Perhaps a friend or mentor has been urging you for years. Or, you could be itching for the freedom to build your own business.
Whatever your personal reasons, you’re ready to kick off your journey into business ownership. There’s only one hangup:
You’re stumped for an idea. You’re not quite sure what small business you should be pursuing.
This article guides you through 65 small business ideas organized into seven categories: low-cost or free, side businesses, home-based businesses, existing skill sets, and more.
It ends with three questions to help guide your decision (which you can jump directly to here). Think of this as your ultimate motivational cheat sheet …
Small businesses you can launch for free, work from home, or with little money
1. Pet sitting
Not everybody travels with their pets, and when they hit the road, they need someone to take care of them. While it can be somewhat sporadic, pet sitting is a viable business that allows you to serve others and fulfill your love for animals.
2. Dog walking
Similarly, a dog walking business gets you outdoors while bonding with some adorable four-legged friends. As a bonus, both options lend themselves easily to channeling your furry caretaking into fun business cards, social media posts, and even custom, yet professional invoicing to help customers spread the word for you.
3. Product tester
Do you love testing out the latest and greatest products on the market and providing a thorough review? You can work with businesses to try out their latest products and give feedback, or even get your own site up and running where you offer insights into whether or not certain products are worth the price tag.
4. Personal shopper
Errands take a lot of time, and personal shoppers help to ease the burden by covering those tasks for other people—for a fee, of course. While it’s not the most traditional business idea, word-of-mouth marketing should help you establish a client base.
5. Travel planner
Are you a master at coordinating itineraries or finding those hidden gems that aren’t crawling with tourists? Put your skills to work (and fuel your wanderlust!) by helping other people plan their own vacations.
6. Tailoring and clothing repairs
Are you skilled with a needle and thread? Tailoring is frequently cited as a dying art. So, if you’re someone who can hem pants or patch holes in clothing, you’ll likely be able to find plenty of eager customers who are ready and willing to support your tailoring business.
Business opportunities if you have a product (or even just an idea)
7. Farmer’s market vendor
Maybe your garden is overflowing with more veggies than you could possibly use on your own. Or perhaps you’re ready to take your soap-making hobby up a notch. Check out what it takes to get a booth at your local farmers market, so you can start selling your wares to others in your community.
8. Etsy or eBay seller
It’s no secret that a lot of shopping happens online today, and there are tons of existing marketplaces that make it easy for people to sell their goods. Whether you create custom wedding invitations or refurbish vintage clothing, these platforms will help you get your finds and creations out into the world.
9. Amazon seller
If you have a product that isn’t quite a fit for one of those marketplaces, look into selling on Amazon. Despite the fact that it’s a retail giant, selling on Amazon is actually pretty straightforward—especially if you do Fulfillment by Amazon (FBA) and let them take care of storing and shipping your items.
10. Ecommerce merchant
Are you a whiz at crocheting mittens or creating customized jewelry? Have you been sitting on a new product idea for years? With so many resources out there, creating your own ecommerce store is relatively straightforward and cost-effective.
(Just be sure, no matter what platform you choose, to pay special attention to things like inventory management, online sales tax, and credit-card payment processing. They’re not the most exciting parts of online retail but they can derail you fast if you’re not prepared.)
If you want to run an ecommerce business—but don’t understand the ins and outs and also don’t have any room for inventory—dropshipping is a viable option. As a dropshipper, you choose a product you want to sell from a supplier and list it on your own website at a price you determine.
When a customer places an order, you then order that item (at a discounted price) from the supplier, who ships it directly to the customer. You’re essentially a middle person who’s earning a profit.
Creative services for craftspeople or in technology
Photography is more than just a hobby—it’s a highly sought-after skill in numerous different industries. From wedding photographers to product photographers, there’s no shortage of ways you that you can start and expand a business in this field.
13. Photo editor
You have a creative eye and consider yourself an expert in Photoshop and other editing programs. Especially in this age of Instagram, you could build a business as someone who professionally edits photos for other businesses and individuals.
From weddings to corporate commercials, there’s a real demand for video content today—whether it’s to promote a brand or capture a special memory. If you have an eye for film, a videographer business is a great option for you.
15. Video producer
Those who are both highly creative and organized might want to look into a business as a video producer. You’ll oversee and manage all aspects of video production—including pre-production, production, and post-production.
16. Music teacher
Your childhood dreams of becoming a rockstar may have gone by the wayside, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make a living with music. Share your knowledge with others by becoming a music teacher.
17. Graphic designer
Have an eye for graphic design? Whether you want to design promotional brochures, invitations, infographics, or something else entirely, there’s no shortage of design work out there that’s ripe for the taking.
18. App developer
There’s an app for that. But what if there isn’t? You could create it. If you have a background in programming, start your own business as an app developer. You might just create the next must-have app.
19. Website developer
Almost every small business needs a website, which means there’s plenty of opportunities for website developers to build booming one-person operations or agencies.
This idea is particularly well suited to begin as a side-hustle and balloon into full-time self-employment. As you grow, take care to treat your developer business with the same level of technical savvy you would websites themselves. That means tracking financial performance through easy-to-use and smart reporting.
20. Electronics repairing
Are you the first person your friends call when their internet is out or their t.v. won’t turn on? We all rely on devices today, which means business in electronics repair can be both helpful and lucrative.
21. Internet security
Over the years, you’ve developed a lot of knowledge of what it takes to stay safe and secure online, and you know that it could benefit a lot of people. Start your business as an internet security consultant, so you can help everybody else avoid disaster.
Online business ideas creating, editing, or marketing
Plenty of writers make money off of their personal blogs, or you can author blog posts for brands who are eager to leverage content marketing. It costs little to nothing to launch a site (and you can easily work from home or set up in your favorite coffee shops).
If you would’ve told someone just a few decades ago that they could run a thriving business just by recording and uploading their daily activities, they likely would have laughed. But, vlogging has become a bonafide career.
If you’re bilingual or multilingual, use those skills to start your own translation business. There are a variety of ways you could take this business—whether it’s doing transcripts online or serving as an in-person translator to facilitate conversations.
25. Virtual assistant
As a virtual assistant, you can serve other business owners by removing tasks from their own plates in a variety of areas—from marketing to accounting.
26. Proofreader or copy editor
Do you have an eye for typos? Do you grit your teeth every time you see a misplaced apostrophe or a grammatical error? Start a business as a copy editor or proofreader—so you can catch those mistakes for your clients.
27. Freelance copywriter
Writing is everywhere. Whether you want to write website copy and social media captions or professional bios and mission statements, there’s an ever-growing need for qualified copywriters.
28. Resume or CV writer
Everybody struggles to write about themselves and their accomplishments. If you consider that one of your skills, start a resume writing business to work with clients on pulling together solid career documents that help them land jobs.
29. Social media marketing
You know that any modern business needs to have a presence on social media, but this is still an area where many people struggle (24% of small businesses don’t use social media at all). Lend your expertise to help them engage their audiences and market their own businesses online.
30. Marketing affiliate
If you already have an established audience online, affiliate marketing can be a great way to earn some extra income. You’ll share links on your own website, newsletter, or social outlets and then receive a commission every time someone clicks that link or makes a purchase. It’s very little work for you but can lead to a big payoff.
31. Sell domain names
Are you future-focused? Do you think you could spot domain names that are available now—but might be popular in the future? You can purchase those, and then sell them for a profit when somebody else wants to use that domain.
32. Website flipper
Much like a house flipper, a website flipper purchases existing websites, improves them, and then sells them for a higher price. If you have some basic web development and design chops, this sort of business can be a lucrative creative challenge.
Maintenance services that don’t require a license
33. House sitting
For people who travel frequently, it’s reassuring to have someone back at home who can take in their mail, water their plants, and generally keep an eye on their homes. If that appeals to you, consider starting a house sitting business where you can offer your services and provide those travelers some extra peace of mind.
If you’re skilled at digging into every nook and cranny and making a space shine, a cleaning business (whether residential or commercial) could be a lucrative fit for you.
35. Car detailing
Don’t we all want to recapture how great our vehicles looked when we drove them off the dealership lot? If you have patience and great attention to detail, start a business where you can get people’s cars in tip-top shape once again.
Any homeowner will tell you that maintaining the exterior of their home—from mowing the lawn to weeding the garden beds to watering the flowers to removing the snow—is a lot of work. That’s exactly why landscaping can be an in-demand business venture year-round.
If you’re someone who can roll up your sleeves and fix that leaky sink or patch those broken gutters, homeowners everywhere are frequently paying for these types of repair services.
38. Home staging
Did you know that homes that are staged before being listed sell about 73% faster? There’s a real demand for people who have an eye for design to stage a home and showcase its full potential.
39. Interior designer
Similarly, you can also leverage your design skills for homes that aren’t the market by becoming an interior designer for a variety of clients and projects—whether it’s making an office lobby homier or helping an individual spruce up their living room.
You believe they don’t make things like they used to. You love digging for antique treasures and vintage finds and restoring them to their former glory. Those types of items can draw a lot of interest, and a refurbishing business can help you share your passion with others—while also putting some extra dollars in your pocket.
Best businesses for people who love fun, food, and other people
41. Tour guide
If you live in an area that’s popular with visitors, you can start a business dedicated to showing them the sights in your town. Or, you can take your business on the road and serve as a tour guide at a variety of destinations.
42. Tutor to children or adults
Not all students excel in a classroom environment, so your tutoring business can give them the individualized attention they need to thrive at school.
43. Event planning
Are you constantly being complimented on the parties you put together? From corporate events to children’s birthday parties, there are plenty of directions you can take an event planning business.
44. Dating coach
Dating doesn’t come naturally to everyone. If you’re someone who has a knack for forming connections and acing first dates, start a business to offer your insights and expertise to other daters.
In a similar vein, if you think you have a discerning eye for compatibility, a matchmaking business can be highly rewarding.
46. Meal planner
We all know those busy families who end up repeatedly running through drive-thrus because they don’t have the time to figure out dinner. Your meal planning business could help them enjoy more home-cooked meals.
47. Meal delivering
If you’re someone who has a knack for cooking, start a business where you deliver home-cooked meals. You likely won’t be hard-pressed to find some busy families who are willing to pay for this helpful service.
48. Personal chef
Love to cook? Start a business where you’ll be compensated for whipping up delicious meals for families or even companies with cafeterias.
Yes, you can build a business off of your sweet tooth. Especially with customized cupcakes and cookies becoming popular treats for a variety of events (like bridal and baby showers), your baking business could really take off.
50. Food truck
Starting your own food truck will require a little more overhead (and some licenses and permits). But, a food truck is also a great way to get out in the community—while also sharing some delicious eats.
51. Catering service
Again, if you’re always complimented on your delicious cooking, individuals and even other businesses are willing to pay to have high-quality dishes at their own events.
52. Companion or caregiver
As a senior companion, you can offer company and conversation to a senior who lives alone or far away from their own family. Caregivers operate similarly. However, some caregiving will require professional certification, which brings us to our next category.
Professional services that require training or certifications
53. Personal trainer
If you’re constantly trying out new workouts or researching the newest trends in nutrition, start a personal training business where you can help other people pursue the healthiest versions of themselves.
54. Business consultant
Consultants are in high demand for businesses who need certain expertise on hand, but not enough to warrant a full-time hire. That provides a great opportunity to charge for your own services—whatever they may be.
55. Life coaching
Sometimes it’s tough to make decisions on our own—we just need a little guidance. That’s where your life coaching business comes into play. You’ll counsel your clients on a variety of personal choices and challenges, and help them build healthy, happy lives.
If you have a knack for numbers and organization, you should be able to find clients who are willing to pay you for keeping their own financial records updated.
57. Accountant (CPA)
You can take that bookkeeping business a step further by becoming a CPA and starting your own full-fledged accounting business.
58. Home inspector
You’ll need to check the licensing requirements in your state to become a home inspector. Once you get your business up and running, connect with some realtors in your area to see about becoming their inspector of choice.
59. Property manager
Whether you have your own rental properties or want to work with an existing landlord, as a property manager, you’ll keep your eye on the day-to-day operations of that real estate.
60. Home contractor
Get your license as a general contractor, and you’ll coordinate and oversee all of the aspects of home construction and remodeling projects.
If you have a passion for all things motors, pursue any necessary training and open up your own mechanic shop working on all sorts of motorized vehicles and even small engines.
While anybody can cut hair, not necessarily anybody can do it well. A cosmetologist license will get you the training you need to excel in the field, as well as the confidence to open up your own hairstyling business.
63. Makeup artist
A cosmetologist license also works for makeup artistry. So, whether you want to pursue bridal makeup or special effects and prosthetics, a business as a makeup artist is a great way to flex your creative muscles.
64. Massage therapist
Life is busier than ever, which means people are carrying a lot of stress—causing a lot of tension in their business. If you’ve always had an interest in helping people feel better, look into getting your massage therapy license and opening your own practice.
65. Real estate agent
Want to help people find the homes of their dreams? Become a licensed real estate agent and start your own business helping people buy and sell their homes.
Finding the right small business idea: Three questions to ask yourself
Identifying your own small business idea isn’t a game of spin the bottle—it’s not something that should happen at random, and it deserves some careful thought and consideration.
How do you get started?
Reflect on and record answers to these three questions to uncover industries or specialties that could spark a viable idea for your business.
What am I passionate about?
Besides wanting to be their own bosses, many people decide to strike out on their own to fuel their passions.
When a Deloitte study indicated that only 13% of the U.S. workforce is passionate about their jobs, more and more workers are starting businesses as a way to give more meaning and purpose to their professional lives.
That’s why reflecting on your own passions and interests is the best place to start for your own business brainstorming session. During this exercise, jot down anything and everything that you feel passionate about.
Data from QuickBooks Self-Employed
Maybe you’ve always been invested in helping students thrive in their studies or perhaps you love motivating people to be the healthiest, happiest versions of themselves. Whatever sets your heart on fire—big and small—should be added to your list during this stage.
What am I skilled already at?
What a world it would be if you could start a business based on passion alone. But, that’s not the way things work—you also have to have some expertise to make a name for yourself and support your business.
Now it’s time to think about the skills you possess. What are you really good at? What topics do you have some existing knowledge of? Whether it’s been a formal career path for you or not, what are some areas where you really excel?
This could be anything from yoga to algebra—this is your chance to get it all out on paper in a single list. No, this isn’t just for an ego boost. It’ll help you begin to identify some areas where you actually have the necessary know-how to get a business up and running.
Where is there a problem that overlaps?
After answering those two questions above, you’re armed with two different lists:
- Things you really care about
- Things you’re really good at
Now, it’s time to start connecting the dots to figure out what overlap exists between those two categories. Are there any that seem to complement each other?
Using those previous examples, you might figure out that you’re passionate about helping students and you’re skilled at algebra. That seems like a natural fit for a tutoring business. Or, perhaps you’re passionate about healthy lifestyles and are an expert at yoga. You might want to look into offering personal training services.
This overlap might be blatantly obvious—or it might require a little ingenuity. Either way, challenge yourself to pair up items from both of those lists. It’ll force you to start to think creatively about what type of small business you could potentially run.
You’re on your way to your great small business idea
The above questions and potential business ideas should be more than enough to get your creative juices flowing about what type of business you might be able to start for yourself.
Remember, you’re only beginning and regardless of what type of business you start, it’s bound to evolve from here.
Colgate didn’t make its first toothpaste until decades after its beginnings and instead sold soap, candles, and starch. The founder of Taco Bell actually got started with a drive-in and hot dog stand. Amazon didn’t break onto the scene as the retail giant it was today—it was just an online bookstore.
All that’s to say it might take you some time to find your perfect fit. But, use all of this as your inspiration, and you’re at least one step closer to landing on a business idea that you actually feel passionate about pursuing.