Many people who want to start a side business tend to get stuck on one thing: the idea. Without a good idea jumping out at them, most aspiring entrepreneurs feel like they have a barrier preventing them from beginning to earn on the side.
To get that problem out of the way, we've compiled this list of viable side business ideas. This can help you come up with a great shortlist of side business ideas you can start testing right away.
As you go through the following list, keep in mind the different criteria that make a side business idea worth it. Here’s a quick review:
- Are you solving a painful problem with your side business? The more painful the problem you solve for your customers, and the better your ability to solve it, the greater the chance your side business will thrive.
- Are you proficient in all the skills needed to create, run, and market your side business? If you already have most, if not all, of the skills needed, then you can start now. Otherwise, you should schedule some time to learn.
- Do you have the time and money to create this side business? Since this is a side business, you’re operating on limited time. If a task needs to get done and you don’t have the time for it, completing it will usually mean spending additional funds for hired help or tools.
- Is there a large, accessible, customer base for this business? This depends entirely on the specific niche you’re trying to fill. If there’s enough of them and they have the disposable income to spend on your products and services, then you won’t have to invest as much to reach out to them.
The above questions might appear challenging at first, but they can help narrow down your best options.
With that said, here's a list of potential side businesses that you can begin today. They're organized into six types of categories with a number of the best small side business ideas to considering starting with. I also include related resources to help you get going quickly.
1. Online Shop - Side Business Ideas
One of the best side business ideas is to create an online shop, putting various items up for sale. Here are some ideas of products you can sell, as well as business models you can use to start a side business:
Arts and Crafts
There are many success stories of entrepreneurs who have turned their arts and crafts hobbies into successful online stores. Some of these shops can even become million-dollar successes after a few years, such as Alicia Schaffer of ThreeBirdNest and Starla Tyler of Little Cosmetics.
Many of these shops started via little sales tests, with the artist sharing their work with friends and family, then getting small orders from them. You can sell almost anything from artwork to accessories to items for the home.
This model can be highly competitive, depending on the type of product you sell and the customers you’re targeting. Etsy alone has millions of active sellers competing on the platform.
The more competitive your niche is, the more likely it is that there are ready customers—you just have to produce quality work and market to them better. Because of this, selling arts and crafts means you’ll be investing a lot of time to make and sell enough products to turn a profit.
Unlike the above example, in drop shipping, you rarely have the product in your hands. You’ll be working with a wholesale supplier. It works like this: you set up an online store, a customer buys from the store, their order is sent to the supplier, and the supplier fulfills the order. You get to keep the difference between the wholesale cost and the price you charged for the item in your online store.
What makes drop shipping an attractive idea for a side business is that it’s low risk—you don’t purchase inventory until someone has made an order. Most of the grunt work, such as the packaging and the shipping, is also done by the supplier, so you don’t need to invest too much time on it.
The downside is that because of this, you can’t put your marketing materials in the packaging or control the customer’s experience of unboxing the product. This means that orders are a missed opportunity to build stronger relationships with your customers.
To learn more about making your own online store and drop shipping, check out the following guides:
- How to Start Your Own Online Store (Beginner Guide)Brad Smith07 Jul 2021
- What Is eCommerce?Laura Spencer08 Jul 2021
- 3 eCommerce Fulfillment Options: Which One is Right for Your Business?David Masters10 Sep 2013
Another way to sell online is through affiliate marketing. In this business model, you’re selling the products of other businesses, promoting them, and earning a commission when you make a sale.
Commissions for most products tend to be small, though higher end products can give higher commissions. To increase your profits, you’ll have to sell higher volumes. Since your success relies on your ability to promote, affiliate marketing is ideal for people who are already very skilled at online marketing. This handy guide can help you with the details:
2. Freelancing - Side Business Ideas
If selling products isn’t your thing, perhaps you can package your skills as freelancing services. As a freelancer, you’ll need to find clients who will pay you for the work you produce. Here are some services you can provide:
- Design. This can include designing for graphics, websites, or for print. You can custom design everything, or leverage website templates and graphic assets to make designs for your clients.
- Writing. You can write articles, blog posts, ebooks, and whitepapers. You can also provide the option to ghostwrite for those clients who want to put their knowledge and experiences into words, but find it difficult to do so. You can also look into becoming a copywriter, which specializes in writing sales text, such as those found in brochures, ads, or sales letters.
- Photography. If you’re interested in photography, you can opt to be a freelance photographer. Pick a niche to specialize in such as weddings, pets, school functions, commercial and product photography, or portraits. This might have some startup costs included, especially if you don’t have a professional camera yet.
It's not hard to set up as a freelancer and get started. Finding your first clients will take some time, however. The following guides have some tips on how you can get profitable clients quickly:
- Get Your First 3 Paying Clients as a New FreelancerRicha Jain24 Jun 2023
- How to Identify Profitable Clients: A Step-by-Step GuideCeline (CX) Roque12 May 2022
3. Consulting - Side Business Ideas
If you already have some business experience or training, you can offer up your services as a consultant. Your clients will be paying you not just for your advice, but for your direct help in accomplishing a goal.
As a career consultant, you’ll be assisting people with job-related issues. This may include finding a job, planning their career path, improving their resume, and helping them negotiate better compensation.
Unlike career consultants who work with individuals, a business consultant works with organizations. You can specialize in marketing, strategy, IT, leadership, recruitment, or finances. If becoming a business consultant is aligned with your skills and interests, you can check out this overview to learn how to get started.
4. Teaching - Side Business Ideas
Another quick way to earn from your expertise is by directly teaching it to others. As a small side business, teaching can be a bit time-intensive, but it's a great way to capitalize on existing skills without investing too much money. Here are some ways you can teach on the side:
If academics are your thing, becoming an online tutor might be a good fit for you. You can teach students who are struggling in subjects you excel at. Common tutorial subjects are math, physics, chemistry, and languages.
If you’ve excelled in professional tests such as law admission tests, board exams, or medical licensing exams, you can be a test prep tutor for those too. Since you'd be teaching skills that you already have, you can get started right away and focus on looking for students to tutor.
Rather than doing one-on-one teaching, you can sell courses that serve several people at a time. This is a more scalable approach than one-on-one teaching, since you can sell the same materials to a larger number of people. These courses can be live or on-demand. You can provide course materials in a variety of formats, including audio, video, or written modules. You can teach anything, including art, writing, programming, business, and even sports.
Depending on the length of the course, you’d need to invest some initial time producing materials. Additionally, you might need to purchase extra tools such as video and audio hosting, or a course platform for your students to access it. Alternatively, you can use sites like Udemy or Skillshare. If you specialize in design or programming, you can also try becoming an instructor on Tuts+.
For most people, public speaking is either a chore or a nightmare. But if you find that you enjoy getting up on a stage and talking about topics that you have in-depth knowledge in, then public speaking might be for you.
The challenge in professional speaking is marketing yourself to organizations or events that would need speakers.
If you have some background in psychology or counseling, you might be a good fit for life coaching on the side. As a life coach, you’ll be helping clients work through the challenges they feel in their personal lives.
Similar to business consulting, business coaching is about tapping into your existing business knowledge. The only difference between the two is that for business coaching, you’re filling in a more advisory role to a specific individual in the business. If you want to see if business coaching is right for your side business, learn more about it from this tutorial.
5. Platforms - Side Business Ideas
While this isn’t directly a business idea, having a platform of your own—such as a blog or a podcast—can help you market your products and services by reaching more people. Plus, if you have a large enough audience, you can sell advertising space. Affiliate marketing also works well as an additional revenue stream for a blog or podcast.
Though having a popular platform can give you many opportunities, it takes a lot of hard work to get there. It’s possible that you’ll be spending months blogging or podcasting and not see any income for quite some time. For those who already have considerable marketing experience, building that audience and generating revenue from it will be much easier.
If you’re a good writer, you can consider setting up a blog. You can sell your products and services there. You can also sell ad space in some areas of your blog, such as the sidebar, header, and footer. You can sell the ad space directly by contacting existing businesses or by using a service such as Google AdSense, which automatically partners advertisers with publishers.
There are considerable startup costs that come with podcasting, since you’ll need a good quality microphone and possibly editing or recording software. You’ll also need to learn the basics of editing and recording audio. But if you already have the equipment and have some audio recording experience, you can easily create your own podcast. If you’re interested in selling advertising space, you can record ad spiels that will play in the beginning, middle, or end of your episodes.
6. In-Person Services - Side Business Ideas
Most of the small business ideas listed above are applicable both online and offline. Online businesses tend to be convenient for side gigs, since you wouldn’t have to spend time or money on travel. But if you prefer to conduct business exclusively face-to-face, here are a few options:
Yard or Garden Work
Those who love the outdoors and don’t mind digging in the dirt can provide gardening services. This can range from just trimming lawns and hedges to full-scale garden planning and maintenance. Just make sure that you’ll have enough energy for this as a side business, since it can be labor intensive. Also, you or your clients need to have the right equipment for the services you’ll be providing.
If you love caring for cats or dogs, consider being a pet sitter. You can look after pets for owners who need extra help, spend a lot of time at work, or are looking to go out of town. Pet sitting tends to be a stable industry, since it’s shown to be recession-proof. Pet sitters are typically in demand, especially when pet ownership grows.
Short Term Laborer
Doing errands and odd jobs for a fee is also a typical way for people to earn money on the side. Sites like TaskRabbit and Care.com have made it easier for clients to find workers to do odd jobs or run errands. Available jobs are varied, including doing house chores, assembling furniture, and picking up groceries. You can set your own rates and pick jobs based on how they fit your schedule and skills.
Note that this type of short term work arrangement is becoming more common. A study from McKinsey Global Institute showed that up to 30 percent of working-age people work in the "gig labor force."
Side Business Ideas That Fit Your Needs
At the end of the day, the best side business idea is the one that would be a great fit for your skills and, at the same time, are doable within the time frame and budget that you can allot for a side gig. Not all the above ideas are a good fit with everyone, but all you need is to find one profitable idea that works for you.
Editorial Note: This content was originally published in 2016. We're sharing it again because our editors have determined that this information is still accurate and relevant.