The best small business ideas often arrive when you least expect them. Being self-employed and working on your own terms is certainly appealing, but perhaps you’re unsure of where to start.
Whether you’re a budding entrepreneur or an aspiring freelancer, these small business ideas will help guide your dream of working for yourself.
In this article, we’ll cover 11 small business ideas that can all be started from home, and what to consider before setting up on your own.
Top 11 small business ideas for entrepreneurs
The following small business ideas are tried and trusted careers that many entrepreneurs have moved into from full-time employment. These ideas can all start as a side hustle alongside a nine-to-five and grow into fully-fledged small businesses.
You can do many of the following types of businesses remotely or with minimal upfront setup (e.g. a laptop or a car).
Here is our shortlist of 11 great business ideas you can start from your own home.
1. E-commerce and dropshipping
One of the most popular small business ideas in 2023 is e-commerce – specifically, dropshipping – because of the relatively low barrier to entry and its ability to scale.
Dropshipping involves selling physical products, such as t-shirts or office equipment, without having to keep the actual items in stock. You receive orders from customers and then pass them along to suppliers who ship the products directly.
After figuring out the appropriate costs, you’ll decide on the proper margins. Keep in mind, you’re providing value to both the customers (by making these products accessible) and suppliers (by increasing their orders).
With traditional e-commerce, you’ll need to store the items you sell but you’re also in control of more links in the value chain, such as shipping times.
The biggest challenge with this small business idea will be establishing a digital presence. Conduct thorough research before deciding on what to sell to make sure your items are popular and that you’re targeting the right customers. Consider advertising on social media and search engines (at least initially) to increase brand awareness for your e-commerce business.
Before it’s time to scale, set up an e-commerce CRM to automate tasks and manage customer data to further increase sales. Organizing your business processes before things get too busy to manage is critical to growth success.
2. Gig economy
Jobs in the gig economy involve short-term contracts, such as a contracted task you can do in an hour, a day or a week, for example.
Whether you’re trying to start an additional source of income or establish a new career, the gig economy is a great way to build experience and create connections.
There are numerous options in both the “real world” as well as digital spaces (and some will overlap). We’ve even included some in-depth digital examples later in the list, such as freelance copywriting gigs.
Examples of tasks in physical spaces that are part of the gig economy include:
Ridesharing: Turn your vehicle and smartphone into a viable source of income. You can work whenever you’d prefer – and many services even offer significant rates during particular times and at certain locations.
Delivery: Meal and grocery delivery has grown increasingly popular and remains in high demand. It’s a great option for earning tips and gaining experience managing customers.
Pet sitting: If you’re an animal lover, consider looking after people’s pets when they’re on vacation. You’ll be able to build working relationships with pet owners and increase your sales skills.
Events: In-person events are always in need of temporary workers. It’s a great way to fine-tune your business abilities in social settings. Working directly with an event planner will also offer keen insights you can utilize in your own entrepreneurship.
There are always opportunities for bridging the gap between the real world and digital gigs in terms of online business ideas.
For instance, once you start working as a pet sitter, you’ll want to establish an online presence with a business website. In addition to increasing your own business, you could partner with other local businesses to create referral opportunities: connecting pet owners with pet grooming and dog walking businesses in the area, for example.
With some experience, you can set up your own agency – starting with freelancers and hiring more as your revenue grows. Manage your expanding list of clients in a spreadsheet or CRM to maintain good relationships.
3. Digital products
Digital products are intangible assets you can sell online, such as digital downloads and licensed products.
Depending on your skill set, there are lots of options for producing these items, and you can even have different types of products stored in a single location (e.g. courses and materials sold separately on the same website).
Examples of digital products include:
Educational materials: Offer courses, guides, ebooks and other types of learning products. If you’re new to teaching online, consider signing up for a platform that’s specifically designed for housing instructional courses.
Licenses: If you produce music, video, photographs or any other type of asset creatives want access to, you can sell the rights to use. This can be a flat rate or priced individually.
Templates: Create and sell templates for popular formats such as resumes, brochures, websites, product listings, etc.
Consider offering discounts on products to those who sign up for your email list and turn them into repeat customers. You can also send out newsletters and announcements when new products are offered.
4. Web designer
Web designers create the design and layout of websites, selecting cohesive and on-brand typefaces, color schemes and graphics. They ensure that sites are user-friendly, accessible and visually appealing.
They’ll often work with specialized teams during the website building process, such as:
Digital designers: Responsible for producing any digital designs that involve movement, such as animations, interactive elements and movies. They also use audio and sound effects in their work.
Web developers: Code and build the final designs, setting out page structures and working on technical elements of the build.
User experience (UX) teams: Ensure that web designs are both functional and accessible, making the overall user experience better for end-users.
Traditionally, web designers needed to be skilled in complex tools like Adobe InDesign or Dreamweaver and programming languages. If you’re keen to add coding and from-scratch web design to your current skill set, there are a range of courses you can take, including:
However, website builders have revolutionized the space in recent years with no-code and drag-and-drop options.
Sites like Squarespace and Wix offer high-quality professional website-building platforms for anyone to design, build and customize their own websites.
While this might seem like a strange new world to experienced web designers, it has opened up opportunities for new web designers to specialize in particular platforms.
For example, Squarespace Marketplace connects customers with third-party designers and developers that are “vetted for their years of experience and quality of work”.
5. Web developer
Web developers code and build websites and apps, implementing visual designs and layouts whilst integrating content and imagery. Their code instructs websites and applications how to operate, and they’re also responsible for website performance, capacity issues, testing and reliability across multiple devices.
Web and app development is an in-demand skill to have in the technical age. There are no signs it’s slowing down either: the number of developers is projected to rise by 23% between 2021 and 2031 according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Developers are generally divided into three categories:
Back-end developers are responsible for the “server side”, coding the foundations of the site and building the website structure.
Front-end developers work on the “client-side” part of the website, programming the visual elements. Whilst they don’t design websites or choose fonts and color schemes, they provide the link between design and tech.
Full-stack developers combine both skills and are highly sought-after.
Becoming a freelance developer is a natural progression for those already working in this role at an agency or in-house; it’s a matter of setting up processes and attracting clients.
For complete beginners, there are numerous online tech boot camp courses that can take you from novice to a full-time career in tech, such as Fullstack or Coding Dojo.
These fast-paced courses allow you to learn at your own pace and will quickly get you up to speed on front-end and back-end development. Some courses are even accredited by universities. Google also has a range of its own Developer Certification programs that allow budding developers to demonstrate their proficiency.
If you’re a front-end developer, you can always partner up with a back-end developer (or vice versa) to take on more clients and grow your small business.
6. Marketing specialist
There are many ways to specialize in marketing and multiple inroads into the profession as you don’t necessarily need a background in marketing. You can often build a career in marketing with experience in the industry in which you’re planning to work.
For example, you could provide social media services for healthcare providers if you’ve previously worked in healthcare. Having experience in the field gives you unique insight into the wants and needs of healthcare professionals and their customers.
Some of the most common marketing specialisms are:
Copywriting: Copywriters produce attention-grabbing messaging for websites and other online assets to persuade readers to take action, such as buying a product or signing up to a newsletter. Freelance writing is a popular starting point for many marketing specialists.
Email: Email marketers work with email automation software on newsletters and lead sequence emails, nurturing customers into eventually buying. They may also be responsible for organizing and segmenting customer data from email marketing.
SEO: Search engine optimization specialists focus on improving, testing and optimizing websites so that they rank higher on major search engines and bring in more traffic. SEO doesn’t only include Google, however. You can also specialize in optimizing content for YouTube, podcast platforms and Pinterest, for example.
Paid media: These specialists work across paid search, display and social campaigns. They’re responsible for day-to-day management as well as optimizing these media channels to drive growth.
Social media: Social media management involves planning and organizing posts on platforms such as Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and TikTok. Client needs will range, but typically involves creating social media strategies, connecting with influencers, planning content and can sometimes involve producing the content.
Digital marketing: An overarching term for specialists with broad digital experience; they plan and deliver strategy and campaigns across multiple online channels.
E-commerce: E-commerce experts help companies improve their online stores, developing strategies to improve their online sales.
Many companies don’t have the resources or technical skills to execute these specialisms well or keep them on the team full-time, which is why they outsource them.
There are plenty of courses available to brush up on your marketing skills. Google Digital Garage offers various free online courses in digital marketing for example.
You’ll also need to create an online portfolio to show off examples of your work. Networking with existing contacts, joining freelance communities and word of mouth are good starting points to attract your first clients. Remember also to ask for client testimonials once you’ve completed assignments.
As you gain experience and become more specialized, you can easily scale your marketing services into a full-service agency.
7. Management analyst
Management analysts work with companies to improve efficiencies, help with operational problems, improve overall business performance and maximize growth. They'll often be self-employed or work through an agency, bringing an outsider’s perspective to the company they’re working with.
A company that is going through a restructuring, for example, may bring a management analyst in on a short-term basis to help plan and reorganize its corporate structure without impacting performance.
Generally, professionals in this sector have a solid work background in finance and business, or they’ve worked as analysts previously at a company. If you’ve been responsible for overhauling company processes before, your organizational skills can be applied to management analyst roles.
It’s possible to become a certified management analyst through the Institute of Management Consultants, which helps analysts start and scale up through professional development. You do need to meet minimal levels of education and experience in order to qualify for this certification though, which has to be renewed every three years.
Bookkeepers maintain financial records and accounting reports for companies. Unlike certified public accountants, bookkeepers aren’t required to have an accounting degree, offering a lower barrier to entry.
Bookkeepers are not responsible for filing tax returns or auditing financial statements, but may help prepare them. They may also perform the following duties:
Assess cash flow
Prepare financial statements
Document transactions such as expenses
Credit control, including sending, receiving and chasing invoices
Bank reconciliation, such as marrying accounts receivable with physical cheques
Accounts payable, ensuring suppliers are paid on time
Running payroll, calculating pay and deductions
Accounting platforms like QuickBooks and Xero have streamlined and automated many internal processes. However, companies still need someone to operate these platforms and oversee the accuracy of information.
It’s possible for bookkeepers to obtain certifications to prove their credentials and market themselves better. Professional associations such as the American Institute of Professional Bookkeepers exist for working bookkeepers to upskill and hone their expertise. Another option is to become certified in a particular financial platform such as QuickBooks, which offers fast-track two-day courses.
To grow your bookkeeping business, you can produce and sell digital products related to bookkeeping (e.g. downloadable spreadsheets designed for tracking cash flow).
9. Virtual assistant
Virtual assistants (VA) help support businesses by acting as an extension of the company, freeing up time for business owners to concentrate on running the business.
Outsourcing admin is becoming more common for growing companies, with the VA sector set to expand rapidly over the next four years. It’s a win-win scenario for both companies who need to delegate the most time-consuming tasks and VAs who can work from anywhere around their own schedules.
Search for VA agencies online to get your foot in the door and use your network to find businesses that need help with admin. Since VAs can apply their skills to any industry, you could help cleaning services or landscaping businesses organize their bookings and paperwork for example.
If you have excellent organizational skills, are detail-oriented and thrive on streamlining processes, becoming a VA could be an ideal small business idea. As you establish your business presence, you can scale your virtual assistant services into a full-service agency.
10. Graphic designer
Graphic designers use design software to work on visual concepts for print and digital mediums. They usually specialize in a particular niche such as logo creation, brand identity, advertising briefs or presentations. Or they might focus on specific industries, working on apparel or packaging design for instance.
Many companies outsource graphic design work as they don’t have internal design teams, and need ad-hoc support to complete projects.
Aspiring graphic designers don’t necessarily need a degree, but do need a good eye for detail and a decent portfolio to gain work.
Creating design mockups to build your online portfolio is one way of showcasing your skills. Online tools such as Canva have also revolutionized the way logos and designs are created, meaning that it's never been easier to learn yourself.
Posting your work on sites like Behance and across social media platforms such as Instagram and LinkedIn can help you land your first commissions.
The digital nature of the product lends itself well to scaling services. Many graphic designers sell their services and digital products through an e-commerce store marketplace like Etsy. Some will also partner with producers of physical products, such as textiles, mugs and product label creators to add a design element to their creations.
11. Online consulting
Consultants provide advisory and implementation services to businesses, usually offering their services as independent contractors. They’re most frequently found in the professional services field, working on business strategy, management, organizational structure, operational processes, human resources and technology services.
There’s no limit to the industries that consultants can work in. If you are skilled in a particular area or have the know-how in a specific field, it’s worth checking the consultancy opportunities. For example, a teacher may leave the classroom to consult on educational software. Alternatively, a personal trainer might join forces with a health services group to develop a home care routine for a patient.
Setting up as an online consultant is one of the most lucrative business ideas from home, as they set their own rates. For example, cybersecurity consultants (otherwise known as information security analysts) can make over $100,000 a year.
Resume consultants might offer a resume review package that includes a 30-minute call and a rewritten resume for a fixed fee. Or you might create and sell courses on business mentoring or leadership as a passive income. The key here is to outline your consulting business services and determine a profitable price point as you reproduce the same service and sell to new clients.
In order to scale your business, you can produce and sell digital products that capture many of the insights and processes you share with your clients.
What to consider before starting a small business
With the benefits of flexibility and setting your own hours, it’s no wonder that more and more budding entrepreneurs are choosing to turn their small business ideas from home into reality.
Every business takes planning. Budget for reasonable startup costs and prepare yourself for some long hours building foundations before you can do what you love full-time.
Here are a few important things to consider as you refine your business plan:
Determine the market fit and demand for your product or service
A successful business model fills a gap that currently exists in the market. To survive, your business will need a customer base of potential clients and returning customers. To understand if you have this, you need to define your target market.
You can work out the demand for your service (and whether you have a viable business opportunity) in the following ways:
Familiarize yourself with the competition by looking at market share and researching their strategy
Create a buyer persona of your ideal customer and speak to your target audience to identify their pain-points
Crunch the numbers to make sure your idea is viable – look at the total addressable market to see how much has been captured already
Look at industry data, market reports and research studies to learn everything you can about your chosen sector and how your service will fit in
It’s also worth looking at job roles that have the fastest projected growth over the next few years if long-term job security is important to you. Software developers feature at number three, whilst marketing specialists and management analysts also make the list.
Every good business idea is sustainable, so customers keep coming back, but it must also be a profitable business idea. Being honest with yourself about how commercially viable your idea is will save you heartache further down the line.
New business budgeting
Every new business idea should be carefully budgeted for. This will protect your finances and prevent ideas from spinning out of control. Keep decision-making on track by setting out a realistic idea of what you’re willing to spend.
The good news is that creating a budget can empower new entrepreneurs. Instead of feeling like everything is a drain as you pay for a new website, training, branding kit, etc., you’ll feel prepared for the spend.
You should determine two things for your budget:
You may also want to determine which tasks you’ll need to outsource early on or hire an employee to take responsibility.
If you’re currently working, you can set aside some funds as your small business startup capital. If you’re starting completely from scratch and need some support, consider whether you’re in a position to take out a small business loan.
Grants and incentives may also be available for some new small business owners. For example, small business grants have been awarded to rural businesses and those from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Small business name ideas take some thought
Choosing a name for your new business is often the hardest part of your small business start-up. If you’ve no idea where to start, online business name idea generators can help with inspiration.
These tools can suggest names based on your industry or even just abstract ideas as starting points. Test out your small business name ideas on friends and family, or focus groups before committing to any pricey branding packages.
Your business name will need to be incorporated into your logo and any branding. You can use free online design tools like Canva to play around with concepts and design themes before making any big decisions on the name.
When it comes to narrowing down your small business name idea, check that the name isn’t already trademarked or copyrighted. It’s also worth checking if the domain name is available if you plan on setting up a website.
Plan ahead to make scaling smooth
It’s worth considering even at the startup stage how you plan to grow the business long-term. You want to be able to expand and serve more customers without it impacting the quality of work.
Being organized with your processes from day one will help your business flourish as you scale. For example, lead management software manages your valuable contacts with features like automated chatbots and embedded web forms to drive more leads, improving conversion rates and boosting sales momentum.
Document management solutions such as Smart Docs enable you to send trackable proposals, quotes and contracts. You’ll also be notified when your prospect opens them and request e-signatures, allowing you to close deals faster.
The ability to scale up using CRM solutions for small businesses will help you visualize your pipeline, keep tabs on cash flow and automate repetitive tasks.
Launching your small business idea might seem daunting, but the flexible working revolution and advances in technology have made it easier than ever to start a new business from home.
There are plenty of low-cost or online business models that can easily adapt and flex as you find out what works and what doesn’t. Put in the groundwork to determine business viability before investing significant time and organize processes from the start so you’re set up to scale.