20 small business ideas

Key takeaways

  • Starting a small business has many advantages, like making your own schedule, turning your passion into a lucrative career and solving problems in your community

  • There are many funding sources if you need money to fund your small business, including term loans, microloans, grants and crowdfunding

  • Conducting market research and determining where your expertise lies can help you determine what small business idea is right for you

Starting a small business is a great way to gain freedom and make money on your own terms. If you’re ready to start a side hustle or become your own boss, consider some of the small business ideas below to get you started.

What is a small business?

The definition of a small business depends on the industry, business size and annual revenue.

In general, a small business typically has fewer than 1,000 employees, is privately owned and has less than $40 million in annual revenue. But, self-employed or freelancers can also qualify as small business owners.

For SBA loans, the Small Business Administration (SBA) requires a business to be for profit, independently operated and owned, with locations and operations occurring in the United States.

Why start a small business

If you have ideas for small business but aren’t sure if it’s right for you, consider these benefits:

  • Being a small business owner can provide flexibility, allowing you to work as much or as little as you want and make your own schedule.

  • You get to call the shots, including which clients you work with, the type of work you do and how much you get paid.

  • If your small business idea requires hiring employees or subcontractors, you’ll have the chance to build your team and create jobs to help the economy and the individuals you hire.

  • Since you’re taking on the risk, you directly receive the rewards for your hard work.

  • Many dream of creating a successful business from scratch. Entrepreneurship is the only way to turn your passion into reality, allowing you to reap the benefits and build an income while doing so.

  • Becoming a small business owner will challenge you in ways you may not realize. You get to become an expert in your field, honing your skills by attending classes, retreats and seminars while improving the industry, inspiring others and mentoring newcomers.

  • There’s a belief that there is more stability in being an employee, but you have all your eggs in one basket. A layoff or getting fired could turn your world upside down as you lose all your income. As an entrepreneur with multiple clients, you only take a partial hit to your income if you lose one.

  • The average small business salary ($99,979) also far surpasses the average American salary ($63,795).

20 small business ideas

If you want to start a business but are unsure what type of business is best, check out this list of 20 good small business ideas to help you decide.

1. Virtual assistant

A virtual assistant, or VA, can be instrumental in helping other business owners and executives succeed. A VA can help with administrative tasks like social media management, making travel plans, calendar management, content creation and more.

Consider becoming a virtual assistant if you are highly organized, detail-oriented and a self-starter. Attending local or virtual networking events can help get your name out there and find clients who may not realize they need your services.

2. Pet walking/sitting services

If you prefer to get outside regularly and love animals, consider starting a dog walking and/or pet sitting service business. You can advertise locally or use services that are already well known, like Wag or Rover.

Although you don’t need any special training, it can be helpful to have experience as a pet owner or have certifications — like pet CPR or first aid training. Some pets, like reptiles and birds, need special care and are high maintenance. With direct experience, you can market yourself to these types of pet owners and create a lucrative business with repeat customers.

3. Print-on-demand (POD) products

If you’re creative and don’t have money to start a small business, consider a business selling print-on-demand (POD) products. After you create artwork, you upload the design to the POD website. Consumers purchase products like tote bags, clothes, hats, coffee mugs and phone cases with your artwork on them. The POD provider prints your design on their chosen product and ships it directly to the customer.

Many POD service vendors provide the option to create a storefront on the website instead of building an e-commerce site yourself. You only need the time to create the designs and a computer to do the work.

4. Copy editor

If you’re a stickler for grammar, copy editing may be for you. You can use your skills to edit blog posts, articles, books, print articles and other types of content. Use your computer to hone your craft and market yourself in online groups and social media like LinkedIn.

5. Event planner

If your eyes light up at the thought of organizing and pulling off the perfect event for someone else, event planning may be the right business idea. You can focus solely on weddings, working with corporations or planning other special events, like birthdays and retirement parties.

You should have excellent organizational skills and be personable, as you’ll have to market yourself to clients and find venues and vendors to network with. You can market in person or online through directory websites like The Knot, WeddingWire and Eventective.

6. Cleaning services

If you’re detail-oriented, love to clean and want to build a team, a cleaning service business may be the right choice. You can clean homes or companies and take on as few or as many clients as you and your team can handle.

Though you don’t need a license, you might win more clients if you’re insured and bonded. While some clients might prefer you use their cleaning supplies, most will want you to bring your own, so a small initial investment may be required.

7. Alterations and sewing

If you’re skilled at sewing and alterations, you might find that building a business around these talents could become quite lucrative, especially if you can create custom costumes and dresses.

Make sure you have a quality sewing machine that can meet the demand, as well as other supplies and materials. Consider advertising your services at dress shops, convention centers, renaissance fairs and other places where people who gather appreciate your skills.

8. Travel planner

Many people love to travel but hate the planning process. If you’re the go-to person for planning your friends and family trips, a travel planning business may be the right startup idea for you. If you’re not sure if you’d like planning travel for a living, consider working for a travel agency before you start your own business.

Though you could offer general travel planning services, you can also specialize in particular types, like cruises or corporate travel. You don’t need any special training, but it may be helpful to get a travel planning certification to set yourself apart from other planners. The Global Travel Professional Certification is perfect for those in business travel, while The Travel Institute may be better suited for domestic travel planning.

9. Landscaping and garden/outdoor services

Some have an eye for landscape design and gardenscapes. If you’re that someone, then consider this startup small business idea. Though you can do basic yard maintenance, like trimming trees and hedges, mulching and mowing, you can also plan garden plots or install seasonal decor in neighborhoods and business parks. Expanding your service offerings can ensure you have business year-round if you live in a state with all four seasons.

10. Translator

If you are fluent in at least one foreign language, consider starting a translation service business. Though you can get a certification, there is no formal training needed, but you will need some marketing and networking skills to land clients. You can offer general translation services or work in a niche in which you’re also an expert, like the financial or medical fields.

11. Car detailing services

You only need reliable transportation and car cleaning supplies to start a mobile car detailing service. Consider marketing yourself on Angi, Thumbtack, Nextdoor, Facebook or other local networking platforms. Having an SEO-optimized website can also help, though it’s not required. Don’t forget to ask for referrals and testimonials from satisfied customers.

12. Handyman

Many people lack the skills to do small projects around the house, like fixing a plumbing issue, hanging a gallery wall of picture frames or patching and repainting interior walls. If you have handyman skills, you may find a niche in your local area that needs your expertise.

Although you don’t need any special training or certifications, you might need a license or permit in your state to complete specific tasks. Make sure you research requirements before you begin. You might also consider creating a website, though getting referrals from friends and family and using platforms like Nextdoor, Angi or TaskRabbit can help you find clients.

13. Personal chef

Many people would pay for the convenience of having nutrient-rich food made for them, whether they lack the skills, time or both. If you love to cook for others, especially healthy meals, consider becoming a personal chef.

You could focus on specific diets like vegetarian, vegan or gluten-free. You could also offer meal prep services. Consider selling at your local farmer’s market, partnering with a food truck or offering delivery for prepackaged meals. You could also focus on specific clientele, like personal training or nutritionist clients, athletes or corporations.

14. Tutoring

Children, and even adults, can struggle with subjects like math, mastering the piano or learning a new language. If you have expertise in a specific topic, you could offer tutoring services as a side hustle or full-time business.

You could stay local and in person or take it online. You’ll want to consider what students you’d like to target and the materials you may need, including textbooks, online resources or handouts.

15. Bookkeeping

You may be an excellent fit for bookkeeping if you’re detail-oriented and good with numbers.  Bookkeepers work with other small businesses and entrepreneurs to help them manage their books, process payroll and gather data for tax preparation.

Since you’ll be handling someone else’s finances, consider forming an LLC to protect yourself from liability. While you don’t need credentials, it can help prove you know what you’re doing and make it easier to land clients. You can also get certified with Quickbooks or other accounting software.

16. Transcriptionist

A transcriptionist must have a keen ear as they listen to a video, audio file or in-person speech to write out what’s being said. Once you transcribe the entire file, you’ll return the completed document to the publisher. There are many options for transcription services, including podcasts, YouTube videos, shows and movies.

Though you can start online with your own business, learning the ropes first by working at a transcription company can be helpful. Then, you can branch out to your own business and offer services on marketplaces like Upwork, Fiverr or LinkedIn.

17. Create an Etsy business

Crafters can find that starting an Etsy business is easy, especially since it limits the need to create your own website and market your services. You don’t need any certifications or special training, but you should already be an expert in your craft, whether creating custom wigs, making jewelry, signage or knitting. Etsy shop owners can qualify for financing to help purchase materials and make it easier to keep up with demand.

18. Local tour guide

Do you know all about the best restaurants in your area or the history that makes your town unique? Consider starting a tour guide business to teach others everything there is to know about your area.

You could be a general tour guide or focus on a specific niche, like food, ghost tours, nature trails or local history. Consider offering your services in the experience section of websites like Airbnb, Vrbo and TripAdvisor.

19. Professional organizer

Many people need help with keeping their homes organized and free of clutter. If you love to organize and aren’t a stranger to decluttering spaces, start a professional organization business. You don’t need much to get started. However, having a website and social media pages can help you get clients — especially when they see the before and after photos.

You can also post your services on websites like Houzz, Taskrabbit and Angi. Though certification isn’t required, becoming a Certified Professional Organizer can prove you have what it takes to turn chaos into function and freedom for frazzled clients.

20. Personal assistant

There are only so many hours in a day, and it can be hard to fit it all in. If you are task and detail-oriented, love crossing things off your to-do list and want to make someone else’s life easier, consider a career as a personal assistant.

There’s no limit to the tasks a personal assistant can handle. You could work with specific professionals, such as executives or women business owners, to help them manage their day-to-day work and personal tasks, like organizing files, planning trips, picking up dry cleaning or data entry.

You can market on social media and tasker platforms or create a website detailing how to help. And don’t forget about local networking events, where you can hand out business cards and talk with other business professionals to market your services.

How to finance a small business

Although some small businesses don’t require funding to get started, many do. There are multiple ways to finance a small business, all with different qualifying criteria.

Business loans are the most common way to fund your business idea. There are different types, such as microloans, invoice financing, lines of credit and term loans.

Here are some other options to consider:

Bottom line

There’s no shortage of good small business ideas available. Making a list of what you’re good at and topics you have expertise in can help you narrow down what type of career would be the best fit. Many small business ideas require little money to get started, and multiple loan options are available if you don’t have the funds to begin.

Frequently asked questions

  • What are cheap small businesses to start?

    The best small business ideas that are cheap to start require little or no training because you already have expertise in the field or industry. Online businesses are typically the most affordable to start, as they have low or no setup costs or inventory to manage. You grow it sustainably by yourself or with just a few employees or subcontractors. Freelance writing, graphic design, print-on-demand products, tutoring, coaching and translation are a few startup ideas that don’t require capital to begin.

  • What small businesses are in demand?

    Professional services, real estate, business support and consumer services, finance and insurance and non-manufacturing goods production are not only in demand but also profitable small business ideas to consider.

  • How can I start a business with no money?

    You don’t need money to start a business; you just need to know how to get financing with no money. Microloans, business grants, credit cards, invoice financing, crowdfunding and equipment-secured loans are a few options that usually don’t require money to receive funds. However, lender requirements can vary, so it’s important to determine your financing needs and what you need for approval before applying.