Updated November 7, 2022
There’s a lot to like about running a small business. When you’re your own boss, you get to make your own rules and set your own hours. And if you’re lucky enough to run a successful business, it can pay more than a 9-to-5.
But what kind of business should you start?
Often, we hold a romanticized view of what it takes to come up with a business idea. Does it need to be a genius invention? A scientific breakthrough? A Shark-Tank-worthy smartphone app?
No. You don’t need flash to start a profitable business.
What you need is a real, concrete business idea that will gradually generate enough income to sustain you. Think about your typical local businesses. You probably see advertisements every day for dog walking, landscaping, catering, and more. Guess what? Those are all great small business ideas.
If you’re still searching for that perfect business idea, read on.
What Makes a Good Small Business Idea?
At their core, good business ideas identify existing problems and offer a solution. Could you solve problems with a scientific breakthrough, a smartphone app or a genius invention? Sure, but plenty of successful small business ideas are a lot easier to get off the ground, with a much lower initial investment.
A good business idea doesn’t have to be glamorous. It just needs to be realistic.
Kathyrn Gratton is the president of the Hagerstown, Maryland, chapter of Score, a free small-business resource network and partner of the federal Small Business Administration. In addition to practicality, she said that business ideas should revolve around you, the owner.
“Where’s your interest? Where’s your passion?” she asked, noting that your small business ideas need to be more than potential moneymaking ventures: You should also enjoy the work to some degree.
Once you think you’ve settled on a good small business idea, Gratton said, recruit a brutally honest friend to see if it holds any water.
“We all have that friend that will tell you you’ve gotten fat,” she says. “They are the best to run things by. You know they will tell you the truth.”
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Turn Your Current Skills Into Business Ideas
Take a moment to think about what you’re good at.
It could be something you create, niche knowledge about an interesting topic, an artistic ability — anything. Chances are, you’re a master of something, and someone else out there is looking for what you offer.
Stumped? Here are some profitable business ideas to get you brainstorming.
Sell Your Creations in an E-Commerce Store
Compared to brick-and-mortar stores, e-commerce websites offer entrepreneurs a less risky way of selling their products. You’re already familiar with Amazon, but there are tons of other ways to sell stuff online.
Once you’re established, you can integrate an online store on your own company’s website, but for starters, try Amazon, eBay or Etsy, depending on what you’re selling. These websites are great options for those who make products but don’t want the overhead of a storefront.
It’s free to create a basic account on each of these websites, but they do charge fees once you make a sale:
- Amazon: Charges a 99-cent fee for vendors who sell up to 40 items per month. Above that, you’ll need to make a Professional Seller Account for $39.99 a month. Paid accounts aren’t charged the 99-cent fee, but both accounts incur additional selling fees that range between 3% and 45% of the item’s selling price.
- eBay: eBay Stores are are fee-free if you list under 250 items per month. Once you start to sell more than that, a membership is required, which runs between $4.95 and $29,999.95 a month. For each sale, a final-value fee between 2% and 12% is deducted from the selling price.
- Etsy: There’s no limit to how many sales can be made on a free Etsy account, but each sale is subject to a flat fee of 20 cents plus 6.5% of the listing price. Etsy stores in good standing are eligible for an Etsy Plus account that costs $10 a month. This membership includes website customization features, ways to promote your listings, discounts and other perks.
Screenprinting duo Adam and Coryn Enfinger used to design and manually print T-shirts for fun. Then Coryn made an Etsy account to sell their shirts, and their hobby spiraled into a $350,000-a-year ecommerce business called Dark Cycle Clothing.
Coryn chose Etsy because the website caters to more handmade and artistic products. In addition to its online sales, Dark Cycle keeps a presence at several local and regional indie flea markets to make sales in person — an excellent, low-cost way to diversify income for businesses without a centralized location.
There will always be a need for childcare. That’s why sites like Care.com attract so many parents – and workers. But this article isn’t about side gigs. While those apps can help you get your start — similar to freelancing platforms — they’re not the end goal. Use them to sharpen your skills, establish a customer base, then launch a full-time business of your own.
To establish yourself and earn the trust of clients, try earning a relevant certification.
For animal lovers, pet care can be a fun, rewarding, and profitable business idea. And there is always high demand from the legions of pet owners out there.
- For pet care, register with the Professional Animal Care Certification Council. Certifications require some hands-on animal care experience, and it will run you about $350 to take the exam. Certifications last for three years, and you will be logged in the PACCC database, where anyone can verify that you’re legit.