Creating a home-based business or finding profitable online business ideas can be challenging. There are thousands of possible choices, yet everything seems like it’s been done thousands of times before.
So with all these product choices, where do you even begin digging to find the gold?
If you’re looking to start your own business, below is a big list of opportunities you can take advantage of today to grow a profitable business in 2021 and beyond.
Business opportunities that survived the pandemic
From our research, we defined a “thriving” business type as one whose founder had a higher than average level of satisfaction with business performance and/or a higher than average positive outlook on the future of their businesses.
While there have been some clear winners—we don’t even have to look at the numbers to call out loungewear brands and home fitness businesses—our research revealed some unexpected standouts.
Those thriving business types—and our predictions for the most profitable small businesses to start in 2021—are:
- Healthy and beauty businesses
- Subscription businesses
- Businesses selling B2B and B2C
Health and beauty businesses
The numbers: 55% of health and beauty business founders reported being satisfied with business performance in the past year. (The average across all business types was 38%.) While the past year’s performance is a good indication of success, an even higher percentage expects continued success. 79% of health and beauty founders reported having a positive outlook in the following months.
Why these businesses thrived
Under the category of health and beauty, you’ll find personal care items like hand sanitizer and soaps. These products were in high demand, especially at the outset of the pandemic, with increased concern about surface transmission. Another side effect to rolling lockdowns was the impact on the beauty service industry. Consumers diverted their beauty spending to at-home spa and salon experiences.
With the slow rollout of vaccines and the continued need for self-care, we predict that health and beauty businesses will continue to thrive through 2021.
High-potential health and beauty businesses to start in 2021
If you’re looking to start a profitable health or beauty business this year, consider the changing needs of consumers. We identified trends that emerged in 2020 and are here to stay.
Businesses that can sell online and offer multiple delivery methods will win. Pair that approach with product ideas that are in high demand:
- Personal care products like hand soap and sanitizer
- At-home spa rituals like face masks
- Beauty technology like massage guns, smart mirrors, and makeup refrigerators
💡 Quick start tip: Spin up a beauty business quickly by considering reselling or white label. For more on these models, consult our guide to starting a makeup line.
The numbers: 63% of founders who sold subscriptions were satisfied with business performance, compared to 55% of founders who did not sell subscriptions. We identified two subscription models commonly used by businesses that thrived in 2020:
- Replenishment model: subscribers receive the same or similar products each cycle.
- Membership model: subscribers have access to exclusive products or perks.
Why these businesses thrived
In our consumer trends research, we found that buyers were more likely to shop from businesses that offered convenience, say through online purchasing options and multiple choices for delivery or pickup. Subscriptions offer an easy way for customers to receive the products they buy frequently without having to make multiple trips to stores—and risk exposure.
Even early in the pandemic, it was reported that subscription box businesses were experiencing a surge. Many replaced a lack of connection to activities that brought joy with delight delivered regularly to doorsteps.
High-potential subscription businesses to start in 2021
We recently announced that Shopify has made it even easier to sell subscriptions on our platform. That means, if you already own a business, you can add a subscription option to help you increase predictable revenue and customer loyalty. If you’re starting from scratch, this could be a great online business idea for you.
You could sell:
- Basics like diapers and personal care (replenishment model)
- Self-care boxes
- Current product trends that work well with subscriptions, such as non-alcoholic beverages, puzzles and board games, nail polish
💡 Quick start tip: Read our quick guide to adding subscription options to your existing business. If you’re starting from scratch, reach out to existing subscription box businesses to see if you can partner up. Having your product included in a popular box can increase your reach and exposure.
Business selling B2B and B2C
The numbers: 62% of founders who sold both B2B and B2C were satisfied with business performance in 2020, while only 53% of B2C-only business owners reported the same. This model was most common among those running businesses in the food and beverage industry, with 53% of those surveyed reporting selling both B2C and B2B.
Planned business expansion is an obvious indicator of a business’ current success. Among those who sell both B2B and B2C, 24% reported they planned to expand their business into new product areas in the near future.
Why these businesses thrived
Reaching new customers and getting products into their hands became increasingly challenging as stores shuttered and delivery providers became overwhelmed. Those who used multiple channels or models to reach customers had a better chance of survival in 2020—and high potential to be profitable in 2021.
For example, a brand that sold its handmade skincare wholesale to beauty retailers may have seen its B2B business dip with closure of these partner stores but could supplement the loss by selling the same products B2C via an online store.
High-potential B2B/B2C businesses to start in 2021
In 2020, Shopify announced the launch of Handshake, a wholesale marketplace for retailers and suppliers alike. If you already sell direct-to-consumer, consider adding wholesale to the mix and increase your exposure to new markets. If you’re a wholesaler, spin up a direct-to-customer arm of your business to make up for sales that have been impacted by the pandemic.
If you’re an aspiring entrepreneur looking for a product idea, many can be sold both B2B and B2C. Our findings indicate that a combination of these will give you a better chance at having a profitable small business. Start with our resources to help you find a product, or tap into some recent product trends:
- Workout gear like exercise bands and yoga mats
- Health and beauty products
- Home decor items like rugs and furniture
💡 Quick start tip: Take your existing B2C business to a B2B audience by consulting our guide to selling wholesale.
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Online business opportunities
Millions of self-employed people call home their place of business. Want to join them? Below is a list of online business opportunities you can take advantage of from the comfort of home.
Dropshipping is one of the best at-home business opportunities there is. Dropshipping is a business model that lets you buy products directly from a supplier or manufacturer and ship them to your customers.
Compared to other ecommerce business opportunities, dropshipping is low cost to start. You don’t have to worry about carrying inventory or buying products in bulk. You don’t even have to worry about shipping products, because your supplier handles that for you.
Since you don’t have to buy the items you sell, you can offer a variety of different products, such as beauty, keto, fashion, home, ice cream, wholesale, and more—dropshipping business opportunities are near endless. If a supplier stocks a product, you can list it on your online store at no additional cost.
How to Get Started with Dropshipping in 2021
Learn how to find high-margin products, add them into your store, and start selling—fast.
Print on demand
Whether you’re an artist, designer, or ecommerce brand, print on demand is a great potential business opportunity for online clothing retailers. Printing on demand involves working with a supplier to customize white-label products, such as tote bags or t-shirts, with your own designs.
The best part? You don’t have to pay for the product until after you sell it. Similar to dropshipping, you don’t hold any inventory or buy in bulk.
- Print on Demand: A Low-Risk Way to Sell Custom T-Shirts, Books, and More
- 10 Print-On-Demand Companies for Selling Your Own Custom Products
- A Canvas for Creativity: Here Are 10 Print-On-Demand Products You Can Sell (Without Holding Inventory)
Sell handmade products
If you always enjoyed making and building stuff as a kid, selling DIY products is a great business opportunity to monetize your creativity. Even if you have the will to create something new but lack the know-how, there’s a way to make it happen.
Take Josh Pigford, founder of Baremetrics (a SaaS company) and Cedar + Sail (a handmade homewares online shop), for example. What started as a part-time side project quickly became a profitable online business opportunity to stimulate his creative side and sell products he makes by hand.
“I’m a sucker for little things that go on side tables and desks, so I started playing around with some ideas for concrete planters—the kind of thing that can hold succulents and air plants,” Josh says.
“I quickly figured out the process to produce the silicon molds I’d need to pour the concrete in, and I was set. A month or so after I had the idea to make these little planters, and Cedar + Sail was born!”
If you’re not sure what to sell, start by looking around your own house. What’s missing that you wish you had? Is it a concrete pot? Colorful artisan bed covers? Then do some online research to see what’s selling. Are big stores like Target, Amazon, or West Elm selling similar items?
Once you’ve decided what things to make and sell and what seems to be trending, start creating!
Sell digital products
E-learning is exploding as an industry. Recent studies show that the industry will be worth around $325 billion by 2025, making digital products one of the best online business opportunities for creators and educators alike. Music, videos, ebooks, and online courses are a few examples. They can be held or touched, but are popular amongst consumers because they can download them and consume on their own time.
Digital products also make for great business opportunities because they’re inexpensive to create and distribute. You can make it once and sell it repeatedly to different people without restocking inventory or talking with suppliers. If you consider yourself an expert on a particular topic, you can package that information up and sell it in the form of a one-time fee or subscription.
Business opportunities like selling photography are common. You can sell photos on endless stock sites—such as Getty Images, Shutterstock, iStock, 500px, and Stocksy—or wherever the demand for your type of photography exists.
To succeed in selling photos online, make sure to cover three important things:
- Find your niche. Whether it’s flowers, travel, buildings, landscapes, or fashion, choose one and stick to it.
- Build an audience. Selling photos isn’t a passive business opportunity. It’s a good idea to promote your photos on social media and build a following to sell more.
- Create multiple revenue streams. Don’t just sell on one site. Sell on as many as you can manage to create various streams of income.
Whether you’re a hobby photographer or it’s your full-time job, selling photos is one of those free online business opportunities that can help you earn cash if you put the time into it.
Play video games
Video games have come a long way from earning you only bragging rights. Today, you can earn degrees, get sponsorships, and even become an esports professional gamer.
With an industry valued at $257 billion and growing, video games can be one of the most profitable business opportunities, if you play your cards right. Revenue doesn’t come only from playing professionally, either. You can earn money live streaming on a platform like Twitch.tv, start a YouTube channel, or even sell game-inspired merch.
Become a self-published author
Do you love to write? Have you ever thought about publishing your own book? Well, good news. Becoming a self-published author is one of the best small business opportunities for you.
Self-publishing just means that you don’t work with an established publisher to manage the editing, design, and production processes of making a book. Instead, you do it on your own. With no real shortage of readers on the internet, there’s plenty of space for you to make and sell an ebook or audiobook and turn a profit.
Sell pet products
An online pet store is one of the most fun business opportunities, because you can sell a huge variety of products. Many people treat their furry friends like children and are willing to spend money to make sure they are taken care of. For example, you could sell everything from organic foods to luxury accessories, beds and apparel.
Whether you want to run it as a dropshipping business or sell homemade treats, the pay is good, the work is rewarding (who doesn’t want to make dogs happy?), and people will never stop spoiling their pets—which means job security guaranteed.
Sell thrift clothes
Did you know the secondhand apparel market is valued at $38 billion? This makes it a prime business opportunity if you have some old clothes in the back of your closet and want to make some extra cash.
With new technology at the forefront, you can turn selling unwanted clothing into one of the most profitable business opportunities online.
Freelancing is one of the most common online business opportunities. Being a freelancer means you’re self-employed and not committed to a long-term employer. It allows you to take your office wherever you go and essentially be your own boss.
With the rise in remote work and the gig economy, you’ll be on your way to a successful online business by going freelance. It may be competitive, but if you have a set of skills you’ve built over the years, or even one you want to learn, there’s money to be made.
For example, you can turn skills like web design, SEO, marketing, copywriting, or app developing into a profitable home-based business.
Federal business opportunities
The federal government makes it easy for small businesses to start bidding on government contracts. They even offer special business opportunities for women with qualified companies. You can search the entire database at SAM.gov to find opportunities.
These are the most common federal business opportunities:
Sell your expertise
Do you have a service-based small business like landscaping or gardening? The federal government has a ton of departments that could use your expertise. You can land a contract for different gigs, including tree removal, snow removal, weed control, grounds maintenance, and more.
As you’d imagine, security is extremely important in government-owned buildings and facilities. From single-guard to multistate operations, there are dozens of security contracts you can bid on. Examples include entrance security, armed patrol, after-hours patrol, and camera installation and monitoring. Now, you’ll be competing against some big corporations, but even for smaller service providers, you can bid for direct contracts or subcontracting business opportunities to provide security services to federal clients.
Whether it’s new construction, electrical, or roadwork, you can bid on contracting business opportunities with the government. This includes providing supplies and materials for new buildings and roads or even renovating old ones. These business opportunities would go through the standard bidding process, but you can also find less intensive jobs like custodial work through sites like Indeed.
Operations and maintenance spans a variety of categories you may find interesting, including facilities, roadway, parking, electronics, public safety, food services like vending machines, and office equipment to keep agencies and institutions running smoothly.
Why do you want to start bidding on government contracts for maintenance? Many of these maintenance contracts run on a multi-year basis, which means stable long-term work for your business.
Whether you aim to create a million dollar business or want to build a small local business, below are some top entrepreneurial opportunities to try:
Become a social media influencer
Ever imagine turning likes and follows into dollars and checks? Now’s a good time to leverage your reputation as a social media influencer. While it sounds like one of those far-fetched business opportunities, it’s become a lucrative venture for people across different industries, including gardening, fashion, food, travel, and even parenting.
It may take a bit of time to build your reputation online, but if you have a topic you’re passionate about and like to talk about, you can make money by growing an engaged audience on social media.
Running a café is not your only option if you want to explore all your coffee business opportunities. With the increase in demand for online coffee retailers, you can sell anything from beans to roasters to cups to other coffee-related products.
Since coffee is one of the most consumed beverages in the world, there are plenty of potential customers ready to buy your product. Customers also give an advantage to small brands, which means you can niche down and sell to a specific group of people. People already want your coffee, they just need to know where to find you.
Rent your unused space
With sites like Neighbor, you can easily rent unused space in your home to people who need more storage. It’s become one of the easiest passive income opportunities in the self-storage industry, which is valued at over $38 billion.
Basically, you become a storage unit for someone who lives near you. Instead of going to an expensive storage facility, they come to your house to store and retrieve their stuff.
Sell food waste
We throw out over $990 billion worth of food per year, destroying the environment and making a dent in the global economy. Entrepreneurs are finding creative ways to turn old and unwanted food into profit, and so can you.
You could sell “ugly” fruit and vegetables at bargain prices in a subscription box, turn food waste into fuel, turn rotten food into insect protein, or even create a local marketplace where people can share leftover food.
Buy a business for sale
Think of buying an existing ecommerce store as investing in online real estate. When you choose the right property and maintain it, you can create an income stream you can own and grow without doing the heavy lifting.
Become a franchisee
Chick-fil-A, McDonald’s, 7-Eleven, and Hertz are some of the most well-known brands in the world. What do they have in common? They are all franchises. If you want to dive into the world of entrepreneurship and skip the brand-building process, opening a franchise is a smart option.
To open a franchise, you just have to pay a fee to the franchisor, or the owner of the company. They own all the assets, products, trademarks, and service. Paying the fee will allow you to run the franchise business, as well as use the company’s resources, training, and support.
The benefits of buying a franchise is that everything is ready to go. You don’t need to buy any equipment or products. The franchisor can also help with finding buildings, hiring and training staff, sharing advice on management and marketing, and more.
How to identify new business opportunities
If the types of business opportunities above don’t meet your needs, keep these tips in mind when looking for other business ventures:
- Look at industry trends and insights. Continually educate yourself on industry trends by subscribing to niche publications, joining relevant associations, and following experts on social media.
- Do competitor research. See what similar companies are doing. Why do their customers go to them? What’s their pricing like? This will help you identify key business opportunities to expand your market reach and create better products and services.
- Listen to your customer base. When your customers talk, listen to them. How do they talk about industry products and services? What frustrations and feedback do they have? Use this insight to tailor products for the right audience.
- Collaborate and network. This will help you better understand which ideas work and which ones don’t. Your business won’t get very far without a solid network.
- Find a mentor. Look to connect with someone in your industry who has achieved more than you. They will help you get better and identify more key business opportunities.
- Keep an eye out. Business opportunities can pop up out of nowhere, often as a result of your hard work. So be ready to take advantage of an opportunity at any time.
Finding the right business opportunities for you
Whether you’re looking for dropshipping business ideas or want to become a reseller online, you can find business opportunities to meet your future goals. While you’re exploring all your options, be sure to check out our list of low-investment business ideas to find the best biz opportunity for you!
Illustrations by Martina Paukova and Kristyna Gottvald
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Business opportunities FAQ
What are examples of business opportunities?
- Selling digital products
- Online gaming
- Print-on-demand services
- Freelance business
- Ecommerce store owner
What are the best businesses for beginners?
- Selling thrift clothes
- Renting your unused space
- Driving for Uber or Lyft
- Becoming a social media influencer
- Turnkey businesses like storage units or laundromats
What is a good business opportunity?
A good business opportunity is one that has potential for growth and aligns with your passions. Motivation is key to the success of any startup. If you have the determination to build something you are proud of, you’ll have a bright future for your business.
What were the most successful businesses in 2020?
- Health and beauty businesses
- Subscription businesses
- Businesses that sold B2B and B2C
Research by Adam Spadaro
*The research collected in this article was based on the Q4 2020 Shopify Merchant Survey with a sample size of 4,981 active merchants and collected between October 13 and October 27, 2020.