9 of the Most Successful Small Businesses (and How to Start One)

9 most successful small businesses

Becoming a small business owner takes hustle, dedication, smarts…and a great business idea. You know if you have those first three qualities, but coming up with a profitable idea for your business can be a bit more intimidating. How can you know if you're creating the next Amazon.com–or the next Pets.com?

Thankfully, there's no reason to reinvent the wheel. There are many small business ideas that have proven themselves to be winners. Not only are they lucrative, but they fill a need in almost every community, and require minimal capital and training.

All of the businesses on this list have a (relatively) low barrier to entry, low overhead, and high profit potential, even for newbie entrepreneurs who have never been to business school. While no venture is guaranteed, bringing your smarts, hustle, and enthusiasm to any of these proven business ideas gives you an excellent chance for success.

Here are nine of the most successful small business ideas out there, and suggestions for how you can start one today:

9 of the Most Successful Small Businesses

Here's the quick list (the detailed list is below):

    1. Mobile Esthetician Services
    2. Catering
    3. Landscaping and Gardening
    4. Consulting Services
    5. Family Travel Advisor
    6. Organization Services
    7. Cleaning Services
    8. Food Truck
    9. Personal Training

Mobile Esthetician Services

The commitment to visiting a salon can prevent many people from booking appointments. Both homebound individuals and those who simply can't make appointments during work hours are an untapped market of potential mobile esthetician clients.

Mobile esthetician services take inconvenience and time restrictions out of the equation. With access to services in their homes and on their schedules, it's easier for clients to make appointments with mobile estheticians. 

The primary investment for will be the education and licensure required to practice. A wide variety of programs are available in most areas, with training spanning anywhere from a few months to a year. You will also want to invest in the products and tools you need to offer your services in your clients' homes.

With such low overhead, the potential profit is only limited by your ability to book appointments. For anyone who is customer-service oriented and in pursuit of a portable career, this can be an excellent small business to start.


Do you have a flair for cooking? Catering services can allow you to profit from your skills while avoiding the expensive overhead of a restaurant. Catering also enables owners to make their schedule on their terms. (But expect to work nights and weekends if you aspire to reach true success!)

One big benefit of catering is that you can invest in a little at a time instead of putting it all down upfront. Start with a modest selection of menus to minimize the tools you need. As your business grows, you can buy the necessary equipment to add more options. The only substantial investment you might face is renting a kitchen. However, most event venues have kitchens on site, allowing for a portion of the prep work and plating at the place of business.

Catering businesses provide you the flexibility to devote your time to your business however you see fit. It can be full-time gig or a part-time money maker.

See Also: 20 Unique Business Ideas That You Can Start Today!

Landscaping and Gardening

Lawn care is a small business staple for good reason: it's easy to scale to your time and abilities. From the high schooler mowing neighborhood lawns for extra cash to the full-scale operations of professional landscaping services, the lawn care business has plenty of operation options.

The most convenient aspect is that it utilizes tools you already own or can buy cheaply secondhand. (And nothing is more cost-effective than using your own two hands to pull weeds.)

Of course, you do need to be prepared for the seasonal nature of this work. Many landscapers work long hours during peak season and very little in the offseason. You may have to ration your income to have enough set aside for the down season. One way to avoid the feast-or-famine nature of landscaping is to provide year-round services. These can include snow removal, power-washing sidewalks and driveways, or even stringing Christmas lights on houses.

According to Mark Kirschen, owner of Clean2xtreme LLC Lawn Care Service, “a business in the lawn care field is not for the weak but, done with dedication to years of establishing a wide index of clients, owners are able to establish a strong localized presence and reach success.”

Landscaping requires physical strength as well as business savvy. If you have the desire to start a lawn care business, Kirschen suggests investing in commercial equipment. It will make all of your hard work a lot easier. That hard work can pay off in a strong and successful local business.

Consulting Services

Consulting services provide clients with assistance on a variety of different business needs. Services can vary from marketing assistance to financial preparation and guidance, from content creation to strategic planning. Overall, your service revolves around the unique talents you possess and can sell to prospective clients.

Such a loosely established business model can be a double-edged sword. On one hand, the freedom to specialize in any aspect of the business world leaves plenty of room to capitalize on your talents. But becoming too niche can also harm your ability to appeal to a wide range of clients.

The great news is that consulting services don’t require a lot of overhead. You can start your company from home and offer services based on intellect as opposed to tangible materials. Armed with nothing more than a computer and the ability to sell your talents, a consulting firm may be your ticket to profitability.

Listen: How to Start an Excel Consulting Business with Jen Portland of ExcelRainMan.com

Family Travel Advisor

Planning trips can be so overwhelming that it's easy to forget how to relax and enjoy your time away. This is especially true for families traveling with young children. Parents can be so focused on trying to give their kids a good experience that they never actually feel like they're on vacation. Seeing this stressful vacation dynamic helped Family Travel Advisor and blog owner, Tavia Carlson, identify her calling.

“I created my blog, Big Brave Nomad, and all of the social media accounts associated with it, after receiving inquiry after inquiry about successful techniques for traveling with kids,” Carlson explains.

Carlson knew there had to be a way to market her knowledge for the greater good. After making the minimal initial investment to create her online presence (her overhead is a little under $300 a year), she has embarked on several valuable partnerships. These not only provide enough profit to cover the costs of her website, but she also benefits from the products she promotes.

“We make money through affiliates and partnerships, but we do not make enough to cover our travel YET,” Carlson states. “The volume of work and time it takes to grow is tough to calculate, but a lot of the methods are free endeavors; emailing companies to form partnerships, learning and building SEO, and participating in networking opportunities to promote our business.”

If you have a passion for travel and you want to share your expertise with families in need of guidance, starting a travel advising business could be a fulfilling and sustainable business.

See also: 18 Legit Work-From-Home Jobs with No Startup Fee

Organization Services

As a nation, we have a serious clutter problem. To help tame the beast, more and more people are turning to professional organizers to help them tame the untidiness. If you have a knack for creating organizational systems, a professional organization service could help you translate your skills to profits. 

For instance, when Laura Ellis, owner of Organized by Ellis, first started her professional organizing business, she was still working a full-time job. She provided clients with systems to organize their spaces. From their kitchens to their closets, Ellis offered her clients a method to ensure everything has a place and everything is where it belongs.

At first, she thought of her side business as just a fulfilling way to make a little extra cash, but she quickly realized that her passion for organizing had more potential. She began calculating how to make the jump from part-time organizer to full-time business owner. Once she committed to the business, it was quick to provide her profit. How quick? “It took less than a year,” Ellis reports. “It wasn’t a BIG profit, but it was profit nonetheless.”

One of the benefits of becoming a professional organizer is that you already have the skills necessary to create a well-run business. Ellis's passion for organizing helped her build a profitable small business: “Luckily for me, I’m organized. So that helped with starting my business,” she explains. “It’s what I do professionally for clients, so I did the same for myself.”

If you want to start a similar organization business, you'll first need to decide if you will specialize in certain types of organization (businesses vs. homes) or be a generalist. You can also contact the National Association of Productivity and Organization Professionals for more information about creating your own organization business.

Read: The Minimalist Home Office: 5 Tips to Organize Your Workspace and Get More Done!

Cleaning Services

Mom always said, “a clean home is a happy home.” Studies have shown that she's absolutely right. Tidy, organized living spaces help their inhabitants feel happier and more productive. However, in today's go-go modern world, it’s more difficult than ever for people to find the time keep their homes in tip-top shape. That's where your new business comes in.

If you enjoy bringing tidiness and cleanliness to homes, a cleaning service can be an excellent small business venture. Reliable cleaning services are in high demand, especially in big cities and vacation destinations. With little overhead outside of investing in cleaning products, equipment, and liability insurance, a cleaning company is an inexpensive small business to start.

Student Maid’s founder, Kristen Hadeed, shares that when you’re just starting you may not need an initial investment. However, after about a year in business, she won a contract to clean hundreds of empty student apartments during Gainesville’s “move-out season.” To do that, she needed a $10,000 loan so she could buy cleaning supplies, vacuums, uniforms, etc. for a team of 60 people.

Once you establish a few clients, word-of-mouth can do wonders for your client list. “Student Maid has always relied heavily on word-of-mouth advertising,” Hadeed says, “but we’ve also used Facebook ads, print ads in local publications, and in-person networking with local business groups.”

The business can run on individual or team-based models. While working as an individual has less overhead, ­­­­­you may be able to cover more ground (and bring in more profit) with a team. You could always start as a solo cleaner to keep your startup costs low, and add team members as you grow your client list.

Eventually, you may want to outsource more and more of the actual cleaning as you grow the company.

Hadeed adds, “The cleaning industry is tough. It has a meager profit margin (the average is 15%), the work is physically demanding, and every customer has unique standards when it comes to cleaning. If you’re looking for an ‘easy' business to start, this one is probably not the answer!”

Food Truck

Food trucks are a fantastic and practical way for cooks to use their culinary skills to make money. A food truck business allows entrepreneurs to indulge their desire to create unique, delicious dishes while eliminating much of the overhead associated with opening a restaurant or boutique eatery. Plus, having a more limited menu makes profits easier to estimate than a traditional restaurant. 

The mobility of a “restaurant on wheels” also enables the owner to go where the business is. Having the option of parking near the city's business district for breakfast and/or lunch, or traveling to music festivals, sporting events, or other popular destinations with hungry people, allows you to find your customers wherever they may be. There are many reasons why both novice and tenured chefs are turning to this method of culinary employment.

While food trucks are less expensive to own and run than a traditional restaurant, it's not a business you can start up with nothing. In addition to purchasing the truck and cooking equipment, you may need to spend money to get your truck fitted up as a working kitchen. (That's not to mention decorating your truck to make it attractive to potential diners.) Also, you will need to make sure you have all the required licensing to serve food. You will also want to make sure you have adequate liability insurance.

­­­­­The food truck industry can be a profitable way to declare independence from the rigors of restaurant life but still express your culinary creativity. After all, who doesn’t like food on the go?

Personal Training

Maintaining a healthy lifestyle often requires the active involvement of a fitness professional. Personal trainers provide basic or advanced education on the most effective methods for achieving even the loftiest of fitness goals. If fitness is your passion, becoming a personal trainer can be an excellent and profitable small business to start.

Initial start-up costs for this kind of solo business tend to be minimal. You will need to invest in the required certification. There are multiple governing bodies in the industry, and depending on your fitness expertise and home state, certification can cost between $300-$1,000. If you are already established with a gym, it may be simplest to offer your services there. Otherwise, you may want to provide your training out of your home or in your clients' homes.

No matter where you work, you need to carry fitness business liability insurance. This will make sure you are covered in case any of your clients are injured while exercising.

This is another business that can grow a great deal based on word of mouth. If you commit the time to helping your clients meet their fitness goals, they are much more likely to recommend you to friends and help you grow your business organically.

The Bottom Line

The secret to a successful small business is not coming up with a brand new idea no one has thought of. It's choosing a business model and offering excellent service and value. You can build a successful and profitable small business from the ground up using any of these nine business models. You just need to bring the heart and the hustle while filling a need in your community.

What successful small business ideas have we missed? Tell us in the comment section!

About Emily Guy Birken

Emily Guy Birken is a former English teacher and respected personal finance blogger. She lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin with her engineer husband and two high-energy little boys. She has written four books: The Five Years Before You Retire, Choose Your Retirement, Making Social Security Work For You, and End Financial Stress Now. Emily's thoughts on parenting and life in general are found at The SAHMnambulist.

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