Let’s look at some scalable business ideas. As a blogger, I stumbled into a business idea that scales pretty efficiently. I can reach thousands of people each day with my words using the power of the Internet and search.
When I say “scales” efficiently, here’s what I mean:
A scalable business can be served up to exponentially more and more people without incurring an exponential number of operating costs. Digital products, courses, and blogs are great examples of scalable businesses.
In my example, my product is information in the form of articles. As my site ages and as I add more content, it can reach exponentially more people without much of a rise in costs, other than the increased cost of web hosting.
I didn’t really think about this when I started blogging. In fact, I wasn’t really thinking much about business at all when I started — I just wanted to tell my story.
I just assumed all business ideas could be turned into success stories if you worked hard enough and maybe got a little lucky. I didn’t realize there were business characteristics that could influence the level and speed of success.
Over the past few years, I’ve discovered the concept of scale and I can appreciate how much it matters when trying to build a business that can lead to game-changing financial freedom.
What are Some Scalable Business Ideas?
Let’s take a look at some of the businesses that have high scalability. Later, we’ll look at a few that traditionally don’t scale well. Then, we’ll give you some ideas for how to convert a non-scalable business into a fully scalable business idea by just adding a few tweaks.
Let’s dive into more detail!
Did you know that the vast majority of Windows computers in the world today were not built by Microsoft?
Instead, most Windows computers are built by a huge number of hardware manufacturers that all pay Microsoft a licensing fee to use their operating system.
So, Microsoft does the work of making the software once and then sells it over and over and over again. They let other suckers deal with the slim margins that are inherent with hardware sales.
And then guess what happens next? The customer who buys one of those Windows laptops realizes that they really need Word or Powerpoint or Excel.
And what do they do? Pay Microsoft for a one-time use Office license or sign up for an Office 365 subscription.
You can land wherever you want on the Mac vs. Windows discussion, but you can’t deny that this is an incredibly scalable business idea.
And if you can build software, you can follow Windows’ business model. Here is a list of software products that could be built or coded once and then sold again and again:
- WordPress themes
- WordPress plugins
- Mobile apps
- Software as a Service (SaaS)
- Chrome extensions (e.g. DollarSprout Rewards)
- Gmail extensions
- Windows or Mac applications
- Chatbots (like ChatGPT)
There are so many more ideas besides these. If you have any kind of coding background or the motivation to learn how to code, there is literally a limitless supply of scalable business ideas that could make you serious bank.
2. Blogs, Podcasts, and YouTube
As mentioned in the introduction, when I first started my blog, I didn’t realize that I was stumbling on one of the best business ideas in terms of scalability.
With each month that goes by, each article that I publish and backlink that I earn, there is a potential for my site to rise in domain authority and reach an exponentially larger audience.
If I go to sleep tonight and wake up tomorrow morning with double the web traffic, my income would rise significantly. But, my expenses would basically stay the same.
That’s because what I’m primarily selling are ideas and information.
It takes me the exact same amount of time to write an article that reaches 1,000 people as one that reaches 1,000,000 people. That’s the power of businesses that are built on sharing information and ideas.
If you’re wondering where to start, simply ask yourself, “What am I an expert in?” “What am I passionate about? Or, “What areas am I uniquely qualified to teach others about?”
Related: How to Make Extra Money Blogging
3. Digital Designs and Downloads
If you have lots of great ideas that you’re sharing on a blog, why not compile some of them all in place in the form of a self-published eBook? Instead of making a few cents per page view, you could earn $5, $10, or $15 per download.
Again, the work is done once and pays you back repeatedly. There are no printing and publishing costs like you would have with trying to sell a physical book. People simply pay you to download a PDF.
That’s a scalable business idea.
Books aren’t the only types of products that people will pay to download digital versions of. Here are some more ideas:
- Stock photos
- Stock videos
- Custom artwork
As we’ll discuss later, people who work in creative fields or with service-based businesses can sometimes struggle to find scalable business ideas that work. But converting your creative work into a digital download of some kind is a great way to scale your business efficiently.
Ok, everything that we’ve mentioned so far has kind of led up to this.
If you are in the “idea” business, blog posts can be a great way to start earning an income from the knowledge that you share. Collating some of your best ideas into the form of a digitally downloadable eBook is a great next step.
Courses are great because they can potentially bring you even more income per person than eBooks. People who pay for courses are generally hoping to learn skills they can apply to earn an income themselves. For this reason, they are often willing to pay more for the information they receive.
While a good eBook may sell for $10, an excellent course could easily sell for $199 or more. And, if you’re thinking that building a course would be difficult and complicated, it’s really not.
There is a ton of great course authoring software out there that can help you build a sharp, well-polished course in no time.
Courses are also a really good outlet if you have a “coaching” bent. Coaching or consulting can be a difficult business model to scale. But through the use of courses, coaching can make sense as a scalable business idea.
Nobody wants to actually buy things individually anymore today. Instead, subscription services are the flavor of the day.
As someone looking to build a scalable business, you can use this to your advantage. There are subscriptions for literally everything now, including things that no one would have considered offering as a subscription in the past.
Today, you can buy a subscription for your:
- Meal kits
- Personal and business software
- Beauty supplies
- Stickers (yes, stickers)
Now, do I think some of these things are ridiculous to pay for on subscription? Yes.
But, as a would-be future business owner, you can take advantage of this trend. People are often willing to pay more for things on a monthly basis, then they would if they bought each product individually. Plus, they often keep the subscription going longer than they intended, simply because it can be a pain to cancel. (But please, make it easy to cancel so you don’t alienate your customers!)
If you’re wanting to get into a physical product business (generally a bad business model in terms of scalability), creating a subscription model may be a smart move.
6. Rental Properties
I put investing in a rental property near the bottom of the list because it will generally require significantly more capital than most of the other ideas listed above.
But, wow, can it be a fantastic scalable business.
Once you’ve paid the property off, your monthly rental income is close to pure profit. You could literally continue to receive payments for years and years after your property has been paid for.
Yes, you may have to deal with difficult tenants at times and there will be some repair overhead. But, I still love the rental property business as a whole.
And, if you live in an area where short-term rental services are legal, you could potentially make two or three times more in monthly income by listing your property on websites like Airbnb or HomeAway.
Investing in businesses that you believe in is a great way to earn income at scale. You invest a certain amount of money once in return for a percentage of all future profits.
When people think of investing in businesses, they usually think of purchasing stocks, mutual funds, or index funds. This is definitely a great way to invest in businesses.
However, the stock market isn’t the only place that you can invest in up-and-coming businesses. Equity crowdfunding is a relatively new and fascinating way to invest in startups and build passive income.
While you may not have enough capital today to make a sustainable income off of your investments, you could realistically live off your investments in the future.
To get to that point, you’ll need to invest consistently and methodically over a long period of time and avoid making emotional knee-jerk reactions to the stock market ups and downs.
Inefficient vs. Efficient Scale
Above are some good examples of business that scale.
Here’s a bad example: dry cleaners. There’s one on every corner. If the dry cleaner on the corner wants to serve more people and increase sales, they are going to bump up against some natural limitations (i.e. size of their equipment and location, the number of people living in close proximity, etc.).
To achieve growth beyond these initial limitations they are going to have to hire more employees and build/buy new locations. The operating costs of a cleaning business are tied closely to the increase in sales. It’s hard to escape it.
Let’s say a dry cleaner brings in $200,000 in sales each year. After expenses, that might provide a decent salary for you and your family. But to grow past that $200,000 mark, you’d have to incur a lot of expense and risk (i.e. purchase another location and hire another set of employees, including a manager since you can’t be there yourself).
MJ Demarco, the author of the book, The Millionaire Fastlane, says this about scale:
“If you want to climb the heights to financial freedom you need a business the SCALES into the sky…in other words, it will need to reach new heights to reach the masses. The tallest skyscraper in the world can be viewed by millions. How tall is Facebook? Conversely, how tall is that little shop you have on Elm Street? Scale is what creates millionaires. The taller your building, the more it can impact.”
In the dry cleaner example, one location will never be able to serve millions of people. It will likely never be able to serve more than the people living within a mile or two radius. It just won’t scale efficiently.
Not everyone wants to be a millionaire, I realize that. Some people wouldn’t mind building a high-paying job for themselves that they love. Especially one that comes with autonomy and the satisfaction of owning your own business. In some ways, I’m still in this category and I can tell you I love it.
Will Your Business Idea Scale Efficiently?
If you do want to achieve greater financial freedom and earlier in life, then I think you need to think about scale. In particular, you need to be asking if you can scale the idea you have or the business you are starting up?
More importantly, you need to be asking whether the idea or business will scale efficiently.
Ultimately, every business is going to scale. But will it scale efficiently?
Again, a business that scales efficiently is one where you can grow (i.e. increase sales) without incurring an equal percentage growth in expenses. Let’s look at a couple of charts that illustrate this concept (from an admittedly over-simplified perspective).
The chart on the left is an example of a business that doesn’t scale efficiently. Operating expenses match sales in percentage increase as the business matures. Examples of businesses that tend to behave this way include:
- Physical products
- Creative work (writing, graphic design, etc.)
- Service-oriented work (restaurants, rideshare driving, babysitting, house cleaning, etc.)
- Events and tradeshows (see how I scaled my tradeshow)
The chart on the right is an example of a business that can scale very efficiently. You can clearly see that sales can increase without an equal increase in expenses. Which business would you rather own?
Taking Your Home Business Idea to the Next Level
Coming up with a new home business idea is a fantastic move if you want to boost your income a little and improve your family’s quality of life. Lots of people choose to do that every single year, and there is a reasonable chance you will experience at least some success if you have the right levels of creativity and motivation.
However, some people who do that will have the opportunity to take their home business to the next level in the future. Consider some of the things you will have to do to achieve that goal.
1. Create a Business Plan
If you have a home business that you want to take to the next level, it’s sensible to create a business plan before doing anything else. This is the document that explains the nature of your company, how you intend to make a profit, and how much investment you’re going to require.
You can use this business plan to seek funding from a bank manager if you need a small loan to get started. Try using a business loan calculator to learn more about business loans, if you feel that’s the best option for you. However, your business plan could be bootstrapped, too. That’s how you can avoid debt.
2. Promote Your Venture
You could have the best products or services in the world when you finally get your new business off the ground. However, you will never make it if potential clients and customers don’t learn about your company. That is why you must make substantial investments in online promotion to market your business.
Social media channels can be your best friend, as you can use them to reach thousands or even millions of people from within your target market. So, do yourself a favor and research social media marketing before creating a promotional plan.
3. Know When to Outsource
Plenty of new small business owners overlook the idea of outsourcing during the early stages of their venture. However, that is one of the worst things you can do if you want to make money from home. There simply aren’t enough hours in the day for one person to manage everything.
There are professionals who can complete some of the time-consuming tasks within your operation for a fraction of the cost you may imagine. For instance, you can outsource customer service to dedicated call centers rather than employing people to answer the phones in-house. Make sure you research the options for outsourcing to determine if it’s a good fit for you.
4. Maintain Accurate Records
Bookkeeping is a business owner’s best friend. From the moment you conceive of your home business idea, keep an accurate record of business expenses and revenue using a spreadsheet. To take your business idea to the next level, you must develop a system for tracking revenue and expenses.
Businesses must file income taxes, so maintaining accurate records will serve you well when it comes time to do so. Save your receipts!
5. Get Comfortable With Self-Promotion
No matter who you are, no matter what you do, you are going to have to sell something to someone at some point. Whether you’re selling a product or service in Portland, Oregon or Portland, Maine, you have to get very comfortable with the idea of transactions.
So many people say “I’m just not a salesperson”. In reality, we’re always selling.
You might have kids, and you’re a salesperson when you work to convince them of anything. From getting them to clean their rooms to eat their vegetables, you have to sell the idea to your kids.
Sales is all about persuasion. You need to help people see the value in the item or idea you’re selling.
Practice selling with your friends and family. Ask them what questions they have about your product or service. Ask them when and how they’d use your product or service and listen to their valuable feedback on your sales pitch and strategy.
The more people you talk with about your home business idea, the more confident you’ll be when you eventually encounter your first real customer.
How to Scale Any Business Efficiently
What if you already own the dry cleaners?
Well, all is not lost. As I said, you could take the extra risk and time to bring the business to a larger scale. It just wouldn’t be as efficient.
I’m sure there are plenty of multi-store dry cleaning entrepreneurs who’ve reached financial freedom over time. There are likely some who never have to step foot in the business or deal with customers.
But, a faster way to freedom might be to use your expertise in the dry cleaning business and create an at-home dry cleaning product that could help customers all over the world.
Or you could create a course to teach aspiring entrepreneurs how to get started in the dry cleaning business. Both of these ideas have the potential to reach thousands or millions of customers. Something the single dry cleaning location could not.
Any idea can really be flipped on its head like this. Take any of my 52 ways to make extra money and I think you can find a way to either directly or indirectly scale the operation.
But, to get you started, here are four keys to scaling an “unscalable” business more efficiently.
1. Monetize Your Knowledge
How do you turn a “service” business into an “ideas and information” business? By teaching others what you’ve learned about running a successful service business.
While you may hit an eventual ceiling as a personal trainer, you could make exponential amounts of more revenue if you taught others how to build thriving personal trainer businesses through training videos or courses.
Freelance writing is a job that lands squarely in the creative services field. You spend time writing an article. You get paid for the article. It’s pretty simple. Unless you start charging more per article, your income is going to eventually hit a cap.
But what if you taught others how to become full-time freelance writers?
Literally, any business idea can become a scalable business by finding a way to monetize the knowledge that’s locked inside your head.
2. Get Paid to Refer Your Clients to Other People or Products
Your business coaching business may be at its maximum capacity. But, what if you could develop affiliate partnerships with other companies in the business services space like email marketing companies, bookkeeping software companies, printing shops, etc?
What if you received a commission for every new customer that signed up with them as a result of a referral from you? This is a great way to diversify your income and scale your business.
Here are two examples from the Part-Time Money Podcast:
- Cristina Twigg of Easy Care Babysitters: Cristina could have settled for being a babysitter. Instead, she chose to expand and create what is essentially a babysitting brokerage or dispatch company. She’s the hub that connects parents and sitters.
- Jim Vitale of Vital Hockey Skills: Jim is a coach. People pay him to be with them in person and teach them things. For the longest time, Jim’s business experienced limited growth. Now he’s getting into affiliate marketing and offering reputable products alongside his online hockey skill videos.
Another way to make money by referring your clients to products is through the various affiliate marketing networks. The idea is that you connect your clients to brands with products that directly correlate to their pain points.
Here are two main affiliate networks to check out:
- Awin: This network has over 15,000 brands to choose from and has won industry awards for their affiliate marketing set-up. This network is easy to get approved into because they are very beginner-friendly. Some of the brands in Awin include Swarovski, AllBeauty, Decluttr, BookingBuddy, and more.
- Shareasale: This network has been around for 19 years solely as an affiliate marketing network and has over 3,900 brands. Like Awin, Shareasale is very beginner-friendly (and Awin technically owns them.) Some of the brands in Shareasale include Reebok, Minted, Spanx, NFL Shop, Weebly, and more.
There are plenty of ways to get paid by referring people if you think outside the box!
3. Find Ways to Convert Physical Products to Digital
While I rather unexpectedly fell into a business that scales well in blogging, I also run another business that definitely isn’t known for scaling well. I head up FinCon, a conference that I originally started as an event for bloggers in the personal finance community to network and connect with each other.
Conferences, tradeshows, and events are businesses that can scale, but they are a challenge to scale quickly. Simply put, they typically only take place once a year and require a great deal of time commitment and manual effort. If you want to improve your business, you need to wait a whole year to realize the effects of those changes.
Additionally, an event can come with many real, variable costs. Things like meals, staffing, and event materials typically remain the same per attendee, regardless of the number of attendees.
To help us scale our event quickly, we began by trying to cut costs. One way we did that was by introducing a digital pass to the event which can be replicated without any additional costs.
We’ve also removed some of our more expensive variable costs and placed them as part of a premium offering (i.e. pre-purchase your meals). If you have a particular part of your business that’s really bogging you down in terms of cost, don’t be afraid to charge extra for it.
If it truly provides value to your customers, they’ll be willing to pay the extra amount for the service or product!
As we look to continue to scale in the future, we want to continue to create more digital services and products. The more that you can eliminate “things” and replace them with digital alternatives, the more efficiently your business will scale.
4. Expand Your Scope and Charge More for Premium Services
Another way that we’ve been able to scale our business at FinCon is by expanding the scope of who we’re trying to serve. We used to focus just on bloggers and now we serve all types of digital media creators in our industry.
If you have a course on how to do social media management, could you expand it to become a course that targets anyone who wants to do virtual assistant work?
If you have a service that connects babysitters with parents, could you expand your service to also target people who are looking for dog sitters or senior care?
Always be thinking about and exploring ways to expand the scope of your business.
5. It’s Time to Take Your Business Online
Let’s face it: the modern world is one that is almost entirely dominated by one thing: the internet. There was a time when the internet was purely the domain of expert coders, but now everyone and their grandmother is online. The impact of the internet is felt strongly in the world of business.
Here’s the reality: if your business doesn’t have an online component, it’s not a business at all. The world moves at an incredibly fast pace now, and if you can’t keep up, your business will be left behind. Here are a few ways to take your business online:
Create an Online Store Front
Setting up an online store with something like Square is fairly straigh-forward these days. Once you’ve registered for an account, you can easily start adding products and services to your dashboard.
Customization options allow you to give your store front its own distinct look and feel. With the added convenience of taking payments swiftly and securely, you’ll be ready to make money in no time!
A Virtual P.O. Box
Use a virtual P.O. box (like one from PostScanMail) to stay on top of all of your business correspondence. This will enable you to both sort and store your crucial business-related mail.
Embrace Social Media
If you’ve been holding out, saying that social media is just a fad you can ignore, it might be time to rethink that perspective. Twitter and Facebook launched years ago and show no signs of slowing down. The best thing you can do is embrace social media as the incredibly powerful marketing tool it is.
Through social media, you can interact with your consumer base in a way that has never been possible before, outside of face-to-face conversation. Social media enables you to create genuinely strong bonds with your potential customers, so don’t ignore it.
Explore Remote Work
The “office” was the hub of successful business for decades. However, in this modern era, many companies are rethinking this model.
Thanks to Google Drive, Skype, Slack, Trello, and other programs that enable remote access, the notion that you can work from anywhere has grown tremendously
Think of how remote work could benefit your employees. Could you allow them to work remotely? Would even a day or two per week working from home be an attractive perk for them?
Of course, some brick-and-mortar businesses simply have to have people on the premises to function. Some customers will always want to hang on to a more traditional experience. The key may be to find a balance between onsite aspects of your business and aspects that can be conducted remotely.
Start a Blog and Optimize For SEO
Your target customers will ask questions regularly about problems they’re experiencing with a product or service. Where will they go for help? Google. Where does Google source answers to questions? Websites like yours, of course!
You can start a blog focused on the range of keywords that describe your products and services as well as the problems you can solve. By providing consistent, high-quality content on your company blog, you can attract new customers.
Learning search engine optimization (SEO) strategies will serve your business well and help you to generate more revenue.
Choosing to start a business is a smart move. But choosing a scalable business idea is an even smarter move.
If you haven’t started your business yet, I would recommend trying to pick one of the scalable business ideas from our list.
If you’re already in a business that doesn’t typically scale well, that’s ok! By monetizing your knowledge or taking advantage of affiliate relationships, you can scale your business efficiently too.
Do you have any scalable business ideas we didn’t mention? Do you run a scalable business?