More than 20.5 million Americans own their own businesses.
Another 53 million work freelance full or part time in various fields ranging from computer programming and rideshare driving to, yes, journalism and writing. (Hello!)
Most of the rest of us want to. The OECD (the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development) found that 58% of women and 69% of men in America agree with the statement “I would rather take a risk and build my own business than work for someone else.” The numbers say that you, dear reader, would like to be your own boss.
So what holds us back? A lot of things, really. Money for one. Starting a new business can take quite a bit of startup capital that few people have just lying around. The bigger issue, though, is often ideas.
Thousands of talented people want to write a novel, if only they could think of a story. Many more would start a band if they had a catchy tune. Then there are the millions of entrepreneurs who would open their own business if they could come up with the right thing to do.
To help with that process, here are some ideas for small businesses to get you thinking.
The restaurant business is tough. While not as bad as people say, it’s still a competitive industry. On the other hand, if you know what you’re doing this can be a business model that people love, that fits into any community and that faces almost no competition online.
1. Fast Casual Restaurant
Picture a Five Guys or a Chipotle (CMG) . These are the modern version of old-fashioned diner dives, a long counter where someone serves up good food fast. They’re a step up from fast food in quality, a step down from full service in price and overwhelmingly popular. Better still, this model requires less overhead since you can run it with fewer staff and a smaller footprint.
2. Bar and Coffee Shop
Hugely popular and astonishingly rare, the bar/coffee shop hybrid answers three questions: What does a coffee shop serve at night? What does a bar serve in the day? And why is it that the same people seem to go to both places… Serve espresso at 10 a.m., craft beer at 10 p.m. and keep that marginally employed writer (hello again!) spending money all day.
Everyone loves a treat and these days bakeries have an edge in that market. Social media positively melts down for psychedelic frosting or a cookie that looks like it will bite you back. With creativity and a novel approach, a bakery has the ability to stand out in a market that many other dessert shops lack.
4. Coffee Shop
A regular coffee shop can work. In fact a popular one can succeed brilliantly, but beware. This is a low-margin business that depends on moving a positively enormous amount of product. What’s more, your regular customers will be money losers. What, you think a business actually profits off someone camping on his laptop for five hours after paying $2 for a dark roast?
The big advantage to a professional services firm is that you can open one cheaply. You’re essentially selling your own skill and expertise. Especially today, you may need little more than a web presence and a business card to get started. These are just a very small number of the ways you can do it.
Can you fix things or build things? You may want to look at construction and contract work. Maybe you’ll go into carpentry, helping people remodel their houses. Maybe you know how to fix plumbing or rewire electrical systems. Whatever you can do it’s almost certainly in high demand.
6. Accounting or Law Firm
Obviously this is a niche field. Unless you currently are a CPA or a JD there’s not a whole lot of value in hanging your own shingle, and you can probably expect an unpleasant visit from the real thing if you do. However, for white collar professionals there’s a lot of value in launching your own offices. Just have some runway capital on hand. It will probably take a while to succeed.
This one is a little more nebulous… The question is, ultimately, what are you good at? Do you currently work in PR? Maybe it’s time to offer those services on your own. Do you do human resource work? You sound like a terrific career coach. Have you spent years in a bank? It might be time to offer financial planning. Whatever you’re good at, someone out there could use a consultation on the subject.
8. Graphic Designer
Graphic design combines two fields that rarely overlap: Technical competence and a creative eye. If you can look at a blank page and not only see what belongs there but also know how to make it happen, there are literally thousands of companies out there who will need your services. From designing logos to helping a business create its entire look, graphic design is a strong and growing field.
Media is an upside-down place to work at the moment. While many business models struggle to survive, others have emerged and made individual bloggers and YouTube stars millionaires. You probably won’t be the next Ariana Huffington or PewDiePie, but there’s a lot of room here to make a living.
9. Freelance Journalist
Outlets have begun relying on freelancers for an increasing amount of coverage, so there’s lots of opportunity to work as a reporter and be your own boss. Just beware… Work can vanish in an instant and you cover all your own costs. Not a problem when writing from your desk, but it can make it hard (if not at times impossible) to get out in the world and do the shoe-leather work of real reporting.
10. Freelance Writing and Editing
Firms need people to write PR copy for them. Other companies need someone to polish up their website, edit books, ghostwrite articles or help clean up white papers. Today every business in every business model produces many, many times more written material than they used to. Someone has to ensure that it all sounds crisp, clean and professional.
Here’s the secret that most people don’t realize about being a blogger: It’s a business. Shocking, right? Yes, to succeed as a blogger you have to write catchy, interesting articles. You also have to understand SEO, audience engagement, bounce rates, monetization, affiliation and partnership deals and much more. This is a marketing and technology business, and if you’ve got a flair for that you might have the makings of a successful blogger.
12. Social Media Consultant
This overlaps with consulting, but then again most things do. Most businesses know two things about social media: First, it’s incredibly important. Second, almost no one really understands it. If you’re one of the few people who do get the marketplace of ideas on Twitter (TWTR) , Instagram, Facebook (FB) and more, you might have a thriving business opportunity.
The best thing about starting a business in technology is that it’s generally location-independent. You can solicit business from all around the world and may well get to work with clients who can afford to pay top rates for outstanding work. This is a high-skill field that’s in high demand. If you’ve got the chops, consider opening a business as a…
13. Web Developer
Bespoke web development, like graphic design, combines technical savvy with an eye for aesthetics. This isn’t a field to enter without experience, but if you’re a sharp, talented coder who can lay down a clean user interface against a sharp color scheme, it might be time to start seeing which local companies look like they still use Geocities.
14. Freelance Coder
Many companies rely on outside contractors to help finish big projects, especially during crunch time. Like all freelance businesses this is generally a boom-and-bust model. You might spend three weeks looking for work then spend a month barely looking up from your computer screen. If you can make the income stream work, though, this is a lucrative field with many opportunities.
15. App Development
The best part of app development is passive income. Every product you create will sit out there on the iPhone and Android stores making money for you long after you stop putting a single hour into it. Of course, that depends on getting those products in the public eye. So brush up on your marketing skills, come up with a few ideas and enter the world of independent development.
16. Security Consulting
From white hat hackers to security analysts, the market for security consulting right now is enormous. You can even build a thriving business just speaking to company employees, helping IT fix its PEBCAK errors. This is a high-skill field that demands an outstanding resume, but if you’ve got the right background it can be incredibly lucrative.
Modern retail is at once a challenge and an opportunity. Online stores have stolen customers from brick and mortar at a devastating rate, it’s true. But their biggest victims are the large-footprint businesses like Sears (SHLDQ) , Borders and Best Buy (BBY) . In their place has opened up plenty of room for the small, highly-curated shop that provides an experience as well as a sale.
Don’t click away yet! Bookstores may struggle, but that doesn’t mean they can’t succeed. If you can build an identity and experience into your store, with a well-chosen selection that makes life easier than clicking around through Amazon’s (AMZN) vastness, you may well have a healthy business model on your hands. If that doesn’t convince you, think about this: Americans love to read, and two-thirds of them would rather do it on paper than pixels.
Clothing has an edge over most other retail spaces these days, because try before you buy matters so much more in their space. You can’t slip on a blouse or see just how those jeans fit while clicking around a website. Especially in the far more lucrative women’s market this is a critical feature. If you’ve got an eye for fashion and can build a selection that will get people in the door, this business model comes with a built-in killer app: The changing room.
19. Food Shop
People need to eat. People who want to eat rarely want to wait two or three days for shipping. Get where we’re coming from? Whether you open a niche shop that caters to specific interests or sell general goods to the millions of Americans who live more than a mile from the nearest grocery store, a well-placed small grocer can succeed and thrive.
20. Online Retailer
If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. One of the best things about online retail is using breadth of audience to make up for niche demand. Whether you want to sell artisan products, like hand-carved jewelry, or creative works like your very own board game, chances are someone out there wants it. With a storefront you’d be out of luck unless that person coincidentally happens to live a few miles away. Online, though, your customers can find you from anywhere.
These are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to planning and launching your own business. The truth is, for almost any skill set there’s someone out there who needs it and will pay good money in exchange. The best way to come up with a business idea is to sit down and think about what you can do, what you love to do and what people need. Here are a last few ideas to help with the creative process.
21. Bespoke Travel Planning
Yes, the internet put a stake through the heart of traditional travel agents. Good riddance. That was a business model built entirely on having access to booking systems and little else. Enter the bespoke travel planner. You help your clients have the best possible trip for their money, booking them into hotels, tours and restaurants they never would have found otherwise. You don’t sell access, you sell expertise. That’s a winning formula.
You know what isn’t sexy? Storage. You know what makes an absolute fortune these days? Storage. Whether renting lockers to individuals or bulk warehouse space to companies, secured storage is a booming business model nationwide. You’ll need more startup capital than most businesses because this requires lots of square footage, but if you’re looking for a business that people need… Well, look no further.
23. Diet and Fitness
Some people look great in tailored shirts and yoga pants. The rest of us would like to look like those people. If you know how to build a diet and exercise plan for losing weight and looking great, we’ve got some news that’s hardly new: You’re sitting on a product that lots of people want. Get out there and sell it.
Perhaps you simply love working with your hands. You have a talent for helping things grow and shudder at the thought of sitting behind a desk all day. Now consider that there are far, far more people who own homes and lawns than who share your gifts. Yep, right now there are millions of Americans looking at desiccated dirt and mournful trees wondering, “how do I fix this?” Consider that your bat signal.