16 Small Business Ideas and How to Find Yours

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Starting a small business can be a rewarding process for people who value being in charge of their workplace and enjoy turning their business visions into a reality.

[Featured image] A small business owner stands in front of the checkout counter of their record shop.

As a small business owner, you will have the opportunity to develop your product and service offerings, while maintaining control over business tasks behind the scenes, such as scheduling, marketing, bookkeeping, and hiring. With your small business, ultimately, you get the final say.

A small business owner can benefit from a strong desire to learn, an interest in innovation, or motivation to work toward their ideas of success. According to Zippia, there are 33.2 million small businesses and startups in the United States as of 2023 [1]—and every one of those small businesses started with one thing: an idea.

In this article, you'll explore 16 profitable business ideas. Whether you enjoy working with computers or colors, with others or alone, this list has an idea for you. To cap it off, you'll find tips on how to start your own business and explore cost-effective, online courses that can equip you with the skills you'll need to turn these small business ideas into your next big accomplishment.

Small business vs. side hustle

A small business is “an independent business having fewer than 500 employees” [1]. Running a small business can be a person’s full-time job, or it can be something they do in addition to another job that serves as their primary employment—at which point it becomes a side hustle.

In this article, we’ll focus on small businesses that people often treat as full-time jobs.


Small business ideas

The first step toward launching your own small business is knowing the type of business you’d like to launch. Use this list as a starting point for your own creativity. Here are a few questions to consider as you read through the options below:

  • What skills do you already have, and what are you interested in learning more about?

  • What kinds of tasks do you enjoy doing?

  • Do you have any limiting factors to consider, such as scheduling blocks or start-up costs?

*All annual salary data is sourced from Glassdoor as of August 2023.

1. IT/computer consultant

An IT or computer consultant helps other small businesses set up and fix their computer systems. Often, these other businesses won’t have internal IT departments, so when they run into an issue, they’ll call their consultant. An IT consulting business may also deal with computer vendors when clients require new systems or parts for repair.

Good for people who like: building and fixing computers

Requires: tool set, local travel, some physical strength

Average total annual salary (US): $85,924

2. Repair person

Just about everything requires some maintenance from time to time, whether it’s clogged gutters, a leaky faucet, or a gate that won’t latch closed. A repair person fixes issues around the home or workplace. These can range from odd jobs all the way to more specialized problems, like repairing air conditioning systems or installing new water heaters.

Good for people who like: working with their hands, learning how things work, and fixing things

Requires: tool kit, local travel, physical strength, and flexibility

Average total annual salary (US): $51,115

3. Landscaper/gardener

People living in suburban or rural areas will often have yards to maintain, and a landscaper or gardener can help with that. As the owner of your own landscaping business, you may mow the lawn, tend to shrubs, plant flowers, or help manage minor pest problems, such as installing fencing to keep squirrels away from blooming fruits.

Good for people who like: physical work, being outside, and yard design

Requires: landscaping equipment, local travel, and physical strength

Average total annual salary (US): $37,867

4. Cleaning service

Many people opt to hire professional cleaners to help them keep up with dust and grime build-up, having them come clean their home or business weekly or monthly. This type of predictable scheduling can be helpful for people who like to plan ahead. As the owner of your own cleaning business, you may vacuum, dust, and scrub sinks regularly, and offer deep cleaning services for harder-to-reach areas as needed.

Good for people who like: cleaning and organizing

Requires: cleaning supplies, local travel, and maneuverability

Average total annual salary (US): $43,904

5. Professional organizer

Professional organizers help people manage clutter in their homes. They may organize closets, clean out junk drawers, or sort more visible belongings. In dealing with their client’s things, professional organizers may help get rid of things that they no longer need via donation, disposal, or sale, and some specialize in organizing for people living with disabilities or seniors.

Good for people who like: sorting and organizing

Requires: organization supplies (such as bins), local travel, and maneuverability

Average total annual salary (US): $50,301

6. Personal chef

Personal chefs make sure their clients are well-fed, incorporating both their nutritional needs and taste preferences into the menu selections. Personal chefs may work for singular clients, or they may prepare meals for many clients on a daily or weekly basis. It may help to take nutrition courses or cooking classes before becoming a personal chef, though it is not a requirement.

Good for people who like: working in the kitchen and nutrition

Requires: cooking tools, local travel, access to ingredients

Average total annual salary (US): $50,993

7. Interior designer

Interior designers furnish and decorate their clients’ homes, doing everything from selecting paint colors and light fixtures, to filling rooms with furniture and art. Some interior designers also oversee contract work, such as cabinet installation or wall tear-downs. Interior designers may frequently collaborate with other local artists, woodworkers, or furniture crafters to get better deals for their clients, and they’ll often build a roster of reliable contractors.

Good for people who like: design and styling

Requires: people skills and organization

Average total annual salary (US): $73,840

8. Photographer

People often like to hire photographers to capture big events, like birthday parties or weddings, as well as personal moments, such as an engagement or their family’s growth. Some photographers may specialize in one type of event, while others offer a range of services. Either way, photographers play a big creative role in many people’s most special days.

Good for people who like: art direction, artistic expression, and capturing moments

Requires: camera equipment, local travel, and maneuverability

Average total annual salary (US): $43,288

9. Event planner

Event planners help organize and coordinate events such as birthday parties, weddings, and conferences. They work with vendors like caterers and photographers, secure any necessary permits, keep to a schedule from set-up through clean-up, and manage any needs that pop up on the day of the event. Some event planners may also work on virtual events, which includes coordinating digital access and sending guests any physical items they’ll need in order to participate from home.

Good for people who like: hosting and creating memorable moments

Requires: organization, people skills, and travel

Average total annual salary (US): $62,000

10. Bookkeeper

Bookkeepers work with businesses to organize their finances. They may process payroll, invoices, and expense reports. They’ll also track spending and balance bank accounts to make sure all of the business’s money is where they expect it to be. Bookkeepers may be able to work from home if their clients use online banking systems, however some businesses may still process paper invoices, requiring local travel. In some locations, bookkeeping requires a certification.

Good for people who like: balancing checkbooks, math, and budgeting

Requires: the ability to work independently

Average total annual salary (US): $42,365

11. Personal trainer

Personal trainers are exercise partners for people who want to work on their physical health. They may offer private sessions to individual clients or organize group classes as a fitness instructor. Personal trainers typically need a certification to get started, and they may rent space in a gym, set up their own gym, travel to people’s homes, or organize virtual classes online.

Good for people who like: physical activity and working with clients

Requires: certification, physical strength, and exercise equipment

Average total annual salary (US): $71,668

Learn more: How to Become a Fitness Instructor | 10 Tips

12. Life/career coach

A life coach is someone who helps clients change areas of their life, and a career coach is someone who specializes in navigating career changes. Coaches may work with individual clients in private sessions or organize group sessions with clients hoping to achieve similar outcomes. Many coaches will take a class or seek certification before becoming a coach, but that is not a requirement, and coaches might work with clients in person or virtually.

Good for people who like: helping people navigate change

Requires: emotional intelligence

Average total annual salary (US): $61,967

Small business ideas from home

If your ability to travel is limited, you may prefer the option to work from home. Operating a small business from your home may require a computer, internet connection, and sometimes specialty software.

13. Graphic designer

Graphic designers create digital imagery like logos, flyers, or infographics for brands. This work calls for some collaboration between the designer and their clients. As the designer, you will listen to your potential client’s needs, offer your opinions on how to best deliver those needs, and create the assets based on your agreement. You’ll often be working independently while you create graphics, but depending on the project, there may be some back-and-forth required.

Good for people who like: design, visual storytelling, and collaboration

Requires: a computer and a design program, such as Photoshop or Canva

Average total annual salary (US): $47,292

14. Website developer

Website developers build websites for other businesses or individuals, ensuring they have an appropriate web presence. This service blends IT skills with design skills, as you need some knowledge of both in order to create websites that are functional and user-friendly. As a website developer, you will build websites according to your client’s needs and offer suggestions on how to create the best website experience for their users. You may also work with companies that host websites or sell domain names if your client doesn’t yet own a website.

Good for people who like: IT, coding, and design

Requires: a computer with an internet connection

Average total annual salary (US): $82,521

15. Writer

There are many ways to be a writer. For example, you might focus on editorial writing for publications; content, copywriting, or social media management for brands or businesses; or resume writing for individuals. Many writers incorporate a variety of services into their business offerings. Writers who manage their own small business may offer their services on a freelance or contract basis, allowing them to maintain control over the projects they take on and how they spend their time.

Good for people who like: writing and storytelling

Requires: a computer

Average total annual salary (US): $52,904

16. Virtual assistant/administrator

Virtual assistants or administrators are discreet professionals who keep their clients organized. They may manage schedules, sort emails, create itineraries, or help with other digital tasks. Typically, once they onboard a client, they’ll likely work with them consistently for a period of time, opening the potential for long-term, collaborative relationships.

Good for people who like: digital organization and personal collaboration

Requires: a computer with an internet connection

Average total annual salary (US): $43,783

Learn more about working with Microsoft programs with the Microsoft 365 Fundamentals Specialization, available on Coursera. These three courses are designed to familiarize you with Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, commonly used by businesses everywhere.

Starting a successful business

There are many ways to measure the success of a small business, but one widely-accepted success metric is whether your business earns a profit. A profitable business is one that generates more money than it spends. The majority of small businesses are not profitable for the first two or three years in business, but there are some areas that can help you forecast whether your business will become profitable.

1. Know your business costs.

Every business costs some amount of money in order to run. These costs are often split into start-up costs and operating expenses.

  • Start-up costs are upfront expenses that you’ll incur before you can start offering your services. These may include equipment purchases, office space, furniture, insurance, and incorporation fees.

  • Operating expenses are recurring costs that you’ll routinely owe as you run your business. These may include utility bills, transportation, and employee salaries.

Developing a business plan can help you estimate how much money you’ll need to launch and run your business. Once you’ve determined your anticipated business costs, you’ll be able to calculate the amount of money you’ll need in order to launch your business, as well as the amount of money you’ll need to earn each month in order to make a profit. Depending on the amount of money needed to launch, business owners may rely on business loans, personal savings, investments, or a combination of all three to fund their business.

2. Determine the value of your services.

The ability of your business to make a profit will largely depend on the services you are offering and where you are offering them. For example, if you are offering highly specialized and necessary services in an area where the availability of similar services is limited, you’ll be able to charge more for your work.

Additionally, consider variables that may contribute to the overall value you are providing. Being able to complete work quickly may help you earn more money in the same amount of time, or offering higher quality work than your competitors may help you attract more customers.

Conducting market research in the areas you are hoping to run your business and assessing the value of your services can help you forecast the potential profitability of your small business.

Learn more about conducting market research with the Market Research Specialization from the University of California—Davis, available on Coursera.

3. Build your brand.

Whether you're becoming a freelance content writer, a repair person, or a photographer, you'll want to build your brand. Otherwise, how will people know about your talents and services?

Based on your value, figure out what makes you and your personal brand unique. Develop a strategy for outreach, which may include the use of social media platforms, a website, and/or search engine optimization. Get clear on what your niche is. If you're a photographer, are you focused on weddings, promotional events, or fashion photography? Make sure your marketing and brand-building efforts are in line with your target market.

Read more: Brand Marketing: What It Is + How to Create Your Strategy

Next steps

As you consider the skills you want to incorporate into your small business, keep learning about the logistics of your upcoming launch. Wharton’s Entrepreneurship Specialization is designed to guide learners from the ideation process through their business launch, with coursework that covers development, growth, profitability, and more.

Article sources

1. Zippia. “38 Stand-out small business statistics [2022]: How many small businesses are in the United States, https://www.zippia.com/advice/small-business-statistics/." Accessed August 30, 2023.

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