The 300 Best Small Business Ideas - Part 2 | Business Town

The 300 Best Small Business Ideas – Part 2

Import/Export Business

An import business is a great way to make money in a product business without taking on all the costs and risks of making products yourself. To get started, you source products overseas and then bring them back to your home country. Then, you can sell them yourself online through an existing online marketplace like Amazon, Etsy or eBay or your own online store. Alternatively, you can reach out to retailers and have them sell your products.

You can just try to source your products online such as through websites like Alibaba. But then you are looking at the same products that everyone else is. So why not enjoy a little overseas travel and check out some possible products to import first hand?

business idea import export
Distinctive products can lead to a highly successful import/export business. I came across these beautiful handmade crafts in Mexico City.

For example, my friend Suzanne Watzman loves to travel and she also loves textiles. She particularly appreciates traditional materials and processes. She started Tamaryn Design to sell textiles and related goods. She sells items on her website, at art and craft fairs, through a few retailers, and to friends.

One of my business school classmates set up his own import business immediately after graduating from college. He personally bought goods from local artisans in Latin America and imported them into the US. He quickly grew the business to the point where he was using the entire available cargo capacity on some airline flights.

To get going in this business, you should carefully plan out how to position your business. Just trying to sell some interesting but unrelated items, is not how you want to do this. Come up with a strategy and a plan and choose your goods carefully.

For help in starting your own business, developing your business plan, selling online, selling through retailers, and more, check out the courses on BusinessTown which you can try for free.

Senior Companion Service

Once my father hit a certain age, my brother and I noticed that his driving skills were better suited for a demolition derby than for a public roadway, so we had to take his keys away. To soften the blow, we hired a driver to take him around town several times a week and patiently listen to my father tell stories.

It was a great solution! It got my father out of his house, his wife had a few moments of quiet to herself, and the driver and the senior companion service both got to make some good money. Later, when my father moved into assisted living, my brother and I hired two different women for about 20 hours each week to keep him company, keep him exercising, and keep him eating well.

bob's father and brother
Hiring senior companions for my father worked out great! A senior companion service is a great way to earn money while offering a hugely beneficial service.

A senior companion service is an excellent repeat customer, steady income business. Once you line up a senior with a companion, the payments keep rolling in, week after week after week. Plus you are providing a tremendous service. You will want to check any licensing requirements in your state. And you will want to exercise diligence on any companions that you contract.

To get started see my courses, Start-a-Business 101 and The Complete Guide to Digital Marketing. You can try these courses for free on BusinessTown.

Website Development/Website Design

With virtually every small business needing a website today, there’s a huge demand for website development/website design businesses. Typically, a website designer comes up with a design idea for a website. Often they will use fast prototyping software, such as Adobe XD. Then the website developer will build out the design in computer code. So for example at the website development business we use for BusinessTown, one founding partner was the design expert and the other was the computer coding expert.

You can of course skip the design prototyping and just dive from concept into coding. The issue is that your design might end up being disappointing and more costly to change. Nonetheless, many website businesses are solo entrepreneurs helping their clients both with the design and the actual coding.

The way to break into this field is to start with simple websites for the smallest businesses. For example, one of my best friends taught himself how to build websites. And then helped pay his way through college by building websites for small local businesses.

Another fellow I knew through a business organization rapidly grew the scope and complexity of his web development business, eventually building state of the art websites for some of the largest corporations in the world. His firm became a recognized leader in the field and he became a billionaire by the age of 40.

To develop an ongoing revenue stream for this business consider charging a monthly retainer for website maintenance or for reselling hosting services.

Becoming a website developer and/or designer is a great business. But even if you don’t want to turn this into a business, you could still learn how to build a simple website for your own business. For example, there are tools that allow you to build simple websites just by “dragging and dropping.”

I cover the basics of designing an effective website in my course, The Complete Guide to Digital Marketing. We also offer five more courses on websites. You can try them for free on BusinessTown.

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What are the best online business ideas?

  • 1.  Social Media Service
  • 2.  Virtual Assistant
  • 3.  eBay Selling Service
  • 4.  Smartphone Apps
  • 5.  Selling on Etsy
  • 6.  Custom T-Shirts
  • 7.  Start a Blog
  • 8.  Amazon Store
  • 9.  eBooks
  • 10.  Online Resume Writing
  • 11.  Subscription Box
  • 12.  Online Clothing Boutique
  • 13.  Dropshipping
  • 14.  Domain Name Trading
  • 15.  Affiliate Marketing

It is possible to do extremely well with an online business. However most online businesses are very highly competitive so it is important to plan, start and run these businesses really well. To learn more, start streaming the courses on BusinessTown including Start-a-Business 101, How to Create a Business Plan and The Complete Guide to Digital Marketing. You can try BusinessTown for free.

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Used Boat Sales

One of the most fun businesses I ever had was buying and selling used boats. I fell in love with almost every boat I bought and really enjoyed cleaning them and doing a little touch up work. I even kind of hated to sell them. And of course, I had to take every boat for a spin on Cape Cod Bay. I was able to make good money very quickly – the average boat I only owned for about 10 days. Which is a good thing because I only had my short summer vacation from college to make a go of this business.

Of course, you can trade almost any used item – cars, industrial equipment, furniture etc. And you don’t need experience. I had no idea what I was doing when I bought my first boats – but I was careful to get some kind of feel for the pricing in the market. I also quickly found out that I did a lot better with brand name outboard power boats, especially Boston Whalers. I even sold one to the famous novelist, Norman Mailer. Sailboats on the other hand, proved to be slow movers.

I sold my boats for reasonable prices. So to do that I had to buy them for at least slightly below market. Or add value by cleaning them up or doing a little bit of refurbishing. I would scour the advertisements for well priced boats and then quickly make an all cash offer before someone else beat me to it.

business idea used boat sales
Here I am recently in a Boston Whaler – the brand that sold best for me in my used boat business.

I was running this business out of my parent’s summer house in Cape Cod. Actually a house that had been built by an old sea captain around 1840 and been in our family ever since. My street was called Corporation Road but the businesses on the street had long since disappeared and it had become residentially zoned. As my boats for sale began to overflow from my backyard into the front yard, one of the neighbors complained to the town’s building inspector and the town shut down my business.

Not being one to give up easily, I moved my boats to the town dock in the local harbor. Within a couple days the town passed a new ordinance limiting the boats any one person (and especially Bob Adams) could have at the town dock. So I had a glorious – and highly profitable – going out of business sale.

The bottom line is that you can do very well buying and selling used boats – or just about anything else. Learn the pricing before you buy a lot of inventory. Focus on the fastest selling, brand name items, even if the profit margins are thinner. And remember, if you are operating in a residential area, keep your boats in your backyard!

To learn more, see my courses including Start-a-Business 101 which you can try for free on BusinessTown.

Rehabbing Homes

I’ve known three people who have done rehabbing of homes. All three of them primarily rehabbed multi family rental units in the middle to lower price ranges. One guy had a day job as a financial adviser and did rehabbing on the side. The second guy ran a staffing agency and did rehabbing also on the side with his sons. And my third friend does rehabbing as a full time business.

A core part of the rehab business is buying the property. You really want to buy the property at a great price. And you want to have a good idea what the property will sell for once you improve it. The best way to do this to really get to know a particular area well and to study the “comps” – what similar properties recently sold for.

arizona house
Taking rehabbing one step further is doing complete tear downs. In this neighborhood I visited in Nashville Tennessee almost half the houses were brand new replacing tear downs.

My two friends who did this part time did some of the work either by themselves or by their family members. My friend who does rehabbing full time does none of the work himself. But he is his own general contractor – hiring specialized help for specific jobs.

Banks are generally very willing to lend both for the cost of purchasing properties and for the rehabbing costs. Furthermore if you don’t even have the money for a down payment you could take on an equity partner to help get you going on your first job.

One of the great things about rehabbing work is that you can pretty much control your own work schedule. Furthermore, if you are careful, any money you have at risk should be fairly well protected by the underlying value of the property.

Like with many other businesses, you could start small, such as with a studio apartment project, and then move up from there.

Ice Cream Shop

The experience of going out to an independent ice cream shop and having a fabulous ice cream cone – or better yet a big hot fudge sundae – is hard to beat! And while business may boom in the summer you may be surprised how many people – like me – will also go out for an ice cream treat in the middle of the winter!

So what’s important for success? Fabulous ice cream! You don’t need a lot of flavors or specialty products to succeed but whatever you do offer must be great! Why? Because if it’s not great, people will not come by for a second try.

What about the price, is it important? Not really. Why? Because if people really cared about the price they would just go to the supermarket, buy the cheapest ice cream and eat it in their backyard. So focus on quality first.

The location you choose does matter. Unlike a lot of other businesses on this list, digital marketing or any other kind of marketing is not going to be as important as a good location. So you want a good, highly visible location. But it doesn’t have to be large and it doesn’t have to be perfect.

business idea ice cream shop
I have seen a lot of entrepreneurs be highly successful with an ice cream shop. The most successful ones tend to make their own ice cream – which is relatively easy to do.

For example in a big suburban Boston town, I watched a well known high end franchise ice cream store rent a large location ideally situated on a busy corner. Nonetheless it soon went out of business while an independent ice cream store nearby, in an inferior mid block location, continued to thrive. Why? The chain store served good ice cream. The independent served fabulous ice cream.

Unlike most of the other businesses on this list, specific marketing efforts aren’t going to be that important. You don’t even need to have a website for this business. But I would. And it’s a great business to talk up on social media, such as with new or seasonal ice cream flavors or specialty desserts.

To learn more see my course, Start-a-Business 101. And I will have a big hot fudge sundae with plenty of whipped cream please!

Gift Basket Business

I really enjoyed some of the gift baskets my brother has sent me so this past Christmas, I decided to send out a few gift baskets myself. I started by searching Google for “gift baskets including Champagne.” This search led me to a newspaper article which then led me to a small company selling a huge “gift basket” based upon a 4’ long Santa Claus sleigh. Sure it was a little expensive but what an impression it made!

gift basket
I have spent over $400 on single gift baskets. They make for great gifts and a great business.

It’s fairly easy to package together gift baskets. You are basically repackaging products made by other companies. But the presentation has to look great. And your website needs to look awesome too!

And you have got to build traffic to your website. Using SEO to go after the most popular related search word “gift baskets” is likely going to be a losing battle. So instead focus on less competitive three or four word combinations. And you want to incorporate email and social media into your marketing. The gift basket firms I bought from have been following up my purchase with their email campaigns.

You can also sell your gift baskets on established websites like Etsy or Amazon. I would also consider selling your gift baskets through retailers. Even if you haven’t done it before you can learn how to make compelling sales presentations to potential sales outlets for your products.

To find out more see my courses, How to Create a Business Plan and The Complete Guide to Digital Marketing. You can try them for free on BusinessTown.

Online Courses

Online courses are turning into a huge business and it’s no wonder! They are a great way to learn quickly and effectively whatever you want to know! You can watch online courses at your own pace and even on your smartphone.

You can teach just about anything in an online course. Professional skills, business skills, art skills, lifestyle skills and more! Generally I advise you to focus on as narrow and specialized a topic as possible. A broader topic may seem like it has a much larger audience. But a smaller audience is typically going to offer a better income opportunity.

Generally the more specialized the courses that you offer, the more people will be willing to pay for them. I have seen a lot of people offering specialized courses charging in the range of $500 to $2,000 for a single course. Often courses are about 4 hours to 10 hours in length. Generally speaking I recommend that you follow this specialized course, relatively high price model.

I am in the online course business with BusinessTown. We have chosen to offer a free 7 day trial and thereafter charge a low monthly subscription fee that allows full access to our over 130 short video courses that cover all aspects of how to start and run a business. We keep our subscription rate low because we want to help as many entrepreneurs as possible. For me BusinessTown is not just a business, it’s also a mission.

Tourist Map/Local Business Guide

Tourist maps and guides to local businesses are great little business opportunities. You can do your map or guide totally online. Or you could print a physical map and guide.

Among my early businesses were my two map businesses which I started on vacations from college.

I created my Cape Cod map and completely filled the back with advertising in a 5 week winter break from college. My Nantucket map I created during just part of a summer vacation.

To create the maps I copied maps from the state highway department, then resized them to fit attractively on a smaller printed map. I hired a student artist to make drawings of historical sites.

Then I took around mockups of the maps to local business owners and persuaded them to buy advertising space. I was nervous at first selling advertising but I soon got over it. I offered a discount for payment in advance so I was able to start these businesses with essentially no money.

map business
I discovered that you can start a tourist map or business guide in just a few weeks and with virtually no investment.

My map businesses were instantly profitable. Then I discovered something very cool about having your own business. Not only can you earn profits, but you can sell the business for even more money. I sold the Nantucket map business to the local independent steamship line. I sold the Cape Cod map business to a local businessperson.

For help in getting your business going see my course, Start-a-Business 101. You can try it for free on BusinessTown.

Video Production Business

My daughter had an internship with a woman who owned a small video production business. She focused on doing videos for small to mid-sized companies such as company overview videos, ads and other marketing videos. She primarily worked at the business herself but supplemented her efforts with part-timers.

With companies of every size doing digital marketing, and digital marketing increasingly requiring videos instead of still photography, the demand for video production is soaring. If you are looking to enter this business, try to specialize. For example, maybe you want to focus on videos of homes for sale by real estate brokers or videos for food providers.

Of course you could alternatively focus on non business video production such as weddings or sporting events. Everyone wants great videos! You may also want to focus on live video streaming. To learn more see our course on BusinessTown, Use Live Video Streaming to Promote Your Business.

video equipment
Here’s some of the equipment we use to film videos for BusinessTown. You’ll need some good quality equipment to get going but it will all probably cost a heck of a lot less than the car you use to carry it all around.

If your video shooting and editing skills aren’t quite world class, then you may want to focus on the smaller companies that are more concerned about their budget than getting Hollywood quality. Nonetheless, I would make sure you nail down some of the basics. I have noticed that even highly experienced TV production crews struggle to get good lighting – and what a difference good lighting can make! The right background music can make a huge difference too.

Do an exceptional job on your first assignments to get good references and have first class work to showcase on your website. What about before you land your first customer? Showcase some of your personal videos as long as they look appropriate. And create a really highly produced short video to promote your own services and make that your calling card.

Like so many other businesses on this list you’ll want to ramp up your digital marketing to attract customers. You’ll also want to put together a specialization and some unique twist to your business as you develop your business plan because this is a competitive business.

Check out my courses Start-a-Business 101, How to Create a Business Plan, The Complete Guide to Digital Marketing. You can try them for free on BusinessTown.

Chocolatier/Gourmet Candy

One of my friends was looking for something to do after her kids were off to college and her husband continued to work long hours running a large business. She started to experiment making chocolate candy in her kitchen and the results were amazing – not only delicious but extremely mouth watering just to look at!

She tried renting a storefront in her suburban Boston town but struggled, later finding out that other merchants also found it difficult to succeed on that particular street. Next, she set up more kiosk-like locations in some busy Boston area malls and that has worked out really well.

She continues to make most of the candy herself, but she does supplement her extensive selections with a few items from other candy producers. She’s got a great name for her store too, Truffles Fine Confections.

An alternative of course would be to sell the candy product online. Of course you could take the easy route out and just sell candy produced by other companies – but isn’t making awesome candy a lot of the fun in this business?

business idea chocolatier
Here’s a delicious looking candy box from a local Boston chocolatier.

Regulations on operating a commercial kitchen and producing chocolate items for resale in your home vary from state to state so check your local regulations. But if you run into a snag don’t be deterred, you could always rent space in a commercial kitchen or contract out the manufacturing of candy that you design.

To get going in this business first come up with your strategy and your plan. Then develop or source your products carefully, including paying attention to your costs and your potential selling prices. Because candy is an impulse product, it is more important to have awesome looking products than the lowest prices. And if I was running this business, I know one of the biggest challenges would be to not eat all the profits!

To learn more about starting your own business checkout my course, Start-a-Business 101.

Laundromat Business

A laundromat can be a great passive income business. People need clean clothes so it is a classic steady income business with strong demand.

Whether you are starting a laundromat from scratch or buying an existing one, the total investment will be significant. A new commercial quality washer or dryer will cost several thousand dollars. However since you are investing in hard assets and a laundromat is a well proven business model, this is among the easiest businesses to finance.

laundromat
Laundromats are a great way to make a good solid income without too much work.

Consider offering extra add-on services or products. You could offer folding of clothes, full laundry services, and pickup and delivery. You could add dry cleaning machines. In addition to selling detergent and bleach you could sell other products such as snacks and beverages.

The utilities, especially water and electricity, will be significant in this business so don’t underestimate them when you are putting together your business plan. Maintenance and repair costs for washers and dryers can also add up, so take a good look at the warranties and reliability of any equipment you may be buying.

Before starting a laundromat from scratch I would recommend looking around and seeing if you can get a reasonable deal buying an existing laundromat that the current owner has become tired of operating. As I mentioned elsewhere, when my father worked as a business broker he sold more laundromats than any other type of business.

To learn more about how to finance your laundromat – or any other business – check out my course, How To Finance Your Business: The Best Options. You can try this course for free on BusinessTown.

Party Bus

When I was on vacation in Aruba we went on a party bus and had a blast! This business could be very profitable and grow into a significant enterprise. But it may take a little more effort to gain traction than first meets the eye.

business idea party bus
Here’s a party bus I went on while vacationing in Aruba. This can be a fun business and grow into a significant enterprise.

You can buy a cheap used bus and you can finance it or lease it. So maybe you can start this business with about $10,000. You’ll want an awesome paint job. Then you’ve got to figure out how you are going to not just meet – but totally exceed – your guests’ party expectations. That’s how you’ll build word of mouth and a thriving business.

So how do you make your guests happy? You do it with attention to a lot of little details. You’ll need a party host – not just a bus driver – who is super energetic and upbeat. You’ll need some great destinations, typically bars and nightspots. You’ve got to choose ones your customer will love, not just the ones that will give you the best deals. And you’ve got to keep the momentum of the party going.

Then of course you’ve got to make sure your guests stay safe. You’ll want to set up some strict safety guidelines. And for this business you’ll also want to consider liability insurance and creating a separate business entity such as a corporation or LLC.

Employment Agency/Staffing Service

If you’re outgoing and good at dealing with people, both an employment agency and a staffing service can be extremely lucrative businesses with large profit margins. Employment agencies recruit, evaluate, screen and recommend job candidates to companies that are filling job openings – typically long term job openings. Staffing agencies hire employees on a temporary basis and then contract them out to companies that need short term help.

Most employment agencies and staffing services specialize to a greater or lesser degree. The type of jobs or industry they focus on make a significant difference on the characteristics of their business. For example if you have a staffing service focusing on providing unskilled day laborers for construction sites your business will be quite a bit different than a staffing service providing software developers to Internet companies.

I financed my sister when she set up her own employment agency. She had worked for another employment agency for a few months so she had a little bit of experience – but I’ve seen others start an employment agency with no related experience. My sister focused on entry level white collar jobs such as customer service positions. She was good on the phone both with employers and job candidates and within a couple months she was making a good living at it.

A friend of mine started his own employment agency focusing on short to medium term IT assignments. He began his career as a US Navy pilot. Then he started and ran a business selling PCs for a few years. When he started his staffing service he had no industry experience. Over the years he has built his business into a big success with several offices across the US and many recruiters on staff.

Still another friend of mine, a classmate from business school, started an executive search firm, roughly similar to an employment agency, but focusing on top executives. She had worked some in HR which helped, and she’s great at talking with people and networking which is especially important if you are focusing on the high end of this market. The fees she received for making a single job placement could run into six figures.

While the upside in these businesses is huge, you need to really carefully plan it out before you get started. What functions and industries you focus on and how you position your business when you first reach out to potential hiring clients is really important.

For help in getting going, check out my courses, Start-a-Business 101 and How to Create a Business Plan. You can try these courses for free on BusinessTown.

Antique Dealer

Near my summer house on Cape Cod there are hundreds of antique dealers, mostly selling out of their homes during the summer tourist season. Unsurprisingly, the dealers who do best have often become known for some kind of specialty. And that’s really the key to this business – focus on one area, get to know the pricing, and learn what kind of items you can turn over quickly.

There is an endless demand for all kinds of antiques and it’s also an exceptionally fun business.

Of course, you can start this business online too. You can start by selling through established online venues like eBay and Etsy. If you want to get serious about this business, I suggest that you also build and develop your own website. This will help add to your credibility, enhance your reputation and build your brand. But just as the antique dealers on Cape Cod are situated on the busier roads – you’ll need to build traffic to your website to make an impact.

I would advise building your antique dealership slowly, starting with a few items. And then adding more items and more expensive items to your inventory, as you build your expertise and your confidence.

A very interesting related business that I came across was Bill Raymer’s Restoration Resources, a large architectural salvage company based in Boston. Bill explains that this business involves going into old houses and buildings and retrieving any elements that people might use if they are restoring an antique house or perhaps just looking to add a touch of interesting detail to a newer building.

business idea antique bill
Bill Raymer started his architectural salvage company because he was interested in architecture and the details of old buildings.

You can watch Bill Raymer talk about his business in the BusinessTown Today episode called “Secrets of a Successful Antique Business.” This is included with the BusinessTown courses which you can try for free.

Domain Name Trading Business

When I was running my book publishing company I developed a line of books called the Everything series. I negotiated a deal to buy the “everything.com” domain from a company controlled by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen for over $100,000.

The market for good domain names isn’t going away and you can make money trading these names. But like any trading business – from used boats to collectibles – I suggest you start slowly, and develop a specialty. Get to know the pricing really well. And learn what kind of domain names you can sell quickly.

This business is an obvious candidate for digital marketing. I would include email outreach to companies and organizations that you think may be candidates for particular domain names. For example, domain sellers often approach our companies selling domains they think we might be interested in. But they are usually names with several words in them or don’t end in “.com” and hence are names that have little interest to us and probably most other possible buyers.

To brush up on your online marketing skills, see my course, The Complete Guide to Digital Marketing. You can try it for free on BusinessTown.

Health Club/Self Service Gym

I’ve belonged to some pretty fancy gyms over the years. Tennis courts, racquetball courts, saunas, steam baths, jacuzzis, indoor pools, outdoor pools, hot tubs – they had it all. If you are feeling ambitious you could open a full service health club like one of these.

But there are plenty of health clubs or gyms that have been incredibly successful with a much more limited model. Maybe you could just offer some basic exercise machines. Maybe just cycling. Maybe just yoga. Some of these gyms emphasize a specific workout program or workout concept as opposed to their equipment.

Still another model I find interesting is basically a self service gym. In other words there are no employees on site and the gym is open 24 x 7. Members access the gym with a key card.

business idea gym fitness
This small fitness studio near me is an example that you don’t need a huge all purpose facility to succeed in the fitness business. I would suggest a more distinctive name however.

Marketing for health clubs and gyms is two fold. First you need to get members to sign up – primarily with online marketing. Second you need to retain them. When my father worked in the banking industry he financed several health clubs. He said their primary challenge was usually retaining members.

So how can you retain members? You could charge an initiation fee. You could charge a lower rate for an annual commitment. You could only take on members willing to pay with an automatic monthly charge against their bank account or credit or debit card.

Just as importantly you need to be constantly marketing to your existing members. Offer lots of programs. Promote the programs heavily. Get them visiting your website. Send them regular emails and post social media posts regularly. Send them information about new activities or events at your club. Send them health and fitness tips. Stay on the top of their mind.

Consider checking out the courses for entrepreneurs that you can try for free at BusinessTown.

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How do you choose a business idea?

  • 1.  Start with a Big List of Ideas
  • 2.  Establish Key Criteria for You
  • 3.  Knock Out Ideas that Don’t Fit
  • 4.  Evaluate Remaining Ideas
  • 5.  Score & Rank Best Ideas
  • 6.  Analyze Finalist Ideas
  • 7.  Validate the Best Idea

For more on how to choose your business idea see my course, How to Find a Business Idea. You can try this course and all the other courses on BusinessTown for free.

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Wine Bar

A wine bar can be a really fun business.. You are going to need to serve at least some food to make a go of it. So it is pretty similar to a restaurant business, albeit with a distinct twist. It’s higher risk than starting a sandwich shop, let alone some of the simple service businesses on this list. But if you can develop a loyal customer base you can become quite successful.

Near my summer house in Dennis on Cape Cod I watched a young couple evolve and grow their wine bar business. They started with low to moderately priced wines, beer and cocktails and just a few simple food items that didn’t require much preparation.

What was particularly interesting is they devoted half of their floor space to selling oil and watercolors from local artists. So really the business started as more of a combination art gallery/wine bar, hence the name Harvest Gallery Wine Bar.

Over time they shifted their business mix considerably. They put a big bar in the middle of their space and limited the artwork to wall space and to their website. Then they installed a full kitchen in the basement and began offering full meals. Later they began to hire local bands and set aside space later in the evening for dancing.

This newest business model has been much more successful. Part of the issue that Harvest Gallery Wine Bar faced is that they are located in a small summer resort town with a very small year round population. So just focusing on art buyers and serious wine drinkers was not a viable year round business model.

business idea wine bar wine tasting
Wine tastings are a natural for wine bars. Like any business you want to carefully evaluate your potential market and customer base before you open your doors.

Another wine bar I have enjoyed with quite a bit of a different business model is The Wine Room in Palo Alto California. Here the focus is on more serious wine drinkers and the food offerings remain quite simple. It also offers a warm, living room kind of ambience. A great business model for a big wealthy town like Palo Alto, but perhaps too limited a business model for a small rural town.

These two contrasting cases emphasize why you want to plan out carefully in advance – not just a wine bar but any type of business that you are considering starting. You’ll want to think through your market, your potential customers, competitors and your potential strengths and incorporate all of this into your business plan.

To learn more about starting your business check out my courses including Start-a-Business 101 and How to Create a Business Plan. You can try them for free on BusinessTown.

Nonprofit

Maybe you’d enjoy running a nonprofit organization more than a business? With a nonprofit you can do good for whatever cause you are seeking to serve. Plus you can pay yourself a salary and reimburse yourself for appropriate expenses.

Setting up a nonprofit is slightly more complex than a for profit business and you need to check on specific requirements in your state. For example, some states require a certain number of people on the board of directors.

An alternative to setting up a totally new nonprofit is to arrange for an existing non profit to be your “fiscal sponsor” so that you can avoid some of the legal and accounting costs of starting and maintaining a new legal entity.

In the US, there is no specific limit to how high your salary can be. However, the compensation must be considered “reasonable” by the IRS. Exactly what is reasonable is determined by a number of factors including what other people earn running similar sized profit and nonprofit businesses, the actual job performed, the amount of hours worked, the overall operating budget, who determined the salary level, and other factors.

What’s the key to success with a nonprofit? The biggest challenge for many new nonprofits is funding. You want to make sure that you have a specific plan and ideally some specific donors in mind before you start your nonprofit.

Another key to success is to run your nonprofit pretty much like a business but instead of having profit goals, you have goals for successfully delivering on the mission of your organization. And just like with a for profit business, you should develop and maintain a business plan.

Sometimes it may seem difficult to keep your nonprofit on track given the sometimes conflicting ideas of board members, employees, volunteers, donors and other stakeholders. That’s all the more reason you want to have a detailed plan.

Consider taking a look at my course, How to Create a Business Plan. In addition most of the information in the course Start-a-Business 101 will be highly relevant for starting a nonprofit. You can try these courses for free on BusinessTown.

Construction Business

When you think of construction you may think of large projects like complete houses and commercial buildings that might be a little more than you’re ready to take on. But there are many smaller construction projects you can do to ease your way into this field.

For example, you could start by building sheds, playhouses, garages, outside decks, house additions, studios, pool houses or basement remodels. You could also consider taking on a little more risk yourself by buying a house that needs work, rehabbing it and selling it for more. It’s relatively easy to get bank financing for rehab projects.

Another interesting and growing area is tiny houses. Typically just 100 to 200 square feet they are not much bigger than a large tool shed but fully built-out. Some people live in these small buildings full time, while others use them for a vacation spot or extra living space on their main property.

Tiny houses are trailerable so that you can build one in your shop or in your backyard and then deliver it to your customers. You can design your own, customize the design for your customers or buy off the shelf designs.

business idea construction
You don’t need a storefront for a construction business. But eventually as you grow your business and take on larger projects you might decide to have a storefront as a convenient place to meet customers.

To market sheds, tiny houses and other small projects, it would be great to find a high traffic lot where you could rent and show off your products. But more practically, you’ll likely end up doing almost all of your marketing online. Start with a good website with great photos of any projects you’ve done – even if you have just one showcase project you did for yourself. Then use SEO, email marketing and social media to bring the customers to you.

If you want to learn more, consider my courses, Start-a-Business 101, How to Create a Business Plan and the Complete Guide to Digital Marketing. You can try them for free on BusinessTown.

Dog Grooming

Everyone loves their dog but not everyone has the time or the patience to do the grooming themselves. That’s where you come in! This is another great repeat customer, steady income business. You can even try starting small in your home – but you will need to keep an eye on local zoning laws. Perhaps you start just by grooming dogs for a couple friends and see if you really like it.

Having a visible storefront and a great sign is one way to promote this business – but you don’t have to have an expensive storefront. Instead you could lure customers in through online marketing. You could supplement this with flyers at local pet shops or by handing out flyers at nearby dog parks.

business idea Laundromutt
This self service dog wash is an interesting alternative to full service dog grooming. Love that name!

When my kids had their clothing boutique the space next door was leased by Laundromutt, the first self service dog wash in greater Boston. Offering a self service dog wash is a possible alternative way to approach this business – but so far the demand for full service dog grooming is a lot bigger.

To learn more about starting a Dog Grooming service – or any other business – see my course Start-a-Business 101. You can try it for free on BusinessTown.

Job Fairs/Trade Shows

I started a job fair business when I was running a free distribution job newspaper. We would rent space in hotel function rooms or convention centers. Then we would sell booth space to hiring companies. We arranged with a decorating firm to set up furniture and other accessories that the companies needed.

Job fairs, like trade shows, can be a great business. But here’s the key. You’ve got to please the companies you rent space to. If they don’t get enough traffic to their booth at the first show they attend, they will not come back.

So do whatever you can to make sure your first few job fairs or trade shows are a big success. If in doubt, don’t hesitate to run your first few shows at a loss as an investment in building your customers base. You can always cut back on marketing later on when you really figure out what is working best.

When I had my book publishing company my most talented graphic designer had previously worked for COMDEX, a trade show for the computer trade, founded by Sheldon Adlelson who started with just about nothing. Sheldon sold this business for $862 million. He then built the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas and other hotels and casinos, building a personal fortune of over $30 billion and at one point becoming the second wealthiest person in the US.

Your job fair or trade show might not become as successful as COMDEX. But this is a business that you can do very well with over time, if you please your customers at your first shows. Learn how to start your business with Start-a-Business 101.

Candle Making/Candle Sales

The candle business can be a lot of fun. You can make your own candles and sell them online, through established retailers or through your own retail location. Or you can just sell candles that you buy from candle makers. You can start this business with virtually no money and you can let your creativity shine!

There are all kinds of opportunities to be creative in the candle business. You can sell your candles through traditional retail outlets or online.

So it might be fun, but can you really make money in the candle business? Well, let’s take the example of Michael Kittredge who first made a scented candle as a gift for his mother by melting crayons. He developed it into an incredibly successful business called Yankee Candle which he later sold it for $500 million. He enjoyed the business so much that he almost immediately founded a new company making premium candles.

I once bought a large warehouse complex for my book business from a wealthy entrepreneur who had started the largest candle company in Japan. His daughter married a young man from the US, so the Japanese candle entrepreneur financed his son-in-law in a US based candle venture. Unfortunately the US venture went bust. The Japanese entrepreneur told me that the reason was that his son-in-law did a very poor job running the business.

What’s interesting is that Michael Kittredge started his business with no experience and very little money. By contrast, the son-in-law of the Japanese entrepreneur was very well funded and had access to a father-in-law with decades of industry experience.

These two very different outcomes provide some important take-aways. For one they illustrate that you can succeed in business without much experience or much money. Another important take-away is that the selection of your business idea is only one element of what will determine your success in business.

There are many important decisions to be made after you select your business idea. Give careful thought to who your target market will be, how you will be different from your competitors, how you will design your products, and how you will do your marketing. Then put it all together in a comprehensive business plan.

To learn more take a look at my courses, Start-a-Business 101 and How to Create a Business Plan. You can try these courses for free on BusinessTown.

Used Car Rentals

Many years ago I was selling advertising for a classified advertiser type publication I had started with a friend from college in Minnesota. One day I made a cold sales call on a used car rental company called “Lease a Lemon.”

As I walked in to make my sales call a tow truck was bringing back one of their cars that had broken down while being rented. The back of the car hit the bump going into the parking lot sending sparks everywhere. The renter of the broken down car got out of the tow truck and complained that it was the second time one of their rental cars had broken down on him.

I’m all for encouraging you to save customers money by renting them used cars – but please rent them ones that work! That being said you can make good money in this business. It’s a very similar business to my first business, my bicycle rental business. And as you may recall, unlike my competitors I only rented second hand bicycles.

But whether you rent new cars or used cars, how adept you are at buying and selling your cars will make a huge difference in your profitability. For example car rental companies typically pay absolutely bottom dollar when they buy new cars for their fleets. Hence sometimes they can sell them for almost as much money as they bought them for even after renting them out for a year or two.

You can employ the same strategy with used cars. You can buy them cheap from new car dealers who want to get rid of their older used cars quickly. Or you can buy them at auto auctions that are only open to the trade. You can rent the cars out for a year or two and then patiently sell them for a good price – perhaps as much as you paid for them.

business idea car rental
This is the cute blue Jeep I just rented from a local, independent car rental firm..

You might think you don’t have enough money to start a used car rental business. But you can start it with very little money because it’s easy to get financing for mobile fixed assets like automobiles.

A quick little added note because I actually just rented a car an hour ago.. I first considered a national rental car agency because they were close to my house. I visited their website but the pricing seemed too high. Next I went to the website for a local rental car agency and ended up renting from them because their prices were less.

This local car rental agency told me that they own about 70 cars although they double the size of their fleet in the summer when they have more business. Interestingly the owner used to have a General Motors car dealership but he closed that and now just has the rental car business.

To learn more about starting a Used Car Rental service – or any other business – start streaming the courses on BusinessTown.

Podcasting Business

Yes it is possible to make a fortune with a podcasting business. For example Joe Rogan licensed his podcast, the Joe Rogan Experience, in an exclusive multi-year deal to Spotify for over $100 million. Unlike most podcasts, Joe covers a broad range of topics including neuroscience, sports, wealth, comedy and culture.

business idea podcasting joe rogan
Joe Rogan licensed his podcast in a multi year deal to Spotify for over $100 million.

On the other hand, most people find podcasting a struggle. There’s a lot of competition. So it can take some time, effort and a little bit of luck to build an audience. If you’re looking for a low risk, steady income business, you will be better off taking a look at the repeat customer, steady income service businesses on this list.

For most people the key to being able to successfully monetize a podcast is not just big audience numbers. It’s specializing and becoming known for a particular topic. And building a deep connection with your audience. You’ll want to let your own authentic and distinctive voice shine through. And you’ll want to do your podcasts regularly, at least once a week.

There is free software online for podcasting. And for just a few dollars you can get a microphone to plug into your computer that will vastly improve your sound quality – don’t just use the built in microphone. To make a go of your podcast you’ll want to plan this business carefully and then promote it relentlessly! Learn every way possible to promote your podcast online. And don’t just promote it to new users. Keep deepening your relationship with your existing users. In addition to your podcast consider keeping connected with them via social media, email and via a blog on your website.

To learn more see my courses Start-a-Business 101, How to Create a Business Plan and The Complete Guide to Digital Marketing. You can try these courses for free on BusinessTown.

Jewelry Shop

Whether you are opening a jewelry shop online or at a physical storefront you want to really carefully think through your target market and how you will position your business in the marketplace.

For example in the small but upscale town center nearest to me there is an independent jewelry store that I went to visit a few days ago. I arrived at the store at 10:50 AM but the store didn’t open until 11AM so I could only window shop. Looking at their window though I decided I didn’t need to shop there. The jewelry looked pretty much the same as what you see at the chain stores. Not for me. I also was disappointed they were not open.

I ended up going to another jewelry store located a couple miles away in a similarly upscale neighborhood. The jewelry they sold was very unique, carefully sourced jewelry items generally in the $2,000 to $30,000 range.

The owner who has been in business forever, told me that he mostly buys his jewelry from solo entrepreneur jewelry makers. He takes the items on consignment, meaning he doesn’t pay for them until a sale is made. He also sells a few leather items – belts and bags – that he makes himself.

business idea jewelry shop
This well done jewelry shop near me also sells a few leather items such as belts and bags, personally made by the owner.

I love his shop – not much inventory but almost everything he has is impressive. And he has a totally no pressure sales approach. I ended up spending double what I planned on. He is such an artisan. He wrapped my gift like his life depended on it – he must have spent 15 minutes with the multiple layers of wrapping and decoration.

To learn more see my courses including Start-a-Business 101. You can try it for free on BusinessTown.

Business Broker

When my father moved to Florida in mid life, he was unable to find a job in banking, so he took a job at a business brokerage. A business brokerage firm is like a real estate brokerage for businesses. The firm he worked for mostly sold very small businesses although some listings were in the million dollar range.

The most common type of business my father sold were laundromats. Sometimes he sold the same laundromat more than once when the first buyer, either got tired of it or discovered another business they liked better.

An issue he often ran into was “tire kickers” – people who weren’t really serious about buying a business but would take up his time. Try to qualify your prospective buyers and spend your time and energy on the most serious ones.

You can get started as a business broker with just about no money. Today you don’t even need an office. And if you hire additional brokers you don’t need to pay them a salary – instead you can compensate with a percentage of each sale they make.

Commissions for the firm can be big. Commissions are typically in the 10% to 15% range for smaller businesses. The listing firm and the seller firm split the commission, but often a single business brokerage firm does both.

The key is getting good listings. You can call businesses that are already listed for sale elsewhere and try to get the listings. You can call or email businesses cold and ask if they are interested in selling. You can network to get listings. Or you can use digital marketing to get the listings to come to you.

Like with any business you will do better if you specialize. You may want to specialize by focusing on small businesses in your local area. Or you could specialize in websites or even a certain type of website. You can also specialize by size. For example, when I sold my book publishing business we used an investment bank to assist with the sale. Their commission was over $2 million.

Business brokerage can be a great business. But it is a business that typically takes a long time to really get up to steam and realize its full potential. Fortunately until you reach that point expenses are very low.

To learn more about becoming a business broker or about buying or selling a business see Buying a Business and Making It Successful, How to Value a Business and How to Sell Your Business for a Ton of Money. You can try these courses for free on BusinessTown.

Cafe/Sandwich Shop

I spent an entire year developing a plan to launch a full service restaurant chain. Then just as we were about to lease our first space, I pulled the plug on the whole venture. The more restaurant owners I spoke to, the more skeptical I became of the whole space. It just seemed that the risk/reward was too unfavorable in the full service restaurant business.

However, a limited menu cafe or a sandwich shop I believe is a much more compelling enterprise. Near one of my old offices in South Boston, there was a sandwich shop housed in a very tiny space, operating limited hours (closing by 2PM) that did an amazing business. I especially liked how they had a strong repeat customer base of nearby workers.

business idea cafe sandwich shop
Starting a cafe or sandwich shop is a lot less expensive and risky than starting a full service restaurant.

So this sandwich shop had low overhead, served relatively simple food, had high margins, and required only limited staffing. Now that’s the kind of food service business that I’d like to be part of.

To start a cafe or sandwich shop, like any other business, I’d plan out everything as carefully as possible in advance. I would come up with a short, limited menu of fabulous items. Maybe have one special item that you rotate onto the menu each week. Figure out what each menu item is going to cost and set your pricing accordingly.

Choose that location like your life depended upon it and sign as short a lease as possible. Get as high a traffic location as possible and preferably a strong foot traffic location. Go for less space and more traffic when in doubt. And before you sign the lease go out with a counter and make sure traffic is really as big as you think.

To learn more see my courses, Start-a-Business 101 and How to Create a Business Plan. You can try them for free on BusinessTown.

Art Gallery/Floating Art Gallery

I’ve gotten to know the owners of a couple Boston art galleries. If you appreciate art, an art gallery can be a great business. But the degree of financial success can vary significantly from one art gallery to the next.

One of the gallery owners I know has a medium sized gallery on Boston’s best retail street. She’s been in business for a number of years. She makes a decent living at it, but her income fluctuates significantly, and some years she has done much better than others.

The other art gallery, owned by two partners, has a roughly similar size and is located nearby on the same street. This gallery, founded in the 1930’s appears to be consistently highly successful. Interestingly, they have a fairly broad focus including oil paintings, water colors, drawings, prints and sculptors. Their offerings span American and European artists from the Renaissance through the present day.

They have developed a diverse clientele of collectors, estates and corporations located throughout the country. They are very active and well known on the art scene. For example, I have visited their exhibit in Miami during Art Basel and often run into them at art related events around Boston.

Of course today if you don’t want to buy an established art gallery or pay the rent for a storefront, you can always start your art gallery online.

business idea art gallery
I met this interesting mixed media artist at an art gallery in Mexico. What a cool business!

Another interesting alternative especially for starting part time, is a “floating” art gallery or a “pop-up” art gallery. For this you arrange with another venue such as a restaurant or wine bar to host your art show event for an evening. You may not even have to pay the venue at all because they will benefit both from any food and beverage sales, plus any publicity you bring to their venue.

Oh and because your “floating” art gallery is an “event”, you should be able to get free publicity for it. And you don’t actually buy any paintings – you take them on consignment, meaning you only pay for them after they sell.

So you may be able to start a floating art gallery with zero money. Free space, free publicity and no inventory costs. Now that’s a low risk business model!

To learn more about starting an art gallery – or any other business – see my course Start-a-Business 101. You can try it for free on BusinessTown.

Property Management Service

If you are thinking of becoming a property tycoon but can’t swing the down payment on your first property, this is a good business to start with. It provides a nice steady income and you get to learn the ins and outs of owning property. You also may come across multi-family properties that are for sale before they get advertised.

In this business you handle inquiries, review references and process rental applications for tenants. You answer questions and handle requests from existing tenants. And you arrange for maintenance and basic repair services.

How big can this business grow? I have a friend now who was disappointed with the property management services he hired to manage the apartment buildings he owned. So he started his own property management company. It eventually became his principal business.

He grew the business over many years and now manages over 20,000 apartments. He has brought his sons into the business but he continues to go to his office everyday even though he’s almost 90 years old – because he enjoys it. His business success has allowed him to accumulate an amazing art collection, much of which is on display at major museums. And every time I see him he always has a smile on his face.

With this business the income from managing your first few properties may not seem like much. But as you grow this business over time and as you become more efficient at managing it, your income can grow considerably.

Digital Marketing Business

Most people I’ve met running a digital marketing business have fairly in-depth knowledge of one or two areas of digital marketing. But you could start a digital marketing business without having extremely deep knowledge if you are primarily servicing small, offline businesses.

If a client needs a lot of help or work in a particular aspect of digital marketing that is over your head, then you can bring in a specialized expert. I’ve seen independent digital marketers collaborate with other independent marketers who have different expertise. They pass clients back and forth to deliver the best results and the best value.

So should you initially try to start a general digital marketing business or should you specialize? That’s up to you to decide. But whatever route you go, you want to put together a really well thought out business plan. And make sure you are keeping your potential clients’ best interests in mind, even if it means sending them or subcontracting them to another digital marketing expert when appropriate.

Whether you are starting a digital marketing business or running any – I repeat any – kind of business today, you should be familiar with digital marketing. You can learn the basics in a few hours in my course, The Complete Guide to Digital Marketing. You can try this course for free on BusinessTown.

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What are the best home business ideas?

  • 1.  Window Treatment
  • 2.  Home Bakery
  • 3.  Craft Business
  • 4.  Home Tutoring
  • 5.  Car Detailing
  • 6.  Online Resume Writing
  • 7.  Professional Organizer
  • 8.  Music Lessons
  • 9.  Jewelry Making
  • 10.  Landscaping
  • 11.  House Cleaning
  • 12.  Candle Making
  • 13.  Daycare
  • 14.  Basement Remodeler
  • 15.  House Painting

I started most of my businesses out of my house and you can too!. To learn about how to start your business see my course, Start-a-Business 101. You can try this course and all the other courses on BusinessTown for free.

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Professional Speaking

How well can you do offering public speaking? One of the top players is motivational speaker Tony Robbins who through public speaking and related endeavors has amassed a fortune of reportedly over $500 million. More importantly a lot of people have credited Tony Robbins with significantly improving their lives.

Robbins left home when he was 17 years old, later working as a janitor and never attending college. He got his start promoting motivational seminars for an established speaker before going on his own.

I’ve also done public speaking primarily on entrepreneurship and business topics, sometimes paid and sometimes not. To be honest it was more than a little intimidating at first, but you quickly build up your confidence. The largest live presentation I have done so far was a keynote to 4,000 members of The Greater Atlanta Chamber of Commerce. I’ve found it’s a lot easier and more fun to give presentations that include interesting stories or even a little bit of humor.

A few months ago a multinational corporation offered me $5,000 plus full travel expenses to make a one hour presentation on retail point-of-purchase displays to a group of their managers at a company gathering in Mexico City. Interestingly, I wasn’t even promoting my speaking services when I received this offer. And while I could give a great talk on this topic, it’s certainly not one of the topics I am best known for. The offer for this gig came about after a consultant for the corporation read an article I had written online.

Another twist to the public speaking business is not to give any talks yourself but to set up a speaker’s bureau and arrange speaking engagements for others. Still another angle I have seen people do is to become a consultant for marketing individual speakers. And still one more related business is coaching speakers, business executives, and others to become better public speakers.

kit pang
Kit Pang coaches people to become exceptional public speakers. He teaches the course How to Become a Kick Ass Public Speaker on BusinessTown.

Whether you are thinking of becoming a professional speaker or just want to improve your presentation skills, consider checking out our courses, How to Make a Great Presentation and How to Become a Kick Ass Public Speaker. You can try these courses for free on BusinessTown.

Lawn Irrigation Business

Ever wonder how some people and businesses have really nice green lawns? They probably have an underground sprinkler system. This is a great business because it’s a niche business and not too competitive. It’s also a good mix of both product and service so solo operators can successfully compete against the larger companies. Finally, it’s a repeat customer, steady income business.

Every spring my irrigation service – basically a one man band – comes over and turns on my sprinkler system. He charges a flat fee – I think it’s about $200. Then, there are add-on charges if he needs to replace any sprinkler heads.

I also pay him to check on the system during the months of operation to make sure it is operating properly and to see if any sprinkler heads, especially near the edge of the driveway or street, have become damaged. Then in the fall he comes by again to winterize the system which basically means shooting air through the system to get all the water out so the pipes won’t freeze during the winter.

Of course installing a new sprinkler system can be a lot work – and a lot of income for the irrigation service. You could do it all – both the installation and the service part of this business or you could just do one or the other. If it was me I would both!

If I was starting this business, I would just jump right into it and perhaps offer the first customer a little discount if he promised to give references to future prospective customers. If you wanted to get some experience first, maybe you could set up a very simple one sprinkler head system for yourself or for a friend.

Like so many of these businesses, the key to success is having a good plan and being ready to go with some effective online marketing. You can learn all this in my courses, Start-a-Business 101, How to Create a Business Plan and The Complete Guide to Digital Marketing. You can try these courses for free on BusinessTown.

Logo Design Business

Graphic design is a huge field but competitive, so you should develop a specialty. Logo design is a great niche. Every business should have at least at least a simple logo. To break into this field you might want to start offering relatively basic logos to budget sensitive smaller companies for a fixed price.

One of the cool things about a logo business is that you are often connecting with companies when they are just getting going and don’t yet have an established relationship with a graphic design firm. So your logo work may lead to other projects such as design for company sales brochures, websites, product packaging, and more.

At BusinessTown, we had the chance to work with Aaron Belyea who started his own logo design firm, Alphabet Arm. A self-taught artist, Aaron launched his graphic career while performing in numerous bands in Boston for which he created visual images.

Aaron Belyea runs his own logo design firm. Every business should have a logo!

Aaron Belyea explains the key elements of a great logo in the short course, Logo Design. You can try this course and all the other courses on BusinessTown for free.

Shoe Business/Sneaker Business

I had to include a shoe business on this list because my grandfather started a shoe business – and his experience is an exceptional example about how you can start even a larger business and still keep your day job.

My grandfather Bob Adams, whom I was named after, started his career in sales for a Maine shoe company after graduating from college. He worked his way up to national sales manager. After some years he decided to start his own business with two partners, producing women’s shoes.

After he informed his boss about his plans, his boss persuaded him to also keep his job as his national sales manager. His boss provided financing for my grandfather’s new business, named Crest Shoe.

Now this wasn’t a small enterprise. Crest Shoe didn’t just design their own products. They also manufactured them in their own factory in Lewiston Maine with over 200 employees. Yet my grandfather decided to also continue his “day job.” Crest Shoe was successful for many years. My grandfather later bought out his partners and investors. After he retired my uncle operated the company, eventually selling it.

My grandfather’s experience also shows that even when you are running a sizable business of your own, you can still have time for other things. My grandfather became the amateur golf champion for the state of Maine. He was also extremely active in civic affairs in the town of Holliston, Massachusetts, where the Robert H. Adams middle school was named after him.

business idea shoe business
My grandfather manufactured women’s dress shoes and my kids sold hip sneakers at their clothing boutique.

When I was in prep school I met Jay Markell who later ran his family’s shoe business, Markell Shoe Company. This third generation family business was founded in 1914 and has prospered ever since. What’s its key to success? The focus on an excellent niche – orthopedic footwear and devices.

Today if you are starting a shoe or sneaker business you’ll probably want to do just the design and marketing, and contract out the manufacturing. You could do your sales and marketing totally online.

To get your business going see my course, Start-a-Business 101. You can try it for free on BusinessTown.

Jet Ski Rentals/ Marine Electronics

My cousin worked for a jet ski rental firm in Sarasota Florida. Was that a fun job! On top of that he was living at the time with his family on a large sailing boat, cruising around to different ports whenever they had time off.

I love taking a jet ski for a spin and bouncing over the waves. And I think it can be a great business. You’ll have the usual issues for rental businesses, including the challenge of buying your jet skis at lower prices so you can also make money selling them at higher prices. You’ll have maintenance issues.

And with jet skis especially you have potential safety issues. One of the problems is that some novice jet ski drivers upon rare occasions panic, feel they are losing control and freeze – even if they are headed directly into an anchored boat.

So try to avoid renting your jet skis in busy boat anchorages – many busy harbors don’t allow jet ski rentals anymore anyway. And make sure your customers are competent and confident operators before you set them loose.

As an alternative I see some jet ski entrepreneurs take customers on “jet ski tours” where they lead them in single file on their jet skis along a picturesque ride.

By the way my cousin went on to find a much more lucrative way to use his nautical skills. From owning his own boats and serving as a yacht captain, he became highly proficient with marine electronics. And now he runs his own small firm in Ft. Lauderdale, helping yacht owners and crews properly install, set up and operate the latest in marine electronics on megayachts.

You could also set up your own marine electronics store either offline or online. Years ago, the next door neighbor to my grandfather’s summer home sold his business when he turned 40. Then he opened what he called his “retirement” business selling electronics for pleasure boats from a storefront location on a busy road near the waterfront on Cape Cod.

To learn more about starting this business – or any other business – start streaming the courses on BusinessTown.

Publicity Business

When I had my book publishing business, getting free publicity in the media was essential to driving this business ahead. I had as many as 5 people working in my publicity department and we also used outside independent publicists and publicity firms as well. When I first started, I arranged all the publicity myself and from a slow start I quickly became good enough at it to book myself on national radio and television shows.

What I later learned is that you can get free publicity for any business! There is always some angle to pitch the media. Maybe it’s just the news that your business is opening. Maybe it’s a new product launch. Maybe you have advice to share that could help people. For example let’s say you sell lawn care equipment. Then you could be featured in the media giving advice on how to take care of your lawn.

business idea publicity
While it was kind of obvious that you can get free publicity for books, what I later learned is that you can get free publicity for any business.

A close friend of mine started her own one person publicity business focusing on small nonprofits, shortly after graduating from college. She had not previously worked in publicity but she had studied communications in college. She was able to quickly land clients and get media attention for them.

What’s the key to succeeding in publicity? It involves a lot of networking and especially reaching out to people you don’t know. You need to develop good pitches. And you need to follow up relentlessly.

Most publicity firms charge clients a monthly retainer. However in the book business we often used firms that charged us on a project or even an individual show booking basis. For example, we paid one PR firm up to $5,000 for a single booking on a top national television show.

To learn more about how to get publicity for your clients or for yourself, check out my course Start-a-Business 101. You can try it for free on BusinessTown.

Used Industrial Equipment Sales

When my book publishing business grew to the point when we needed forklifts, I was shocked by how expensive they were. So, we went to a used industrial equipment dealer and bought all of our forklifts there. Selling industrial equipment allows for specialization and it also allows for you to build up long-term relationships with customers. Furthermore, you can have add-on sales such as maintenance, supplies and repairs.

So many of us think first of consumer facing businesses when we think of business ideas to pursue. But often the most lucrative opportunities are in business to business sales or selling industrial products and equipment.

In servicing business to business and industrial markets first consider what industries you are going to target and determine what kind of equipment they are most interested in buying. For example if you are going to target warehouses, go visit and talk with some warehouse managers to see which products they would be most likely to buy from you.

Home Staging Business

Home buyers today are getting increasingly used to seeing vacant homes set up with staged furniture. And if you are choosing furniture specifically for the purpose of making a house look great, you can both increase the likelihood that the house will sell quickly, and that it will sell for a higher price.

To get going, stage some rooms in your own house, take pictures, and then get customers by networking with real estate brokers. As you are starting out you can rent all of your staged items and charge them back to the customer. Later you can buy some of the more popular items and make additional money by keeping the rental fees yourself.

I recently watched one of the “million dollar” real estate shows on cable television. On this episode the real estate broker offered to throw in the cost of staging a large, expensive penthouse. The cost of the staging was $35,000 – all done by a staging company.

Some entrepreneurs have been extremely successful with their home staging businesses. For example Meridith Baer started her home staging business after her divorce at age 50, following a variety of jobs as a screenwriter, actor and journalist. Focusing on the luxury end of the market in Los Angeles, she built it into a $100 million a year business.

You can start your home staging business small and grow it at your own pace. Meredith Baer built her Los Angeles based home staging business into a $100 million a year enterprise.

The wife of one of my brother-in-laws started her own staging business with more mediocre results. She made a decent living at it for several years but gave it up to help her husband run his bar/restaurant business.

To learn more about starting a Home Staging service – or any other business – see my course Start-a-Business 101. You can try it for free on BusinessTown.

Drone Business

Drones are providing a broad array of useful services and the market for them is booming. The opportunities with drones are so diverse that there is not one drone business but many different types of drone businesses.

business idea drone
I think there’s gotta be a huge marketing in drone instruction. I never quite mastered the flying of mine but it is very cool to play with!

You could sell and service drones for consumers. You could sell and service drones for commercial users.

You could use drones to do photography such as for real estate or tourism promotion. You could offer drones to video tape events such as soccer or baseball games. You could specialize in drones to inspect infrastructure.

You could become a consultant for corporations and service providers considering drones for new uses. Or you could offer drone parties – where everyone gets a drone and learns how to use it. There are all kinds of opportunities with drones!

Window Treatment Service

When my wife first wanted to get window treatments for our house I was shocked at how expensive they were. But then after the price shock wore off I was pleasantly surprised to see how much good window treatments can add to the appeal of a room. They can also provide insulation, saving money on heating and air conditioning.

A window treatment service can be a highly profitable business that combines both sales and service.

There are lots of reasons why this is a great business. It is a combination of sales and service, especially if you are doing the installation. And people like to see the textures and colors you have to offer in person. You could start your window treatment service as a home based business, saving money on overhead. You could meet customers at their home and show off your products on your website. Then eventually you could open up your own storefront.

Nail down your online marketing to make a go of this business. On your website and on social media like Instagram you’ll be able to show off some of the beautiful window treatments you have to offer.

To learn about online marketing see my course, The Complete Guide to Digital Marketing.

Online Affiliate Marketing

What is affiliate marketing? You provide links on your website or blog to a third party product or company that sells their own product. The largest affiliate marketer is Amazon whose commissions are typically in the 4-4.5% range.

Then there are the affiliate marketing services like ClickBank and ShareASale, which offer thousands of products, some of which have commissions as high as 70%. It sounds like an easy way to make money and some people have made a lot of money on it…but my experience has been that it is harder than it looks to make a lot of money with affiliate marketing. You’ll have to be patient and develop this business over time. I would suggest starting this business on a part time basis.

Websites like ShareASale will connect you with merchants looking to sell their products.

To make a go of this you’ll need to build a significant amount of traffic to your website or blog. And they will have to have deep enough interest in a particular area to consider buying a product or a service.

To get really serious about affiliate marketing you should plan out your pages of your website and posts in your blog specifically to serve as traffic builders for highly monetizable affiliate marketing links. Also you can use Google AdWords to determine which keywords to optimize for to get the most search engine traffic.

To learn more see my courses, Start-a-Business 101, How to Create a Business Plan and The Complete Guide to Digital Marketing. You can try these courses for free on BusinessTown.

Bookstore/Bookstore Cafe

Plenty of people are running successful independent bookstores today even long after the advent of ebooks and Amazon. It is not the easiest business. But if you love books you can make this business work. And having run a book publishing company for many years, I think this is one of the most satisfying businesses you could possibly run.

The formula independent bookstores are using today is doubling down on the ties with the local community. This means having frequent events in the store such as author signings and children’s reading hours. Having a regular email newsletter with your customers. And letting people know what is being read in your community.

business idea bookstore
I am pleased that the independent bookstore/cafe in my small town seems to be doing really well – I certainly like to shop and eat there!

One huge advantage of the book business is that you can return unsold books to publishers and wholesalers. You can also order virtually all of your books from one of the large wholesalers simplifying your business greatly. You can get slightly higher discounts if you order directly from publishers but when you are getting started you should at least primarily rely on the wholesalers.

Another twist many successful booksellers are doing today is including a cafe in their business model. For example I love to have coffee and a sandwich in my local bookstore. To be honest neither the food or the coffee is the greatest – but being inside a bookstore more than makes up for it.

To learn more about starting a bookstore – or any other business – see my course Start-a-Business 101. You can try it for free on BusinessTown.

Gutter Cleaning Service

I think this is a fabulous seasonal business. I pay my gutter cleaner $200 to clean out my gutters both in the Fall and in the Spring. It takes him about 90 minutes. So if he works a long day he might be able to do 3 to 5 jobs, earning $600 to $1000 a day. You could earn so much money in a few months in the Fall and Spring that you might want to vacation the rest of the year.

My gutter cleaner’s basic equipment is a ladder, my garden hose, and a long gutter cleaning tool that you can buy for about $50. You need to be careful on the ladder of course. And like my gutter cleaning guy, you can decline jobs above a certain height.

Once you get your foot in the door with a customer, you can offer other services. For example my gutter cleaner also offers basic handyperson services. He’s polite and tedious when he’s doing his gutter cleaning, so I am tempted to hire him for additional work.

To get started with gutter cleaning first get comfortable using a ladder and being safe on it. Then practice some gutter cleaning on your own house or a friend’s. Then refine your business plan and kick your marketing into gear.

To learn more about how to start this business, see my course, Start-a-Business 101. You can try it for free on BusinessTown.

Garden Center

This is an excellent business. People like to see plants and flowers in person so you aren’t going to have intense competition online from places like Amazon – as is the case in so many other retail businesses. Plus this business is huge. And it’s growing.

If you are starting fairly small you should specialize and become known for selling or doing just a few things really well. You could start out with a supply center, expanding over time to add some plants to sell, and then, eventually vertically integrate with your own plant nursery. You could also expand into providing onsite services which you should be able to earn high profit margins on.

It’s a good business but you will have some competition including from some of the big box retailers such as Home Depot. That’s why like with any business you want to carefully develop a unique, differentiated business plan before you open your doors.

To learn more see my course, How to Create a Business Plan. You can try it for free on BusinessTown.

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What businesses did I start myself?

  • 1.  Online courses – BusinessTown
  • 2.  Book publishing – Adams Media*
  • 3.  Business software – Adams New Media*
  • 4.  Online job platform – CareerCity.com*
  • 5.  Magazine publishing – Careers Group*
  • 6.  Job fairs – Premier Job Fairs*
  • 7.  Job listing publication – JobBank*
  • 8.  House painting – College Painters
  • 9.  Tourist maps – Nantucket & Cape Cod Maps*
  • 10.  Classified advertiser – St. Paul Greensheet*
  • 11.  Bicycle rentals – Bob’s Rent-A-Bike
  • 12.  College newspaper -Spectrum
  • 13.  Used boat sales – Bobby’s Boat Yard
  • 14.  College directory – for Simmons College
  • 15.  Employment Agency
  • 16.  Rowboat building
  • 17.  Handyperson service

*Denotes businesses that I sold. Most of these businesses I started with less than $2,000 including Adams Media Corporation that I sold for $40 million.

To learn about the strategies I used to succeed in my businesses check out my courses including Start-a-Business 101, How to Create a Business Plan and How to Find a Business Idea. You can start watching these courses and all the other courses on BusinessTown for free.

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Mobile DJ

If you like music and being around lots of people, a mobile DJ business can be a lot of fun and a good way to earn some extra money. You don’t have to be a music expert but you will want to carefully put together play lists that will appeal to your audience and keep them pumped up and dancing.

All you’ll need to get going is a laptop, a PA and microphone. The client or the facility may have an audio system you can use. You can later expand this business to offer other party services.

business idea mobile dj
The owner of this mobile DJ business was doing a multi day gig at a wedding when I took this photo.

I heard of a high school student not even old enough to have a driver’s license who had a nice part time mobile DJ business. He would either get an older friend to drive him or catch a ride with Uber to go to his gigs.

Learn more about how to start this business – or any other business – with my course Start-a-Business 101. You can try it for free on BusinessTown.

Quick Oil Change Business

One of my friends started this business with one quick oil change location. Now he has over 200 – a virtual oil change empire! He started with only a small investment, taking on high amounts of debt to finance his business. Because of the fixed asset and steady income nature of this business, debt – even traditional financing from banks – was easy to obtain.

Quick Oil Change Business
I came across this quick oil change business in North Conway, New Hampshire. There’s a big steady market for changing oil and there’s many ancillary services that you can offer.

Oil change is a relatively easy business to operate. I used to change my own oil and you can too! One of the keys to success – like with a lot of other businesses – is not to compete completely on price.

For example at one point in Southern California many oil change businesses charged lower and lower prices and profit margins plunged. My friend bought an oil change business there and moved his prices back up to a more sensible level. Eventually the competition moved their prices up too.

So instead of competing on price, focus on finding very high traffic locations, building out an attractive facility, and having excellent signage. Then service your customers well and keep in touch with them with email, social media or even with phone calls.

Will electric cars kill off the quick oil change industry? No but it will change it. The large franchisers like Jiffy Lube and Valvoline have come up with a list of 12-15 additional services that their franchisees can sell to the owners of electric cars.

Art Bar

I had a great time going to an art bar in Providence Rhode Island with a business group of mine. We rented the whole facility just for our group of about 10 couples. It was a dedicated art bar facility – kind of a mix of an art studio and an upscale bar. As we arrived music was playing and the drinks were soon flowing.

Then the art bar director directed us to our studio painting stations. Next he provided some tips for painting and provided materials. Then he showed us some different photos and pieces of art to inspire our painting – which was water color based.

The studio setting, the music and the encouragement from the art bar director all helped loosen us up, get creative and start making some cool paintings. Sharing and discussing our soon to be masterpieces added to the fun. And at the end of the evening we had our paintings to take home. Great time!

art bar
Art bars can be a good business because they offer creative fun for their customers and they can work well serving individuals, couples or groups.

The art bar concept is really clever. While you are combining art, going to a bar, socializing and listening to music the whole experience transcends the sum of the individual parts.

If you are thinking about doing this business you might want to first test the waters by partnering with an existing restaurant or hotel facility and using one of their rooms for your first few events, before you go out and lease your own facility. I think it’s a great business and I look forward to the next time I go to an art bar event!

To learn more about starting an Art Bar – or any other business – checkout my courses on BusinessTown which you can try for free.

Kitchen Store

It seems like kitchen stores are popping up everywhere and they seem to be very busy. So someone must be making money at it! And like so many retail businesses you could try an online store or a storefront.

Personally it’s a little hard for me to totally understand the appeal because I’m not much of a cook – frying a hamburger or cooking an egg is a bit of a challenge. But it seems like I’m always with someone who insists on going shopping at a kitchen store.

And to be sure I have found that kitchen stores can be a great source for gift items. I especially find the easy to cook food packages appealing.

business idea kitchen store
A kitchen store can be a great business online or as a storefront. Most storefront kitchen stores I have come across have had fairly large footprints. But here’s an example of a smaller one in my hometown.

Beyond selling products one of the best ways to make money with a kitchen store is giving classes. I attended an evening class at a kitchen store and it was a lot of fun. Of course to build out a store with a complete kitchen may be expensive and even run into zoning issues. But you don’t have to have the class at the store. You could have a small class in your home or a larger one at a local restaurant.

To learn more about starting this or any other business see my course Start-a-Business 101. You can try it for free on BusinessTown.

Miniature Golf Course

Wouldn’t it be cool to have your own miniature golf course? This is an almost passive income business. After the course is built, other than a little maintenance, you can relax and watch the money roll in.

You could purchase a ready-to-go miniature golf course or you could build your own from scratch. You can compromise on the course quality if you must; you can always improve it over time—but not the location. You’ll want to have a good amount of footage on a busy road.

In this business – unlike a lot of other businesses today – the location and the curb appeal will be the most important part of your marketing. But you should also do some basic digital marketing such as building an attractive website. You might want to reach out to potential group customers such as youth organizations.

To maximize your income you’ll want to be open long hours. And you may want to consider lights for night play. You can add to your income by selling food and beverages, and perhaps some impulse items such as toys or gifts.

To learn about how to start your own business see my course, Start-a-Business 101. You can try it for free on BusinessTown.

Cookie Business

There are several famous entrepreneurs who have made their fortune making cookies.

I met Wally Amos when we were both making presentations at a conference for entrepreneurs in Orlando. Wally’s first job was as a clerk in the mailroom at the William Morris Agency. He did well there becoming the agency’s first African American talent agent.

He headed the agency’s rock ‘n roll music department. To lure in clients he would send them his own home baked chocolate chip cookies based on a recipe from his Aunt. The cookies worked wonders and he was able to land a number of big music acts including Simon & Garfunkel, Diana Ross & the Supremes and Marvin Gaye. (In case you are wondering, Wally is quite a bit older than me.)

At the suggestion of a friend he opened up a store to sell his cookies, borrowing the money to finance it from some of his musician friends. The store was a big success and the brand also gained distribution in supermarkets. Eventually however Wally lost control of his business to outside investors. Not to be deterred Wally came back with a new cookie business and later a muffin business.

The big lesson here is you can make big money with small cookies. It is possible to get a small food line into supermarkets. And you can get financing for your business. But be careful about losing control of it. And one more thing – having an awesome tasting cookie is important too!

Another important lesson is that even though baking cookies may seem like a simple business, you still want to be sure to learn and practice the key success factors in starting a business.

To learn more see my courses including Start-a-Business 101 and How to Finance Your Business – The Best Options. You can try these courses for free on BusinessTown.

Framing Business

There’s a huge demand for framing for art and photos and that’s why you see storefronts for these services all over the place. I’ve had a few items framed and let me tell you – you can make good money with a framing business. And make your customers happy!

Many framing services are franchised operations. And most are storefront operations. But you don’t have to either be a franchise or a storefront to succeed at this business. You could offer your service totally online. Or you could offer local pickup and delivery.

Many framing services, like this one near me, have storefront locations. But with a strong online presence you don’t need a storefront at all.

If you do decide to go the storefront route make sure you still do extensive online marketing. And if you don’t buy a franchise spend a little extra effort to come up with a great name and marketing message for your business.

You can learn to do all these things in my courses, such as Start-a-Business 101, which you can try for free on BusinessTown.

Continued…Read More


About Bob Adams

Bob Adams is a Harvard MBA serial entrepreneur. He has started over a dozen businesses including one that he launched with $1500 and sold for $40 million. He has written 17 books and created 52 online courses for entrepreneurs. Bob also founded BusinessTown, the go-to learning platform for starting and running a business.

QUIZ: WHAT BUSINESS IS BEST FOR YOU?

QUIZ: WHAT BUSINESS IS BEST FOR YOU?