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Some people venture into entrepreneurship with a clear vision: They know what industry they want to conquer and the path they’re going to take to get there. However, for many new entrepreneurs, it can be difficult to figure out how to start a business — plus, determine exactly what type of business is the best choice to invest in.
To help you launch your journey, we’ve compiled a list of the most profitable businesses, considering factors such as industry growth and competitiveness, startup costs and barriers to entry, as well as profitability potential.
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Most profitable small businesses
With a solid business plan, hard work and determination, any strong business idea may become successful and profitable.
Businesses in high-growth industries with lower startup costs, however, may have greater profitability potential. With the rise of technology, for instance, you’ll probably have more success starting a virtual assistant business than opening a grocery store.
Although some of the most profitable businesses are based online, others involve in-person services, and some are a great fit if you're an entrepreneur on the go. Here’s our list of the most profitable small businesses:
1. Food trucks
The food truck movement has been experiencing consistent growth over the past five years — and it’s expected to continue — with the market projected to grow to $6.6 billion by 2028, according to a 2021 report by Grand View Research. You can start a food truck business for less than a third of what it costs to open a brick-and-mortar restaurant; plus, you have geographic versatility, the potential for high revenue returns and the flexibility to create a custom menu that’s all your own.
Keep in mind that bigger, trendier cities like San Francisco, Boston and Washington, D.C., already have a pretty saturated food truck market (as well as tougher regulations to get started) — so this might be a more successful business in a smaller heartland metropolis.
Food trucks also tend to have their own special set of ordinances, business licenses and safety compliance standards. They also require food business insurance, so you’ll want to contact your local health department to find out what will be required.
2. Car wash services
The rising price and expanded features of new vehicles are causing car owners to keep their cars longer, according to a 2020 study by Consumer Reports. And as drivers keep their cars longer, businesses like car washes that help people maintain the value of their auto investment are expected to keep rising as well.
According to the International Carwash Association, 66% of Americans wash their vehicles somewhere between one to two times per month, with an average of 13 times per year. The car wash market is projected to increase from $14.7 billion in 2021 to $20.7 billion by 2028.
You might make a car wash business even more profitable by turning it into a mobile service. Customers may pay more for a car wash that comes to them, especially if they have a luxury car and prefer a more personalized service. And as a mobile car wash and auto detailing service, you’d avoid the overhead and startup costs of having a physical location.
3. Auto repair
In 2021, the average age of cars and light trucks in the U.S. rose to 12.1 years, increasing from 9.6 years in 2002, according to IHS Markit (now part of S&P Global). People are keeping their cars longer than ever, suggesting there’s significant opportunity in the maintenance and repair business.
Additionally, car owners are more likely to visit a small business for repairs; according to the Auto Care Association, more than 70% of repair business is captured by independent repair facilities compared with dealerships or manufacturer-authorized repair facilities.
If you’re skilled as a mechanic, you might consider an auto repair service as one of the most profitable business ideas. You can offer oil changes, fluid refills, battery swaps, headlight repair and more. And if you’re looking to save on overhead costs, you might make it a mobile service and travel to your customers, performing repairs in their driveway or office parking lot.
4. Personal trainers
Employment of fitness trainers and instructors is projected to grow 39% from 2020 to 2030, much faster than the average for all occupations, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. But turning your love of fitness into a career doesn’t have to mean working for a big corporate gym — nor do you need the overhead of having your own location to train clients. Throw a few weights, bands and yoga mats into the trunk of your car, and take your fitness show on the road.
You can become a personal trainer by offering one-on-one sessions in your clients’ homes or advertising group classes at a local park or community center. Making fitness more available to your clients might just be the ticket to helping both of you achieve your goals.
5. Newborn and post-pregnancy services
Although millennials are deferring parenthood for longer than previous generations, many do eventually want to have kids. In fact, according to an analysis of government data by the Pew Research Center, as of 2018, more than half of millennial women have had a child.
Now, both millennials and Generation Z are considering parenthood, and the need for child-oriented businesses is growing, starting with post-pregnancy and newborn-related services. And as a result, a 2018 Research and Markets report expects the maternity care market in North America to reach over $3 billion by 2023.
Demand for doulas and lactation consultants, in particular, has risen among new mothers, and both business options have relatively low overhead requirements beyond education and certification.
See how to get your business started quickly
Find the money to get going: Compare the best small business loan options right now.
Set up a bank account: Details on how to get a free business checking account.
Start accepting credit cards and other payments: Options and how to use point-of-sale systems.
Start tracking your profits: Pick out and set up simple accounting software.
6. Enrichment activities for children
While Americans continue to have children, shrinking budgets for education mean that both traditional academics and enrichment subjects like music, art and athletics often take a significant hit.
A successful business to start might be one that teaches enrichment activities to children. According to a 2018 U.S. Census Bureau report, kids are just as involved in extracurricular activities today as they were 15 years ago. And some research indicates that nearly half of American parents spend more than $1,000 annually on their children’s activities.
You could launch a gymnastics center or music school, become a swimming instructor or kids’ yoga teacher, or focus on some other child-centered activity. If you have a skill that could be easily taught to young students, you might already have a profitable business in the making.
7. Mobile apps and entertainment for children
If your interests are in development and engineering, you might consider gearing your technology toward the youngest users. Research shows that demand for tablets, apps and mobile entertainment for children is on the rise — especially if those products are education-focused.
According to a Learning First Alliance report on mobile devices and early childhood education produced by research firm Grunwald Associates, more than 60% of parents surveyed believe that mobile devices and apps have benefits for teaching kids skills in reading, math, science and world languages.
Do you have an idea for an educational app for children or parents? If so, now's the time to move forward on your bright idea for the next generation and make this potentially profitable business a reality.
8. Shared accessories and attire
Sites like Rent the Runway and Gwynnie Bee have banked on the idea of the sharing economy — where we want and need to own less stuff, so instead, we share resources.
These companies offer borrowed or rented clothing and accessories at a fraction of their purchase prices, and because the same piece of inventory generates revenue multiple times, the profitability of these ventures can be significant. According to a 2021 study by the reselling platform Mercari, the secondhand-clothing market is projected to more than triple by 2030.
Do you have an eye for fashion and a sense of style not currently offered by other rental services? Maybe you’re ready to be the next big thing.
Even if you’re not prepared to launch a multimillion-dollar fashion startup, you can just as easily profit from shared fashion at the local level. Gather some favorite accessories or clothing picks and host a borrowing party — where customers can rent or purchase items from your closet — for high school students before the next formal dance.
If you’re in a college town, Greek life formals are another great opportunity to profit from shared economy fashion. And because you’re taking shipping costs out of the equation, you have the potential to be even more profitable.
9. Shared home improvement equipment
Are you the go-to person in your neighborhood for every lawn, garden and home repair tool? Why not turn those tools into a profitable business by advertising your available equipment beyond your immediate friend group?
You might even decide to invest in more specialized and higher-cost equipment that would be useful to those around you. And if a customer doesn’t know how to use a specific tool, combine equipment rental with your mobile service for even more cash in the bank.
Home improvement spending has increased since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic — and U.S. households spent an average of $8,305 on improvement projects in 2020 alone, according to a study from Home Advisor. As more people continue to invest in fixer-upper houses and remodel, this could be a big opportunity.
» MORE: Best small-town business ideas
10. Vacation rentals
If you live in a highly desirable tourist destination, you can make a profit renting space in your home to travelers. Sites like Airbnb or VRBO have made it easier than ever to profit from your unused vacation property — or even your extra bedroom. According to Airbnb, the average U.S. host makes over $13,800 a year.
It's not too difficult to become an Airbnb host, and the demand for these types of rentals has only grown in recent years. In 2021, 356.9 million nights were booked on Airbnb — up from 251.1 million nights in 2020. However, some cities have laws and regulations regarding Airbnb and other rental platforms, so you’ll want to make sure you check the guidelines in your area before getting started.
11. Electronics repair
According to the Pew Research Center, as of 2021, 85% of Americans own a smartphone, and over 75% of U.S. adults own a desktop or laptop computer. And with more employees working from home, there’s an even greater reliance on a variety of electronics.
That means that when something goes wrong, people want help fixing it as soon as possible. This makes electronics repair a potentially lucrative business idea. According to a 2022 report from the Business Research Company, the global electronics repair and maintenance market is expected to grow from about $8 billion in 2021 to $9.6 billion in 2026.
With this service, you could be the solution for every broken iPhone screen, Wi-Fi card and laptop battery. And you might be even more successful if you’re willing to travel to your customer. Apple stores and other electronics retailers have come under fire recently for long customer wait times, which could work in favor of mobile providers.
Although a mobile electronics repair business involves some overhead in the form of purchasing supplies, being mobile saves you from having to pay the costs associated with a physical location.
12. Academics courses
Online entrepreneurs can offer courses through educational platforms or independently on their own websites. The U.S. e-learning market has accelerated growth since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and is predicted to increase by $21.6 billion in 2024, according to a 2020 report by Technavio.
You might start your business by providing courses in traditional academics, offering online instruction in grade-level reading, math, science, history or standardized test preparation. You could even create a review course for parents helping teens with their algebra homework. If you’re creative, the possibilities are truly endless.
And academic courses don’t have to end at the high school or even college level. You can create an online course to share your love of political history, Buddhist theology or rocket science. If you’re interested in a particular subject, chances are someone else is, too.
13. Language courses
Currently, one-fifth of U.S. families speak one other language, apart from English — based on data from the Census Bureau. And with more languages being spoken nationwide, the demand for online language learning courses is growing. The market is projected to increase by $5.7 billion from 2021 to 2026, according to a 2022 report from Technavio.
So whether you take to the online education space with expertise in English, or you harness your mastery of Swahili, there’s likely someone out there who wants to learn a language from you.
And if you speak one of the most in-demand languages, such as Mandarin, Spanish or Arabic, then online-based language courses could be one of your most profitable business ideas.
14. Business or marketing courses
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, participation in career-focused online courses has grown significantly, especially as more employees look to change jobs or work from home. For instance, LinkedIn saw a 53% increase in global hours spent learning from 2020 to 2021.
Companies have expanded or launched new coverage for tuition reimbursement in recent months, meaning workers have money to spend on these types of classes. According to a 2022 Harris Poll performed on behalf of Fortune, 14% of employees reported their companies offer some type of coverage or reimbursement for online training courses; and over the past six months, 10% of employees reported their employers have expanded or launched new coverage for these types of training opportunities.
If you have career skills to share, you can start creating online courses with few initial costs. Popular course topics include bookkeeping, QuickBooks accounting software, WordPress web development, graphic design or even how to write a great cover letter or resume.
15. Personal wellness
Are you a therapist or counselor, a yoga instructor, a life coach or a longtime meditator? If you have a deep passion for personal wellness, you might be able to help others — while also earning a significant income.
For example, in 2017, the U.S. accounted for nearly 50% of the global yoga market, according to a 2019 report by Allied Market Research. The same report predicts the U.S yoga market to grow at a compound annual growth rate, or CAGR, of 11% by 2025. Americans who practice yoga spend, on average, around $90 a month on the activity, according to a 2019 survey from OnePoll and Eventbrite. Additionally, the number of people participating in wellness activities online has grown significantly. Yoga was the most popular ClassPass digital workout of 2020, experiencing a 25% increase in reservations over 2019.
And, like many of the options on our list, as long as you have the knowledge, the costs to start a personal wellness business are low.
Every person has a desire to better themselves, and that’s what online courses are all about. If you have this expertise to share, you could turn your knowledge into a profitable business.
16. Courses in hobbies or interests
While many courses are designed to further an education or career prospects or to promote major life changes, you can just as easily design an online course around any hobby or interest.
Do you have a passion for calligraphy or craft brewing? Have you mastered a certain video game? You'd be surprised at the number of people willing to pay to learn about topics they're interested in. Some of the bestselling courses on the popular online learning platform Udemy include web development, ethical hacking, cryptocurrency, Photoshop and drawing — and they sell for up to $150 per class.
Not sure how to start designing your own online course? Well, there are even online courses for creating your own online course. You can use one of these courses to propel your own online course business.
17. Bookkeeping and accounting
Accounting and bookkeeping are unavoidable requirements of business ownership. But for many entrepreneurs, money management is the most tedious part of owning a business; that's why some business owners choose to outsource those tasks.
Whether you’re a certified public accountant or just a QuickBooks wizard, you might be the perfect candidate to launch your own bookkeeping business. With a net profit margin of 18.4% (according to a 2017 Sageworks report), bookkeeping, accounting, tax preparation and payroll services have long been some of the most profitable businesses for entrepreneurs.
As a bookkeeper, you can process invoices and payroll, compile expense reports and more. If you have a CPA license, you can help business owners file taxes, generate balance sheets and other accounting documents, as well as make professional recommendations about your client’s bottom line.
If you’ve been in the business world for a long time, folks may be clamoring for your knowledge and expertise within your industry. Why not turn all that know-how into a new career as an independent consultant?
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, demand for consulting services is expected to increase, particularly among smaller companies that deal in specialized industries or business functions. Employment of management analysts, which includes consultants across different industries, is projected to grow 14% from 2020 to 2030 — faster than average for all occupations.
As an independent consultant, you can be paid to speak at industry conferences or events, serve on a board of advisors for a fledgling business, or lend your expertise to shape the strategy of an existing business on a contract basis.
Whatever your skill set, starting a consulting business is a great way to make the income of your dreams while working on your own terms.
19. IT support
Our reliance on technology makes IT support just as profitable a business idea as electronics repair and other tech businesses — especially considering employment of IT professionals is projected to grow 9% from 2020 to 2030, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. With an IT business, you can help customers when they have issues with their internet or computer software, as well as install security programs and network updates.
If technology comes easily to you — and you’re a relatively patient person — then the most profitable business for you might be hitting the road, at least in your neighborhood, with mobile IT support. You can offer a service to combat the chat or phone support typically offered by technology manufacturers, which often includes long wait times and leaves customers with unanswered questions.
All you need is time, transportation and your own know-how, so this low-overhead business model could be almost pure profit.
20. Graphic design
As the number of brands vying for consumers’ attention grows, a slick and polished image has become more important than ever for small businesses. Adobe’s research has shown that 73% of companies that are investing in design are doing so to stand out from the competition.
And although, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment for graphic designers is expected to grow only 3% from 2020 to 2030, there are opportunities out there, especially for graphic designers who work freelance — which 90% of graphic designers in the industry do, according to a 2021 report by IBIS World.
Do you know your way around Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign? Have you taken a few design classes, and do you have an eye for good branding? Turn your skills into a business as a freelance graphic designer. You’ll have almost no overhead and can help small-business owners create awesome marketing graphics.
21. Social media management
These days, customers expect a business to have a strong social media presence and to be responsive to customer service issues on social media.
Although many small-business owners know they need to engage in social media marketing, few have the necessary time or expertise to manage all of their social media accounts.
If you’re fluent in Twitter, live your life on Facebook and have gotten every job you’ve ever had through LinkedIn, you might consider turning your social media expertise into your own solopreneur business venture — offering support to business owners who need help managing their brands' social media platforms.
As long as you have your own laptop, smartphone and social media accounts, there are few costs to getting started, and job growth in the industry is projected to increase 11% from 2020 to 2030 — faster than average for all other occupations.
22. Marketing copywriter
If you’re particularly adept with words, you can use your talents to write copy for various companies’ marketing efforts.
Based on data from LinkedIn, hiring for digital marketing professionals grew 33% year-over-year from 2019 to 2020, and it grew 49% in the same time frame for content creators (including roles such as blogger, creative writer and editor).
Whether you’re coining a catchy slogan or writing an in-depth description of a company’s offerings, if you’re doing it as an independent contractor, you’ll have very few startup costs. Once you get started and build relationships with clients, you’ll quickly be able to earn a profit for your services.
23. Virtual assistant services
With more employees working from home, and with teams spread out across different locations and time zones, businesses can benefit from an assistant who is just as flexible as they are. There's no longer the need to meet with a client every day in an office — you can work as an assistant from New York when your client lives in Florida.
According to ZipRecruiter, the average remote virtual assistant in the U.S. makes $63,500 a year.
As a virtual assistant, you can choose your clients and create your own schedule, managing emails, scheduling meetings, booking travel and completing other basic tasks to make your customers’ lives and businesses run more smoothly.
Plus, all you need is a laptop and an internet connection to start this business.
How to start a profitable business
These ideas for profitable businesses span a variety of industries and involve varying time commitments and startup costs. Before you can earn any profit, however, you’ve got to get your business off the ground.
Here are three steps to help you get started:
1. Do your research
Whether you choose one of the ideas here or come up with something on your own, do your research before committing to any concept. You'll want to perform idea validation, a process that involves market and competitor research, as well as a financial feasibility analysis to help test your business idea and determine whether you want to move forward with your business proposal.
2. Get organized and make it official
Once you’ve chosen a strong business idea, you’re ready to create a thorough business plan. Your business plan will outline your company’s goals — and how you’ll achieve them — as well as provide a roadmap for you (and potential investors) to follow for the next three to five years.
After you’ve written your business plan, you can take the necessary steps to make your small business official. You’ll choose a business structure, apply for an employer identification number, register your “Doing Business As” name (if necessary) and get the business licenses and registrations you need to open your doors.
3. Find the right financing
It can be difficult for startups to qualify for some traditional business loans, as they often require multiple years of business history for approval. Instead, new business owners might consider startup funding options, such as microloans, grants, crowdfunding, or asking friends or family for an investment.
Business credit cards are also an option for short-term financing, especially for everyday business purchases. With a business credit card, you can earn perks and rewards on your spending, as well as start building a business credit history.
This article originally appeared on JustBusiness, a subsidiary of NerdWallet.