19 Best Businesses to Start
This article is part of a larger series on Starting a Business.
While the pandemic threw up roadblocks for employees and businesses, it also presents game-changing shifts across sectors, posing opportunities in industries that are on the road to a resurgence. Aspiring entrepreneurs now have countless tempting options for starting a low-investment, high-profit business from home.
Here are 19 of the best businesses to start in 2021 (unless otherwise noted, industry growth and revenue stats come from IBISWorld):
1. Utilities & Renewable Energy
In the broadest sense, we think of utilities as residential and commercial water, electricity, oil, and gas. But there’s much more opportunity here for an entrepreneur than meets the eye. The utilities industry was the least affected industry by the COVID pandemic, meaning it was the most resilient, sustainable, and stalwart industry in the face of the worst socio-economic crisis in the US since World War II.
So, where in the massive, broad, monopolized utilities industry is there room for an entrepreneur? That would be in the warp-speed growth sector of renewable energy, which offers several benefits.
- Anyone can learn it and become an expert. You don’t need a degree or certification in renewable energy to learn it, apply it, and start a business that utilizes renewable energy principles.
- You can sell products for revenue. As a supplier of renewable energy products, an entrepreneur can retail or wholesale renewable and utility-reducing products in a number of categories:
- Home design – landscaping, windows, doors and skylights, roofing, and solar panels that reduce energy usage and utility costs
- Heating and cooling – thermostats, ducts, and heat pumps
- Weatherization – insulation, vapor barriers, weather stripping, and caulking
- Electricity and fuel – energy-efficient water heaters, advanced power strips, and lighting like daylight bulbs
A renewable energy entrepreneur’s business can involve installation, repair, and maintenance of the above products. Learn more about renewable energy and utility products at the U.S. Department of Energy site.
- Sell services for revenue. There are entire companies that are built on renewable energy and utility consulting and sales. Even if you don’t have a product to sell, you can sell renewable energy and utilities expertise, advice, and information as a service.
There’s no end in sight to the green and sustainable energy movement in the US, and the opportunity to get in on the ground floor is bright. Utilities industry profit as a whole is expected to grow at an annualized rate of 2.3% over the next five years. Working with consumers to minimize their impact on global warming while keeping more money in their pockets is profitable and altruistic. Learn more about renewable energy entrepreneurship from Energy Central, or check out this Coursera course offered by Duke University.
2. Finance & Insurance
Another industry that has only been slightly impacted by the pandemic is that of finance and insurance services. In fact, industry revenue from 2016 to 2021 reached an annualized rate of 2.7%, only slightly higher than the 2.6% annual growth forecast over the next five years. This is due in part to future forecasts of improved consumer confidence, increased per capita disposable income, increased corporate profit, and rises in interest rates and access to credit, all of which have a positive impact on industry growth and sustainability.
Finance and insurance services are relatively easy to deliver from a home office, online, or otherwise remotely—not to mention that the breadth of services and customer markets can be nearly unlimited for a skilled entrepreneur. A business that starts out offering insurance can expand to offer a wide variety of financial products and services to a vast array of clientele, including a selection of insurance types, credit intermediation, lending and banking services, money management, securities services, commodity contract services, and other financial investment advising.
There’s no shortage of product, service, and clientele options, as indicated by booming industry revenue of $5.2 trillion.
3. Company & Enterprise Management
Only minorly affected by the pandemic, the Management of Companies and Enterprises sector job creation outlook continues to rise modestly but steadily. And it makes sense: While companies struggled amid the pandemic, management consultants and advisers were more of a boon to the economy than ever before.
This is another broad category that can be what you make it. Services offered under this large umbrella include advising in areas such as organizational design, human resources, corporate strategy, information technology, marketing and sales, and finance and logistics. And again, as with finance and insurance services, there’s really no cap on the type, size, or number of businesses you can work with, including businesses large and small, nonprofits, and public sector and government agencies.
With consistent positive growth of 1.6% from 2016 to 2026, you can offer up your unique knowledge, background, and skills to get in on this healthy industry.
4. Automotive Services
There’s no arguing that businesses deemed “essential” over the past year-and-a-half struggled slightly less than the rest. For such businesses, like automotive services, growth and opportunity present themselves to the aspiring entrepreneur. As an essential service, pandemic or otherwise, demand for automotive services is expected to increase over typical rates through the rest of 2021. As some workers re-enter the workforce or start heading back to the office, long-latent vehicular issues will surface, pressing drivers to get their vehicles serviced.
The expense of opening an automotive repair or service establishment depends on the equipment, manpower, and physical space required to meet demand. Check your local zoning laws to see if you can operate this kind of business from your home or garage; otherwise, you may need to purchase or lease a building or existing shop. Talk with your local small business development center (SBDC) to get a helpful checklist for automotive service businesses in your state, like this example for Ohio Motor Vehicle Repair businesses.
Now here’s a business you may not have expected to see on this list. As odd as it sounds, the chicken business has truly taken flight in the last couple of years. This is partly due to the rousing success of Chick-fil-A, but also rising incomes and a shift away from beef in the US. According to the GrubHub 2020 State of the Plate report, popularity of the spicy chicken sandwich in the US increased by nearly 300% in 2020.
Not only does this present an opportunity for independent chicken retail, wholesale, and hospitality, but it’s a fair case for franchising one of the many popular chicken franchises in the US, including Bojangles’ Famous Chicken ‘n Biscuits, Bonchon, Buffalo Wild Wings, Church’s Chicken, Popeye’s, and KFC to name a few. These pricey franchises can run you $350,000 and up in startup costs, but there’s something to be said for a proven, appetizing business model.
6. Cleaning & Restoration
At a time when cleanliness equals safety and good health, the cleaning and restoration market is worth consideration. This can mean residential cleaning services, commercial and janitorial services, carpet and upholstery cleaning, and even disaster cleanup. COVID prompted all new standards of “clean” among airlines, gyms, car rental companies, hotels, restaurants, and office buildings, meaning lots of potential new business for agile entrepreneurs, in addition to residential cleaning and restoration opportunities. Cleaning industry associations have even published all-new protocols and certifications as a direct result of COVID. Rising disposable income and an aging population are also causal to the growth of this industry.
Because a cleaning business can be easily operated from home, presents extremely low startup costs, and is highly scalable, it should be an appealing opportunity for any aspiring entrepreneur. See our comprehensive guide to starting a cleaning company.
Healthcare is another broad category that can suit the skills, education, and experience of many types of potential entrepreneurs. Because we’re discussing fitness and nutritional health later on, this section will focus on general traditional and alternative healthcare.
This industry is characterized by traditional in-hospital healthcare, inpatient and outpatient care, ambulatory services, nursing and residential care facilities, in-home care, counselors, psychologists and social workers, and diagnostic services, among many others.
In the wake of 2020, there is no shortage of demand for traditional healthcare services, considering various hospitals continue to be short-staffed and at one point were shortcutting medical students to assist in serving COVID patients. Currently on a growth trajectory, the medical field is facing an aging population, improved efficiencies thanks to technology, and increased investment that promises to bolster continued industry growth.
Expected to grow at an annualized rate of 2.7% over the next five years (compared to the growth rate of traditional healthcare of 1.5%), alternative healthcare is truly booming as more wellness and preventive services are accepted by conventional medicine and covered by health insurance. Composed of a wide variety of services, this industry is represented by 250,000 small to medium-sized businesses in the US.
For alternative health practitioners, the industry’s appeal is not just limited to favorable growth factors: Barriers to entry in this industry are low and practitioners can set up in a wide variety of rented spaces for relatively little investment aside from necessary licenses, certifications, and education.
8. Home Improvement
The home improvement category presents opportunities for various types of potential home improvement entrepreneurs: repair people, contractors, retailers, store owners, distributors, consultants, and more. IBISWorld notes that revenue for home improvement retailers increased an astronomical 13% during 2020 due to increased demand from do-it-yourselfers and professionals as private spending on various home improvements expanded.
The future market for home improvement will lean more residential, as more homeowners roll up their sleeves and turn to YouTube rather than their local construction company. However, some segments of the home improvement industry still require professional installation, maintenance, and service, such as electrical, plumbing, roofing, and flooring.
Depending on how much you’re willing to invest, consider your strengths to determine whether you would want to consult, sell products, or render services to homeowners and professionals alike. There are also a variety of services that appeal to the home seller, and in a booming real estate market like this, home improvements are as much for the future owner of the home as for the current one.
9. Pet Care
If you have a passion for animals, you need only to take an inventory of your skills and how they could translate into a profitable business in the pet care industry. This $7.1 billion industry is expected to grow at an exponential rate of 8.2% annually from 2020 to 2025. This makes sense considering 67% of American homes include a pet. Better yet, the average pet-owning household spends $1,126 on their pets each year.
These stats alone indicate a continuously growing industry ripe for some new business. Some of the easiest pet-related enterprises to start include pet grooming (including mobile), daycare, pet sitting, boarding, training, pet transportation, and dog walking. Note that any business that will require significant space, liability, inventory, or employees (like a veterinarian practice, a place-based pet rescue, or a pet resort) will also require much more substantial investment than a strictly service-based business.
10. Tech Services
If technology wasn’t already integral to daily life, the pandemic has made it our go-to method for communication, productivity, scheduling, paying bills, research, and purchasing goods and services on a daily basis. And all of those activities depend on our devices: phones, tablets, and computers.
Depending on how advanced your skills are and the depth of your experience, there is justifiable demand for repair services, troubleshooting, setup services, design of custom software solutions and support, planning and integration of software systems, and on-site management and operations of IT systems.
While residential demand exists for these services, the scale of demand is significantly higher in business-to-business opportunities—not to mention that companies like Best Buy’s Geek Squad, Apple Support and Apple Repair have cornered a good portion of the residential tech support market. The best part about starting a business of this nature is that all you need are the necessary computer systems and security to support and protect your business activities, products, and services offered.
One choice an entrepreneur ought to make when evaluating these business ideas is whether they want to participate on an existing platform as a type of freelancer (such as Upwork or Fiverr), or if you’d rather start something from scratch. Starting a tutoring business may involve this choice.
With tutoring and educational support services on the rise, especially with the ease of accessing educators across the globe with the click of a button, there are countless opportunities for an aspiring tutor to offer their services on a massive database such as Tutor.com or Chegg (which together, according to IBISWorld, own about 8% of the online tutoring industry market share). The alternative is to make your own way as a tutor by building a reputation, a web presence, a marketing campaign, and a methodology, among other things, depending on whether your services are in person, online, or a combination of both.
There’s always the option of walking before running: Start tutoring based on a local reputation and networking. If it grows, great! If not, you can always fall back on a robust tutoring database to make some extra cash.
12. Tourism & Travel Planning
Unsurprisingly, 2020 was a truly brutal year for the overall travel industry, which includes everything from airlines and car rental services to cruise lines and theme parks. However, equally unsurprisingly, tourism in general is expected to rebound—and then some—in the coming year at a rate of nearly 70%. So where is the opportunity? The opportunity is technically spread across the tourism industry, but opening a casino or accumulating a fleet of rental vehicles can be cost-prohibitive. A nice little corner of the market for the wanderlust entrepreneur is in travel planning, which typically means tapping into all of these sectors of tourism.
Even up against massive online competitors like Expedia, the travel agency business is estimated to grow at an annualized rate of 10.9% through 2026. Not to mention that all you really need to get started is gumption, good communication skills, a computer, and a phone. Tours and packaged travel bookings account for the largest share of industry revenue at 25.8% this year.
13. Online Courses & Education
Are you an expert in anything? Have you ever wanted to dispense your knowledge in an online workshop? The barriers to entry for sharing your wisdom in an online class have never been lower. Not only are there a wide variety of online platforms to choose from, but you can also strike out on your own with a brand, a website, a YouTube channel, and a message!
Once again, this is a low-cost business to start, but the expense will be in the form of sweat equity and the time, energy, research, and instructional design you’ll need to pour into these courses. There are even platforms for creatives to show-and-tell artistic pursuits and on-demand projects to their virtual students, so if you’ve ever felt like you should be the one teaching a topic in an online video, now might be the time to make it happen.
14. Social Media & Ad Management
Lots of businesses, large and small, find social media intimidating, don’t know where to begin, or both. So, many of them hire someone to do that for them. Some companies have an entire department to manage their social media content and advertising (e.g., Facebook advertising), while others (with a smaller budget) may outsource to a social media expert to handle their brand’s presence on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, TikTok—the whole gamut. It’s too important to phone in as 74% of consumers utilize social media to inform their purchasing decisions.
Digital advertising isn’t going anywhere; in fact, the newest, youngest market segment of Generation Z makes up 27% of the US population, and traditional advertising won’t get you anywhere with them. They respond to effective marketing campaigns carried out on Instagram and Snapchat, which, when done well, is successful digital marketing and social media strategy. All you need are social media skills, marketing and communication skills, and the hardware and software necessary to deliver a stellar digital campaign.
15. Virtual Assistant (VA)
Virtual assisting is a business where the sky’s the limit. You can own, operate, and exist as a sole proprietor, choosing your clients and setting your hours, or you can eventually grow to own a virtual assisting company in which you employ, staff, and hire out your VAs. Sometimes also known as a concierge, a VA usually assists a small business or entrepreneur with time-consuming, productivity-reducing tasks like emailing, data entry, updating documents, scheduling, or sending invoices.
As we continue to be tech-dependent and just generally harried, the VA industry will grow on par at a comfortable rate of 2.9% annually through 2026. Requiring little capital investment and showing healthy revenue growth, a VA business can be a natural fit for an organized, detail-oriented, flexible, strong communicator.
Coupled with the exponential growth projected for home improvement in general is the sector of outdoor home improvement or landscaping. Thanks to the boom in construction and the rebounding economy, landscaping and landscaping architecture is expected to flourish in the coming years at a rate of 2% per year.
Starting a landscaping business can be very affordable if your labor is the main service on offer, but for large and commercial jobs, you’ll need an advance to purchase inventory and hire labor. Even a very small lawn care business can pay dividends of up to $60,000 a year. Start small, work your local contacts, and have the skills to back it all up, and this industry could pose a very attractive opportunity.
17. Bed-and-Breakfast or Airbnb
The expense this business type will run you depends on how much you’re willing and wanting to invest for the payout. Zoning permitting, a bed-and-breakfast or Airbnb can be operated out of your home. A substantial investment might mean purchasing a building to act as the bed-and-breakfast or Airbnb or Vacasa rental unit, house, or apartment. What is undeniable, though, is the anticipated annual growth rate for the industry, which is 4.9% through the year 2026, with 47% of that industry revenue attributable to bed-and-breakfasts specifically.
If you have the property, the entrepreneurial skills, and a cook in the family, a bed-and-breakfast can be a profitable enterprise. The average B&B offers six rooms and brings in an average income of $135,000 a year. Most (83%) of these innkeepers live on the property. An entrepreneur who also happens to be in the market for a new home could easily pay the mortgage on $135,000 a year.
18. Weight Loss Services
Admittedly, 87.5% of the weight loss services industry market share is spoken for by major weight loss service companies. However, the remaining market share is distributed among some 23,000 other businesses, so there is room for small businesses to make their mark if they don’t mind the competition.
With the US obesity prevalence at 42.4% of adults in 2018, along with trends toward weight loss and management apps like MyFitnessPal (with recorded 2020 revenue of $128 million), weight loss is clearly desirable for the American consumer.
19. Hair Care Services
Notice the word “services” instead of “salon”—that’s because opening a salon can run a hefty investment. But renting/operating a booth in a salon loft or operating a mobile salon is attainable for the first-time entrepreneur. Spending on personal grooming has been on the upswing in 2021, and trail-blazers like Shortcut are using technology to bring styling services to you in the comfort of your own home. This demand is evidenced by the 5.3% forecast annual revenue growth of the industry.
If you’ve already got the credentials and the street cred, mobile hair care, in-home hair care, or a small step toward booth-based independence is a realistic option for entrepreneurship. Evaluate opportunities and trends to determine how you can carve out a niche for yourself and foster a loyal customer market.
There’s no guide that will tell you which business idea is right for you. We’ve offered up some healthy, growing, high-potential industries to tap into that generally represent low startup costs in the wake of COVID.
Remember that starting and operating from home is the leanest, most cost-effective way to gain some traction before investing more significant resources. A small, home-based business will likely require an up-front investment of personal funds of up to $5,000. Almost all of these businesses can be launched and nurtured from home and grown organically to create something bigger with its own momentum.