If you have the entrepreneurial itch – but feel overwhelmed on which business idea to pursue – seeing potential options laid out in front of you might be the missing puzzle piece you need to take your next step forward.
According to recent research from Pew Research Center, low pay and lack of opportunity for career advancement were the top reasons employees quit jobs in 2021. Many professionals are exploring alternative career options; if you are one of them, you may have realized that, to enable the freedom and flexibility you need in your career, your best next step is to invest in starting a business for yourself.
Some businesses require lots of time or money to get off the ground. These 10 options enable quick testing and low startup costs.
BYOB life (That’s “being your own boss,” of course!) can be a sustainable way to work toward financial independence. But which business idea is right for you? If you’re ready to take the next step in your entrepreneurial journey, here are 10 tried-and-true business ideas that will get your wheels turning.
Table of Contents
#1: Create on online course
E-learning was a $250 billion industry in 2020 and is projected to become a $1 trillion industry by 2027. If you have a computer and something to say that can help people, online courses have low startup costs and high profit margins when you hit the nail on the head.
To make an online course fly, however, you need an audience of people who want to buy it, and audiences can take years to build. Online course marketplaces like Skillshare can be a great way to work around the “no audience yet” conundrum. According to Skillshare Chief Marketing Officer Liana M. Douillet Guzmán, your online course doesn’t have to be as long as you might think in order to be lucrative.
“The best way to succeed as a Skillshare instructor is creating engaging content that is digestible, project-based, and personal,” she says. “Most of our classes include an hour or so of pre-recorded video content broken down into a series of short 2-5 minute videos. Rather than teaching a broad, sweeping skill set, the most successful classes hone in on one specific concept or skill.”
“Once you make and upload your content, you can continue to make passive income with no additional work,” says Guzmán. “We find that most teachers love the community on our platform and engage with students long after the class has been posted. As a teacher, you get paid from a royalty pool based on the number of minutes members watch your class – and as the number of classes a teacher posts increases, so does the opportunity for members to watch your content, incentivizing teachers to keep building their presence on Skillshare and become a successful online creator.”
Guzmán notes that the residual income generated from even just one class or workshop can be substantial.
“Our top teachers on the platform make an average of $2,000 per month, with some of our teachers able to pay their rent with earnings from a single class.”
#2: Rent or lease out existing assets
When Airbnb burst onto the scene in 2008, the idea of subletting a stranger’s home for a weekend felt foreign and bizarre. Nearly 15 years later, the “sublet economy” is now everywhere, and an entire crop of “Airbnb for X” startups exist that help people turn existing assets into moneymaking opportunities. Among the recent “sublet economy” options:
- RVnGO, a platform for renting out your RV (or booking one for an upcoming road trip)
- Turo, the world’s largest car sharing marketplace
- Spacer, a marketplace for garages and parking spaces
- Swimply, a subletting platform to rent someone’s pool
#3: White label a beauty or wellness product
Manufacturing a wellness or skincare product from scratch can be a huge and expensive undertaking. If your next brilliant idea falls into this category, have you looked into all the FDA regulations? Multi-year timelines are not unusual for new products in these industries.
White labeling a product can be a smart compromise if you’re just getting started. JBK Wellness Labs, an Inc. 5000 company, notes that white labeling is a great supplement for salon or spa owners, hairdressers, and beauty influencers who want to apply their own branding to proven formulations.
“Choosing to white label high quality formulas provides an opportunity to capture increased revenue in retail sales with products that carry higher profit margins,” says Dr. Jenelle Kim, JBK Wellness Labs’ Founder & Chief Formulator. “Additionally, the products you sell to your clients can’t be repurchased on e-commerce sites, leading to increased visits to your location.”
#4: Start freelancing
Online job marketplaces like Upwork and Fiverr have helped millions of freelancers supplement their income or even make a living working remotely. LinkedIn also recently launched its Services Marketplace, another sign of the dramatic shift in employment opportunities.
Can you write? Are you good with social media, or video, or coding? Offer your skills online where people are looking to hire and you might be surprised at the results. Having an eye for detail and no particular area of expertise works, too; virtual assistant work has huge demand, and your clients will tell you exactly what they want you to do.
Freelance work is also a great compromise if you want to augment your income, but aren’t ready or interested in leaving your 9-to-5 job just yet. Contrary to popular belief, many successful entrepreneurs first tested their idea as a side hustle and validated their value proposition before making the jump.
#5: Break into the creator economy
Many online platforms have recently earmarked funds to dole out to creators, including Facebook, Instagram, and Snap. If you love creating content online and have something to say, big tech platforms want to pay you to do it well.
Most platforms require a certain amount of traction first before you can monetize. On YouTube, for example, Partner Program requirements state that channel owners “need to be in good standing with YouTube, have 4,000 valid public watch hours in the previous 12 months, and at least 1,000 subscribers.” These barriers help ensure new accounts don’t come in and try to game the system from day one.
Adam Erhart, a marketing strategist with over 100,000 subscribers on YouTube, notes that the time it takes to hit these benchmarks varies from industry to industry and platform to platform. The content production piece, however, is entirely within your control.
“Where you do have choice on a platform like YouTube is in how quickly you want to produce and publish your videos,” he says. “For simple math, let’s say you need to publish 30 videos on your channel to hit certain subscriber and watch time benchmarks. You have control over how fast you want to reach that threshold; it could take a year, six months, or even 30 days if you wanted to go crazy with it.”
“Those first few dollars are incredibly motivating and powerful because they provide proof that you’re doing something right.”
Erhart also notes that a common mistake new creators make is that they focus too much on making content that’s all about themselves, rather than what people actually want to watch.
“If you’ve done your research on what types of videos other people in your niche are creating, you’ll go into the filming process with a clear idea of what video you’re making and why,” he says. “Most creators skip this step, and that’s why their videos tank when they publish.”
#6: Host a group program
Want to work with a community of clients or customers all at once? Consider offering a live group program that has a distinct start and finish.
Virtual group programs have exploded since the start of the pandemic, with online book clubs, social clubs, and fitness challenges quickly becoming viable business models. When marketing a group program, speak to how a group environment has more camaraderie (and is often more cost-effective) than working with someone one-on-one.
Pro tip: If your online course idea isn’t fully baked yet, test it as a group program or live workshop series first. This helps you work out the kinks and see firsthand what customers actually want and need and how they implement the tools and ideas you present to them. It also saves you from building and launching an online course no one wants (which I have done before – trust me, it’s not fun).
#7: Become an affiliate for your favorite brands
If designing your own service, program, or product sounds intimidating, consider piggybacking off of someone else’s proven offer instead. Affiliate marketing gets a bad rap because of multi-level marketing scams and pyramid schemes, but many products and software ethically rely on referral links as a way to build their customer base.
When exploring an affiliate marketing approach, think about how you can make your promotional efforts different. Everyone is selling the same product in this situation; brainstorm ways to stand out from the crowd.
#8: Launch a paid newsletter or subscription
Some professionals are choosing to go the creator route and start their own paid subscriptions. If you can create content quickly that is valuable or exciting to others, an internet connection is all you need to launch your own niche media company.
Platforms like Patreon and Substack follow similar models, enabling content creators to sell directly to their fans and taking a cut of the transactions. The business model has Silicon Valley buzzing; last year The Information published its Creator Economy database, noting that U.S.-based creator startups brought in several billion dollars in funding in 2021.
#9: Offer home delivery services
The past two years left many of us acclimated to staying home and having goods delivered to our doorstep. Subsequently, a whole new world of home delivery services has opened up.
Do you see a need in your community for certain people to have items or services brought to their own home on a regular basis? If the answer is yes, you might already have your next lucrative business idea.
The sky’s the limit here. I live in a fifth-floor apartment in Los Angeles; our dog refuses to take the elevator or the stairs, so we have a sod delivery service come and drop off fresh grass on our balcony every two weeks. Yes, this is real – and it’s worth every penny. There’s a saying in pricing psychology: “The premium you charge is the value you create.” Don’t be afraid to get creative here.
#10: Get into e-commerce
E-commerce has become a wildly popular industry, and tools like Shopify and Fulfillment By Amazon have made it easier than ever to bring your visionary product to market in weeks or months rather than years. In fact, e-commerce companies are so in demand that venture-funded aggregators like Thrasio and Perch have burst onto the scene with the sole intention of acquiring your product-based business. Creating a product yourself also gives you the opportunity to create a brand identity along the way.
A word of caution here: E-commerce sometimes leans heavily on global supply chains running smoothly, and the last two years have been a logistics nightmare. If you choose this approach, educate yourself on the manufacturing and shipping needs your company will be responsible for.
It takes time to work out the kinks with any physical product, but once you dial your marketing and shipping efforts in, revenue and profit will start to roll in. And when you think about it, the same is true for all of the examples listed above. Put yourself out there and try something new this year; you might find yourself in the CEO seat sooner than you think.