We often think of small businesses as made up of a closely-knit team of professionals and entrepreneurs, but small scale business ideas are so small they have a payroll of one. We consulted some experts and wrote a list of business ideas to look at if you’re interested in a career or side-hustle you can take complete ownership over and run yourself.
11 Small Scale Business Ideas
Making an effective business plan is one of the most important steps in starting with any small scale business idea. On that note we’ve compiled 11 small business possibilities you might find inspiring.
1. Freelance Writing
“I started my freelancing business about 7 years ago as a side venture while teaching. Since then, I quit teaching, started running my own blogs, and have continued to freelance for bigger and better publications.
“The great thing about freelance writing, is it can all be done remotely online. You find people who need web copy written for their sites, or even publications who need articles written for their readers. I began by partnering with a digital marketing company.
They had clients who needed ghostwriters to create their business blog content. It was a great way to keep recurring business coming in each month. Once I had a portfolio of writing, I started going after larger clients and publications. Today, I’ve had my writing featured on VICE, Engadget, TechHive, and more.
“I’ve also used my freelancing skills on my own websites. Most recently, I created SleepZoo.com, a site dedicated to helping people find the best inexpensive mattresses on the web.”
-Chris Brantner, founder of SleepZoo.com
Everyone needs writers and there are a substantial amount of freelance writing jobs available online for anyone with a talent for communication and skill with the written word. As Brantner suggests, aspiring freelance writers should build their portfolio through projects like writing their own blogs and then apply to job listings online at sites like Freelance Writing Jobs or ProBlogger.
2. Public Relations Management
“I have been running a single-person public relations business for many years now. The main reason why I am qualified to do so is that I had previously received great training while working 10 years at a small PR firm. I was mentored by a very seasoned boss, who personally taught me the ropes. In that environment I got to wear many hats, and I learned how to successfully run a business from the ground up.
“Currently I do 95% of the hand-on work. To help round things out, I hire other independents from time to time such as a social media expert, media distribution person, IT specialist, photographer, graphic designer, and printer. This works out very well.”
-Rhonda Rees, founder of Rhonda Rees Public Relations Company
You don’t have to learn a new career to go into business for yourself. Instead, it’s a good idea to look at how you can turn the experience that you’ve had into an asset. Think about what skills you’ve developed that you can use as a solo contractor, and don’t be afraid to hire or be hired by other independents as you help each other round out your services.
3. Affiliate Marketing
“Affiliate marketing, in which you promote others’ products for a commission, is a special e-commerce industry because a profitable business can be created, launched and sustained by a single individual. After the initial set up for your website, it essentially runs on autopilot. In the simplest version of affiliate marketing, you collect emails on a single page site, then create promotional emails to be sent to those emails through an automated service.
When folks make purchases through your links, you earn a nice commission with very little effort. If your affiliate marketing niche starts to dwindle, simply move to another niche. Or add another niche even if your current website is doing well. There’s no limit to how many niche affiliate marketing websites you could create and profits you could earn.”
-Simon Slade, CEO and Co-founder of SaleHoo
Running a solo business takes hard work, but sometimes that work can reap benefits over time. With affiliate marketing you can build a website and set up an automated process that will pay off over an extended period as customers use your links and make purchases.
4. Website Development
“I own a freelance business that I entirely run by myself.
“First thing I did was learn how to code and make websites. Then, I made my own website offering my services and showcased a portfolio of side projects I had completed. Through word of mouth, clients finding my website and going to networking events, I was able to build a client base. Then, I made the websites.
“Building websites is very profitable. On average, one project is around $2,400 and the business expenses involve a computer and website domain/hosting which runs about $82 a year.”
–Katelyn Cresmer, website developer
Like freelance writing and most other contract work, breaking into solo web development entails building a portfolio and body of work to showcase your skills, applying for jobs, and networking to find more clients.
Cresmer is wise to also mention the economic side of web development. With any solo-owned business it’s doubly important to do the math and make sure that your expenses line up so that you still make a profit.
5. Professional Cleaning
“I work for a small professional cleaning company based in East Brunswick NJ. Cleaning as a profession always seems to start out with one person who has the drive to make it work for them. When this company first started out over 5 years ago, our CEO Ms. Maany Silva was a one person operation.
She had a service vehicle wrapped, company branded t-shirt, and some business cards when she first started. She spotted her vehicle in busy grocery store parking lots and waited. She was able to get clients on the very first day due to her clever branding and marketing strategy.
As a cleaning professional, it was easy to handle jobs as they came in. She was able to answer phones, book jobs, clean clients homes, send invoices, order and maintain supplies, and keep track of everything all by herself.
“As her business grew and expanded, that’s when she decided that she would need to hire help. This was about a year or so into starting her business. She thought long and hard before she decided to hire on more help. She knew that the proof of concept was solid and it was ready to
“Professional cleaning can be done by one person and be very successful. It all depends on each person’s goals and what they hope to achieve. Do they want this to be part time to just supplement their income? Do they want it to be full time but not have to work too much? Or do they want to build an empire of a business and expand?”
-Aziza Hana, Office Manager at 10BUCKSAROOM
Not all solo-owned small business are digital, and cleaning services are a great example of a solo business that provides a service you can’t conduct over email. Whatever your small business, marketing is an important part of your business plan.
Word of mouth is well and good, but you’ll need to decide how to make sure customers know about your business and remember it’s name whether or not they’ve been referred to you. With enough success you may have the opportunity to expand your business beyond a solo operation like the founder of 10BUCKSAROOM did.
6. Running a Facebook Page
“Here’s a simple one. Running a Facebook Page on your hobby or passion.
“For example, I have setup a new page about dachshunds. We recently got a new puppy. And he’s my 3rd doxie. The 2nd with the wife. And I had picked up some tips on how to increase organic engagement on Facebook.
Though I have spent a small budget to get initial fans. Which is still the best bargain in marketing history. Compared to running a blog and depending upon SEO that may take years before you see any meaningful traffic, getting an audience on a Facebook page through paid likes is a no-brainer. As long as you are targeting actual people in your niche.
The key to the business is re-resharing content in your niche that people have already expressed that they like on Facebook onto your page. Memes, photos, videos and articles. Just like you already do with your friends.
That increases natural engagement on your page. And then you make money by either promoting affiliate links, arranging for sponsorships or selling products you make such as t-shirts.
It’s simple. It’s relatively cheap. And by focusing on your hobby or passion – you will enjoy it. And it’s very easy to do as a 1 person business.”
Mark Wilcox, founder of Doxie Lovers
Running a Facebook page is easy and inexpensive compared to many of the items on this list and yet can prove to be a lucrative side hustle once your page becomes large enough to justify selling merchandising and advertising space.
It can also be a lot of fun. Your Facebook page should be about something you enjoy and are passionate about, whether it’s animals, art, humor, movies, or the great outdoors.
7. Be a Photographer
“I am a small business owner *and *a ‘solopreneur’, if you will. I started my business as a wedding photographer and have now scaled to include e-courses on marketing for other solopreneurs. When I was working solely as a wedding photographer I was making a gross income of about 40-50k/year. I now make about 70k/year and am quickly scaling so I estimate breaking 6 figures in the second quarter of next year.
“As for the starting + running of the business. I outlined the blueprint of what my business should look like as far as services/products, then built those services/products and the workflows surrounding them. My business is HUGE on getting a workflow down then automating as much as possible through online services such as Trello, If This Then That, and Honeybook.”
–Ashley Braswell, Wedding Photographer
The internet is an excellent resource for small businesses even if, like wedding photography, your business is not one that can be conducted completely online. Online services like Trello, Honeybook, and If This Then That lighten the workload and make your business easier to manage.
8. Online Teaching
“I run my Business Tenlis Education. Tenlis Education is an online platform for individuals between the ages of 10-65 trying to acquire a second language (English). The business is run by myself on my home laptop. I conduct general English Conversation classes online through various outlets such as Skype. And, I create teaching and learning materials that can be purchased by teachers and students for a low cost. The business is very easy to run and I have control of my daily schedule.”
-Geneva Pugh, CEO/President of Tenlis Education.
Working online takes a lot of discipline, since you have to keep yourself motivated and manage your time effectively. However, working from home gives you the opportunity to be more flexible with your schedule and work environment. Doubly so when working from home as a solo business owner.
The effort running a business by yourself requires isn’t for everyone, but many entrepreneurs will find the freedom being in control of an entire small business entails appealing.
9. Digital Memorialist
“I have an interesting business that I run. I am a digital memorialist. I manage social media accounts for families who have had loved ones pass away.
“The idea is this: people die, but their social media profile is left up online forever. I take over the accounts, making them into memorials with messages from the family, and comment moderation. I also craft reports of comments that people have given that week about that person, or pictures posted and send it to the family as part of the healing process.
“I run my business on my own and I only needed a website to start. So far my total costs have been about $150 (a year subscription to a website and a few dollars thrown into online advertising).”
-Danielle Radin, Kind Years
Finding a unique niche will help your small business become a success. What services can you provide that are different from what else is available on the market? Digital memorialist is a fairly uncommon job idea, yet Radin has found a quality niche by providing a unique and valuable service that genuinely benefits her clients.
10. Ecommerce Sales
“I have just started a business by myself and after 5 weeks I’m already profiting from it. I have a full time corporate job but I wanted to start my own business and found that an online dropshipping business was the best fit for me because it costs virtually nothing to get started.
“My side job is an online store selling electric bicycles (ebikes), I started a store called eBike Generation which you can find at www.ebikegeneration.com, I sell products that I do not own nor ever even touch. I set up agreements with ebike manufacturers that allow me to sell their products on my store.
The manufacturer/supplier dictates what price it will cost me and what price I can sell them for to the public. When I get a sale I forward the order to the manufacturer which then fulfills the order by shipping it to my customer. I don’t pay for the bike until after I’ve received an order so I never have to pay for inventory nor require a showroom or warehouse. So this business makes the most sense for me.
Website costs $29/month and I could spend anywhere between $300 -$500 a month on advertising on Google. after 5 weeks I’ve earned more than I’ve spent so it’s working, and the beauty of this model is once everything is set up, website, products loaded to the website and Google Ads running the maintenance is only about 30 minutes to an hour a day so if it’s a success I can rinse and repeat the process with a second or third store since the maintenance is very low.
My end goal is to do this full time, have multiple stores and live a location independent lifestyle needing only a laptop and iphone to conduct business. My market is the US and I do all this from Italy where I live.”
-John Murphy, founder of eBike generation
E-commerce has made selling things people across the world easier and more accessible to the small business owner than ever before. Solo entrepreneurs can easily create their own site with the help of e-commerce platforms like Shopify and BigCommerce, and can even collaborate with larger e-commerce marketplaces like Amazon. It’s usually a good idea to do both.
11. Uber Driver
Lastly, a solo run business that you don’t have to build from the ground up. Uber changed the face of transportation with their apps that allow a framework linking paying passengers with drivers who can get them where they need to go. Uber drivers are technically independent contractors, who provide their own cars and can set their own schedules, and strategize the most effective ways to make money transporting passengers.
Most Uber drivers use Uber as a side job, but some drivers have been able to drive with Uber full-time. Even (or perhaps especially) if you’re just interested in supplemental income, Uber is worth taking a look at. You can read more about becoming an uber driver.
The Smart Hack
The freedom and flexibility running a small business entails are only increased when that business consists of only one employee: you. The work and discipline required to run a solo business are also increased. Fortunately, there are all kinds of opportunities to create a wide range of solo businesses out there, from teacher to cleaner and from salesman to content creator.
Anyone interested in launching a solo business from their small scale business ideas should develop a plan of what services they will provide, and how they will market those services. Fortunately none of these plans need to be very ambitious, especially at the beginning. Many of the most succesfull businesses begin as side jobs and even attempts to monetize hobbies. Get yourself out there, you never know what might take off!