Never underestimate the power of brevity. Marketing plans can run for pages, and sometimes they should. But for many situations a one-page marketing is fine, if not even better than a longer plan.
A one-page marketing plan forces you to coalesce your thoughts into one short, succinct document. Like the one-page business plan, the single-sheet marketing plan encourages you to focus on what really matters. It can help bring clarity to your thoughts. It can help team members both understand and maintain a better recall of your marketing direction.
Even a one-page marketing plan should include more than just a checklist of your planned promotional activities. It should be more of a product plan, also including the key differentiation of your product from those of competitors, as well as a quick description of your target market and customer needs. Therefore, you should have a separate marketing plan for every key product or product line that you offer.
This is suggested template for a one-page marketing plan:
List the product/service and the specified marketing time period to be covered.
In one sentence, describe your product or service including the utility it provides for its users.
Zero right in on the best target customers for your product/service. Which people are most likely to buy your product/service and/or which audience are you most likely to be able to impact with your marketing?
How is your product or service different from those of your competitors?
Benefits to Customers:
How does your product provide better or different benefits to potential customers than competing products? Is there a benefit or perceived benefit that plays a key role in customers’ buying decisions?
Which attributes of your customers may be important for marketing? For example, are they geographically clustered? Do they have similar demographics? Do they tend to weigh a particular factor in mind when making buying decisions?
Now, we get into the part of the document most people think of when they think of a marketing plan. You’ve spelled out your target market and the key differentiators for your product or service. It’s time to talk about how you’re going to promote your business idea. Pick one or two primary marketing tactics you’ll be using, and briefly describe how you plan to execute them.
What pricing or special offers will you include in this marketing campaign?
What key messages do you want to deliver in your marketing?
What headlines or specific words may you use in your marketing?
If you’re going to rely heavily on social media, for instance, which channels will you choose? Will you advertise or just try to go viral for free? Will you engage in email marketing or inbound marketing, and how? Talk about where and when your messages will run. If you’re engaging in publicity, mention the types out outlets you’ll target and why. Distill everything into a few sentences.
Profit and Loss Projection:
Project the profit and loss of your product/service during the marketing time period.
Measuring Results and Continued Testing:
Not only should you track your sales during the marketing period, but as much as possible you should try to determine how each customer heard about your product. Which medium drove in the result? You may decide to quickly change your advertising media or message in the middle of the campaign, or you decide to adjust it for the next campaign. Marketing is hard. Be prepared to test and try different options until you get great results.
Brevity can be a friend to the entrepreneur. Learn to write a one-page marketing plan, and you’ll develop razor-sharp focus for your business model as well as a substantive way to pitch audiences on your products and ideas without overwhelming them.
Sample One-Page Marketing Plan:
(For illustration purposes, I am basing this sample on a simple summer business trading used boats that I ran during summer vacations from college).
Bobby’s Boat Yard, End-of-Season Clearance Sale Plan, August 15-September 7
The used boats that remain unsold towards the end of the summer season. Especially concerned about selling slower-moving boats that have been in inventory for more than 2 weeks.
The end of the season buyer is most typically not a summer homeowner but more likely someone who lives in the area year round and has likely owned boats before.
Our key differentiation from larger new boat dealers who also sell used boats is that we charge more reasonable prices. Our key differentiation from private sellers is that our used boats are “cleaned up” for sale and that we have several choices of used outboard boats available right now.
Benefits to Customers:
Customers can save money buying a boat from us as opposed to a larger dealer who also sells new boats. And versus buying from a private party, a potential customer can view several boats at once at our yard.
End-of-season customers typically live in the vacation community year-round, have owned several boats in the past and are value and brand-name aware.
We will emphasize “year-end clearance” because our target market will find this a credible reason that we are selling boats at great prices and we will reinforce this in our pricing policy.
The first week of the clearance sale, we will lower prices 10% below our pre-sale prices. The second week, we will lower prices a further 10% for any remaining boats. The third week, we will lower prices still a further 10%.
You can save money by our end-of-season clearance sale.
End-Of-Season Boat Clearance Sale!
Local newspaper and signage.
Profit and Loss Projection:
We have 7 boats remaining in inventory with a current average purchase price of $1,100.
We anticipate that on average during the clearance sale we will sell the boats for a 15% discount on this price or $935. Our average purchase price of these boats was $895. So our expected gross profit margin will be $40 per boat.
While the anticipated gross margin during the clearance sale is very low, our main objective is to clear out our inventory and reduce carry costs including insurance and taxes over the winter.
Bob Adams is the founder of BusinessTown the go-to learning platform for people starting and running their own businesses. Bob has started dozens of successful businesses, including one he launched with $1500 and sold for $40 million. He also has an MBA from Harvard Business School.
You Only Need A Few Hours to Start Your Own Part-Time Business
Even if your full-time job leaves you little time during the week, a few hours on Saturday and Sunday might be all you need to start a nifty, profitable business. You won’t have to risk your life savings or quit your day job.
Even if you are thinking of starting a full-time business someday, the experience you gain from launching a part-time business can be invaluable later when developing a larger enterprise.
You may think you don’t have the knowledge or expertise to start a business, but many businesses require very little expertise – you can usually pick that up along the way. To begin, you mostly just need a little time, a little confidence, and little sense of adventure!
To learn more about how to start your own business explore my course, Start-a-Business 101. In just 10 minutes a day, this course will quickly teach you how to start a business. You’ll learn how to choose the best business idea, how to write a business plan, how to find customers, and everything else you need to know.
My experience is that even a tiny part-time business is going to be a lot easier to start and much more successful if you learn something about business before plunging into it.
That being said, starting a part-time business is probably easier than you think. I should know. Many of my early businesses I started part-time and yet they worked out very well.
Here are some of my favorite ideas for part-time businesses:
1. Party Planner
Demand just goes up, up, up in the party business. Kids’ parties, office parties, and adult celebrations! What a fun way to make money!
For example, for one of my daughter’s early birthdays we hired a “Barbie doll” look-alike.
Bar mitzvahs and bat mitzvahs are on a whole other level – these celebrations are in a class by themselves! I’ve been to some of these events that are as large and sophisticated as a small circus!
I met a fellow working in the clown business, exclusively focusing on bar and bat mitzvahs. He just works on Saturdays and pockets a pretty $200 an hour. He actually went to clown school if you can image that – I bet I could have excelled at that kind of school! Now he has built up his business to include a whole carload of fellow clowns he rents out.
You don’t really need to go to clown school to get started! Just rent a clown suit, blow up a few balloons, learn a few magic tricks and away you go! You don’t even have to smile – you can paint a smile on your face. But then again, making $200 an hour for having fun with kids should be enough to make anyone look happy!
2. Floating Art Gallery
Over the years, I’ve gotten to know some people who have highly established art galleries in excellent locations. Despite these advantages, some still struggle in business at times, as art styles and sales cycles run up and down – the overhead and the rent just seem to go up and up. Enter the “floating art gallery,” where there is no rent or other overhead – just pure profit!
For a floating art gallery, you simply make arrangements with different restaurants, bars, or coffee shops to host your art shows for free in exchange for all the promotion and traffic you will bring to their respective businesses.
How do you promote a floating art gallery? I would totally focus on free promotion – no advertising at all! I would get on the events listings section of every local newspaper, magazine, and website. Then, I’d relentlessly try to get picked up in blogs that might possibly be related. I would reach out to every person I ever knew on social media and email and get them to reach out to their friends. Then, I’d carefully develop, cultivate, and nourish a mailing list. Of course, I would also put posters everywhere I could possibly think of!
What about the artwork? Doesn’t that require a hefty investment? Heck no! Don’t buy any artwork outright! Take it on consignment – you only pay for it if and when it sells.
What are the keys to success? Finding highly sellable artwork, having a huge profit margin, and being really aggressive and creative with your marketing. A great benefit of this kind of business is you can develop repeat browsers and repeat buyers, all of whom can help promote your business through social media, creating momentum that can build like a snowball!
3. Mobile Car Washing and Detailing
I thought about opening up a car wash business (well, to be honest, there aren’t too many businesses I haven’t thought about going into). They can be lucrative, but they are a huge undertaking – car washes require a significant investment and are not always easy to get approved by the local zoning board. Also, they require a ton of water, which costs more than you would think.
On the other hand, a mobile car washing and detailing business has basically no expenses (other than a little soap, a couple of sponges, and old towels). Plus, you get to use the water at your client’s house! No investment, no overhead, and high demand! Now that’s my type of business.
Furthermore, most people want to have their car washed at home on the weekend or when they want to look their best for Saturday or Sunday night outings.
I see the key to making this type of business happen is using guerilla marketing to get the word out. I would try every marketing trick possible. But most of all I would focus on building up regular clientele that want get their car washed every week or every other week. If you seek long-term clients, you can even afford to give away the first week trial wash for free so they can see how awesome your service is!
Remember that the benefit for your client is not only that you do a fabulous wash, but also that they save a half hour driving to the car wash!
If you’re having fun with Facebook and the like, why not get paid to play with social media?
Many small business people who could really benefit from social media don’t have the time or energy to get involved with it, and particularly don’t have the time or expertise to do it well!
Different small business owners will have wildly different demands, expectations, and budgets. Some businesses will have no idea what to promote on social media and will look for you to develop ideas from the ground up. Others may have a good idea, but simply lack the time to keep up with their postings.
Be sure to clarify and set realistic expectations with each client.
To get going in this business, I might offer a couple, very basic “starter packages,” where for one price you get a client up and running. I’d tend to keep the price low, “over deliver,” and make the client happy – then try to build a long term relationship, offering a fixed package of services for an annual subscription or monthly price.
5. Collectibles Trading
If you have a hobby that involves collectibles, why not turn that passion into a business? Antiques, paintings, and estate jewelry…the possibilities are endless.
Just yesterday, I was at a model railroad show jammed with booths consisting of exhibitors selling antique, “collectible,” or even just used model trains. Some of these people travel a weekend circuit from one show to the next, often carting their wares on a trailer behind their SUV or pickup truck.
Many of these dealers are supplementing their income by selling online as well, using the in-person shows to help build their clientele.
Going into this space, you need to be particularly disciplined in valuing and paying for items. You want to be able to buy items at a cheap enough price so that you can still make good money when you sell them at a fair price. You also need to avoid items that may take a long, long time to find the right buyer. The more you specialize – assuming you specialize in a not too narrow area – the better your chances are.
Another trap you can fall into in this space is buying or overpaying for items more because you like them rather than because you can easily sell them.
I would start very cautiously in this space, with a very small table at a reasonably high-traffic show. Until I had a solid feel for what was sellable, I would minimize my inventory investment and would be happy if I broke even the first few months. Longer term, if you could make this business work, it could be a lot of fun in addition to being profitable!
6. Test Prep Tutoring
Every year, millions of high school students are trying to pump up their standardized test scores to try gain admission to their dream college. Many of them turn to tutors to get an edge.
To get into this field, you should be able to score reasonably well on whatever tests in which you will be specializing. If you haven’t aced your favorite test yet, then you could be your own first client and practice up. If you can send your own scores through the roof, you can then boast about the results!
Talk about a low-investment business…you don’t need one nickel to start this one! You don’t even need a car! You could advertise your services on bulletin boards around town and offer your tutoring either in your clients’ homes, at the library, or at the local coffee shop.
As you develop this business further, the sky is the limit. You could expand not only into additional tests, but also into college admissions counseling. One of my classmates from business school offered test prep and college counseling with a single complete package being priced at $50,000! I met a woman at one of the co-share centers at which I worked who previously worked as a college counselor and had been successful enough in her college testing and admissions counseling service to add several full-time employees. Granted she had previous experience as a college admissions officer and co-authored a book about college admissions, but if you can read a book you could get up to speed on this process too!
At another office complex at which I worked, I met an entrepreneur who had developed a booming business focusing on helping place foreign students at US private high schools.
7. Catering or Bartending Service
Personally, I’d think about a bartending service before a full-fledged catering service – catering sounds like hard work to me! One of my longest-duration jobs ever was the 8 weeks I worked as a busboy when I was 16. One of the shortest-duration jobs was the 2 weeks I worked as a dishwasher when I was 17. Both were a lot of work. But, if you really like cooking, you could consider catering or maybe just renting yourself out as a personal chef.
Of course, I might be a little more inclined to start a catering business if I had ever learned to cook anything beyond a hotdog! One of my friend’s sons, on the other hand, learned how to cook at a young age and started his own catering business when he was about 12 years old – successfully running it for a number of years, despite attending school on a pretty regular basis. So if he can do it – and you can cook a little bit more than I am able to – then you could start and run your own catering business too!
What I might personally get more excited about would be just offering a bartending service. This option sounds like a lot less work than offering a full-service meal! Bartending services are in particularly strong demand on the weekends – perfect for allowing you to keep your day job as you build your clientele!
I’ve never tried to make a business out of selling used cars, but my college girlfriend said it was just the kind of business she envisioned me going into. However, I did buy and sell used boats during a couple college summer vacations.
I had no prior experience, making it a little scary at first to lay down my meager savings to buy my first used boats when I wasn’t sure if I would ever get my money back. But I gained confidence quickly. More importantly, I learned to specialize in faster-selling popular models (in my case Boston Whaler outboard power boats) that everyone wanted and that I could turn over quickly. I even sold a Boston Whaler to the famous author, Norman Mailer.
I would typically clean up and polish each boat, and maybe even do a little cosmetic work like replacing a little of the fancy mahogany decorative wood. Sometimes, I’d do a little repair work. Most of all, I would boost the price – I very carefully bought the boats cheap enough that I could mark them up and still sell the finished product at a reasonable price.
One key to success in this kind of business is not getting overeager. In other words, you need to patiently wait for the best deals that offer you a high probability of making a good profit margin. Another key is having low overhead. I had very low overhead working out of my parent’s backyard – at least until the town sent us a “cease and desist” letter for violating local zoning laws. It’s necessary to keep a very low profile with only a couple cars or boats at your house at a time. Of course, part of the fun of this business is having a constantly changing collection of very cool cars or boats at your disposal to take for a spin now and then!
9. House/Condo Staging
I was just watching one of the “million dollar” real estate shows. On this one episode, to get an uber-expensive listing, the broker had to agree to “stage” or temporarily furnish an over the top, upscale penthouse. The cost for the staging: $35,000! And you can bet the real estate agent didn’t do the staging work himself. No, that is the size of the check that the staging company will pocket. Not bad for temporarily setting up some furniture – especially if you can polish it up and re-use it for future stagings!
I like this business because it seems to be growing fast. Even if you have to buy the furniture, you should get some money back quickly. Furthermore, there is a lot of room for specialization. Maybe you could just stage new homes for builders? Maybe you could focus on upscale apartments? Or focus on suburban homes? On top of this, if you like being around exciting homes and choosing nifty furniture, it could be a lot of fun!
My garage is a mess and yours might be too, but it doesn’t have to be that way! A couple of my car nut friends have had their garages turned into car palaces with not only everything cleaned up, but also special floor and wall finishings installed, as well as snappy looking storage compartments.
Thus, garage services could take several different routes – or you could offer a complete line of services. You could only do removal and disposal of all that junk that clutters garages. You could offer an extensive cleaning service. Or you could offer to turn the garage into a car palace.
Personally, I would tend to start with the simpler services, but even a weekend business would likely require some part-time, energetic people to help with the basic work as soon as possible. If you do hire people, make sure that you follow the labor laws and that includes getting worker’s compensation insurance!
11. EBay Business
You can make good money on eBay or other online marketplaces. I met a high school student, for example, who made enough money to pay off a good chunk of his college tuition with an eBay enterprise. However, while an eBay business seems very simple, there are also plenty of people who have gotten tripped up in the process, made key mistakes, and had a rough go of it.
Like other part-time businesses, I recommend starting small – with an eBay business I would recommend starting “in miniature.” Really get a feel for your market space with just a few items. Get a feeling for how customers will respond to your wares, how pricing will work, how bidders tend to respond if you go the auction route, and how to master the important details of processing transactions, packing goods, and shipping these wares.
You need a marketplace or a specialty. Even if at first you have access to a lot of unrelated items for good prices, try to develop some focus. You will get to know what sells and what doesn’t sell; you will learn what sells quickly; you will learn how you should price and describe your wares; and you will learn what to expect from customers. With a specialization, you can ideally acquire some repeat clientele, developing a good reputation and building word of mouth and confidence in the process.
An eBay business could be built into a sizable enterprise, but don’t rush it! Watch your gross margins, ship and pack carefully! Don’t touch any items that might possibly be counterfeit or of questionable quality. Finally, if you are going to specialize, try to find some area that you really enjoy!
I’ve known several people who have made money rehabbing apartment buildings and houses. One friend works full time as a stockbroker, another ran a multimillion-dollar employment agency, while the third made rehabbing his full-time business.
These people spend a lot of effort buying properties for great prices. They tend to focus on one town and one type of property, getting to know the ins and outs of that particular market. They don’t necessarily wait for properties to be advertised. Instead, they might approach potential sellers of rundown properties before they hit the market.
While you could start out doing the rehab work yourself, my friends have typically contracted it all out. However, finding reliable people to do the work for reasonable prices and on a reasonable schedule is not always easy.
I have seen experienced, full-time builders get fleeced by contractors who either run out of money or take some payments in advance and disappear. This situation can be particularly messy and costly if a contractor that you have paid never gave money to the subcontractors, leaving you to pay for the same work twice!
Therefore, you want to choose your contractors carefully: get references, make sure they are insured, and try to minimize any amounts you have to pay them before the work is done.
Sometimes, one of my friends goes into a rehab project without investing a penny of his own money. For example, he might raise a very small amount of equity from private investors, and then finance the majority of his project with a bank mortgage or with a commercial asset-based lender.
One of the great things about rehabbing work is that you can pretty much control your work schedule. Furthermore, if you are careful, any money you have at risk should be fairly well protected by the underlying value of the property.
Like with any other business, you could start small, such as with a studio apartment project, and then move up from there.
13. Personal Shopping Service
Well here’s a fun little business that I haven’t actually considered myself. Why? To be honest, I don’t really like to go shopping – except for new accessories for my model railroad, and there isn’t a demand for personal shoppers for model trains.
But if you like shopping, there are plenty of people (typically busy business executives and the like) who want to hire you to do their shopping for them! With this business, I’d particularly emphasize the personal touch when seeking customers. Reach out to all possible contacts and don’t be shy to push them to pass the word on to everyone they know. This business is an obvious candidate for social media promotion. I would also consider starting a fun blog on what cool styles you are noticing in the stores today!
Years ago, my Great Aunt Betty made a lot of creative craft items. For a while, she sold them through a small shop on her property; she also sold them directly to stores. For example, I remember her taking her handmade basket-type pocketbooks to be sold at Bonwit Teller’s, once one of Boston’s most prestigious women’s stores.
Today, the Internet has dramatically expanded the opportunity and ease with which one can break into the craft business. With websites like Etsy.com, you can not only find a place to sell your goods but also get an idea of what other people are making money on.
This is a particularly cool business because you can start as small as you want, working as few hours as you like. Yet, if you create something that catches on, you could build a global brand – the upside is unlimited!
Anyone with decent writing skills can easily become a master resume and cover letter writer! And are there ever people who could benefit from your help!
As an employer, I often see one sloppy, poorly written, inadequately proofed resume and cover letter after the next!
Furthermore, so many candidates have resumes that are basically attendance records! A resume instead should be a sales pitch that trumpets achievements, skills, and abilities! A great resume and a standout cover letter can go a long way to helping people find a job – and you can help!
My Adams Media book publishing company became one of the largest-selling publishers in the US of resume and cover letter books. We sold millions of these books! The demand for helping people in this space is insatiable!
The different ways of delivering this service are almost endless. You could set up a small office, meet clients at their homes or in coffee shops, transact your business online, or even sell your services as part of an outplacement service to companies laying people off.
Most people seeking a better resume and cover letter will still have a job, so demand for this kind of service will run particularly high on weekends – a great advantage if you want to keep your day job while you get started in this business!
You could also offer to write online profiles or develop personal websites to help promote your clients. For example, I have met people whose sole business is writing profiles for LinkedIn.
16. Yard Sales
Carefully plan out and set up your yard sale, just like you would set up a business. Start with a small business plan, maybe just one page. Then, create a meticulous inventory of everything you could sell.
Put together a comprehensive marketing plan including signage, online and local newspaper listings, and neighborhood flyers. Don’t be shy about contacting everyone in your email database and trumpeting your event on social media!
If your first yard sale works well, consider having additional ones or even making it an ongoing business. You could solicit friends for additional items they might like to sell, or even find places (like flea markets) to buy items cheaply that you think could resell for more.
I know one woman who found enough valuable items for free at her local dump that she considered opening up a retail store to resell them. Imagine the profit margin on items you get for free!
17. Local Interest Blog
Okay, I have said making money from a blog is very hard. But if you really want to do it, it is possible to make it into a viable business.
First, be aware that there are way too many blogs out there and even those that carry advertising typically have gross income of about $1 a day…not even enough to feed your dog!
However, there is a lot of money out there in local advertising. My college newspaper and my want-advertiser publication were both richly supported by local advertising – and today I see that market being replaced by local online websites and blogs.
Where I often vacation on the small island of Nantucket, an entrepreneur developed a very widely read blog by flooding it with an endless stream of high-quality photos of island residents. Now, he is selling an increasing amount of advertising. That being said, it seems anywhere you go on the island, there is the entrepreneur, camera in hand, working tirelessly in his search for content.
If you enjoy taking photos or writing content and don’t mind selling advertising (which can be a challenge if you don’t like being rejected), you might be able to eke out a reasonable second income at this.
I started a house painting business with no experience so why can’t you?
For this business, I focused the title on interior rooms and wallpapering because I thought these jobs for one or two rooms could easily be finished in a day. However, if you, like me, really are starting this with no experience and also tend to be “quick but a little sloppy,” you might be better off starting with exterior painting. Nobody loses sleep over a little spilled paint on the lawn, but you really don’t want to be dribbling wet paint in places it shouldn’t be inside the house! So maybe you focus on smaller houses that you can do in a few weekends. Or maybe you hire a couple helpers (a lot easier to hire for weekend work).
19. Website Developer
Sure, any business owner could develop a website for free using the increasingly sophisticated templates available today – but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a good business demand for helping people in the process!
A lot of the potential value you bring to customers is not only the mechanics of building the website but also helping business owners decide what to include on their website – and where to include it!
As I have gone over in a number of my presentations, website design is very important for many businesses – especially when it is the first point of contact with potential customers. Even if you don’t have experience, if you study up a little bit you can quickly become very proficient in the process of designing websites that help businesses attract and hold customers.
The hardest part of this business is usually finding clients, especially clients who are willing to pay a reasonable amount for your services. You can start promoting your services online, but that is often hyper competitive. So I would particularly focus on offline marketing, such as networking through friends or at business events. I would also have a totally awesome-looking design for my own website to serve as a showpiece for the business!
Carpet only lasts for so long – then it’s time to replace it once again. Every time for you need to replace a carpet in every room that you buy new carpet for, it’s more potential work for a carpet installation firm.
You could initially break into the carpet installation business by marketing directly to consumers. However, the bigger money comes from contracting out your services to carpet retailers. Still, I’d probably try to start out doing a few jobs independently to build references and experience before approaching some small retailers for contract work.
Here, the keys to success are going to be your ability to develop relationships with carpet retailers and, if you don’t want to do the installation work yourself, to find installers who work efficiently and quickly.
With so many people in the workforce, much of this work needs to be done when people are at home which makes it ideal for a weekend business.
21. Home Landscaping
What could be an easier way to make money than pushing a lawnmower around or sweeping a rake? Well, having someone else do it for you and still getting paid for it! With this business you can have both! You can start out doing the work yourself and then hire others to do the actual work as you expand.
There are lots of great things about doing this business on the weekend beyond the most obvious: that you get to keep your day job. For one your customers are more likely to be at home on the weekend. So it’s easy to sell them and line them up on the weekend. Also, you get to work outside – a nice break from your desk job!
Also, on the weekends there is the advantage of being more likely to see your clients while working on their lawns. Show off your friendly personality and cement the bond with them, ensuring they will be customers for keeps! Better yet, you can suggest some additional services you could offer…wouldn’t a few new flowers or a couple new bushes be a nice touch?
This business is easy to market too. Of course you can have a website, but I’d also walk around door to door with simple flyers and a warm smile! Don’t forget to stop by my house! I’m always looking for a better landscape service!
Back in the 1980s, Tears for Fears had a hit song with “Everybody Wants to Rule the World.” Thirty years later, a more appropriate title might be “Everybody Wants to Work from Home.”
Over the last decade, high-speed internet, a proliferation of devices and applications, and changing attitudes about the nature of work have made working at home a reality for millions of people around the world. One study, in fact, concluded that nearly half of all American employees work at home. And the trend isn’t limited to the United States; 79 percent of knowledge workers globally now do at least some work outside the office.
That same study also revealed that more than 50 million Americans work independently as freelancers. With considerable overlap in the Venn diagram of home-based workers and entrepreneurs, the numbers show that starting a home-based business isn’t a just trend. It’s part of the new reality of the American workforce.
The dreams of working at home and being your own boss (or ruling your own world, perhaps) are very much alive and go hand-in-hand in the modern workforce. It is now possible to start almost any kind of business from home immediately, albeit with varying degrees of investment and experience.
Starting a Home-based Business May Be Easier Than You Think
Many home-based businesses you can start with very little money and very little experience. How do I know? Because I’ve been there and I’ve done it. I’m Bob Adams, a serial entrepreneur, Harvard MBA, multimillionaire, and founder of BusinessTown.
Many of my early businesses were simple home-based businesses. When I started these first businesses I had just about no savings and it was several years before I had any business school education.
My early home-based businesses included bicycle rentals, house-painting, trading used boats, and publishing maps. These are all great examples of businesses that are easy to start. You can begin small, even part-time. And then you can grow them at your own pace.
As I proved time and time again you can make excellent profits even with a very small home-based business. And if you want you can grow it into a much larger enterprise.
So even if you don’t have much experience or savings, you too can start your own home-based business and become highly successful with it.
To learn more about how to start your own business explore my course, Start-a-Business 101. In just 10 minutes a day, this course will quickly teach you how to start a business. You’ll learn how to choose the best business idea, how to write a business plan, how to find customers, and everything else you need to know.
Believe it or not, eBay is now more than two decades old, but it’s still the most viable platform for setting up a home-based business online. Big success stories have been around for years now, but there is an enormous amount of competition on the site.
This is not an enterprise for the lazy. eBay sellers need to respond to customers quickly and politely, and ship items promptly. A seller’s success is in eBay users’ hands after all; a negative seller rating can sink an eBay business before it even gets started. Sellers also need to familiarize themselves with eBay’s return policies, which tend to focus on making the overall experience better for buyers but not necessarily for sellers.
Perhaps most importantly, though, would-be eBay moguls need to specialize. Just throwing junk online won’t work. Sellers need to know what they want to sell and how they’re going to market it to their audiences. Again, competition is fierce, so research, preparation and strategy are critical. (For reference, eBay itself provides an extensive guide to selling on the site.)
The popular myth these days is that anybody with a smartphone can be a photographer. The truth, however, is that professional photography can be a cutthroat business, with demanding clients and fierce competition. But that doesn’t mean it’s not worth doing as a profession for those who have a passion for it.
Of course, photography can take many forms, from photojournalism to portrait photography to general-interest stock photography. You’ll most likely go for either setting up a studio in your home or taking pictures for use as stock photos, as true photojournalism requires years of experience and almost never involves actually working from home. Keep in mind that stock-photo sites work on a revenue-sharing model, so simply selling pictures to one is unusual.
Even the portrait and general-interest options, though, aren’t really for beginners. Photography businesses can be complex operations, with lots of equipment required and years of portfolio and relationship building necessary to really get steady income flowing. Still, if you’re a hobbyist already, starting a photography business as a side operation is a great way to make some extra money and possibly begin a career change.
The only thing better than the smell of grandma’s chocolate-chip cookie recipe baking in the oven is watching cash roll in as customers order those delectable treats. Home baking is an approachable business idea in that it involves doing what you’re probably doing a lot of, anyway, if you love to bake. You probably have all the equipment and expertise you need to get started.
But be wary. Food service—even a delivery service, which is the most likely scenario for home bakers, as opposed to setting up a storefront—comes with built-in risks. Prepare yourself, and read up on your local insurance requirements. And don’t be afraid to start out by making just one or two really great treats. Consistency is more important than variety in the baking business.
This is perhaps the cheapest business to start in terms of overhead. If you’re reading this on a computer, you’ve got what you need to become a freelance writer—at least in terms of equipment.
Expertise is another matter, but remember that writing can take many forms—from resumes to news articles to marketing materials and even thank-you notes. (You can even write for businesstown.com, although that gig doesn’t pay … yet.) There’s probably some form of writing you’re qualified to do. Plus, if you’re good enough with grammar and punctuation, companies will pay you to be a freelance editor. One friend made good money editing posts on a popular travel site.
The key to freelance writing is never to stop selling yourself. Don’t get complacent once a project comes in—always look for the next one. Network like crazy online and in person. Ask for press passes to events in the field of your choice. Attend writing workshops and writer meet-ups; they happen everywhere.
There are loads of job listings for freelancers on major job boards, and you can always advertise your services (and look for work) on craigslist or LinkedIn. Once the jobs start rolling in, don’t be afraid to go to previous clients and ask for more work. Steady work is the best work for freelancers. If all else fails at first, just write. Start a blog. Build clips. Get writing!
Everybody’s on social media, which is both a blessing and a curse for the would-be social-media specialist. On one hand, every organization that sells anything needs a presence on social media, so the market for experts is huge. However, there is also no shortage of social-media experts—or people who think they’re experts, anyway.
How can you make a living as a real social-media expert? Practice. Build an audience for yourself before offering your services to others. Determine your target sector, build your own online presence in that community and start making contact with the social-media elite. Twitter is a great place to start. Keep cranking out content and getting it to the right users, and you’ll find a way to get yourself hired even in an ever-expanding universe.
Sure, there are a lot of graphic designers out there, but there are far more Websites, companies and organizations in need of design work than there are designers. That’s the good news. The more difficult news is that graphic design does require a certain level of expertise and possibly some pricey software, although designers can often get by without necessarily having the most expensive applications on the market.
But for those in position to do it, starting a graphic-design business offers an enormous opportunity—just remember to be creative with your business model and do something nobody else is doing.
Personal Computer Training
Believe it or not, a lot of people still don’t know how to use Microsoft Office (especially PowerPoint). You might already know enough about basic software applications to teach other people how to use them and set up your own computer-training operation.
Even so, you’ll need to develop a curriculum and a marketing plan for your new business, and you’ll need to decide whether students should come to you or you should go to them. But the opportunity exists to take what you might think of as fairly rudimentary knowledge and turn it into a profitable operation.
Competition to get into top universities is as tough as it has ever been, so nervous parents are willing to pay handsomely for tutoring for their kids. You need an area of expertise—math, and specifically SAT math preparation, is always a favorite—but almost any subject will work. If you know how to market yourself locally, you can take advantage of parental paranoia and make money by tutoring right in your own home, or at a local library or coffee shop. Just make sure to do your homework on your local market in order to set prices and know which areas of expertise are most desired by parents in your area.
Doggie Bed and Breakfast
You love dogs? You’re good at taking care of them? You want to open a dog-boarding business? Just make sure you’re prepared. Sure, it’s a great opportunity, and it’s totally doable—with some planning. Make sure you know your local zoning laws and, perhaps more importantly, make sure your neighbors would be OK with some extra noise and activity around your place.
Then, let the veterinarians, pet-shop owners, groomers and other providers of pet services that you’re in business. Try to hook up with a large local employer—a hospital, perhaps, or a university—and see if you can pick up multiple clients there at once. A friend in Oregon followed those steps and now runs a successful dog-boarding operation.
For lots more information on starting a doggie bed and breakfast, owners of dog-boarding businesses recommend Pet Sitters International.
Like graphic design, Web design requires skills that can take years to acquire and perfect. But if you have them, the market is there for creating attractive, useful Web sites for all sorts of organizations. Starting a Web-design business does require some up-front investment, particularly in software, although candidates to start Web-design firms might have those applications already.
The key with Web design is to carefully define a target market and, as is the case with graphic design, offer a service nobody else offers. Remember, too, that Web designers not only compete against each other but also against packaged software that assists with Web design, so a unique selling proposition is especially important.
This one is a real wild card, but a friend in Dallas did it successfully for years. He was a self-taught art expert who advised clients on which pieces of fine art would make the best long-term investments. If you’re an art lover and educated—even self-educated—in art history, you can set up a business like this, too.
There’s no need to be an artist, just an expert in some form of art. Visit galleries. Get on their email lists, and go to their parties. Get to know their clients. Gallery owners will love you, even recommend your services, because you’ll be telling people to buy art from them. You don’t have to own any inventory. It’s pure consulting. There is almost no overhead cost for a business like this. It’s really about having a passion for art and a knack for earning people’s trust. And it’s fun!
Being a publicist essentially involves getting clients mentioned in the press in as positive a light as possible. Publicity, a subset of public relations, works because it lends a sense of credibility that paid advertising can’t.
As you might imagine, publicists need to network heavily, both in reaching out to potential clients and in getting to know members of the media. You’ll need a Website, a good pricing structure and a thick skin—reporters can be famously surly—but publicity is a generally low-overhead business that can produce quick and impressive returns.
If you have a knack for making floral, food or gift arrangements look pretty, consider setting up shop as a gift-basket designer in your home. You won’t need much more than a few craft supplies—ribbons, bows and the like, plus the baskets themselves—so the overhead for starting this business is low.
However, you will need to get exposure for your business by selling to stores and letting them sell your products or by selling directly on Websites such as Etsy or eBay. Setting up a Website is probably a good idea, too. Then, let your delightful creations speak for themselves.
Like gift-basket design, floral arrangement requires a lot more creativity than it does overhead, so it’s an approachable business idea. You don’t have to be a florist per se; you can make money arranging flowers for delivery or on-site display rather than necessarily growing or sourcing them, or selling them at retail.
Still, knowing something about how the flower business works is a good idea, and your online presence and photos of your work will be critical to your success. Remember, the business is all about visuals, so make yours as compelling as you can. Get started networking by contacting local wedding planners and funeral homes and letting them know you’re in business. From there, let your business bloom. A friend in Maine turned a flower-arranging business into a successful flower shop she later sold at a profit.
Sports Coaching and Training
There’s more to being a coach or personal trainer than just being fit and loving to exercise. Finding a specialization is important, and licenses might be required for certain types of coaching roles. For instance, a friend in Boston obtained US and European soccer-coaching licenses before opening a successful one-on-one soccer-instruction business.
Still, the cost of licenses tends to be relatively low, and if you have space in your home to accommodate students, becoming a physical trainer or coach can be a low-overhead option for entrepreneurs who really understand fitness and nutrition. The key is to specialize—on a sport, a category of clientele or both—and to look the part.
While it demands creativity, patience and expertise, makeup consulting is a business idea that requires relatively little formal training. There’s a market for customers who just want to spice up their personal looks as well as an opportunity to work with theatrical productions and other organizations that use stage makeup.
Weddings, house parties, kids’ parties and funerals present opportunities to makeup consultants, too. Networking is critical, as are a keen sense of organization and, of course, an eye for beauty. It’s also important to keep up with—or stay ahead of—fashion trends.
Not everything is just a Google search away. Media organizations hire fact checkers to make sure that items in stories are accurate and that sources quoted really exist. Other organizations need people to find statistics and other data for presentations and reports. There are plenty of opportunities online to get started researching at home. Just be prepared to get into some really esoteric topics that will take you way beyond Wikipedia.
Many of the same concepts that apply to making gift baskets or arranging flowers also apply here, but this time you’ll be putting people’s names on the things you send them. Personalization is especially hot for any sort of kids’ item, so don’t be afraid to be creative with the products you offer to personalize. Good photography, a good Website and some crafty skills will come in handy here.
Pet sitting usually involves going to someone else’s house to take care of furry loved ones. Pet sitting could even involve living in someone’s house while the client is away. You have to think about the types of services you’ll provide and the types of animals you’ll take care of, but generally pet sitting is a low-cost, high-pleasure business idea.
Speaking and Presentation Coaching
Never underestimate the terror some people feel getting up to speak in front of a live audience. High school and college students, as well as businesspeople, are excellent target markets for entrepreneurs who have some training and expertise in public speaking and presentations.
Starting a business in this field will require some experience, but as long as there is anxiety, there will be a market for coaching people to create and deliver presentations. Invest in video equipment or use a smartphone to record students as part of the coaching process. If you have a background in radio or TV or specific experience in high-profile public speaking, all the better.
In any case, advertise your business on bulletin boards in libraries and schools, particularly high schools and universities. Also consider email marketing. Pharmaceutical companies in particular tend to be in the market for presentation coaches.
Having the knack to put on a good fete is only the beginning of building a party-planning business. You need excellent organizational and client-management skills as well as a willingness to market yourself and your services to everyone you know.
One way to get started might be to focus on children’s parities, which can be a bit simpler and less stressful to plan than adult get-togethers. Go further into specialization by following kid trends and offering superhero or Frozen parties. Remember that you’ll be competing not just with other party planners but with local restaurants and facilities, so excellent networking skills and a personal touch to your services will be important.
Like starting a home bakery, developing a catering service comes with a unique set of food-oriented challenges. Right off the bat, you need to make sure that it’s legal in your state or municipality to use your home kitchen for commercial food production. If it is, you’ll still need to make sure that you’re following food-safety regulations and other relevant laws.
But if you get the green light to do it, starting a catering service is a relatively low-overhead way to create a new business. It’s a lot of work, but if you enjoy cooking, it could turn into a lucrative and fulfilling career. To get started with minimal investment, you could first cook in your customers’ homes and use their dishes. Also, a narrow specialization on a particular type of cuisine or event may help you attract clientele as you work develop a strong customer base.
Used-car salesmen unfortunately have some nasty stereotypes to live down, but you don’t need a tacky blazer or a fast-talking sales pitch to make money buying and reselling cars. People throw away perfectly good (or certainly good enough) cars all the time for all sorts of trivial issues. If you know a little something about servicing a car and can make one shine for a Craigslist ad, you could take advantage of massive opportunities to buy used cars and resell them for major profit.
The key to success in this business is being very disciplined in buying. Limit your car buying to popular models that you can turn over quickly, models that you have a strong understanding of current local pricing on, cars that you can buy at a significant discount to the price you believe you can fairly sell them for, and cars that are highly unlikely to need major work.
Also, you can get a permit or certificate to attend local car auctions and purchase cars. A friend in Georgia has been doing this successfully for more than 20 years.
Hiring a personal shopping isn’t just for fashion victims anymore. Clients hire people now to do everything from grocery shopping to buying appliances.
But if you do go the fashion route, be prepared to do quite a bit of networking before you get your business off the ground. Don’t be afraid to do free consultations for contests and giveaways. The more word gets around about your fabulous fashion sense, the larger a clientele you’ll build. If you’re really good, you can start this business with little to no training.
It’s one of the first ideas people have when they think of starting a business: making and selling crafts. That means there’s lots of competition. The good news, though, is that people just love crafts. But be careful. Don’t just sell anything and everything. Define a product line and choose a distribution channel (online, craft fairs, etc.), and stick with your plan. And, of course, be creative.
Let’s get one thing straight up front: Making money Podcasting is not necessarily easy. There are lots of Podcasts online, and if you think you can sell a few ads and bring in enough income to live off of, you’re very likely mistaken. But there are lots of options for driving revenue through Podcasting that go way beyond simple sponsorship.
The key to successful Podcasting isn’t just racking up listeners in big numbers. It’s getting listeners to engage. A small group of engaged listeners is more valuable than a large but passive audience. Specialize in an area of your expertise and constantly remind listeners to participate in your Podcast via social media or your Website. Making money Podcasting isn’t easy, but it is possible.
There is free software online for Podcasting. You can use your home computer or laptop and the built-in microphone to start your Podcast.
Home Day Care
If you love kids—really, really love kids—starting a home-based day-care center could be a viable option. Just make sure you do your homework regarding zoning laws, background checks and other regulations.
Also, make sure you’re up-to-date on CPR, first aid and other emergency procedures. Then make sure your own kids are OK with sharing their home every day. Once all of that is wrapped up, go to your friends and neighbors, your kids’ teachers, your place of worship and anywhere else busy parents are looking for day-care services, and get your word out.
The human equivalent of a doggie bed and breakfast is Airbnb, the home-sharing Web site that has put a dent in the traditional hotel business. This is the ultimate home-based business, as you literally rent all or part of your home to guests.
Succeeding on Airbnb is all about selling an experience, not just providing a room. The first key to Airbnb is making your property look great online, with high-quality pictures that make your offering stand out. Combine that with reasonable pricing and friendly customer service, and Airbnb can become a goldmine.
Strictly speaking, this isn’t really an at-home business, as most of the work takes place outside the home. But for dog lovers who don’t want other people’s pets staying overnight, dog walking is a viable business idea with a low barrier to entry. Still, there are considerations including researching the state of your local dog-walking market and addressing licensing and insurance concerns.
The old saying about one person’s trash being another person’s treasure is the mantra of the antiques refurbishing business. This is a great opportunity to turn a hobby into a business. But don’t confuse your hobby interest and your business interest.
There could be some investment necessary in equipment, and the biggest challenge might be getting your hands on the antiques you plan to refurbish. (Hint: Get to know some auctioneers.) Once you’ve turned a few pieces around, take some high-quality photographs for promotional purposes and go from there.
Make sure you are buying items that are highly sellable, meaning that you there is a large market so you won’t have to wait years to find a buyer. And be disciplined enough only to buy items that allow you plenty of markup for resale. Specialization, or at least having most of your products fit your specialization, is highly likely to increase your chances of success.
We don’t manufacture as much in America as we used to, but the phrase “American made” still means a lot to some people. Artisanal items are also popular, making now a great time to start a furniture-making business. This might not be the easiest idea to start from scratch, but if you already own the equipment you need, you can start producing pieces to sell at fairs and online on sites such as Etsy.
A furniture maker’s advice? Don’t be afraid to be a businessperson as well as a craftsperson. Charge more than you think your furniture is worth, and remember that craftsmanship and business savvy are not at all mutually exclusive.
If you know how to make jewelry, there’s really no reason not to sell it. Handmade jewelry has long held appeal for collectors and admirers alike. The biggest challenge to setting up a jewelry business might be running the business itself—just making beautiful things won’t be enough to sustain the operation. Study up on what it takes to run a jewelry business and then make it happen. A great place to start is online with sites like Etsy and eBay
This is another hobby that can easily become a vocation. While it’s true that we’re storing more and more memories in the cloud, lots of people prefer a book to a screen when looking back on their lives. Scrapbooking isn’t actually as easy as it sounds, which is why people who are good at it can make money doing it.
A scrapbooking business can take many forms, from planning scrapbook events to scrapbook instruction to making the books themselves. There’s a digital element, too, for those who know how to make beautiful physical books out of digital photos.
Soap and Lotion Making
Mild spoiler alert: Viewers of the TV drama Orange Is the New Black might remember that the show’s main character made amends with one of her fellow prison inmates by making her a soothing lotion. Hopefully you won’t find yourself in prison, but if you find yourself wanting to start a home-based business, consider hand-making soaps and lotions yourself.
Just remember that efficiency is as much the key to a successful soap-making business as artistry is—maybe more so. Get your processes down pat and stay focused on a defined target market, and you can run a soothing and successful home-based business.
Cataloging Art Collections
Here’s another wildcard from the friend in Dallas who had the art-consulting business. The premise is simple. Go into clients’ homes, photograph their art collections and produce a book (or even a Website) with a photo and a brief history of each piece in the collection.
Art collectors love to have catalogs of their work both to show off to their friends and to use as potential sales tools. It’s surprising how little some people know about the art they have. If you have photography and research skills, put them to work in this business. It can be surprisingly lucrative.
Most school kids enter a music program at some point, whether it involves singing or playing an instrument. Aside from that, plenty of adults decide at some point that they’d like to be more musical.
The market for music teaching is there, and your instrument is your specialty. The key is to develop reasonable but firm policies on pricing and cancellations and to, if possible, make your home the venue for providing lessons, rather than traveling to visit students.
Just as there are people who don’t know how to use email, there are also those who don’t want to use it. Virtual assistants run clients’ email and voicemail accounts, aside from performing other digital duties.
You’ll need a Website, a strong brand, a service niche of some sort and a willingness to network, but opportunities to become a virtual assistant do exist for those who are organized and willing to help organize others.
There’s a counter on Main St. in Cambridge, Mass., that keeps track of the number of bicycles that have passed in a day. By 8:30am, the tally is usually at more than 200. Some of those bikes are going to have mechanical problems or get bent up somehow. Somebody will need to repair them.
For the mechanically inclined who are willing to market themselves, bicycle repair is a relatively low-overhead business option that is likely to produce a steady stream of customers.
Consultant on Foreign Cultures
A friend in Boston made a living doing this. He had lived in the Netherlands and was fluent in Dutch. He contacted companies who sent people to the Netherlands to work and live, and offered to provide not just his language expertise but important information on Dutch culture and living in the country. It worked. If you’re from or have lived in another country, consider channeling not just your language but your cultural expertise into a new career.
The only word in the English language with three consecutive pairs of letters is also a great idea for a home-based business. You probably already have the equipment and software you need to start a bookkeeping business, and plenty of business owners would love to get the tedious task of keeping records off their hands.
Be their helper and make some money of your own. Networking at local business events is a key to getting started, as is advertising in local media.
Jumpy YouTube videos of cats might be charming, but they don’t do much for business owners or parents of the bride who want quality video production. Video-editing and production services can tap into several markets—business presentation, wedding, parties, even documentary and feature films.
The key to succeeding is deciding which market you want to serve and designing your offerings specifically for that space. Also, as is the case with graphic design and Web design, being able to do something nobody else is doing is also a huge plus.
One of the more obvious ideas for starting a new business is still one of the best. Cleaning houses is hard work, but people who do it well can pick up desperate new clients at a rapid pace.
Of course, strictly speaking, this isn’t an at-home business, as the work takes place in someone else’s home. But it can be lucrative. You just need to make sure that your cleaning skills are up to snuff, which means some cleaning practice at friends’ houses might not be a bad thing to do before launching the business.
Another option is cleaning offices. One friend in Boston built a highly successful cleaning business focusing on small businesses. They trusted him with access to their businesses at night and were willing to pay him a hefty premium. He worked just 4 or 5 hours a night and made a very healthy living.
Join the Work-from-Home Revolution
The era of the home entrepreneur has very much arrived. With one of these business ideas and the right attitude and preparation, you can build a solid and successful business in the comfort of your own home.