Small businesses employ millions of professionals across dozens of industries. Every year, new companies open their doors and provide jobs to help drive their local economies.
However, not all small business ideas are adaptable and flexible. In 2020, many businesses were forced to shut down and reinvent themselves to remain operational in the new normal. If you’re thinking about starting a business this year, here’s what you need to know about the current small business landscape and the opportunities available.
- What’s considered a “small” business?
- How many small businesses are there in the United States and Canada as of 2020?
- 14 profitable small business ideas worth starting in 2021
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What’s considered a “small” business?
The SBA defines a small business as any company that either employs fewer than 500 employees or falls beneath a specific annual receipts cap. Most small businesses in the U.S. are much smaller—the average small business employs 1 to 19 people.
How many small businesses are there in the United States and Canada as of 2020?
As of 2020, there are about 31.7 million small businesses operating in the United States and 1.2 million in Canada, which is a whopping 99.9% and 97.9% respectively of the total number of businesses in each country. Small businesses employ 60.6 million people which make up almost half of the workforce in the US and 8.3 million in Canada, which is almost 70% of the total private labour force. In the third quarter of 2020, applications for new small businesses reached an all-time high.
14 profitable small business ideas worth starting in 2021
This article was originally published in 2018, before the COVID pandemic created noticeable shifts in the way we live, work and shop. To make this list relevant for 2021, numbers 1–8 come recommended by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce as viable business opportunities to start, even during a pandemic. The rest of these small business ideas are from Sageworks’ report on the most profitable small businesses.
1. Home improvement services
In 2020, the housing market saw its highest pace of growth since 2005. More people are buying homes, which is creating a demand for home improvement services. New homeowners may not have the skillset or expertise to make their renovations a reality, and look to hire a professional to help get the job done.
Home improvement services could include anything from interior design, carpentry, contracting, plumbing or landscaping. Most of these areas require training and access to equipment or materials, so the startup costs are not the cheapest. This type of business also may be more popular in certain geographic areas than others (i.e. wherever people are buying homes most readily).
2. Cleaning services
Cleaning services offer essential opportunities to both residential and commercial properties, helping to manage tasks many people do not enjoy or do not have time to complete. These services can function as home-based support one or more times per week, or as a daily resource for commercial operations. With average rates of $18 to $35 per hour, cleaners bring in substantial revenue for simple, yet necessary services.
Due to the nature of a cleaning service—no physical office is required, equipment costs are low and can be billed back to the client and hours of operation are flexible—enterprising entrepreneurs can see significant success in building a company in this industry. Labor is very affordable, which means no education or experience is required to work as a residential or commercial cleaner, so hiring costs can be low and wages provided are often near minimum.
3. Tutoring services
School is always in session, and remote education has created unique challenges for students of all ages. Starting a tutoring service is a great way to help those struggling with core concepts or gain further mastery in a specific area. Here’s a sample list of the subject areas that your tutoring business could specialize in:
- SAT/ACT prep
- College essay prep
- Sciences (biology, chemistry, physics)
- Foreign languages
- Computer science
Thanks to video software, there’s no need to hold lessons in person—all you need is a phone, tablet or computer, making the startup costs for this type of business very low. Depending on your location and level of education, your tutoring service could charge anywhere from $25 to $56 an hour.
4. Personal training and fitness instructors
Gyms and indoor fitness centers were largely impacted by mandated COVID-19 shutdowns, but the fitness industry has proven to be adaptable and resilient. Fitness instructors and customers alike have shifted to online and outdoor classes to stay healthy and active. The shift to remote work and quarantining has also created a need for exercise like never before.
While specific fitness trends come and go, the need for fitness trainers and quality content stays constant. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce recommends that personal trainers can reach customers and build a following through digital platforms like YouTube, TikTok, IGTV and Instagram Live. Trainers can use social media to find clients to create customized workout programs for, at their desired cost.
Getting started in personal training can be fairly simple. You can take a formal certification exam, or in some cases, just being a self-taught fitness nerd is enough to break into the industry.
5. Delivery services
As a result of the pandemic, more people are staying at home in order to stay safe. That means that delivery services have grown tremendously; online food delivery services alone are expected to grow by more than $104 billion by 2023.
To ride this wave, you could offer your own local courier service to deliver groceries, medications or run other essential errands. In addition to charging a standard rate, you could charge additional fees for lengthier deliveries, rush orders or delivering heavy or bulky items.
6. Digital marketing services
With more businesses setting up shop online, there’s a growing need for digital marketing services. To help small businesses build their brand and digital presence online, you can create your own digital marketing agency. A digital marketing agency typically offers one or more of the following services:
- SEO writing
- Help with paid social media advertising
- Web design
- Brand/creative consulting
- Content creation
- Organic social media management
Anyone can start a digital agency, regardless of their educational background. Running an agency is easy to do from a home office, so there are very little startup costs for starting this type of business. You can run an agency as a solopreneur, or hire people that have expertise in the areas you’re less solid in.
7. App development
Businesses are looking to go digital, and some may even seek to build their own apps to reach customers. App developers can help businesses make their visions a reality by building a custom iPhone or Android app.
App development doesn’t require a formal degree, but prior training and experience building apps is important to have if you’re planning to break into the field. There are coding bootcamps and free online courses that can help you learn the fundamentals and get started.
8. Accounting services
Individuals and businesses alike rely on accounting services every year to file tax returns, and assist with bookkeeping and financial planning. This consistent, reliable demand for services is definitely a pro if you’re looking to start a business. There are very minimal overhead start-up costs for accounting, and the job is easily doable from home.
However, the barriers to entry for accounting are quite high. Accountants usually have at least an undergraduate degree, and some may have a CPA license or an IRS Enrolled Agent certification. Accounting professionals with more advanced qualifications can charge higher rates and generate more revenue as a result.
9. Law firms
The legal industry is indispensable across many personal and professional areas. Law firms, much like accounting services, can provide many services, including:
- Criminal law
- Business law
- Family law
- Trusts and estates
- Constitutional law
- Intellectual property law
- Personal injury law
- Employment law
Even though law can be lucrative, like accounting, the barrier to entry in law is extremely high. Attorneys must attend a four-year undergraduate program, go to law school, and then pass the state bar exam. Additionally, some attorneys only practice in specialized fields, so a firm with multiple focuses might need to hire additional staff.
10. Real estate agencies
The demand for bigger, more spread out spaces during the COVID-19 pandemic has created a housing shortage, with prices expected to skyrocket. Thanks to remote work, more people are leaving cities and seeking properties in suburban areas.
While these trends may be temporary, the real estate industry has a lot to offer. Thanks to online classes, it’s easier than ever to become a licensed agent, and no specific degrees or backgrounds are required. Overhead costs tend to be low as well, since agents can work from almost anywhere.
11. Outpatient care centers
Outpatient medical care gives patients the care they need without permanent beds, around-the-clock staff members, or the licenses and permits required to host patients overnight. Instead, patients receive medical or surgical care, and return home on the same day.
Outpatient clinics require licensed doctors and nurses, which are a major expense. The costs of getting started in outpatient care can be steep as well, and requires a significant investment in medical equipment. However, the net margins are still good, because procedures and medical reimbursements are costly. Intensive outpatient treatment can reach up to $10,000, providing a steady stream of revenue into these kinds of businesses.
12. Dental offices
Dental health is an important part of overall wellness and self-care, with preventative appointments recommended twice a year for the average American.
The dental industry offers room for success for those with the right qualifications. Dentists must earn both a bachelor’s degree and a doctorate in dentistry, and most dental hygienist roles require a minimum of two years of school. Dental equipment can be expensive as well, with chairs alone costing $2,000 or more. However, dental procedures are often expensive, with the average cleaning costing $288 and added costs for fillings, x-rays, extractions, and root canals. Your dental practice could earn substantial profits from common treatments.
13. Warehouse and Storage
As ecommerce booms, the U.S. is expected to need another 1 billion square feet of warehouse storage by 2025. This means that having ample space to store goods and possessions brings compelling business opportunities.
Building a warehouse can cost anywhere from $24,000 to more than $800,000 depending on the size, this can be offset by rental revenue once you open for business. In many cases, renting warehouse space can be fairly hands-off; clients pay rent and are then free to store their items. This means that the time commitment in a warehouse business is minimal.
14. Doctor offices
Healthcare workers are vital to keeping our communities safe and healthy. The COVID-19 pandemic has not only created a high demand for trained medical professionals, but searches for specialized medical care have gone up 78% in the last year.
While the list of skills and training required is extensive—doctors must attend four years of undergraduate education, four years of medical school, a minimum of three years of residency and pass all licensing exams—the cost of service can offset high labor costs. Insurance reimbursements can cost thousands of dollars, meaning you could take home a large profit in exchange for in-demand services.
Positioning your business for success
There are many ingredients to starting a successful business: a good plan, powerful POS tools, business savviness, experience, etc. While no industry is a guaranteed success, those that are flexible, resilient, in high demand and with good margins are a solid bet. This list of small business ideas is a starting point to get you inspired this year.
If you’re inspired to open a business and you’re looking for a POS that will work with you every step of the way, let’s chat!