Great business ideas are the currencies with which profitable transactions are made when building a lasting business. The idea of starting a business is exciting. But many ideas require time, money, and risk.
Contrary to popular belief, there are actually many ways to start a business with little capital. You can start a side hustle that would take all your time and yet be profitable.
These small-business ideas make a great entry point for beginners. Even bootstrappers, or anyone with a busy schedule. These ideas also let you pick up a side business without having to drop everything else.
To start a profitable business, you need to come up with a solid idea. You need to build a brand, put effort into marketing, and provide excellent customer service. But there are ways you can bypass many traditional startup costs, such as initial inventory, warehousing, and retail space. This is what online has helped create.
Here are examples of small business ideas you can start on your own with a small investment.
Best Small Business Ideas
Curious what a good business to start is? Explore this list of business ideas you can start making money with in the next year:
- Start a dropshipping business
- Design and sell print-on-demand t-shirts
- Launch your own book
- Create digital products or online courses
- Sell print-on-demand posters, greeting cards, and prints
- Start a charitable business
- Sell a service
- Create an online fashion boutique
- Sell handcrafted and homemade goods
- Build an audience you can monetize
- Start a pet business
- Create a membership program
- Join an affiliate marketing program
- Become a virtual event planner
- Start a landscaping business
- Test app development
- Offer child care
- Start an online coffee or tea shop
- Become a handyman
- Sell your photography
- Become a social media management consultant
- Start a beauty business
- Phone accessories
- Sell subscription boxes
1. Start a Dropshipping Business
Here are the real tiring aspect of a day to day business. Buying stocks, storing them, selecting them into categories, packaging them, and then shipping them out. Managing inventory is a big commitment when you’re running a business.
Dropshipping is an easy business to start and the first of our good business ideas. Dropshipping is a fulfillment model where a third-party supplier stores and ships inventory to customers on your behalf. It’s one of the best businesses to start because it’s low overhead, hands-off, and scalable.
You don’t need to handle any products yourself. You just need to make the sales and pass orders on to your supplier. In fact, it’s one of the quickest and cheapest businesses to start.
You can curate products from one or more suppliers into your own online store. And then put them under a theme that focuses on a specific niche, like gear for yoga enthusiasts or water bowls for dog owners. When a customer buys a product from you, the order is sent to your supplier. Who then fulfills it on your behalf. However, you are still responsible for your own marketing and customer service.
The business of dropshipping is a low-investment way to test product-market fit and launch a business before you invest in your own original products. Just be sure to always order a sample for yourself to make sure your supplier is reliable. Also, ensure that the quality of the products is fit for selling to your customers.
There are both local and overseas suppliers you can work with. As long as you can establish a relationship with them built on trust. You don’t want an unreliable supplier, it will reflect poorly on your brand.
2. POD t-shirt is a Great Business Idea
Another dropshipping model is print on demand (POD). This puts inventory, shipping, and fulfillment in the hands of a third-party supplier. But unlike the dropshipping idea above, the focus here is on customizing products with your own designs to create something original.
T-shirts, hats, phone cases, hoodies, skirts, tote bags, and more become canvases for your creativity. You can think up witty slogans for developers or references that resonate with cat owners. If there’s passion and pride within a community, there’s a potential t-shirt business you can start.
What if you are not a designer. Don’t worry. You can find one to work with using freelance sites like Fiverr, Upwork, Dribbble, or 99Designs.
With many print-on-demand services, you’re paying per product. So the base price per unit will be more expensive than if you were to order in bulk. But the advantage is that if a certain t-shirt design doesn’t sell, you haven’t actually paid for the item yet (only the design, if you outsourced it).
You can even use t-shirt mockup templates to start to market. This way, you don’t need to spend extra money on a full photoshoot for every new design.
There are a variety of print-on-demand platforms you can work with. Many of which can be integrated with your Shopify store for seamless order fulfillment. However, be sure to always order a sample of your product (often offered at a discount) to make sure your custom products look good.
3. Book Publication is another good Business Idea
A book is just another type of product when you think about it. As such, you can create one to serve a particular demand in the market.
Cookbooks, picture books, comic books, poetry books, photo books, coffee table books, and novels. If you’ve got the knowledge or creativity, there are a variety of original books you can bring to the market. The options are endless—that’s why it’s one of the best businesses to start.
Print-on-demand is a relatively safe way to test the waters and get started with self-publishing. It also gives you control over the quality and looks of your book.
Lulu Direct and Blurb are popular platforms to create, order, and distribute your own books. Be it physical or digital products. You could also sell it on third-party marketplaces like Amazon or Powell’s.
While you can order one book at a time, costs naturally go down when you buy in bulk. Consider pre-selling or crowdfunding your book idea to ensure there’s demand. This helps guarantee a certain number of sales so you can feel confident making a bulk order.
Launching your own book can be a great way to monetize a blog if you have or are looking to start one.
4. Create digital products or online courses
Digital products like music, courses, and templates are unique on this list of small business ideas. Unlike the others, they’re not tangible. There aren’t recurring manufacturing or shipping costs to worry about. So your margins can remain high. This makes it another no-brainer for being one of the best businesses to start.
The trick is figuring out what makes for a good digital product. What is useful enough that people are willing to pay to download it?
The answers range from original instrumental beats to stock photos that can be licensed to other creators to information products. And templates that help people level up their skill sets in a particular field.
If you’ve got a talent that can be turned into a digital product, think about packaging it into a new stream of income.
Shopify has a free Digital Downloads app that lets you offer digital products in your store as easily as physical products.
5. POD posters, greeting cards, and prints
If you’re artistically inclined or know your way around a camera, you can dropship using a print-on-demand business model to let others physically own a piece of your work. Just be sure you have the rights to the content you want to print or are using public domain assets you can freely monetize.
Start by having an engaged online following. Let’s say you’re a cartoonist or an urban photographer—you’re in an especially good position to give this small business idea a try.
Depending on the printer you work with, you can turn your work into products such as posters or framed wall art, even greeting cards. There are plenty of digital templates and mockup generators like Placeit you can use to showcase your products without having to print out each item and conduct your own photo shoots.
6. Start a charitable Business
Starting a non-profit organization isn’t the only path you can take to help fund a better world.
Having a mission to go along with a business and setting aside some profit for a cause gives social entrepreneurs a unique way to position their company in the market while addressing the issues they care about most.
While many social enterprises offer their own original products, you can also take any of the small business ideas above and partner with a non-profit or execute that social good with your own hands, as long as you’re transparent about how it works.
As part of your marketing, you can share the impact that your customers are having by supporting your business, such as a blog post covering your work in the community or a real-time impact calculator on your website.
The Give & Grow Shopify app makes it easy to partner with charitable organizations and incorporate your mission into your business. You can set it up to donate a specific amount or a percentage of sales, or ask your customers to add a donation at checkout.
7. Sell a Service is also a great Business Idea
Offering services isn’t passive, but it certainly can be a lucrative way to gain self-employment. With services-based small business ideas, “time” is your inventory and your biggest investment. You’ve only got a limited supply of hours in your day. However, that makes it easier to get up and running if you’ve got skills that are in demand.
Writers, graphic designers, virtual assistants, SEO practitioners, cleaning service providers, dog walkers, real estate professionals, and more can build a business around their skills. You could offer these skills as an ongoing service or start a consulting business that advises on projects.
It’s one of the best business opportunities because it can be expanded with any of the other ideas above to create additional revenue streams by “productizing” services through physical or digital goods.
A photographer, for example, can service a local event while selling prints online through their Instagram account. A freelance writer can sell a copywriting swipe file of high-converting sales copy. Coupling your service-based business with physical products can give you another source of income that isn’t directly tied to your time.
You can use the BookThatApp or Acerill Appointment Booking for Shopify to let customers easily schedule a session or consultation or buy tickets to a class with you through your store.
You can also offer your services through a freelance marketplace like Upwork to increase your chances of getting discovered by the people who need your skills.
8. Try Business Like Online Boutique
If you love fashion and sharing your sense of style online, you can consider creating your own online fashion boutique. You don’t need to become a fashion designer—you can simply curate items from other vendors into your own online store (using the dropshipping model we discussed earlier).
Dresses, shoes, swimwear, accessories, and more—you can build your own fashion brand using one of the several product sourcing apps for Shopify, model them in your own product photos and social media posts, and build an online following as a trendsetter. Apps like MyOnlineFashionStore lets you import various styles into your Shopify store.
9. Sell handcrafted and homemade goods
If you’re a maker—whether you DIY soap, candles, sauces, or pottery—you’re in a unique position to find an online business idea, because product development and procurement are literally in your hands.
Unlike many of the other ideas on this list, you will need to consider shipping and inventory management, but you can start out simple on a per-order basis or with a small batch until you start generating consistent sales.
In fact, many makers on Shopify started out with a home business idea, selling on Etsy or eBay, or to friends and family through word of mouth, and grew into full-time small-business owners after establishing demand for their products.
Just be mindful of any regulations in your product category, especially for anything customers will eat, inhale, or put on their skin.
Brooklyn Candle Studio is one of many maker-owned businesses on Shopify that started on Etsy.
10. Build an audience you can monetize
In today’s connected world, the ability to capture and keep the attention of others is an asset. It’s one that many businesses are even willing to pay for and one that many creators are able to convert into a business with multiple revenue streams.
Whether you choose to grow your following on YouTube, Instagram, or a blog (ideally a combination of different channels), you have many avenues for monetizing your audience.
11. Start a pet business
The pet industry is ripe with opportunities for all kinds of small business ideas. And it’s an industry worth nearly $100 billion, so it’s an easy one to get started in, with guaranteed demand. Your pet business could be product- or service-based—selling accessories, food, or toys, or offering grooming, walking, or training expertise.
This is a very interesting business line to venture into. Do your research and you will realize that people love their pets even more than some of them love other humans. Even Pope Benedict the other day said it is selfish to pour all your love on pets and refuse to give birth to children when you can adopt one of the suffering children of the world.
If you are in Africa, at first thought you might think pets are not valued in Africa. I employ you to think again. Better still, research the surge of pet dogs among the rich in Africa.
12. Online Membership Program
Online memberships aren’t just a hot new business idea that materialized from people being required to stay home during the COVID-19 crisis. Online memberships are ideal for entrepreneurs with an established active and engaged community. They work much like a subscription-based business—customers make recurring payments in exchange for a virtual product or service.
Memberships are great for managing members-only access to content on a website, and even for physical businesses that offer guided sessions online. Yoga studios, gyms, clubs, and art schools are a few examples of businesses that can easily take advantage of this low-investment business model.
Since this content is behind a gate that only paying subscribers can access through their customer account, you can also host exclusive live streams in addition to (or instead of) downloadable content.
Regardless of the route you take, be sure to record in a quiet space so the audio is clear and distraction-free.
It’s also a good idea to use email marketing to keep your members informed of new content. Emails, video teasers, and customer testimonials are great ways to build excitement for new launches.
And it’s easy to start your membership-based business in Shopify. Set up a new product just like you would for a physical product, but create a name and description that tells people about your membership services.
13. Affiliate Marketing Program
Affiliate marketing refers to a performance-based marketing tactic where a business pays people, a.k.a. affiliates, to promote and sell products for them. Every time an affiliate brings in a new customer, they receive a commission from the business.
Affiliates can promote products on their blogs, social media accounts, or websites, or in communities. For many, affiliate marketing is a low cost side hustle that turns into a profitable business over time.
To join an affiliate program, take the following steps:
- Find an affiliate program on sites like ShareASale, CJ, Impact, JVZoo, or LinkShare.
- Choose offers you want to promote.
- Get an affiliate link.
- Promote that link across your assets.
Get a commission every time someone signs up or makes a purchase through your link.
Commission rates vary depending on the company and offer. You could earn as low as 5% for each sale, while some commissions can be as high as 50% if you’re promoting a class or event. Some affiliate programs also offer a flat rate versus a percentage.
14. Virtual Event Planning
Virtual event planning is a profitable business idea if you enjoy organizing and connecting people. Growing at 23% per year, the significant rise in business events and adoption of virtual tools for conducting meetings will keep this market growth high. As a virtual event planner, you’ll be responsible for creating virtual conferences, networking opportunities, and educational sessions for companies around the world.
Facebook’s move into the metaverse will open up new opportunities for event planners in the near future. Party.space, for example, has raised capital to scale up its metaverse-themed virtual events business. If you want job security for the future, virtual event planning is a good way to go.
15. App Testing
Creating a million-dollar app is not easy. In fact, 99.5% of consumer apps fail. Most apps don’t have a product-market fit. They need a ton of marketing. And they are expensive to create.
So, why bother putting this on our small business ideas list? Because consumer app development isn’t the only path for entrepreneurs. New apps for the Shopify App Store crop up daily, with a market of motivated businesses eager to find the tools they need.
16. Sell your photography
Got a passion for taking photos? Turn your hobby into a full-time photography business. Today, you don’t just have to sell services for weddings and corporate ad campaigns. You can easily set up a store and sell prints, posters, NFTs, and more. Or you can sell your photos on stock photography sites to earn passive income while you’re out shooting photos.
If you are in Africa, this could be a very interesting business for you, as the world is looking for raw African photos. To verify this, just google “black African doctor” or African teacher”, “African girl” etc. You will quickly realize that anything that has African to it has a price tag. This is because African photos are scarce and the demand is high.
17. Social Media Management
The pandemic pushed more people onto social media than we’ve ever seen before. As of October 2021, there are over 4.2 billion active users around the world. That’s 53.6% of the population.
Between YouTube, Instagram, Facebook Messenger, TikTok, and all the other social networks available, brands need help managing their accounts. A social media manager is responsible for creating and analyzing content for brands’ social accounts. Clients will pay you to create engaging content, write attractive bios, respond to comments, run ads, and more. You could charge by the hour or by project rate.
It’s the perfect job for digital nomads to make money online and start a business with little investment.
18. Sell subscription boxes
If you’re not interested in creating your own products to sell, you can curate them. One of the best small business ideas is to sell subscription boxes with curated products that follow a certain theme.
One of the great parts about subscription boxes is you can create them for pretty much every single niche out there. For example, featuring merchants and makers in your community is one of the best local business ideas for subscription boxes. You can also go for themes like Skit making, beer brewing, or pets—the possibilities are pretty much limitless.
Like memberships, subscriptions are good business ideas to start because they create a recurring revenue stream. People have to proactively cancel their subscription if they don’t want to continue paying for it.
Subscriptions also lend themselves to collaboration. When you curate products from different merchants, you can get in front of their audiences—a whole group of potential new subscribers.
Tips for choosing the best business idea
The small business ideas we’ve covered might be easier to run when it comes to logistics, but that doesn’t make them easy. There are at least three things you should keep in mind as you consider your options, no matter what business you decide to start.
1. Business Idea that makes Marketing Easy
As with any business, marketing is what unlocks your success. It’s not enough to know that there’s demand for your products—you need to figure out ways to reach the people that are most likely to buy them. You need to get the right visitors to discover your products.
Luckily, marketing is a lot easier when you’re catering to a specific target audience or identity (e.g., vegans, board game lovers, photographers in your city). You can produce social media content that resonates with these people or run ads that target their interests. Taking this approach also helps you project a consistent brand because you’ll have a more specific idea of who exactly you’re talking to.
Think about how you can zero in on a specific audience for your products and how the business you build can serve them. If you already have a sizable audience (a blog, a YouTube channel, or an Instagram account), maybe you can even find a way to base your business on that existing audience.
2. Business Idea with Good Pricing Method
Price your products too low and shoppers might assume they’re low quality. Price them too high and you risk scaring some customers off. In any case, you’ll need to find a sweet spot that also lets you factor in the cost to acquire customers and offer discounts, especially if you plan on paying for ads.
With many of the small business ideas explored in this post, you may not be shipping your products, but you still need to cover the cost of shipping. Consider your shipping costs and how they will vary in the different countries you want to serve.
Many online sellers try to bake their shipping costs into their retail price so they can offer free shipping or at least a reasonable flat rate. Others focus on encouraging shoppers to add more items to their cart with conditional free shipping (e.g., free shipping on orders over $50) to maximize their profit.
At the end of the day, your prices can be tweaked and you can experiment with a variety of pricing strategies until you find one that works for you.
3. Idea you can Start Small and then Grow
The pursuit of perfection can be one of the biggest hurdles in getting a business up and running. Keep in mind that nothing is set in stone.
Products can be swapped in and out fairly easily (especially when you’re not stuck with stock). Your store can be redesigned. Your prices can be adjusted. You can switch to a better supplier. And you can validate all of these decisions based on the dozens of signals you have at your disposal (traffic, how much time people are spending on your site, reviews, abandoned carts, etc.).
If your idea just isn’t working out the way you planned, think about how you can pivot before you quit.
There are aspects of your own business you can always salvage if you try a different product or approach. The brand you invest time into creating and the followers you amass on social media or in your email list can be assets you repurpose for your next business idea.