April 20, 2024

Some people venture into entrepreneurship with a clear vision: They know what industry they want to conquer and the path they’re going to take to get there. However, for many new entrepreneurs, it can be difficult to figure out how to start a business — plus, determine exactly what type of business is the best choice to invest in.

To help you launch your journey, we’ve compiled a list of the most profitable businesses, considering factors such as industry growth and competitiveness, startup costs and barriers to entry, as well as profitability potential.

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Most profitable small businesses

With a solid business plan, hard work and determination, any strong business idea may become successful and profitable.

Businesses in high-growth industries with lower startup costs, however, may have greater profitability potential. With the rise of technology, for instance, you’ll probably have more success starting a virtual assistant business than opening a grocery store.

Although some of the most profitable businesses are based online, others involve in-person services, and some are a great fit if you’re an entrepreneur on the go. Here’s our list of the most profitable small businesses:

1. Food trucks

The food truck movement has been experiencing consistent growth over the past five years — and it’s expected to continue — with the market projected to grow to $6.87 billion by 2029, according to a 2023 report by Mordor Intelligence

Keep in mind that bigger, trendier cities like San Francisco, Boston and Washington, D.C., already have a pretty saturated food truck market (as well as tougher regulations to get started) — so this might be a more successful business in a smaller heartland metropolis.

Food trucks have their own special set of ordinances, business licenses and safety compliance standards. They also require food business insurance, so you’ll want to contact your local health department to find out what will be required.

2. Car wash services

The rising prices and pandemic-induced shortage of new vehicles are causing car owners to keep their cars longer. And as drivers keep their cars longer, businesses like car washes that help people maintain the value of their auto investment are expected to keep rising as well.

In fact, the car wash market is projected to increase from $15.86 billion in 2023 to $23.79 billion by 2030

You might make a car wash business even more profitable by turning it into a mobile service. Customers may pay more for a car wash that comes to them, especially if they have a luxury car and prefer a more personalized service. And as a mobile car wash and auto detailing service, you’d avoid the overhead and startup costs of having a physical location.

3. Auto repair

The average age of cars and light trucks in the U.S. rose to 12.5 years in 2023, increasing from 9.7 years a decade ago, according to S&P Global Mobility

Additionally, car owners are more likely to visit a small business for repairs. According to the Auto Care Association, more than 70% of repair business is captured by independent repair facilities compared with dealerships or manufacturer-authorized repair facilities

If you’re skilled as a mechanic, you might consider an auto repair service as one of the most profitable business ideas. You can offer oil changes, fluid refills, battery swaps, headlight repair and more. And if you’re looking to save on overhead costs, you might make it a mobile service and travel to your customers, performing repairs in their driveway or office parking lot.

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4. Personal trainers

Employment of fitness trainers and instructors is projected to grow 14% from 2022 to 2032, much faster than the average for all occupations, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Throw a few weights, bands and yoga mats into the trunk of your car, and take your fitness show on the road.

You can become a personal trainer by offering one-on-one sessions in your clients’ homes or advertising group classes at a local park or community center. Making fitness more available to your clients might just be the ticket to helping both of you achieve your goals.

5. Newborn and post-pregnancy services

Although millennials and Generation Z are deferring parenthood for longer than previous generations, many do eventually want to have kids.

And with both generations considering parenthood, the need for child-oriented businesses is growing, starting with post-pregnancy and newborn-related services. As a result, a 2024 Market Research Future report expects the global maternity care market to reach $106.6 billion by 2032 (up from $62.5 billion in 2023)

Demand for doulas and lactation consultants, in particular, has risen among new mothers, and both business options have relatively low overhead requirements beyond education and certification.

6. Enrichment activities for children

Shrinking budgets for education mean that both traditional academics and enrichment subjects like music, art and athletics often take a significant hit.

A successful business to start might be one that teaches enrichment activities to children. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, kids are more involved in extracurricular activities today than they were 20 years ago

You could launch a gymnastics center or music school, become a swimming instructor or kids’ yoga teacher, or focus on some other child-centered activity. If you have a skill that could be easily taught to young students, you might already have a profitable business in the making.

7. Mobile apps and entertainment for children

If your interests are in development and engineering, you might consider gearing your technology toward the youngest users. Research shows that demand for tablets, apps and mobile entertainment for children is on the rise — especially if those products are education-focused

Do you have an idea for an educational app for children or parents? If so, now may be the time to move forward on your bright idea for the next generation and make this potentially profitable business a reality.

8. Shared accessories and attire

Sites like Rent the Runway and Gwynnie Bee have banked on the idea of the sharing economy — where we want and need to own less stuff, so instead, we share resources.

These companies offer borrowed or rented clothing and accessories at a fraction of their purchase prices, and because the same piece of inventory generates revenue multiple times, the profitability of these ventures can be significant. According to a 2023 study by the reselling platform ThredUp, the secondhand-clothing market is projected to nearly double by 2027

Do you have an eye for fashion and a sense of style not currently offered by other rental services? Maybe you’re ready to be the next big thing.

Even if you’re not prepared to launch a multimillion-dollar fashion startup, you can just as easily profit from shared fashion at the local level. Gather some favorite accessories or clothing picks and host a borrowing party — where customers can rent or purchase items from your closet — for high school students before the next formal dance.

If you’re in a college town, Greek life formals are another great opportunity to profit from shared economy fashion. And because you’re taking shipping costs out of the equation, you have the potential to be even more profitable.

9. Shared home improvement equipment

Are you the go-to person in your neighborhood for every lawn, garden and home repair tool? Why not turn those tools into a profitable business by advertising your available equipment beyond your immediate friend group?

You might even decide to invest in more specialized and higher-cost equipment that would be useful to those around you. And if a customer doesn’t know how to use a specific tool, combine equipment rental with your mobile service for even more cash in the bank.

Home improvement spending has increased since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic — and U.S. households spent an average of $13,667 on improvement projects in 2023 alone, according to a study from Angi, a home services marketplace

10. Vacation rentals

If you live in a highly desirable tourist destination, you can make a profit renting space in your home to travelers. Sites like Airbnb or VRBO have made it easier than ever to profit from your unused vacation property — or even your extra bedroom. According to Airbnb, the typical U.S. host makes approximately $14,000 a year

It’s not too difficult to become an Airbnb host, and the demand for these types of rentals has only grown in recent years. In 2022, 394 million nights and experiences were booked on Airbnb — up from 301 million nights in 2021

11. Electronics repair

According to the Pew Research Center, as of 2023, 90% of Americans own a smartphone

That means that when something goes wrong, people want help fixing it as soon as possible. This makes electronics repair a potentially lucrative business idea. According to a 2024 report from the Business Research Company, the global electronics repair and maintenance market is expected to grow from about $8.69 billion in 2022 to $9.88 billion in 2028

With this service, you could be the solution for every broken iPhone screen, Wi-Fi card and laptop battery. And you might be even more successful if you’re willing to travel to your customer. Apple stores and other electronics retailers have come under fire over the past few years for long customer wait times, which could work in favor of mobile providers.

Although a mobile electronics repair business involves some overhead in the form of purchasing supplies, being mobile saves you from having to pay the costs associated with a physical location.

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12. Academics courses

Online entrepreneurs can offer courses through educational platforms or independently on their own websites. The U.S. e-learning market has accelerated growth since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and is predicted to reach nearly $170 billion in 2030, according to a 2023 report by Renub Research

You might start your business by providing courses in traditional academics, offering online instruction in grade-level reading, math, science, history or standardized test preparation. You could even create a review course for parents helping teens with their algebra homework. If you’re creative, the possibilities are truly endless.

And academic courses don’t have to end at the high school or even college level. You can create an online course to share your love of political history, Buddhist theology or rocket science. If you’re interested in a particular subject, chances are someone else is, too.

13. Language courses

Currently, one-fifth of U.S. families speak one other language, apart from English — based on data from the Census Bureau

So whether you take to the online education space with expertise in English, or you harness your mastery of Swahili, there’s likely someone out there who wants to learn a language from you.

And if you speak one of the most in-demand languages, such as Mandarin, Spanish or Arabic, then online-based language courses could be one of your most profitable business ideas.

14. Business or marketing courses

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, participation in career-focused online courses has grown significantly, especially as more employees look to change jobs or work from home. For instance, education technology platform Udemy gained 10 million new global learners from 2022 to 2023, spanning 134 million course enrollments

Companies have expanded or launched new coverage for tuition reimbursement in recent years, meaning workers have money to spend on these types of classes. According to the Society for Human Resource Management’s 2023 Employee Benefits Survey, 48% of employers offer tuition assistance, 87% cover costs for professional memberships and 78% pay for employees’ certifications or recertifications

If you have career skills to share, you can start creating online courses with few initial costs. Popular course topics include bookkeeping, QuickBooks accounting software, WordPress web development, graphic design or even how to write a great cover letter or resume.

15. Personal wellness

Are you a therapist or counselor, a yoga instructor, a life coach or a longtime meditator? If you have a deep passion for personal wellness, you might be able to help others — while also earning a significant income.

For example, a report from the Yoga Alliance found 38.4 million Americans (11% of the population) practiced yoga in 2022; up 4.6% from 2016. These Americans spent over $21 billion on yoga in 2022 alone

Like many of the options on our list, as long as you have the knowledge, the costs to start a personal wellness business are low.

Every person has a desire to better themselves, and that’s what online courses are all about. If you have this expertise to share, you could turn your knowledge into a profitable business.

16. Courses in hobbies or interests

While many courses are designed to further an education or career prospects or to promote major life changes, you can just as easily design an online course around any hobby or interest.

Do you have a passion for calligraphy or craft brewing? Have you mastered a certain video game? You’d be surprised at the number of people willing to pay to learn about topics they’re interested in. Some of the bestselling courses on the popular online learning platform Udemy include web development, digital marketing, ethical hacking, stock trading and WordPress — and they sell for up to $200 per class

Not sure how to start designing your own online course? Well, there are even online courses for creating your own online course. You can use one of these courses to propel your own online course business.

17. Bookkeeping and accounting

Accounting and bookkeeping are unavoidable requirements of business ownership. But for many entrepreneurs, money management is the most tedious part of owning a business; that’s why some business owners choose to outsource those tasks.

Whether you’re a certified public accountant or just a QuickBooks wizard, you might be the perfect candidate to launch your own bookkeeping business. With accounting firms seeing a growth rate of 9.1% in net revenue from 2021 to 2022 (up from a 4.2% growth rate in 2020), bookkeeping, accounting, tax preparation and payroll services have long been some of the most profitable businesses for entrepreneurs

As a bookkeeper, you can process invoices and payroll, compile expense reports and more. If you have a CPA license, you can help business owners file taxes, generate balance sheets and other accounting documents, as well as make professional recommendations about your client’s bottom line.

18. Consulting

If you’ve been in the business world for a long time, folks may be clamoring for your knowledge and expertise within your industry. Why not turn all that know-how into a new career as an independent consultant?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, demand for consulting services is expected to increase, particularly among smaller companies that deal in specialized industries or business functions. Employment of management analysts, which includes consultants across different industries, is projected to grow 10% from 2022 to 2032 — faster than average for all occupations

As an independent consultant, you can be paid to speak at industry conferences or events, serve on a board of advisors for a fledgling business, or lend your expertise to shape the strategy of an existing business on a contract basis.

19. IT support

Our reliance on technology makes IT support just as profitable a business idea as electronics repair and other tech businesses — especially considering employment of IT professionals is projected to grow 5% from 2022 to 2032, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics

If technology comes easily to you — and you’re a relatively patient person — then the most profitable business for you might be hitting the road, at least in your neighborhood, with mobile IT support. You can offer a service to combat the chat or phone support typically offered by technology manufacturers, which often includes long wait times and leaves customers with unanswered questions.

All you need is time, transportation and your own know-how, so this low-overhead business model could be almost pure profit.

20. Graphic design

As the number of brands vying for consumers’ attention grows, a slick and polished image has become more important than ever for small businesses.

And although, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment for graphic designers is expected to grow only 3% from 2022 to 2032, there are opportunities out there, especially for graphic designers who are self-employed

Do you know your way around Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign? Have you taken a few design classes, and do you have an eye for good branding? Turn your skills into a business as a freelance graphic designer. You’ll have almost no overhead and can help small-business owners create awesome marketing graphics.

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21. Social media management

These days, customers expect a business to have a strong social media presence and to be responsive to customer service issues on social media.

Although many small-business owners know they need to engage in social media marketing, few have the necessary time or expertise to manage all of their social media accounts.

If you’re fluent in Twitter, live your life on Facebook and have gotten every job you’ve ever had through LinkedIn, you might consider turning your social media expertise into your own solopreneur business venture — offering support to business owners who need help managing their brands’ social media platforms.

As long as you have your own laptop, smartphone and social media accounts, there are few costs to getting started, and job growth in the industry is projected to increase 6% from 2022 to 2032 — faster than average for all other occupations

22. Marketing copywriter

If you’re particularly adept with words, you can use your talents to write copy for various companies’ marketing efforts. According to an Industry Research report, the global digital content creation market is expected to increase at a compound annual growth rate of 9.5% from 2023 to 2030

Whether you’re coining a catchy slogan or writing an in-depth description of a company’s offerings, if you’re doing it as an independent contractor, you’ll have very few startup costs. Once you get started and build relationships with clients, you’ll quickly be able to earn a profit for your services.

23. Virtual assistant services

With more employees working from home, and with teams spread out across different locations and time zones, businesses can benefit from an assistant who is just as flexible as they are. There’s no longer the need to meet with a client every day in an office — you can work as an assistant from New York when your client lives in Florida.

According to ZipRecruiter, the average remote virtual assistant in the U.S. makes $50,749 a year

Plus, all you need is a laptop and an internet connection to start this business.

How to start a profitable business

These ideas for profitable businesses span a variety of industries and involve varying time commitments and startup costs. Before you can earn any profit, however, you’ve got to get your business off the ground.

Here are three steps to help you get started:

1. Do your research

Whether you choose one of the ideas here or come up with something on your own, do your research before committing to any concept. You’ll want to perform idea validation, a process that involves market and competitor research, as well as a financial feasibility analysis to help test your business idea and determine whether you want to move forward with your business proposal.

2. Get organized and make it official

Once you’ve chosen a strong business idea, you’re ready to create a thorough business plan. Your business plan will outline your company’s goals — and how you’ll achieve them — as well as provide a roadmap for you (and potential investors) to follow for the next three to five years.

After you’ve written your business plan, you can take the necessary steps to make your small business official. You’ll choose a business structure, apply for an employer identification number, register your “Doing Business As” name (if necessary) and get the business licenses and registrations you need to open your doors.

3. Find the right financing

It can be difficult for startups to qualify for some traditional business loans, as they often require multiple years of business history for approval. Instead, new business owners might consider startup funding options, such as microloans, grants, crowdfunding, or asking friends or family for an investment.

Business credit cards are also an option for short-term financing, especially for everyday business purchases. With a business credit card, you can earn perks and rewards on your spending, as well as start building a business credit history.

See how to get your business started quickly

A version of this article originally appeared on JustBusiness, a subsidiary of NerdWallet.

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