The United States is a nation of small businesses. In fact, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration, there are 29.6 million of them, and they employ 57.9 million workers.
Want to count yourself among these small business owners, but not sure how to get started?
That's why we came up with this definitive list of the best small business ideas for 2021 and beyond.
Each of these small business ideas is designed to weather most economic storms while providing their owners with a decent income. Plus, we've broken down these business opportunities into different categories, including:
We've also broken down other need-to-know info for starting a business, including how to avoid scams, why you need business insurance, and a FREE downloadable business plan template.
So without further ado, take a look at the best small business ideas for anyone to try in 2021!
If you consider yourself to be a Mr. or Ms. Fix-It, there’s a good chance you’d make a great handyman.
One of the reasons why this small business idea is at the top of the list is that it’s a relatively easy business to get off the ground. Handyman services aren’t held to the same strict licensing requirements as larger contractors and construction companies (although you should still check, as you may need a contractor license for $1,000+ projects).
Plus, handyman services may not require the same equipment and tools as contractors, meaning you could start advertising your services as a handyman with very little to start.
If you’re leaning toward starting a handyman business, you’re in luck: We have a popular step-by-step guide on how to start a handyman business.
Got a great eye for detail? Does nothing make you happier than clean lines and saturated colors?
If so, you may have the makings of running your own painting business.
Painting businesses have seen a huge increase in demand, especially as more homeowners invested in their properties in 2020. From repainting entire homes to touching up shutters, painters have been super-busy — and you could count yourself among them, if you’re interested.
Good news: We’ve covered the ins and outs of how to start a painting business.
If you’ve always had a knack for pressure washing — or you’ve always wanted to learn — starting a power washing business could be one of many small business ideas for you.
Power washers clean residential and commercial exteriors using a high-pressure washer; they also can be hired to clean off walkways or driveways. A power washer must be detailed and a stickler for safety, as one wrong move could mean a shattered window or damaged roof shingles.
If the thought of cleaning off dirty home siding soothes you, read on for our guide on how to start a pressure washing business.
If you have a green thumb and don’t mind investing some money into equipment and a truck to haul it around in, you could be on the road to becoming a landscaper.
Landscapers and lawn care service providers are in a good position to start making money right off the bat, especially in suburban and rural areas. Plus, if you already own some equipment, you can start building a clientele base at the outset. Once you get a steady stream of work, you can use that money to invest in more professional equipment, if needed.
Interested in this small business idea? Check out our step-by-step guide on how to start a landscaping business.
If you have a knack for writing and an internet connection, you could have the makings of an online freelance writer.
Freelance writers are in high demand, especially during tough economic times when larger companies may outsource their creative needs. As a freelance writer, you could be asked to help with a variety of projects, from creating website content to writing blog articles.
Interested? Learn more with our step-by-step guide on how to start a freelance writing business.
Are you good with numbers and admin work but aren’t really intrigued by accountancy or other financial services?
If so, you may find a better fit with a bookkeeping business. This business — which can be done from the comfort of your own home — involves recording and tracking receipts and invoices from other businesses. Bookkeepers can make a decent amount of money, especially during busy tax seasons.
Plus, it’s easier to start a bookkeeping business, as you may not be required to have a specialized license to do so, making it one of the easier small business ideas to launch.
Keep in mind that you will need to be handy with bookkeeping services like Quickbooks and other financial software.
Do you have a hobby or craft that could do well on Etsy? Whether you love sewing masks or you have a knack for creating cosplay outfits, you could easily turn your at-home talent into a bona fide Etsy business.
Etsy shop owners tend to set their own hours and update their shop as needed, so you can start as slowly as you’d like. In addition to creating and selling your product, you also should be handy with creating descriptions for the items in your Etsy shop so that customers can find you.
We have those tips — and more — in our in-depth guide on how to start an Etsy shop.
If you’ve worked as a teacher in the past or you’ve discovered a knack for teaching since the pandemic started, you may have all the qualifications of a private tutor.
Private tutors are in high demand, especially for high school students who want to improve their grades to get into college. Plus, you can carve out your specialty depending on your interests; so whether you’re a history buff or a math expert, you’ll likely find a student who needs your help.
Private tutoring can be done from the comfort of your home office, online, or at the student’s house — or a combo of all three.
Military veterans are in a great position to pivot their skills and discipline into a personal training business.
Personal trainers help clients achieve their fitness goals, whether it’s losing weight, gaining more muscle, or strengthening their bodies. As a veteran, you’ve had the training and experience to help clients get to where they want to be, which makes this business idea a great one for you to try.
Be aware that you may need specialized training to become a personal trainer in your state. And if you plan on operating out of your home, you’ll need to ensure that you have all the equipment you need to work out with your clients.
Learn more about the steps you need to take in our article on how to start a personal training business.
Do your friends and family turn to you for help when they need to set up a website? Do you have a knack for knowing how to communicate a message or feeling without saying anything at all?
Then you may have a future as a freelance website designer.
Owning a website design business is usually a recession-proof business, as you can typically find someone who wants a website designed and launched (including most of the business ideas in this article!).
Plus, as a veteran business owner, you have the discipline needed to grow this kind of business, as specializing in website design means overseeing a lot of complicated moving parts.
It may require a bit more time to launch than our other small business ideas, but it’s one that could lead to a rewarding (and lucrative) career.
As a veteran, it’s safe to say you’ve had challenging experiences unlike anything the majority of civilians have faced. Have you ever thought about turning that experience into a life coaching business?
A life coach helps a client achieve a personal or professional goal. Life coaches can be split into a variety of specialties; for example, some life coaches may specialize in executive coaching, while others may help clients achieve personal goals, like starting their own blog or learning how to date post-divorce.
Some life coaches even help former active military individuals transition back into civilian life or help them start their own businesses!
Whatever your specialty might be, life coaching could provide you with the ability to help others realize their natural potential. And as a veteran, you have a unique perspective and work ethic that could be exactly what’s needed in the life-coaching industry.
If you have an eye for taking the perfect photo, or the photos shared on your social media are getting a ton of likes, it may be time to consider starting a photography business.
A photographer can be hired to take a variety of photos; from corporate events to weddings, a photography business could keep you very busy. If you want to specialize, there’s a lot of money to be made as a wedding photographer. Keep in mind, though, that the hours can be long, and you may have to give up your weekends during popular wedding seasons (especially June through October).
Interested in turning your love for photography into a business? Check out our FREE downloadable guide on how to start a photography business.
Do you always have the perfect playlist ready to go at parties? Have you always thought, “I could do that!” when listening to the DJ at a wedding?
If that’s the case, it may be time to consider starting your own DJ business. DJs are in huge demand, especially during busy wedding seasons. Plus, it’s a business that has the potential to pull in a lot of money, depending on how quickly your DJ business grows.
One word of warning, though: as we’ve seen in 2020, DJs can be exposed to a lot of economic uncertainty. For that reason, it might be a good idea to launch a DJ service as a side business, and continue to grow it until you can do it full time.
Once you’re at that point, you may want to start squirreling away money for a rainy day; that way, you can minimize the odds that you’ll be caught off-guard by another economic downturn.
If you love posting videos of the latest makeup trends or you happen to be pretty handy with an eyeshadow palette, you may have a future as a makeup artist.
A makeup artist can operate as a freelancer or consultant, meaning you’re not associated with any makeup brand or esthetician clinic. Instead, as a makeup artist, you can be hired to go on-site and get your clients ready for their big events.
Makeup artists can make decent money, and there’s something fulfilling about helping someone get ready for a special event (like a wedding or prom). One thing to note is that as a makeup artist you need to be super-patient and adept at working with the public, as you may find yourself working with a very picky client.
If you want to start a makeup business, you should expect to spend some capital to invest in makeup palettes of all shades. If possible, you can start off slow — working on a few clients at a time — and reinvest those profits back into your business, or you can use personal money to invest in what you need right away.
Want more advice? Check out our FREE downloadable guide on how to become a makeup artist.
Not a fan of any of these small business ideas?
Before you start doing your own research, make sure you know the warning signs of multi-level marketing (MLM) schemes and work-from-home scams. These scammers are everywhere, and if you’re not careful, you may end up falling prey to one, especially if you’re looking for a work-from-home business.
To help you be aware of MLMs and scams, use these steps while researching potential small business ideas:
Starting your own business means owning every decision. If a “business opportunity” doesn’t give you much control over your name, branding, taxes, or even the product or service, take a hard pass.
A good business idea should be clean, clear, and easy to understand; any confusion or convoluted explanations should set off alarm bells.
A lot of work-from-home business scams prey on people who are eager to support their families or be there for their children by working from home. If someone is pitching you a business idea and really hammering home the ability to “work from home for a few hours” and “make thousands of dollars a day,” it’s best to take another look.
Chances are, this “business idea” is really a scam in plain sight.
You also should pay attention if that person suddenly becomes shifty or evasive when you ask any questions about their background or want to research their company. The combination of sales pressure and an emphasis on keeping you in the dark is a surefire sign you’ve run head-on into a scam.
For example, if someone is presenting you with a “great business opportunity” but is only giving you an hour to make a decision about joining up, it’s likely you’ve come face-to-face with a scammer.
That feeling is your gut telling you to move along and find a legitimate business opportunity!
Want more info on avoiding MLMs and scams? Check out our article on MLMs here.
Ready to put your business idea into action? Before you start working with your first client, you should protect yourself with business insurance.
Business insurance provides coverage that can be tailored to your business’s exact needs. For example, some business insurance includes general liability insurance, which provides financial protection against property damages or third-party accidents that you or your work may have caused.
This policy also can pay for legal costs if a customer decides to sue you for those damages (even if you weren’t at fault!).
Business insurance also can include professional liability insurance, which covers you if a client sues you for making a mistake or error in your work. This is a huge one for people who work in financial/administrative services, like accountants and bookkeepers.
In these business types, it can be easy to make a tiny error that results in big financial losses or aggravation for your client. If you happen to make a mistake — or a client accuses you of making one — your professional liability insurance would cover those financial damages, plus legal fees if you need to hire a lawyer.
If your business idea takes off and you decide to hire an employee, your state may require you to have workers compensation insurance. This type of policy provides financial coverage for you and your business if an employee gets sick or injured while working for you.
Want to learn more about business insurance? We’re here to help. Our free quote comparison tool allows you to compare affordable policies from the nation’s top insurance providers.
That way, you can pick the policy that best fits your business and your budget.
Get an affordable & customized policy in just minutes. So you can get back to what matters: Your business.Start My Quote
If you’re passionate about any of these business ideas and want to get started, check to see if you need a business license before working with your first client.
A business license is a specific requirement by local and/or state governments. This business license allows them to track how many businesses are operating in their state, which can be helpful in maintaining public safety. For that reason alone, it’s worth looking into the specific requirements that your state has set out for small businesses.
Unfortunately, some states make it fairly tough to figure out what those exact licensing requirements are. Government websites and industry-specific licensing can make for a confusing experience — plus, how do you know if you’re applying for the right type of business license?
We noticed that ourselves and decided to do something about it. So we developed our business license resource, which breaks down the licensing process for every state. We pulled research from every state government website and dug through the application process to give you a straightforward, direct answer to the question, “How do I get a business license?”
So whether you live in Oregon or want to start a business in Texas, our resource will direct you to the step-by-step guide necessary to get a business license.
In addition to a business license, you may need to apply for a contractor license.
A contractor license is a legal requirement for small business owners who work in the contracting industry. Depending on the state, “contracting” could be defined as:
If you have a business that falls into one of those categories, it may be worth investigating if your state requires you to have a contractor license.
Much like with a business license, a contractor license allows your state to keep track of your business. But more importantly, getting a contractor license is a necessary step for operating a contracting business, as it can:
As with business licenses, it can be tough to figure out if you need a contractor license, let alone how to apply for one.
So that’s why we decided to spin up our online resource on how to get a contractor license!
This resource contains state-based guides on how to apply for your contractor license. Each guide contains all of the steps you need to take, links to applications, and even estimates on how much you can expect to pay for the application.
So you don’t have to waste your precious time running into research dead-ends, because we’ve done the work for you.
In terms of necessities to get one of your small business ideas off the ground, we’ve covered most of the important stuff — things like business insurance, licensing, and more.
But there’s one thing we left off the list that we thought worthy of its own section: turning your idea into a business plan.
Traditionally, a business plan is a financial document that allows interested parties (like investors, banks, etc.) to take a look at how you’re planning to grow your business. This information gives them what they need to determine whether it’s in their best interest to help your business financially.
Today, a business plan could resemble any sort of document that helps structure and map out the path you’ll need to take to start and grow your business. A business plan could be as simple and straightforward as a goal sheet, or it could be as complex as a bona fide business plan.
Whatever type of business plan most interests you doesn’t necessarily matter for these purposes. What does matter is that you have some idea as to how you plan on getting your business off the ground, and a business plan can help you do exactly that.
Not sure how to get started on creating your business plan? Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered there as well (as if you could doubt us!).
Our FREE business plan template guides you through goal-setting and maps out where you want your business to go over the next year. It’s editable and easy to use, with plenty of prompts to help kick-start brainstorming over your vision for the business.
Download our guide today, and within just a few minutes, you’ll be well on your way toward creating a business plan that can show you the way to success!
Want some help creating your best business plan? Download our FREE business plan template here!
Unless you have time and money to invest in the education and experiences necessary to develop a new skill set, the best small business ideas for you are going to be those that take advantage of talents you already possess.
These talents may be directly related to your past or current careers (such as managing a team, working with spreadsheets, or writing) or can even be skills you use at home (keeping things neat and tidy, cooking, running errands) or during your leisure time (exercising, taking photos, making friends with animals).
If you find it difficult to list your talents, ask your friends and family for help. The people who know you best may identify talents you’ve overlooked in yourself.
Once you have a list of all the things you do well, prioritize it by the skills you enjoy using the most. Running your own small business can be as hard—if not even harder—than working for someone else, so most good business ideas will allow you to do something you love.
This will make it easier to maintain the day-to-day motivation that’s essential to success.
If you are having trouble figuring out what you might actually enjoy doing for years on end, spend some time thinking about what you liked best about the jobs you’ve had in the past. It may be helpful to pull out your old resumes, list your previous responsibilities, and circle those that you found the most fun or rewarding.
There’s a good chance you used some of your greatest strengths to accomplish these tasks. Note those strengths on your list of valuable skills.
You can also take a look at the ways in which you use your free time, as it’s natural to spend the majority of whatever time you have totally to yourself doing things you enjoy. List your favorite free-time pursuits, identify the skills you’re using when you engage in them, and add those skills to the top of your talent list.
Finally, whether they take place at home or at the office, don’t overlook the activities or responsibilities that so fully occupy your attention you actually lose track of time.
Losing yourself in a task is a good indication that you’re using your natural talents. Note the associated skills at the top of your list.
Business ideas that result in products or services nobody wants—or that require you to compete in an already oversaturated market—are destined to fail. On the other hand, ideas with the potential to be successful will solve real problems, satisfy immediate or long-term needs, or provide desirable commodities.
Take a look at your list of talents and think about how you can utilize them to create a business.
If you love to exercise and are good at motivating others, you can sell your skills as a personal trainer or fitness coach.
If you’re a good listener, skilled at solving problems, and enjoy helping others, you might make a good life coach.
If your social media posts are always popular with your followers, your skills may be in demand as a social media consultant.
If you are adept at juggling complex schedules and running errands, you can market yourself as a personal assistant.
If your favorite place is the kitchen and everyone says you’re an excellent cook, you might start a catering or personal chef business.
Other examples of small business ideas can include:
Next, think about who will need your product or services. Are there enough of these individuals (or businesses) in your area? How many other entrepreneurs are already addressing their needs? If you’ll be facing competition for business, is there a way you can differentiate your product or service from all of the rest?
If the answers to these questions are not favorable, you may want to go back to your list of new business ideas and choose an alternative.
Note: When evaluating your market, you need to identify both your direct and indirect competitors. While direct competitors will be offering similar products or services and are generally easier to identify, indirect competitors can also impact your chances of success because their products or services—though different than yours—may satisfy the same customer need.
For example, let’s say you are opening a sandwich shop. Your direct competitors are other sandwich shops. Your indirect competitors include noodle shops, fried chicken restaurants, pizza delivery places—basically any other similarly priced restaurant in your market.
A simple Google search is a good place to start when trying to determine how much market competition exists for your product or service.
You can also search social media—such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram—for competitors, attend industry trade shows and conferences, and talk to potential suppliers about the other companies they are working with.
Biting off more than you can chew is a common mistake for a lot of small business owners. Some people try to tackle problems that are too big. Others lack the experience they need to actually provide the service they have in mind. Others know nothing about what actually goes in to producing a product.
Whatever the case, it doesn’t make sense to chase ideas—even those that could be considered excellent ideas given your market—if bringing them to fruition is going to be a massive uphill battle against the odds.
While you’re taking an objective look at the task you’re planning to set for yourself and the related experience and knowledge you possess, consider your personality as well.
Successful entrepreneurs are self-confident and competitive. They are driven to succeed and persevere when they encounter a setback. They are also organized, excellent communicators, and comfortable with uncertainty.
If these are not traits that come naturally to you, there’s no shame in continuing to work a traditional job.
Do you need to buy equipment, invest in software, or pay for the help of other vendors in order to create your product or provide the intended service? Will you need to acquire a license or join a professional association? What will it cost to get your business off the ground?
Depending on the business you’ve decided to launch, the required resources may be substantial. However, thanks to technology, other ideas may not require any purchases at all.
For example, if you want to start a freelance writing business from home, all you’ll really need is a computer, word processing software, an Internet connection, and a means of marketing yourself to potential customers.
Some of these resources can be had totally free, such as the online word processing software of Google Docs as well as advertising through Craigslist.
Running your own business usually comes with more financial stresses than you find at a typical 9-to-5 job working for someone else. For one thing, they don’t often come with regular paychecks.
Instead, you have to invest hours searching for customers, invoicing for services rendered or products delivered,and then following up on those invoices to make sure they’ve been paid. Sometimes clients may get months behind, or fail to pay you at all.
In fact, a survey by Freelancers Union found 70 percent of freelancers dealt with late or non-payment issues last year. Non-payment issues have actually become so troublesome that local governments have had to get involved.
In May of 2018, for example, Mayor of New York City, Bill de Blasio, announced the Freelance Isn’t Free Act, the first law of its kind in the country. The law protects freelancers in New York City by giving them the legal right to timely payment.
When you have a mortgage, rent, or bills to pay, slow payment on the part of your customers can be a terrifying prospect. In addition to saving up for any resources you need to purchase, it’s never a bad plan to sock away several months’ worth of expenses before you make the leap into your own business full time.
Fortunately, it’s possible to start many good business ideas while continuing in your current career on at least a part-time basis. You can also look at ways to borrow funds to get you started.
These may include a cash-out refinance if you own a home, small business loans, or investments from family and friends.
Once you’ve answered the questions above, you should have the information you need to choose your best option from the virtually limitless number of small business ideas possible. Take your time and don’t rush the process. Whatever you end up doing, it should be a business you can envision yourself running for many years to come.
After coming up with your small business idea, don’t forget to get a business insurance quote to ensure you're covered.
You’re pumped about your business idea. The very thought of becoming your own boss makes you so excited that you’re practically jumping out of your seat to get started.
There’s just one question that sits between you and finally launching that small business idea:
How are you going to pay for all of it?
While all of the small business ideas contained in this article are designed to have minor overhead, the fact is that you may need some money to start a small business.
For example, if you’re interested in becoming a handyman and have 95% of the equipment needed to get started, that 5% could still cost a lot of money, depending on what it is.
And let’s not forget that it costs money to set up a small business website and start marketing your services on social media.
So when it comes down to funding options for your small business idea, what should you do?
If you need thousands of dollars to realistically get your business started, it might be a good idea to turn to a small business loan. Much like any loan, these loans provide you with funding in exchange for the promise to pay back the loan on a monthly basis.
Most banks and credit unions offer small business loans, but not all terms are created equal. Some banks may be more strict with credit or have higher interest rates than others. If possible, start your research with a local credit union first, as they tend to have better rates and more interest in helping you get a loan.
For more information, check out our article on how to get a small business loan.
If you’re not comfortable with the idea of a small business loan or you need only a small amount of capital to get your business off the ground, finding an investor may be a good choice for you.
In terms of a small business, an investor may be a friend or family member who’s willing to invest money in exchange for a stake in your business. You may even find that there are nonprofits or organizations in your community that specialize in small business investments.
The only downside with an investment is that you may have to give up 100% ownership of your small business. That means, depending on the amount invested in your business, you may have to run major decisions by someone else, instead of just making them on your own.
Not sure if a small business loan or investor is right for you? Check out our article on how to choose between a loan or an investor.
If you have enough tools and equipment to get started — but not enough to grow your business idea to the next level — you may want to fund yourself as you go along.
This technique simply means dedicating some of your revenue to renting or buying the equipment your business needs in order to expand your offerings. For example, if you decided to start a power washing business and you have enough money to rent a pressure washing machine, you’d take on enough work to earn the money to buy your own equipment.
Funding yourself as you go does take financial discipline, as you have to be sure you’re earning enough to pay your own salary and reinvest back into your business. But it’s a great option for small business owners who don’t want to be beholden to a bank or answer to an investor.
Learn more about the technique of funding yourself as you go in our article on how to start a small business with little money.
We finally made it to the end of this article, and I hope our collection of the best small business ideas gave you the spark you need to chase your dreams of becoming your own boss.
So whether you use one of the ideas presented in this article or you were inspired to come up with your own idea, be sure to share your eventual success story with us. We’d love to hear all about it!
I love writing about the small business experience because I happen to be a small business owner - I've had a freelance copywriting business for over 10 years. In addition to that, I also head up the content strategy here at Simply Business. Reach out if you have a great idea for an article or just want to say hi!
This content is for general, informational purposes only and is not intended to provide legal, tax, accounting, or financial advice. Please obtain expert advice from industry specific professionals who may better understand your business’s needs. Read our full disclaimer
28 November 2018 • 6-minute read
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