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Maybe you're looking to supplement your full-time income with a side business. Or perhaps you're finished with the 9-to-5 and ready to be your own boss. In either case, coming up with a killer small-business idea is the first step on the path to entrepreneurship.
Focus on your strengths, skills and experience. You can perform at a higher level earlier on if there’s less of a learning curve. And starting a business that you have passion for gives you a better shot at success and lowers the chances of burnout. A detailed business plan will help, too.
We’ve identified some of the best small-business concepts and sorted them by skills or interests. Many of these ideas carry low startup costs and can be run from home.
If you're handy
1. General handyman business
Some people are just good at fixing stuff. A handyman business helps people with nearly any type of task around the house, from large projects such as kitchen or bathroom remodels to smaller jobs.
Investment: Depending on where you live and the services offered, you may need to obtain a business license or be registered with your state. The startup costs could run high if you need to purchase tools and a work truck.
While word of mouth and referrals are a great way to grow this type of business, advertising may be necessary in the early stages.
Potential challenges: You risk getting injured on the job, so you’ll likely need to get insurance. Low demand for your services due to heavy competition or seasonal dips can also pose challenges.
2. Appliance repair
If you have specific experience working on appliances such as washers, dryers and dishwashers, this could be a better business idea for you.
Investment: Similar to a general handyman business, you’ll likely need to purchase a work truck or van and tools to fix appliances, and you may need to get a business license to operate.
Potential challenges: Insurance is a must with this business, given the risks of injury to yourself or employees, or the possibility of damaging appliances. You might also face competition from established appliance repair businesses.
If you're tech-savvy
3. Smartphone repair
Nearly everyone owns a smartphone these days, and accidents happen — just think of how many cracked iPhone screens you’ve seen. A smartphone repair business can save people the hassle and expense of having to buy a new phone.
Experience fixing broken smartphones is required, and you’ll need a good marketing strategy to reach customers.
Investment: It requires a low upfront investment — if you don’t require training. You’ll likely only need to purchase some parts and tools to get started and you can operate the business from your home.
Potential challenges: You will likely run into serious competition from repair shops and phone provider service programs, such as AppleCare. You can lower these risks by offering your services at a lower cost.
4. Web development
Have you ever created a blog or website? If so, web development could be the business for you. Small businesses and entrepreneurs need to establish an online presence to reach customers, but many don’t have the time or patience to create a website.
You can work with clients from all over the country, and you can start from home part-time and meet with customers virtually.
Investment: Startup costs are low. You just need a computer and internet access to get started, and you’ll want to create your own website to market your services.
Potential challenges: This business has plenty of competition, a challenge when you’re starting out. You also need to build a strong portfolio of projects to draw in new customers.
» MORE: 5 online business ideas
If you're a wordsmith
If you love to write, create a blog and turn it into a business. If your site gets a lot of traffic, you can earn money via direct advertising, or through affiliate marketing, where you’d promote someone else’s product or service and earn commissions based on sales.
For example, if you're into tech and gadgets, you can start a blog to review popular products; if you’re into health and fitness, you can discuss the best home gym equipment or health supplements.
Investment: Starting a blog is inexpensive and can be done while still working full-time. The costs include registering a domain name, website design and web hosting.
Potential challenges: Don’t expect to quit your day job right away. You’ll likely need a ton of traffic and followers to earn anything significant, and building up your fanbase will likely take some time.
6. Resume writer
A resume writer helps clients craft the best first impression by showcasing their skills and experience in a way that stands out from the crowd.
While no formal experience or training is necessary, you’ll need to be a talented, creative writer with strong interviewing skills. An editing or journalism background and strong communication skills are helpful, as is a sound marketing strategy to reach potential customers.
Investment: The business carries low startup costs, and can be launched — while you still work a full-time job — from your own home.
Potential challenges: If you’ve never performed resume-writing services before, it may take you some time to build credibility with clients and gain steady work.
7. SEO expert
A search engine optimization consultant helps websites and blogs rank higher on search engines, such as Google. Duties typically include researching new keywords, writing content, analyzing and editing existing content, and staying up-to-date on industry trends and best practices.
Having previous SEO experience, a blogging or editing background, strong communication skills and experience using Google Analytics are desirable. If you have these skills but lack experience, taking online courses is an option. Examples of your successful work and references can help you gain new clients.
Investment: The startup costs should be low; you’ll need to create a website and promote your business. If you don’t already have the required skills and experience, you may need to take some training or courses.
Potential challenges: Finding clients might be challenging in the early stages of this business, especially if you don’t have a portfolio of projects to show off.
If you're people-friendly
8. Wedding planner
Wedding planning could be good fit for someone who has experience in party planning, event coordination or hospitality. Strong organizational and communication skills, the ability to work weekends and patience are necessary.
This is another business you can run from your home, but it may require frequent travel.
Investment: A wedding-planning business can be operated out of your home, so expect low startup costs. You’ll likely need to create a website and spend some money on marketing. Some training may be required if you lack experience.
Potential challenges: It’s a seasonal type of business, as wedding bookings are likely to slow down in the winter — though this depends on where you live. As a result, you may need to get creative when it comes to stretching your earnings throughout the year.
9. Wedding photography
Do you love romance and have a passion for photography? If so, starting a wedding photography business may be right for you.
Referrals and showcasing your work in an online gallery are two keys to gaining new clients. If you don’t have a lot of experience in photography but still want to pursue this business idea, try working as an assistant to a professional photographer to build up your resume.
Investment: You can reduce your initial costs by starting small and part-time. Besides needing a professional camera, lighting equipment and editing software, costs may include website setup and marketing, and hiring photography assistants.
Potential challenges: There are plenty of wedding photographers out there already, so you need a good business plan to stand out from the competition. It may also be seasonally dependent, with higher demand in warmer months.
10. Tour guide
A tour guide business may be a good idea if you live in a popular tourist destination, if you have deep knowledge of your city, and if you are comfortable interacting with large groups.
Investment: Startup costs should be low, as the business can be started from your home, with most of your costs going toward marketing.
Potential challenges: Accidents can happen during one of your tours, so getting the proper insurance is a good idea. Licensing may be required, depending on your location.
If you like caring for people
11. Home health care services
A growing senior population means higher demand for home health care services. The 65-and-older population will grow to 98 million by the year 2060, more than twice the number in 2014, according to the Administration for Community Living.
Home health care services typically provide seniors with a wide range of assistance, including help with managing illnesses or injuries, administering medicine and treatment, and helping with basic daily tasks. A background in medicine, physical therapy, nursing or social work is a major plus, and it helps to have a high number of seniors living in your area.
Investment: Startup costs will depend on the type of services you provide. The upfront costs should be lower if the business is nonmedical and assists seniors with basic daily tasks, although training and licensing may still be required.
Potential challenges: You’re responsible for the safety and well-being of people, so getting the proper insurance and setting up the right legal structure is a must. It can be a stressful business to run, with long hours and frequent travel required.
12. Day care services
Day care is a $57 billion industry in the U.S., according to a research report at the marketing firm IBISWorld.
You can get started by opening a center at home. You set the age group of children to accept, how many kids to care for at a given time, and the hours of operation, although this will depend on the needs of your clients.
Depending on where you live, you may need to get licensed or take training to get certified. A background in childcare, teaching, first aid or counseling is also recommended.
Investment: You can keep your startup costs lower by operating from your home and starting with part-time hours. Costs may include educational supplies such as toys and books, furniture such as cribs and mats, outdoor playground equipment, cleaning supplies and insurance.
Potential challenges: You are responsible for the safety of children, and you should plan for accidents to happen — that's why insurance is crucial. This can also be a stressful business to operate, so the ability to handle or cope with stress is vital.
If you love animals
13. Pet sitting or walking
If you love pets, this home-based business could be a good fit. You can either care for pets in your own home or care for your clients’ pets in their homes. You’ll need to be reliable and have a flexible schedule to meet the needs of your clients.
Investment: It doesn’t take much money to get started: Outside of basic pet supplies, you’ll just need a love of animals and a solid marketing campaign to get the word out.
Potential challenges: Depending on your location, you may need to get licensed. You may also face heavy competition from other local sitters and companies such as Rover, which connects dog owners to sitters and walkers. You’re also responsible for the safety and well-being of the furry ones.
14. Gourmet dog treats
If you love dogs and baking, a gourmet dog treat business could hit the spot.
You’ll need to see if any local or state permits are required and you must follow the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s guidelines on pet food products. You’ll need a good recipe and a selling point that will make your tasty treats stand out from competitors.
Investment: You can run the business at home, with low startup costs — you'll need ingredients and cookware. You aren’t limited to selling to your local market; try selling online.
Potential challenges: Getting proper insurance is recommended, given the risks of a food-based business.
15. Mobile pet grooming
A mobile pet grooming business offers a convenient service to customers. Instead of having to drag their pets to get groomed, you can bring the salon right to their doorsteps — and you can charge more for this convenience.
You’ll need experience grooming pets or be willing to train. Past experience working with animals is recommended. Licenses and permits may also be required, depending on your location. As with other pet businesses, getting the proper insurance is recommended.
Investment: The business can be operated out of a large vehicle, such as a van or trailer. This should be cheaper than a storefront, as you won't have to pay rent or property taxes.
Potential challenges: Expect heavy competition from other pet groomers, as well as the potential for accidents or injuries to animals.
If you're a foodie
16. Craft brewery
Craft beer is a booming business: There were 7,346 craft breweries in the U.S. as of 2018, up from 3,814 in operation in 2014, according to the Brewers Association. Craft brewers now hold a 13.2% market share in beer, up from 12.1% in 2016, according to the association.
This is a beer lover’s dream and sounds perfect for someone who's already brewing beer at home. However, starting a brewery isn't easy. Consider connecting with some brewery owners for advice, tips and guidance to see if this is a path you really want to take.
Investment: Opening a brewery can mean high startup costs, depending on the size of your operation. The costs include brewing equipment, construction on a building to get it fit for your brewery, permits, licenses and insurance.
Potential challenges: It’s a challenging business to operate. Obstacles include securing financing, choosing a location that will attract customers, picking out the right equipment and ingredients to brew beer, and obtaining the proper permits and licenses.
17. Food truck
Food trucks are another booming industry, growing at an annual rate of 6.8% between 2014 and 2019, according to a research report by marketing firm IBISWorld.
Investment: It’s a lower-cost alternative to starting a brick-and-mortar restaurant, as there’s less overhead, but you can still expect to shell out a decent amount of money to purchase a truck and cooking equipment.
For this reason, consider testing out your dishes on a smaller scale first, at a local farmer’s market or a food festival. You can get feedback from customers on your product before investing in a mobile operation.
Potential challenges: Starting a food business can be complicated, as you'll have to deal with permitting requirements and health department regulations. Other obstacles include securing a desirable location and fierce competition, although these factors may depend on your local market.
Want to start a business?
NerdWallet has rounded up some of our best information on starting a business, including structuring and naming your company, creating a solid plan and much more. We’ll help you do your homework and get started on the right foot.