Good Small Business Venture Ideas

Darwin is the author of Darwin’s Money where he takes an evolutionary approach to money. In this rapidly changing world, there are always new opportunities to save money, make more money and expand your horizons.

If you’re anything like me, you’re constantly thinking about different business ideas and models that could work out. Through either addressing an unmet need or making something better or inventing the next Facebook, you could be deriving a nice side-income outside your routine day job and have an eventual payday down the road when you want to quit or move on to the next thing. I just watched The Social Network the other night and it put me in the mood to start thinking more about business startups again. I’ve split out a few ideas and ventures I’m involved in by “Old Economy” and “New Economy”. They can both earn you a handsome income and even turn into a full-time gig. The New Economy ventures tend to be more “Scalable” though.

Old Economy Side Businesses

Real Estate – This is one of the most common side-gigs people employ to diversify their assets and income. We all know someone who owns rental real estate somewhere. Some of my co-workers just own a single dwelling, while another friend of mine has blown up into multiple apartment complexes on a college campus. It’s worked out quite well for him since the competition is limited, price increases are virtually guaranteed and protected from recessions, and he pays a property management company to handle everything from tenants to repairs.

One of my financial regrets is that I’ve never gotten around to buying a rental property. I entertained it a few times, but always became distracted or it was a bad time. If something landed in my lap and I had the liquid cash, I’d consider it. For now, I’m focusing my time on some of the new economy ventures below.

MLM – You’ve probably heard the jokes about Amway, or you’ve been approached by a friend or co-worker with an “incredible business opportunity” to get in on the ground floor of a revolutionary new business model. This is called multi-level marketing where one sucker has to sign up more suckers beneath them in order to keep the pyramid going. In some cases, they’re actually selling something with some value, albeit at an inflated price (to pay associates and run money up the pyramid).

I’ve known probably a dozen people now that have joined the likes of ACN, ShopToEarn, Amway and other outfits. To date, none of them are active any more. The income dried up and I suspect they grew tired of harassing their friends and family to sign up for scammy conferences at the local Howard Johnson. We do have one friend who sells jewelry through Lia Sophia. She actually makes a few grand a month. She pretty much hosts shows every weekend and is constantly trying to sign new people up and book new shows. She works hhard at it – selling overpriced fake jewelry. I’d have to say she’s the only “success” story of the bunch. But she seems to be the exception rather than the rule. I dunno. I could never do it. If you have it in you to make selling a scammy product or service your life, then more power to ya. MLMs have been around for decades and they always will be. But like drug-dealers and musicians, there are millions chasing the big-time, but only a couple ever make it to the top.

You’ve Got Skills – Surely, over your lifetime you’ve accumulated some sort of trade or skills that could earn you extra money on the side, right? This could be anything from playing piano at weddings to photography to computer repair. This isn’t an optimal, scalable way to make money on the side since your income will ALWAYS be proportional to the amount of your personal time you spend on jobs. But if you need additional income, it’s a means to an end.

New Economy Side Businesses

Blogging – You’re Already Doing It! Just about everyone’s blogging these days. You might not even know it. By simply using your Facebook profile to share your opinions and life experiences, you’re micro-blogging. Sometimes, I see people using their Facebook profile to share tips and links like a Hot Groupon deal or pushing their scammy MLM business (argh). Now they’re monetizing. The next phase is what I do – blogging routinely via a formal blogging platform like WordPress. My blogs have led to some freelance gigs and now I have friends referring me to help others out with starting a website and SEO. See that progression? What might have seemed like a “nobody makes any money” boring blogging venture has fanned out into all sorts of additional income opportunities. My primary constraint really, is just time!

Outsourcing – With US costs at 5-10 times what developing world costing is for equivalent quality and talent, why would anyone pay US wages unless they really had to? Companies are moving more and more in this direction and the web has virtually guaranteed all services will eventually be sourced to the most efficient locale. The problems have often been time zones, poor quality, lack of visibility and complacency. But companies are under pressure now to continually reduce costs.

My friend and I recognized this need. He’s a Civil Engineer with a PE and I can run a site and attract traffic. He happens to have cousins overseas who actually do great CAD work (Computer Aided Design). So we brainstormed and came up with what we feel is a brilliant business model. We’ve started a CAD Outsourcing venture. Basically, instead of paying $50-$70 to a US-based engineer, simple CAD services can be sourced through our outfit for a fraction of the price – around $12 starting. Everyone wins! They get to work through a licenses professional engineer in the US to get the job quoted, we then send the info to our group of engineers in the Philippines, they do the work, we provide the content back tot he customer and everyone wins! The engineers are making more with us than they were at their old jobs, the US firms are paying a quarter or less for their services, and we collect the spread between our costs and income.

These same concepts could be applied to dozens of business ideas that are probably spinning around in your head right now.

What’s Your New Biz Venture?

Sam started Financial Samurai in 2009 during the depths of the financial crisis as a way to make sense of chaos. After 13 years working on Wall Street, Sam decided to retire in 2012 to utilize everything he learned in business school to focus on online entrepreneurship. Sam focuses on helping readers build more income in real estate, investing, entrepreneurship, and alternative investments in order to achieve financial independence sooner, rather than later.

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  1. says

    I’m an engineer, but I do B2B sales. I don’t think I could ever do B2C sales because it’s almost always something a person doesn’t need. Makeup, jewelry, household products, etc…that’s what supermarkets are for. It’s actually pretty fun doing sales when you are selling a product that people need to make their own businesses more profitable like your CAD example.

  2. says

    Good work on the CAD outsourcing site, Darwin. In my day job, I’ve outsourced CAD work engineering and design to outfits in India, Italy and Brazil. For the actual grunt work, it doesn’t matter where you park your buns, could be the 10th floor or halfway around the world. But the actual face-to-face or voice-to-voice interaction in the same time zone adds value and reduces errors.
    I once had some custom tailored clothes made by an Indian tailor shop in Hong Kong. Only thing was, I was living in Saudi Arabia at the time. The shop had a rep, a young fellow that made house calls and came by and and took your measurements, and then mailed in the order. A few weeks later, the suit, slacks and shirt were delivered by courier (best clothes I’ve ever bought, I still have them and they still fit) Now, this was fifteen years ago, before easy web access and instant communication, but the leveraging principle is the same.

  3. says

    Wow, the CAD idea sounds awesome! For me, I want to stay focused with online ventures. I may consider building sites on the side for local businesses, but that can take time (and be a bother…I’ve dabbled in it before)

  4. says

    I’m always looking for great side ventures that can make me some money. I would also include in your list tax preparation and home shoring. Tax preparation is a necessity of life, and after a short course, you can get your license. I know many people who put in a year or two at an HR Block, then do simple returns for friends / family at around 20 a piece. It’s a great side business for a few months.

    As for home-shoring, it’s basically using your home as an outsourced call center. Many companies allow you to choose your work schedule, so you can pick up as much or as little work as you want. From what I’ve read pay is usually 10-25 an hour.

  5. says

    Congratulation on your CAD venture! It sounds like a win win for the engineers. I really need to devote some time to finding more online ventures. Right now, I’m working on real estate to establish some solid side income. Once that’s done, then I will concentrate on blogging and other online business.

  6. says

    I’m with Sandy, B2B sales process makes a lot more sense to me. Sales pitch is more logical, I think, than dealing with B2C things.

    That said, I’ve found a new appreciation for MLM businesses. Have you seen the rate at which women will gobble up those “Thirty One” purses? Now that company has a model! Women go nuts to buy/promote that stuff.

  7. says

    Thanks for the comments guys, we may actually be landing a nice deal today! (if my partner can close the deal!).

    101 Centavos – I’ll have to ping you on your outsourcing experiences; it’s a small world!

    Tim – It’s all about what you know, timing, diversification of income and networking. This just happened to come my way primarily bc of my friend who’s a Civil E. I like the added diversification outside of blogging here; never know when a google algo will wipe us all out!

    The Dividend Pig – I had looked into that home working arrangement for my wife when she was trying to make a few bucks while home kids. Never went too far since things are getting real busy with activities, etc. But definitely works well for a lot of people!

    Retireby40 – I do regret not getting into RE yet. Something I should have done a long time ago; well, OK, I’m glad housing crashed BEFORE I did something. But I should get around to it…

    JT McGee – Haven’t heard of that one before. I guess the model works for some. I just find it to be kinda slimy. Don’t think I could do it…

  8. says

    Great job on your side business, and it is always nice to work with someone else to bounce ideas off of too.

    I had a friend at work once that was all about ‘Network Marketing’ and asked me to listen to some tapes. I had a long commute to work and listened to one for about 15 minutes before I wanted to scream. Turned out it was Amway (of course). She was even trying to push Amway gum on me. (No thanks)

    My side business? Blogging, selling some used books on the side. Nothing that will make me wealthy anytime soon but I enjoy both hobbies immensely.

  9. says

    Congrats on the new venture sounds fantastic. I love the pursuit of the side venture. Right now all side money is from online activities, but one day I hope to get the law offices of Evan up and running.

  10. says

    That’s pretty cool you have a CAD outsourcing business! Very good example of combining two skills to form something potentially very lucrative.

    I feel I have the skills to sell and develop deep relationships. As a result, all I need is a solid value proposition or product, and things will grow. What I lack are technical skills, and that’s why I’ve partnered with Chris, and am learning things bit by bit. The Yakezie Network can be huge, in its own small way. Thoughts, and critiques on the model, and suggestions as a Member?



  11. sandy @ yesiamcheap says

    Evan have you thought about doing something like Just Answer. You’re being paid a fee to answer a question and that’s it. Not too much work involved and if you know your stuff a decent side hustle. I’m still working the eBay. It’s not dead it just take finesse.

  12. says

    Right now my side ventures consist of income producing real estate and blogging, although I’m not sure blogging can qualify yet since I have not earned a single cent from it. I have had some offers to post some junk info on my site, which I turned down. I’d like to eventually make $250 a month from my blog, but I have no idea if this is an attainable goal. I just made a wild guess!

    Hopefully my real estate investments will eventually replace my salary income (within 15 to 20 years).

  13. Charlie says

    It really is interesting how the economy is changing. You make a good point about the limitations to side jobs based on personal skills like music and computer repair bc of the amount of time it takes. I still think it’s a good option for those who are passionate about their skill sets b/c to them the time they spend helping others won’t feel like work. I wonder what changes there will be to how people earn money in 20-30-40 years. It’s exciting to think about.

  14. says

    I own a rental property and love it. The trick is to calculate ALL expenses (insurance, tax, water, repairs, mortgage and 10% vacancies) and make sure you can collect rent that exceeds this.

    Because I have a fixed-rate mortgage, it means that as inflation increases over time, the amount of money I collect in rent also increases — while my monthly mortgage expense stays the same.

  15. says

    A very interesting thought about the CAD outsourcing. I use CAD and CADWorx everyday (@work). I could easily see civil work being sourced like that. What I do might be a little tougher to outsource, unless they have a reputation in place. If you can ever get that type of outsourcing for “skid based compression systems” .. you’re on your way, in this current economy. Add in video conferencing – face to face is a must – and you could be on your way to a very lucrative business. What I do in the industry … (seems like it..) would be pretty tough to do for a CAD operator (non-locale). You need a designer with the right experience and qualifications to handle what’s needed. O&G is a bit different but there are civil op’s available.

    To take what you are doing a little further … with some thought … is that we also utilize a company that is a head hunter. Some of those older designers who make $75 to $100 and hour (their wage) are getting temporary/contract jobs from the bigger O&G guys and they’re paying (add around 1/3 extra to the designers hourly rate) … just without the health benefits, etc. If you owned the headhunter business, and where hiring a contract designer who makes $75/hr. …. depending on the contract and duration you’d be getting paid anywhere from $100/hr to possible $125/he. That’s $25 to $50/hr. what you get .. for as long as he/she is working the contract. (but of course, they are top notch designers, 10+ yrs experience and why they get what they get). Add up a 3 months to a year contract @ 50 to 60 hrs. a week and w/overtime pay … that adds up. Those types of guys have been doing it since they got out of high school, have worked on and offshore, in fab shops, etc. … Figure a way to outsource those types, and you’re going to be swimming in money.

    In a different direction … I do like the real estate idea. Just finding the right RE is where I get bottlenecked. Patience will pay off. I tend to sit on cash (old habit, not a bad one either) instead of jumping on any opportunity that moves. Years ago, I tried the Amway, Shaklee, Herbalife MLM ideas. Yep. Same story, different cover. :) I’m not a screw my friends into this idea type either. But, It does seem that the woman who sell Mary Kay cosmetics do seem to enjoy the benfits. I sometimes wonder if timing is everything in those ventures.

    Nice thoughts about business ideas & ventures Darwin.

  16. says

    excellent post. love the idea of the CAD business. you will definitely have to keep us posted of its progress.

    after experiencing success with some niche sites a couple years back, i teamed up with several partners in launching several more, leveraging my SEO/SEM and their niche specific knowledge to establish several profitable websites that are delivering month after month.

    in the recent past i have made a few trips overseas to establish relationships with content building and SEO firms. since i do ecomm and seo consulting for some companies, i have channeled a lot of the work overseas.

    i have been approached by individuals interested in their own niche websites so a partner and i are currently toying around with the idea of commoditizing the model where we crank out and provide ready made niche sites. to take it a step further we are also going to offer marketing, though it would be difficult to justify the ongoing marketing expense without the niche site starting to bring in revenues of its own

  17. Justin says

    Have you charged people for helping them setup a blog? Congrats on the new business. I would love to find a niche like that, but I just havent been able to come up with much. My blog is my first attempt at pulling in income from outside of my occupation…I dont expect to generate much, but Id be thrilled just to get it to $100/mo. Thats ultimately my goal, which I was hoping I could coincide with the 6 month Alexa challenge, however, Im thinking the income generation may take closer to a year.

    Im so glad you dont endorse any MLMs… Amway is actually based here in Michigan, yet I still have no love for it. I had an Aunt and Uncle heavily involved in it for 10 years…devoted so much time to it….and he was a high level engineer at Boeing, and yet he wasted all that time….it still amazes me.

    • says

      sorry to hear about the MLM trap in the family; stinks.

      I’ve never charged for blog design, etc. since I’m so-so and it isn’t a core competency of mine. I’d think about it for models like this (taking a stake in a company) to get the site going, drive traffic, run analytics, watch the competition, etc. but time is my enemy! At the moment, this is probably the only side gig I can handle outside of running a few sites already and working full-time of course. But who knows, should the right opportunity come along?…

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