want on their lot, government car auctions, and rental car agencies. You can also watch for bargain priced cars being advertised by individuals, but you need to snap up the best deals before someone else does. Focus on just a couple cars at a time, so that you can try to keep your overhead low by operating out of your house, and keep your profits up by choosing your cars carefully.
Today people don’t just change jobs, they change careers. And many people changing careers want to get help from someone who can help them find their dream job—that could be you. You could get up to speed in this field by reading a number of books, and by finding some standardized tests to help analyze your clients’ skills and desires. I once published a book that just listed and described career counseling services in the Boston area.
Cooking Class Instructor
Cooking classes have become much more than just a way to instruct people in cooking. They have become more of a social event where for example, couples enjoy a cooking class together, get to meet some other people, enjoy sampling the food they cook, perhaps try some fine wine, and have a great experience. So carefully define whether you are selling the expertise, the experience, or both, and build your business model accordingly.
I would only recommend trading a collectible that you really love! If you are dealing with your favorite collectible, the work will be more enjoyable, it will be easier to increase your expertise, and you will be much more likely to be successful. The online options today allow you to specialize much more deeply than in the past because you can reach a global market. So, within your favorite collectible space, find a particular niche or two and focus sharply on it.
A lot of people make some really neat crafts. But to be able to make money at it, you also need to be able to price your products reasonably—and allow yourself enough money to bring your product to market. That being said, there are more markets than ever for your products! In addition to local retailers and craft fairs, you can sell them online, on your own website, or through third party sites like Etsy or EBay.
I like anything that is custom because it allows you to distinguish yourself with great customer service, and provides some upside for pricing. Offering this kind of service online means you can set your own hours and start the business part time.
It seems that just about every business I’ve been involved in hires home-based editors, who work on a freelance basis and set their own hours. Generally, this work falls into three categories: 1) Developmental editing or making highly substantive changes; 2) Copy editing or wording and grammar improvements; 3) Proof reading. Many editors specialize in one aspect of editing, others cover them all. You may further specialize such as in technical document editing.
I cringe at the thought of “wasting” any time running errands. It is no wonder that many people love to hire others to run their errands, in addition to those people who may be home-bound for health reasons. Errands often take longer than you think, so you may be better off charging on an hourly basis.
Family History Writer (Genealogical Service)
While you can find terrific resources online about family history, it takes someone to patiently piece it all together—that’s where you come in as the family history writer. Do your research carefully, put it together in a snappy-looking package, be patient in answering customers’ questions, and you could grow this business nicely.
Financial Aid Consultant
Private school and private colleges and universities can cost a bloody fortune! Yet by carefully evaluating a family’s resources, reviewing school choices, assessing school financial aid offerings, and by exploring outside scholarships, a talented financial aid consultant could help a student attend a school that was previously viewed as completely unaffordable. To get going in this field, you will want to do extensive research, and then either help your own kids or perhaps those of friends, to get some experience under your belt, before seeking out the general public.
Flea Market Vendor
This could be a lot of fun, playing store merchant every now and then, when you decide to attend a flea market. There are general flea markets to attend, plus more specialized ones. For example, being a model railroad buff, I notice the many model railroad vendors who travel to model railroad shows around the northeast, selling new or used model railroad supplies. You could make your own items to sell, trade used items, or sell new items that you buy wholesale. The options are endless.
Floating Art Gallery
This is one of the most-clever businesses I have seen! Here you get to have your own art gallery with no overhead! You arrange with a restaurant or bar to host your pop up art gallery at no expense to you. The venue benefits from selling food or drinks and the publicity your event will bring. The paintings or other art you obtain on consignment so you don’t lay out any cash for that either. Then you arrange the promotion. They key to this business is building your email list and social media contacts so that are able to build up a regular clientele without having to own a storefront or spend money for advertising.
There’s a lot of money out there in grants, but writing grant proposals can take a lot of time, especially if you are not experienced at it. Like so many other fields, specialization will help get business, and it will allow you to charge much higher fees. And, as you build a track record of successfully securing grants, you will also be able to charge more.
Yes, graphic design is hyper competitive. But everyone wants a little different style. So, if you get a highly appealing design in front of your prospective audience you can be successful. For this business, I would go crazy having a fabulous looking website with a totally “kickass” front page! Then I would use SEO techniques, social media, and every other marketing tool I could think of to drive traffic to it.
I’m not getting up on that high ladder anymore! That’s why I spend $200 to have a service clean my gutters twice a year. Considering that even one person can clean several houses a day, you can see that it’s very good money potential. Try really hard to geographically concentrate your gutter cleaning each day. This could be a great weekend business.
Hat Making Business
There are all kinds of directions this business can go! You could sell hats to retailers, you could sell them online, you could sell them to event planners to liven up their parties. You could eventually even open a hats-only store!
Interior Room Painting/Wallpapering
Interior room painting or wallpapering lends itself to part time work better than exterior house painting. Often a home owner wants just one room done. And you are not weather dependent—so you know you will be able to get a job done on Saturday for example, come rain or shine. As your experience grows you can charge a lot of money for quality interior painting and wallpapering.
This is a natural for part time work because many people who have the money to pay for it are working full-time jobs themselves. So, evenings and weekends could be your prime working hours.
As people are demanding more fulfillment in their lives and have more options to consider, they are increasingly turning to coaches. You can build your skills in this field by reading up on it, signing up for some life coaching yourself, or taking a course about how to teach life coaching.
While you might first think of parties for kids, parties for adults is a rapidly growing field. To break into this field, I would start by offering some really attractive package deals. Then I might try to upsell additional services once the parting host became more comfortable working with me, or at least on repeat engagements.
Personal Shopping Service
Go on a shopping spree and get paid for it! Now that could be fun! But this work will also take some patience, such as getting to know your customers’ preferences and returning merchandise that your customer didn’t like as much as you did. However, if your clients like your work, they could retain you forever…and talk up your services with their friends!
This is a big business with lots of opportunities. It is largely a do-it-yourself hobby, so you make money by selling supplies, expertise or services to scrap bookers. You could give courses or hold events on scrap booking. A common way to break into this business is to hold “scrapbooking” parties. You invite friends and acquaintances to your house, tell them all about scrapbooking, and try to sell the supplies they will need to get started.
Speaking and Presentation Coaching
I like this idea! Instead of making the speeches and presentations yourself, you are coaching the presenters. I see this market as largely three-fold. First you have professional speakers who are making or trying to make a living giving paid presentations. Then you have people who are regularly called upon to make speeches or presentations in connection with their business. Then you have the person who occasionally is called upon to make a speech or presentation without being paid for it, but nonetheless wants to improve their presenting skills. This third market is the one I would suggest focusing on, to get started in this business.
Test Prep Coach
This is a great part time business that can pay very good money. For my kids, I hired coaches who were usually still students themselves, and had very little paid test prep experience. But I did make sure to hire test prep coaches who had scored exceedingly well themselves on the exams being targeted. You don’t have to be good at every subject. Just find one exam that you can study up on and excel at, and that’s all you need to become a great test prep coach!
Used Boat Sales
This might have been one of the most fun businesses I ever had: buying and selling used boats, which I did on a couple summer vacations from college.
Sometimes I’d do a little touchup work, such as a new wood trim or a coat of paint, occasionally I would contract out an engine repair, and always I would clean them the boats. Like any trading business, you need to find out what sells easily and at what price, and what you want to stay away from. Brand name outboards, specifically Boston Whalers, sold well for me. Sailboats, on the other hand, took forever to move.
People have discovered that they can make so much money at yard sales that they turn it into a regular business, including buying additional merchandise such as at flea markets or online specifically to sell at their yard sales. One town that I vacation in decided that too many people were turning yard sales into a business, and passed an ordinance limiting how many yard sales you were legally allowed to conduct. This is of course another indicator that yard sales can be highly lucrative!
Best Low Cost Business Ideas
There are a lot of great businesses you can start with very little money. I started most of my businesses with less than $2,000 including Adams Media Corporation that I ended up selling for $40 million.
You will need some expertise to get going in antique refurbishment, but some skills can be learned fairly easily, such as stripping off old paint or varnish, and refinishing. I would suggest you get started refurbishing antiques for others. Eventually, you may want to buy antiques on spec and refurbish them to resell for a profit, but get to know the market before you start laying out cash for antiques.
Everyone knows legal proceedings take forever, can be very expensive, and the outcomes can be uncertain. I became involved in litigation with a service vendor and it looked like we had no alternative but to go to court. However, our opposing attorneys agreed to hire an arbitrator and we ended up with a much better result, with much less time and agony. A great business—and a great service for individuals and businesses.
Art Restoration Services
This is a really big business that you probably don’t think about a lot. On the high end are the museums. For example, in Boston the Museum of Fine Arts performs art restoration services for other institutions. Then there are the serious individual collectors. Then there are people who just want their old family portraits touched up…and that’s the part of the market you will first want to focus on if you don’t have a lot of expertise.
The local bank or investment advisory service may decide to add a touch of class and the feel of quiet success to their office by adding art to its walls, but which paintings should they buy? That’s where you come in, the expert art buyer. You could offer your services to private art buyers as well. Where do you start? You could simply start with one recommendation for one painting for a friend’s empty wall space.
Baby Proofing Service
This is a nice little niche business with a strong personal service element and a market that’s not just looking for the cheapest product. Netting for railings, cabinet door catches, safety coverings for electric outlets, door locks…there are lots of safety elements that need to be changed to make houses safe for babies and toddlers. Do your research carefully and make sure you are not missing any safety elements.
Bob’s Rent-A-Bike was my first business which I started when I was 19 years old. For this business, you can set up service stations or other local business as your agents, giving them a percentage of the rental fees. Vacation areas and being near bike trails are great places for bike rentals.
Here’s a sample business plan I did for Bob’s Rent-A-Bike.
My book publishing business often bought books from packagers. What is a packager? Typically, a book packager would sell to a publisher a completed manuscript with the pages already laid out, and a book cover all ready to go. Book packagers tended to sell more complex book projects, such as books that were heavily illustrated or books that were “packaged” with another component. For example, we bought a book about chess, boxed with a small chess set, from a book packager.
A lot of business people are good at producing their product or delivering their service, but less good about keeping careful accounting records. That’s where you come in. You may visit a small business every week or two, pay bills, send out invoices and keep accounting records.
Photography can be very competitive and having a specialty, such as boudoir, can help attract customers and justify higher fees. The market for this tends to be brides and young wives buying pictures as a gift for their husband.
My father was a business broker for a number of years. The type of business he most frequently brokered was coin-operated laundromats. When you are dealing with the smaller businesses such as single location laundromats, you will need to achieve a reasonably good volume of transactions to make decent money. Another issue in this business is you tend to get a lot of “tire kickers,” who aren’t very serious about buying a business, but can take up your time.
There is solid demand for this business—and no wonder installing carpet including stretching it out to fit just right—is harder than it looks! Demand comes not just from homeowners but also from commercial businesses. You can land installation work from carpet retailers, from online business service directories, or from advertising on places like Craigslist.
A catering service may be a large business serving meals to armies of people at special events. Or it may be a single person business serving dinner to just a few people. Specialization can help build your business. For example, here in New England some caterers specialize in clambakes.
One of my friends sold off his large family business that made industrial goods, and then embarked on a new career as an artisan furniture maker. He studied furniture making in a full-time study program and focused on very high wood furniture. He would display his furniture at shows and promote open studio nights. Clients were wealthy individuals and some high-end boutique hotels.
With never having painted a house, I opened a house painting business during a summer vacation from college. I hired a few school teachers to do most of the work, and we quickly all figured out what it takes to do a good house painting job. In a word a good house painting job requires: preparation–sanding and cleaning the surface carefully so the paint will adhere well and look good.
Human Resources Service
A small business typically doesn’t hire a full-time HR person until it reaches about 50 people in size. Until it reaches that size a company might contract for an HR person one or two days a week through a human resources service. One of my friends with experience in HR built up a good business on this model. It helps if you are a good networker or are comfortable approaching small business owners to sell them your service.
Like it or not, people tend to judge you instantly on that first impression! That’s why so many executives and business owners consider hiring an image consultant. If you have a good sense of dress and appearance, this could be a good niche business for you!
An irrigation service installs and services underground sprinkler systems at homes and businesses. I use a one-person irrigation service at one house and have a larger landscaping service handle the irrigation at another house. The big work comes when you install a new system. But an existing system needs service every year including being “blown out” and turned on, and always there are sprinkler heads that need to be adjusted or replaced.
Having been on television and done many videos, I can appreciate that makeup consulting isn’t just for women! With the Internet leading to more and more video production, makeup consulting is becoming more important than ever!
I started two different map businesses while in college, both of which I later sold. One was a street map of a local resort area, which I sold to retailers and also sold advertising on the back side of. The other was a tourist map of the island of Nantucket which I sold at retail. Today with everyone using navigation systems, I would be less excited about putting together a street map. But a fun illustrated map showing local business sponsors still makes for a viable business model.
You would think that in this day and age of electronic communication that messengers were something of the past—but no messenger services are still vibrant. In larger cities bicycle courier services are popular and in smaller cities local messenger services rely exclusively on cars.
Mobile Hair Salon
The first thought that comes to mind for mobile hair salon is that you save the overhead of having a storefront location. However, you are also offering a convenience for your customers. Assisted living facilities and senior citizens trying to minimize trips out of the home will especially appreciate mobile hair salon services.
Nursery Design Service
Getting ready for a child is a special time and having a nursery all set up is a wonderful way to get ready. You can really have fun developing striking nursery designs for your clients and make good money by bringing it all together for them.
Personal Computer Training
With this business, you could focus on providing PC training to employees at smaller to mid-sized companies that are too small to have their own IT departments. Or you could offer classes to individuals.
Pet Taxi Service
How do all the pets get to doggie day care or make their appointments at the vet? Your pet taxi service! As people offer more and more services for their pets the need to transport them will continue to grow for years to come.
In my book business, we had up to seven full time publicists on staff, and yet we would still hire outside publicity firms to promote our books. Most publicity work is promotion work—getting attention for businesses and their products. Most publicity firms specialize, for example one firm may specialize in promoting high tech firms in Boston, another may specialize in promoting restaurants in Providence. Many of the national publicity firms I have used were founded by somebody who had previously had experience working at a media outlet. But this business isn’t rocket science…if you are good at networking and you can get promotion for your clients then you can succeed at this business.
Yes, you can learn how to repair smartphones. You can buy parts (you should inventory more common ones) and you can watch videos on YouTube that show you how to make repairs. I have been to a small shop in Cambridge that specializes just in fixing casing and glass on smartphones. You can make good money but it will take some patience to get going. A storefront, even a small one on a secondary street or second floor of an office building, will help make your business seem more established.
Stair Lift Business
Purchasing and installing a stair lift is a major decision for a mobility impaired customer. Offering excellent service including carefully presenting the best alternatives and being quickly available for follow-up service can help make your stair lift business stand out from the competition and build positive word of mouth.
Vintage Clothing Business
I like the vintage clothing business because you are not competing head to head with all the retailers and online sites selling new goods. Furthermore, you can have high margins. I would look to at least double my money on any vintage clothing that I buy, and I would try to pay for items with store credit not cash, as much as possible.
Best Online Business Ideas
Yes, it is possible to become a billionaire with an online business. But just as the upside with some of these businesses is sky-high, the risk can be too. Building traffic and turning visitors into customers can be a long term haul. If you are looking for a lower risk business in this space I would first suggest services such as Content Marketing, Internet Marketing Specialist, Internet Researcher, Resume Writing, SEO Specialist, Social Media Specialist and Website Developer.
What is affiliate marketing? You provide links on your website or blog to an affiliate marketing service that sells a third-party product or company that sells their own product. The largest affiliate marketer is Amazon whose commissions are in the 4-4.5% range. Then there are the affiliate marketing services like Click Bank and ShareASale, which offer thousands of products, some of which have commissions as high as 70%. It sounds like an easy way to make money and some people have made a lot of money on it…but many more people have been disappointed by their results. It is very hard to get your website and blog visitors to buy things!
One of my son’s classmates at Stanford created a new app every week and was usually able to generate hundreds if not thousands of dollars in sales.
Today, just a few years later, selling Apps is more competitive. In fact, there are large marketing firms that exclusively focus on marketing apps. Nonetheless, there is still money to be made in making and selling apps.
Every company needs content for their website to attract search engine traffic and develop a bond with their customers and potential customers. Hence the market for creating web-friendly content has exploded with both large firms and independent content marketers helping to fill the need. Specializing in the needs of a particular industry can help jump-start your business, but many companies are willing to hire content marketers who are good researchers and can write well, even if they lack specific industry expertise.
Domain Name Trading
When I was running my book publishing company I developed a series of books called the Everything series and I negotiated a deal to buy the “everything.com” domain from a company controlled by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen for over $100,000. The market for good domain names isn’t going away and you can make money trading these names, but I would be careful in putting too much money into names that are “almost” great names.
A dropship business means that you are selling physical goods that you have other companies ship out. For example, you may create a website selling desk lamps. You would take the order from the customer on your website and then you would have the order shipped out by the supplier. Drop shopping differs from affiliate marketing in that the customer stays on your website to complete the order. Furthermore, you process the order and then ask the drop shipper to fulfil the order. Affiliate marketing on the other hand, is more of a marketing service–providing traffic to the website of the company that provides the product. Drop shipping may have higher upside but if you are just getting started I would recommend that you keep things simple and start with affiliate marketing.
I think providing eBay selling and shipping services is a great, high-demand service business. This is a very different business than what I would call eBay trading where you buy and sell products on eBay. A trading business can have high potential but it also has higher risks and may take longer to make money at.
Having built one of the largest independent book publishers in the US, I can tell you that book publishing is not the easy road to riches that so many people think it is. Furthermore, I believe getting really rich publishing your own eBook can even be harder. For one the competition is insane…you will be competing with everybody and their mother, including people who are literally giving away their product. Furthermore, it is increasingly hard to get attention for books in the media, and it is hard to convert website visitors into book buyers. But hard is not impossible, and you could publish that rare book that makes a lot of money. Several of the book authors I published earned over a million dollars, and that was just from their royalties.
I would recommend that you hyper specialize if you are starting an e-commerce business. Why? Because many e-commerce websites have very deep pockets and patient investors and are willing to sell products for razor thin margins (i.e. Amazon) or even at a loss to build market share. That being said if you can show some solid revenue in this business, and especially if you have repeat customers, you will have a business that is worth a lot of money even before it is profitable.
Not only is a fashion blog fun to create, but it is the kind of blog that you have one of the best chances of monetizing. If you can develop a significant following you may be able to earn money as a paid “influencer” for brands. Creating a successful blog can take a long time so make sure it’s something that you enjoy doing.
Internet Marketing Specialist
Every business needs help with their Internet marketing. And now I see even the smallest businesses hiring specialists for individual aspects of digital marketing. For example, they may hire one expert for pay-for-click search engine advertising, another for Facebook marketing and still another for SEO for their website. So, you could focus on one aspect of digital marketing, or you could be a generalist.
Knowing how powerful the reach of the Internet is for research, companies are very willing to outsource their research efforts to independent Internet researchers. Of course, the more specialized and experienced you are the more ability you will have to both land jobs and to charge premium pricing.
Lead Generator for Local Businesses
Some local businesses don’t want to go through all of the necessary steps to do their inbound marketing themselves. They would rather have you just do it all for them and deliver leads to their doorstep. If you go into this business I would suggest that you consider building your expertise for a particular industry, instead of a particular location, as the results for a particular industry are more likely to be repeatable.
Local Interest Blog
I love Gene Mahon’s blog about Nantucket. Great photos and well presented. Overtime he has built up a good advertising base. Like any blog it takes time, energy, consistency and patience to build a following. But if you enjoy taking pictures, attending events and meeting people, a local blog can be a lot of fun.
The biggest gaming companies spend millions developing their latest offerings and lots more money promoting them. Can you compete? Yes, you can. A recent college grad we hired had just launched her own game, and was getting hundreds of thousands of downloads. Sure, it’s a whole additional level to get people to start paying for your games, but it can be done.
I’m not as excited about the profit potential from podcasting as some other people are. It just seems to me that everyone is doing it and people generally expect podcasts to be free. But if you develop a strong enough following you can sell advertising or sponsorships for your podcast, then you can build a decent business.
How do you make money as a product reviewer? By cashing in on affiliate marketing links from products you review. Even if you give a product a negative review, you could mention a product that you prefer as an alternative and give an affiliate link to that product. Of course, books are an obvious product to review and that has helped propel Amazon into being the largest affiliate marketer on the web, despite their skimpy, circa 4%, commission levels.
I learned a lot about resume writing as my book publishing company became the leading seller of resume books in the US. Resumes are not obsolete, even if you don’t always use one when applying for a position online, recruiters expect you to bring a resume to the interview. With the Internet, you can help write resumes and cover letters for anyone in the world. If you can write succinctly, you can write a good resume.
Sell on Etsy
The selling costs are remarkably low on the Etsy website. But you will be competing with some awesome looking crafts, so make sure you create some great stuff that is highly distinctive. Then take perfect photographs and write up snappy descriptions. Try to build a following by developing a related line of goods
With many websites getting the majority of their traffic from search engine results, it is no wonder that the demand is huge for SEO specialists. Sure, the days of playing “black hat” tricks on search engines are long gone, but there are many legitimate levers you can pull to help bring web pages to the first page of search engine results.
Social Media Influencer
If your social media postings develop a large enough, or a specialized enough, following you may be able to earn money as a social media influencer. There are social media influencer platforms you can get listed on, and there are advertising companies hired specifically to promote company brands via social media influencers.
Social Media Specialist
The market and the work of social media specialists is endless.
Companies large and small need to be posting regularly to social media or they will be left behind. Many companies outsource this work to social media specialists. This is a great business because you will receive ongoing work and a recurring revenue stream. And the work is easy enough that over time you can delegate the day to day posting work and build a social media agency empire!
UI/UX Design Business
User interface and user experience matters big time on your website! That’s why they have often become a separate business from website development/coding. You can earn an advanced degree in this field, you can read books about it or you can learn it on your own.
Virtual Consignment Store
Two of the biggest problems of operating a retail store are the overhead of having a storefront and the risk and cost of carrying inventory. With a virtual consignment store you eliminate both of these problems! You could take it one step further and have your suppliers drop ship the goods for you.
The market for website developers is huge and highly competitive. If you lack highly specialized coding skills, I would suggest you consider trying to break into this space by offering flat fee rates to develop new or re-launched websites for smaller businesses or organizations and limit your development work to one platform, such as WordPress.
Highest Profit Business Ideas
I’ve seen people make a lot of money in these high profit business ideas. Some of them involve a little more investment or risk than other businesses, but that’s not uncommon for businesses that have higher upside potential. To make any business highly profitable, you are going to need some great marketing. And even for a small business, digital marketing needs to play an important role. Learn how you can do your own online marketing in my course, The Complete Guide to Digital Marketing.
With new digital ad options abounding, developing a well thought out advertising program is more complex than ever! Hence, businesses are even more dependent upon third parties such as ad agencies to solve their marketing riddle and bring customers to their door. To get going as an ad agency you will need some broad marketing acumen. However, today no-one can be expected to be an expert in all aspects of marketing, so you’ll also need some contacts to bring in particular expertise when you need it.
Air Charter Service
Let’s go flying and get paid for it! You can finance your plane and contract out most of the work, including getting help to get your company certified to fly. This is a service business and those little touches can make a difference in keeping customers coming back.
Apartment Building Owner
You might like the idea of steady income from owning an apartment building but not like the hassles that come with it.
In that case, you buy the building and hire a management company to handle the day-to-day hassles. I once tried to sell one of my online businesses to a 40-year old real estate billionaire who started out his business with just a couple multi-family homes.
Automotive Parts Rebuilder
There is a huge upside potential rebuilding auto parts, like transmissions. However, I have friends who have gone into this business and it can take years to nail down your production process, develop your customer base and start to reap the big money.
In Boston one of the very best high skyscraper restaurant locations was taken over by a banquet facility company. The owner of this business grew up in the restaurant business but decided to build his own business exclusively around banquets. A banquet facility is an interesting alternative to the difficult restaurant business. You get to match your labor and food costs closely to your income. And by having a dedicated space and a tightly focused business you should be able to execute well.
Twice I have heard Jim Koch talk about how he founded Sam Adams beer on a shoestring and turned it into a billion dollar brand. If you’re totally into beer it can be a lot of fun. But it’s a lot of work too. First you need a brewmaster with deep expertise… Then you have to get your beer taste to be very distinctive and very pleasing. You need consistent quality. You need to stand out versus the many other small brewers, build a clientele, and arrange for transportation. Nonetheless the market is huge and because of the success of micro-breweries, established beer distributors are increasingly willing to take on smaller labels.
I find the car wash business highly attractive and even considered opening one at one point. You have a regular clientele, in many areas the competition isn’t too intense, and there is lots of room to upsell more expensive services like detailing. If I was going to go into this business, I might consider starting with a smaller facility in a smaller market, and really learning the business before going for a larger facility, in a more competitive marketplace.
Commercial Real Estate Broker
This is a boom or bust business. One relative went into this business out of college and just couldn’t get any momentum going. Whereas a friend of mine who had sold his retail store business has quickly become hugely successful at commercial real estate. My friend is highly charismatic, he could carry on a conversation with a tree, and he is always meeting new people. He also worked for an established broker for a year or so before going on his own, which is a typical path in this business. While it can be difficult to build momentum initially, the potential upside is much higher than selling residential real estate.
One of my business school classmates started a concert promotion business while still an undergrad at Harvard, and even as a student he was making a fortune at it. He started with lesser known groups and smaller venues, and within a couple years he was booking some of the largest venues in greater Boston. He also enjoyed partying with the rock stars!
Corporate Insurance Broker
Even small businesses need all kinds of insurance and you can help them by getting them the coverage that will help save their business on a rainy day. To succeed in this business, you need to be outgoing and network well. But you also need to come across with a smart, consultative sell, not a hard-core pitch. It will take some time to build a corporate insurance brokerage, but this kind of business offers both high income potential and the possibility of someday selling it for a high multiple of earnings.
Damage Restoration Service
It’s messy, dirty work that must be meticulously done, and done by someone dependable. That means it can be a high margin business. I would start this business by taking on very small jobs and working my way up.
The day spa business is hot as more and more overworked people seek rejuvenation for their tired bodies. I would pull first time customers in with very sweet deals, then try to tie them in with a membership model, such as so many day spa visits per month for one flat rate. Building out a day spa can be expensive and will usually cost more than you budget, so with your first spa I wouldn’t get too carried away with remodeling. Instead make the spa nice, but not lavish, and then offer great service.
One of my friends with a background in manufacturing started a business removing waste from building sites and then he progressed into the demolition of industrial buildings. Like other construction related services, one of the keys to success is very carefully bidding for your work. You also need to make sure you get paid–general contractors can be highly successful one minute and then short on money to pay bills the next.
Executive Search Firm
If you have the right touch, this business can be a goldmine, and very personally rewarding. One of my business school classmates changed into this career later in life and did very well, specializing in putting together highly talented teams for well financed startups, and early stage ventures. The typical head hunter makes endless cold calls–but at the higher end firms networking is much more important.
Fitness Rental Equipment
I see this as an arbitrage opportunity. You finance your fitness rental equipment as one package at a low rate, and then you rent it out to your clientele at a much higher rate, providing them a service they can afford. Nice for everyone! My experience in the rental business is you need to pay careful attention to what happens at the end of the rental period—is the equipment still rentable? Is it sellable? And what happens when the equipment breaks down? Work out these details and this could be a solid and very scalable business.
All those phone calls you get from non-profits looking for donations…the majority of those calls aren’t from the non-profits themselves, they are from fund-raising firms. Yes, you could put together a phone solicitation service for non-profits, but fundraising is increasingly turning to inbound marketing. You could develop strategic inbound marketing plans and/or execute these plans for your customers.
In his days as a commercial banker, my father financed a number of health clubs, and they all complained about the same issue: it was relatively easy to sign up new members but hard to retain them, as customers tired of exercising after just a few sessions. This is a business that you can make millions at with even a single location, but it is also a business that is riskier than it may first appear. I would suggest starting with a very small location, perhaps even a members-only key-card accessible location with no employees on site, and learn the ins and outs of the business before getting too carried away. And of course, there is all kind of potential for specialization in this field.
Home Health Care Service
This is a good solid service business. But it is competitive, you need to have fully qualified service providers, and you need to look into licensing. No matter how good a service you run, when you deal with the elderly especially there is always legal risk. You can mitigate the risk by incorporating, by getting insurance and by being sure your staff follows accepted medical protocols.
It is absurd how much money you can make in liquidation! One of my friends made hundreds of millions of dollars as a partner in a firm primarily specializing in liquidating retailers. Typically, a liquidator comes into a business and buys everything that is unsecured. Then if the company is a retailer, they hire the company’s staff themselves to run a going out of business sale. You could specialize in liquidating certain types of businesses or personal estates.
Meal Preparation Service
Meal preparation services are booming and the Internet is facilitating this, making it easier to attract and service customers. The market includes the elderly as well as busy working people, who don’t always want to take the time to cook. Typically, these services offer just a few meal choices each day, but they vary the selection constantly. Especially if you can build up regular subscribers to your service, you can determine in advance exactly what your food needs will be, minimizing both food and labor waste.
Mobile Billboard Service
You can put a big sign on top of your truck or pull it around on a trailer. This is particularly powerful for local businesses because you can offer pinpoint marketing—driving around the same business block for example. You could also offer a service to hire people to agree to have a commercial sign mounted on their cars as they drive around town doing their usual thing. For example, a Boston radio station arranged to have hundreds of small VWs to be painted with their logos, paying each car owner a monthly stipend. How big can this business go? Well CNN/Turner Broadcasting founder Ted Turner made his initial money in the billboard business!
A money broker is basically someone who arranges short-term loans to people. A common variant on this is “pay-day lending” where businesses lend money to people who are typically looking for funds to hold them over to the next paycheck. These are usually storefront locations, closely regulated and not allowed in all states. This can be a solid business, but the regulatory climate is shifting against these businesses, so evaluate the risk of future regulatory changes, before hanging out your shingle.
Musical Instrument Leasing
The key to get going with this business is to build relationships with schools and school music directors, who can recommend your services. Chances are a larger school isn’t going to recommend you unless you have a track record, so you will probably have to start with some very small schools. Musical instruments, especially those that are rented out, are highly financeable for low rates, so this is a business you can get into with very little money, and expand aggressively.
One of my friends and his wife liked having a nanny so much that they kept her to help out around the house even after the kids went off to boarding school. This same friend told me they went through 23 nannies in 22 years! No wonder there is a demand for nanny services! This business is all about trust. If you don’t have successful placements under your belt, you can build trust other ways. Show off your background, describe your thorough vetting process, and have a very professional looking website and marketing materials.
The bigger market for this is companies hiring outplacement services for employees they have laid off or fired. Companies hire outplacement services to help out their ex-employees, to show current employees that they are compassionate and to decrease the chances of wrongful termination lawsuits. It will be a lot easier to land your first assignments if you have some related experience, such as having worked in HR or at an employment agency. The real reward in this business comes when you win an assignment to outplace hundreds or thousands of employees that are laid off in a large corporate business re-organization.
Porta Potty Rental Business
Not everyone wants to tell people that their business is porta potties! That’s OK, you can make good money doing this business. The key is being willing to go out and sell your services to prospective organizations. Once you line up a customer your chance of landing repeat business is huge.
Prefab Home Sales/Construction
I invested in a friend’s prefab home construction once and lost all of my investment when a huge downturn hit the real estate market. Nonetheless this is a powerful business concept. By doing much of the house construction process in a fully equipped, controllable environment, the building process can be much more efficient. Furthermore, by using prebuilt modules, a builder can still construct a gorgeous customized house. You can get involved in this business by building the prefab homes or modules yourself, or as a housing contractor using prefab modules.
Real Estate Investor
Contrary to popular wisdom, real estate prices don’t always go up and catching the trends can tremendously amplify your success in this market. One of my business school classmates caught the trend just right in the Houston commercial real estate market, and then did the same in Boston. Another business school classmate took advantage of the huge 2008 real estate sell-off by scooping up thousands of homes in particularly hard-hit areas like Las Vegas with his hedge fund. The safest way to buy real estate is to make sure that your cash flows from current rents will justify the minimum return you need, then you can look at any appreciation as pure gravy!
Several of my friends have done this both as a side business and a main business. The ones doing it as a side business have actually done better. I think that is partly because they have waited patiently for better deals to buy.
This is a great part-time business because you decide when you want to work. And except for work requiring licenses, you can decide how much work you want to contract out and how much you want to do yourself.
Residence for the Elderly
I have seen people do very well building and renting residences for the elderly. This is a highly-regulated field and you do need to manage it carefully. Staff turnover can be sky high and “one-time” issues with residents and their families may seem endless, but there is a lot of upside here.
Let me be clear. This is not my first choice of businesses to go into, even if you are experienced in the food business. Restaurants are very risky. You need a great location, good build-out which can cost a lot of money, great food and a talented and dependable staff. Furthermore, customers can be fickle-they may love your restaurant one day and then tire of it the next. Restaurant staffing is notoriously difficult. So, while the failure rate for restaurants is high, many that survive become highly profitable.
This is another heavily regulated business and it’s competitive. But companies that need security need it on an on-going basis and typically they need more than one person. That means every assignment you get can be an annuity stream as long as you service the customer well.
Senior Care Business
There are basically two businesses here and I would tend to focus on one or the other. One is providing medical help such as skilled nurses. The other is providing senior companions. Both can be great businesses with long term revenue streams and high demand.
Shipping/Freight Forwarding Service
Arranging for shipping, especially overseas, is complex and the rates can vary widely, even for nearby truck shipments. A shipping or freight forwarding service can find the best shipper for you, arrange the paperwork and a lot more. This can be a great business, with long term customers and steady work, but it can take a while to build up a large clientele.
Temporary Employment Agency
These businesses have been around forever, and I have hired temp workers through them from time to time, typically for simple packing or assembly type work. Historically your success would be largely dependent upon how successful you were at making sales calls on companies that hire temporary help. But today you can also bring sales leads to you through online marketing.
Tree services charge a lot of money for their services and one reason is that this can be dangerous work. A tenant of mine was injured working for his own tree service. So, think safety first. Don’t take on a job that is over your head–or don’t be afraid to ask someone more experienced to help when you need it. You can also rent lift trucks and other specialized equipment when you need it.
Used Car Leasing
To jump start a used car leasing service, I would approach used car dealers and get them to offer leasing instead of just car financing. This way the used car dealer can increase their chances of closing a sale and you can even offer to sell the car back to the used car dealer for a fixed attractive price at the end of the lease term.
Used Industrial Equipment Sales
When my book publishing business grew to the point when we needed forklifts, I was shocked by how expensive they were. So, we went to a used industrial equipment dealer and bought all of our forklifts there. Selling industrial equipment allows for specialization and it also allows for you to build up long-term relationships with customers. Furthermore, you can have add-on sales such as maintenance, supplies and repairs.
If you think you have a reasonably good ability to judge which early stage businesses have the best chances to succeed then this is the business for you! However, the odds against any particular venture backed business succeeding are low, so you need to spread your bets widely, especially if you are betting on very early stage companies. To get started you may first want to invest with a group of angel investors, typically plucking down $25k or $50k for each company you invest in.
Wedding Venue Business
This is similar to the banquet facility business but built around a facility that is ideal for weddings. People will pay a lot of money for a wedding venue that excites them! You could provide the catering and related services yourself, allow customers to bring their own caterers or require your customers work with a particular caterer that you chose.
Weight Loss Center
Even in the Internet age, there is something about physically going to a weight loss center that helps bring commitment and seriousness to the weight loss process. The business models vary from a mixture of fees to just making money from selling prepackaged food. You want to make sure your customers not just lose some weight but also feel great about themselves, because then they will also feel great about you and your business, and become raving fans.
Window Treatment Specialist
I couldn’t believe it when I first heard how expensive window treatments were! But now I understand, they add a lot to the appearance of a house, and to the utility of particular room. There are lots of reasons why this is a great business. It is a combination of sales and service, especially if you are doing the installation. And people like to see the textures and colors you have to offer in person. You can start this business on a mobile basis with low overhead, calling on customers at their homes and eventually open up your own storefront.
Steady Income Business Ideas
Steady income businesses may not be the most glamorous, but it sure is nice to have a constant flow of income! Even though these are low-risk businesses, you want to plan and start them as carefully as any other business. And that includes creating a business plan, which I show you how to do in my course, How To Create Your Business Plan.
Alterations is a great steady income business, easy to start on the side. Then after you’ve begun to build a clientele, you may want to quit your day job and open a small storefront location. Begin by promoting to friends and friends of friends on social media. I would charge by the job, but carefully estimate how long each job will take you and base your job rates on your time estimates.
The big money in aquarium maintenance is commercial accounts, but some individuals will want their aquariums cleaned too!
Once you start servicing someone’s aquarium regularly they will come to trust you and view you as an expert, so you will be a in a great position to sell them new fish, new accessories or perhaps once they have seen the pictures or a video—that big new aquarium!
Association Management Service
Many business and non-profit associations are too small to hire a full-time administrator but still have a lot of administrative work to be done. Some of the business groups I belong to, such as the local chapter of The Young President’s Organization and The Harvard Business School Association of Boston, have hired an association management service which is typically a single individual or in one case a mother/daughter team. For these businesses, the management service processes membership dues and event payments, fields questions about events, arranges logistics for events, and attends events and welcomes members. Payment is usually on a monthly retainer basis.
Boat Maintenance/Cleaning Service
I’ve owned a lot of boats (and even built a couple) and I’ll tell you most boat owners want their boats totally ship-shape! And yet boats tend to get dirty easily! Which leads to a great demand for boat maintenance and cleaning. To make a go of this, you want to have a good concentration of boats in one town, at one harbor or ideally on one dock. So, do a great job (this is a finicky crowd), don’t sell on price, be dependable and you will build word of mouth. I would also do as much work as possible wearing my company T-shirt, when boat owners are around cleaning their own boats…such as on Saturday mornings.
Building Maintenance Service
There are a lot of building maintenance services that don’t require an electrician or a plumber and can be done by someone with basic handyman skills. You could provide that service for commercial, industrial or multi-family housing units. You could also have highly skilled people such as plumbers and electricians on call too.
People get into this business thinking it is a totally passive way to make money and then they find out—they actually have to do some work! Heavily used washing machines and dryers can break down, and the laundromat will need to be cleaned constantly. That being said people need clean clothes so this is a classic steady income business!
Commercial Plant-Watering Service
I am currently sitting in my co-share work space and beside me sits a green potted plant about 15” in height. Every day or two, the commercial watering service person comes by and pours a little water on the plant. Once a week or so, the service person may take out his plant clippers, and trim a leaf or two. Wow! I think I could master this work! And I bet you could too!
This is basically an employment temp service, but you may be “leasing out” employees for longer stints of time. The advantage to the customer is that they don’t have to get involved in sourcing, screening and qualifying candidates, and importantly, they are not responsible for employment taxes, withholding and reporting. To succeed at this business, you need a strong ability to sell your services and place employees. This can be a “messy” business with employees coming and going, tax filing requirements, and customers to please. However, the upside is unlimited, some employee leasing firms have grown into mammoth enterprises!
Rather than replacing sofas and chairs, many people prefer to save money and just replace the fabric, often changing colors in the process. This is a great service business—you can’t be underpriced by Amazon. Furthermore, not only will your customers come to you for more business at some point, but you bet that next time they are entertaining in their living room that your new fabric covering work will come up in the conversation! Eventually you may want to consider offering complete re-upholstering services.
When my Rolex needed repair, I was determined to save some money so I went to an independent repair service. I visited his shop in Ft. Lauderdale and it was a relatively large operation with half a dozen technicians or so serving not just the local community, but shipping watches back and forth all over. Then there is my father’s grandfather clock which I just arranged to have shipped to me. Just to have it shipped, I needed an expert clock service to take it apart, and then on the receiving end I needed another expert service to put it back together. You get the point…there’s lots of demand here!
If you tell people you run a lawn-cutting service they might laugh at you, but so what! You can make a lot of money cutting lawns! You can start with one lawn and a second-hand lawn mower, and grow your business into riding mowers, full landscaping services, fancy trucks and trailers, and lots of happy customers! Click here to see the sample marketing plan I wrote for a lawn service business.
I hate being locked out! And I hate how much money I have to pay a locksmith! Let alone how much I have to pay to have locks changed or a better lock system installed! Wouldn’t it be nice to be receiving this money instead of paying it out? Not only is there a constant need for this service, but with more elaborate door systems there is more room for upselling your customers—wouldn’t it be cool to have a keyless lock system?
Mobile Car Inspection/Repair
A lot of car repairs don’t require a car lift and you can do them at the customer’s location. Not only does it eliminate the cost of owning a service bay, but it saves your customer the time to drive and wait at a service station.
It’s hard especially for really small companies to hire someone dependable and that they can trust, to do their cleaning at night in the office alone. That’s why if you are willing to work hard and be dependable, you can make good money at this. I met a fellow who earned an excellent living cleaning offices, and he only worked 4-5 hours a night, and had no employees.
Pest Control Service
This is a great business and I can’t tell you how many times I have used pest control services for my residences as well as commercial locations. The rates vary hugely from one locale to the next, so carefully survey nearby markets to determine which market may be the best opportunity for you.
You can provide full service grooming without any overhead by visiting pets at their homes. Or you can have a store front with full service grooming. Or you can provide a do-it-yourself pet grooming facility. Location matters. One do-it-yourself pet grooming facility was highly successful with a location on a busy road, but another location they had on a secondary road, just off the center of town, did not work out.
Pool Maintenance and Cleaning
Pools being outside, require endless cleaning. But the people who can afford pools tend to be willing to pay for full service to keep them sparkling clean!
Property Management Service
If you are thinking of becoming a property tycoon but can’t swing the down payment on your first property, this is a good business to start in. It’s good steady income and you get to learn the ins and outs of owning property. You also may come across multi-family properties that are for sale before they get advertised.
Forget the restaurant business! This is the food business to be in.
Sure, there are national chains, but if you really focus on it, you can come up with a few sandwiches that are totally delicious! For this business, I would want a location that services office or industrial workers. That way you can get their business every single work day of the year! And forget a fancy buildout, I would focus instead on fancy sandwiches!
Spa Service Business
I had a beautiful wooden hot tub once. It was a massive job to clean, and it was hard to find supplies and get the equipment repaired. This is a great niche business!
What a great business. It’s like an apartment building without people, without running water, without heat and without electricity! In other words, money flowing in without the headaches! And with today’s sophisticated lock and security systems, you may be able to operate this business without any staff onsite.
Putting on a little weight, let the suit out. Losing a little weight, pull it back in. Then those new pants never seem to come in my short size, so they need to go to the tailor too! You might not be able to live at Trump Tower, but you should have a good steady income as a tailor.
Television repair is not a dying business. Consumers don’t want to throw out their TVs at the first time of trouble. Furthermore, if you start this business you may want to expand into related businesses such as servicing computer monitors.
Companies that provide employees with uniforms often also arrange for them to be cleaned and pressed every single day. You can specialize in certain types of uniforms and/or certain types of services. For example, you could rent uniforms to companies and handle all of their cleaning and pressing needs. You could lease or sell uniforms to companies and then either provide cleaning and pressing services or not.
Vending Machine Owner
You can make good money at this business but you need great locations that provide enough volume to make it worthwhile to service provide a decent return on your investment. I have even seen some entrepreneurs try selling snacks at companies without any machine at all…totally on the honor system. Still another variant you could do is provide coffee, soft drinks or basic snack food for a company location and try to get the company to pick up the cost as a benefit for its employees.
Easy-to-Start Business Ideas
Some businesses can be very easy to start. One of the keys is selecting the right business idea. A lot of my earliest businesses that I started on vacations from college I had up and running in just a few days. These included my map businesses, bicycle rentals, boat trading, house painting and more. One of the ways you can speed up planning and setting up your business is by using the 50+ worksheets and templates in the Entrepreneur’s Toolkit which is included in the courses at BusinessTown.
Apartment Preparation Service
Every time an apartment turns over there is some work to be done: cleaning, painting and often minor repairs. If you can provide these services, this could be a good business for you!
Not everyone wants to find a babysitter by responding to a hand-scribbled note on the bulletin board at the local coffee shop. That’s where you come in. Set up a babysitting service that includes vetting your sitters and giving your customers confidence that they are dealing with safe and dependable service providers!
Balloon Delivery Service
This is like a simplified version of a flower delivery service, but without an inventory that is constantly becoming obsolete! Plus, balloons suggest fun and light-hearted cheerfulness, perfect for many occasions!
Boat Operation Instructor
I’ve been around boats almost since I could walk so I forget that some people need to be educated in how to run a powerboat or captain a sailboat. Now taking a boat for a spin and introducing someone to the pleasures of boating…how fun!
Bridal consulting/wedding planning seems like a lot of fun to get into, but it is also a lot of work, stressful at times and competitive. Nonetheless an established bridal consultant can earn very good money.
Bulletin Board Service
When I was promoting my job search books I started to put up advertisements on bulletin boards around local colleges. Then, seeing my advertisements people who were running bulletin board services called me, and I hired them to do the work for me instead. You can either offer your services putting up notices for clients on public bulletin boards, or you can get more sophisticated and develop proprietary bulletin boards that you get local businesses or organizations to agree to display for you. For example, you could list tourist attractions and post the bulletin board at local hotels.
Business Plan Writer
I believe that every business, even a lemonade stand, should have a business plan. But many people either hesitate to create a plan or don’t know how to do it. That’s where you come in. But remember your big value added is to help your clients learn how to develop a framework for making critical strategic decisions for their business, not just to create a nice-looking document.
Chef for Hire
This is a take-off on the catering business that makes it clear that you aren’t going to provide the dishes or the food. You just do the cooking. Furthermore, don’t bite off more than you can chew! People expect the chef to prepare a great meal, so don’t take on a menu that you’re not totally comfortable with!
I’m thinking here of selling cosmetics to co-workers, friends and neighbors. Maybe have a party-sales event. Give it a shot and see if you can develop traction!
I really like the idea of the outdoor deck business. I envision beautiful wood, wonderfully stained and maybe an attractive awning or roof. Outdoor furniture could be beautifully made out of wood too!