The Best Small Business Opportunities for 2021

Looking to launch a business this year? Welcome to our list of the best small business opportunities for 2021 chosen from across a variety of industries. To make the list, these businesses must: 

  1. Have the potential to be profitable now and for many years in the future. 
  2. Be resilient in uncertain economic times.
  3. Not require a Ph.D. or decades of experience. Some require trade school training, a university degree, or an apprenticeship, while others need only some prior experience and a passion for the industry.
  4. Not demand large amounts of startup capital, but only what every startup business requires: dedication, hard work, perseverance, and a desire to succeed.

Here are our picks for the best small business ideas based on current trends in business and demographics, in no particular order. 

Fulfillment by Amazon Sales

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E-commerce is booming and expected to grow. While retail sales increased by 6.9% in the last quarter of 2020, e-commerce (online) sales increased by 32.1% from the previous year.

The Fulfillment by Amazon (FBA) program allows sellers of products to market their wares through Amazon, the largest online retail platform in the world.

Amazon takes most of the headaches out of running an online retail business. In exchange for fulfillment and monthly storage fees, it handles storage, packing, shipping, returns, and customer service queries.

Sellers are responsible for shipping their products to an Amazon fulfillment center and creating their product listings on their Amazon store. Once listings are live and sales are made, the seller begins receiving their portion of the proceeds on a weekly basis.

FBA sellers source products for their Amazon stores in a variety of ways, including:

  • From original product ideas that the seller gets manufactured to specifications.
  • From local or national wholesalers.
  • From overseas bulk discount suppliers such as Alibaba.
  • By arbitrage—purchasing discounted items online or from retail stores and reselling them for a profit.

If you wish to start a product sales business, the Amazon FBA program is an ideal way to get into the online retail marketplace.

Skilled Trades

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While some people may have the wrong impression that skilled trades professionals are poorly paid, that couldn't be further from the truth. In fact, skilled tradespeople are generally well paid and enjoy satisfying careers.

As the baby boomers retire from skilled trade jobs, the manufacturing sector is struggling to find new workers to fill these jobs. Such shortages have caused small and medium-sized manufacturers to turn away work due to the lack of skilled workers to complete the work.

These shortages reach across many sectors and create a huge demand for talented workers in trades such as:

  • Welding
  • Carpentry and general construction
  • Plumbing, pipefitting, and steamfitting
  • Electrical and electronic control systems
  • Heating, ventilation, air conditioning, and refrigeration (HVAC)
  • Machinists and metalworkers
  • Masonry
  • Steelworking

The nature of skilled trades makes them ideally suited for self-employment.

  • Many have fairly high salaries and strong demand for experienced tradespeople in most locations.
  • Most trades can be operated as home-based businesses as the work is performed at the customer job site.
  • Compared to many businesses, startup capital costs are relatively low for most skilled trades, and most cannot be automated to any degree, ensuring future job security.
  • Demand exists everywhere. Some experienced tradespeople take advantage of opportunities in remote or overseas locations to command much higher levels of compensation.

Software Engineering and Development

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Software engineers and developers create, test, and maintain software on a variety of platforms, from mainframes to mobile devices. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the demand for software developers is expected to increase by 22% through 2029, and they earned a median annual salary of $110,140 in 2020.

The nature of the software development industry makes it ideal for contract employment. Many software engineers start out as salaried employees and eventually become self-employed contractors. Cloud computing and ease of remote access make software development an ideal home-based business.

Other high-demand, well-paid opportunities in the information technology sector include:

  • Systems analysts
  • Hardware and software technicians
  • Network engineers
  • Security specialists 

Meal Kit Sales and Delivery

Meal kit with fish, vegetables, mushrooms, and dressing

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Meal kit services are becoming increasingly popular with busy people who don't have the time to shop and prepare healthy meals and wish to lower their environmental footprint by reducing food waste. The meal kit industry in the U.S. is expected to reach $11.6 billion in sales by 2022.

Customers select recipes online, and meal kits with pre-chopped and measured ingredients, along with instructions for cooking and final preparation, are delivered to their homes on the chosen date. Listed information such as calorie counts allows consumers to adhere to dietary requirements.

Meal kit suppliers often avoid large wholesalers and source ingredients from local farms, creating business opportunities for small to mid-size growers, ranchers, and seafood suppliers. Opportunities may also be available for delivery-service providers to collect ingredients from producers and deliver the end product to customers' homes.

Virtual and Augmented Reality

young man wearing VR goggles
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Virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) represent a huge leap forward in immersing the user in a realistic sensory experience. Hardware and software vendors are working furiously to bring new VR products to the marketplace, and the industry is growing rapidly—the global market is expected to expand by 18.0% from 2021 to 2028. 

The potential uses of virtual reality for business or pleasure are practically limitless. For example:

  • 3D movies: Movies are being developed in 360-degree VR.
  • Real estate marketing: Imagine searching for a new home and being able to take an online VR walkthrough of an advertised house from the comfort of your desk chair.
  • Gaming: VR is revolutionizing the gaming industry, with new VR titles being released on an almost-weekly basis.
  • Team-building exercises: Shake up team building events with a group VR experience.
  • Social media VR interaction: Friends will be able to interact in a virtual online space.
  • Training: VR can inject a much higher degree of realism into training scenarios. Businesses such as UPS are launching new delivery driver training programs using VR.
  • Meditation: VR is ideal for customized meditation. 

VR "escape rooms" and lounges (where groups of people get together to play VR games or go on VR adventures or solve group puzzles) are experiencing phenomenal growth. If you are tech savvy and interested in the technology, virtual reality could be the business opportunity for you.

Self-Storage Units

Self-storage unit full of boxes
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The self-storage industry continues to be a booming business across North America, fueled by a more transient workforce, downsizing homeowners, the general trend for people to accumulate more possessions, and the continued popularity of reality shows such as "Storage Wars." The amount of households renting storage units has risen steadily over the past 10 years, with 10.6% of U.S. households renting storage units in 2020.

The trend for businesses to reduce or eliminate storefront space has also contributed to the demand for storage space. Plumbers and electricians, for example, can store tools and equipment in self-storage at a much lower cost.

Modern self-storage requires a climate-controlled environment, lighting, and security. Initial capital costs for land and building construction are high but can be easily financed from rental income, assuming there is a steady demand for storage space in your area.

Trachte Building Systems has free web-based calculators for determining the profitability of self-storage based on demand, estimated capital expenses, operating expenses, and rental income.

Home Renovations

Close-up of a contractor's tool belt full of tools

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Remodeling contractors are hard to find, and the good ones are always busy. Home renovation is one business that always seems to do well, even in uncertain economic times. If construction is in your blood and you think you would enjoy making clients' home renovation dreams come true, why not turn it into a business?

According to HomeAdvisor, homeowners spend an average of $8.305 per year on home improvements. That's a lot of business for carpenters, painters, electricians, plumbers, drywallers, roofers, tilers, and other tradespeople.

The home renovations business is ideally suited to self-employed individuals for a number of reasons:

  • Most renovations are performed on a contract basis.
  • Startup capital investment for tools and machinery is typically much less than required for new construction.
  • Business premises are not required as the work is performed at the customer location.

Remodeling contractors typically provide services individually or as subcontractors. They can also specialize in a particular area, such as bathroom or kitchen renovations, or niches such as restoring historic structures, improving energy efficiency, or solar installations.

To be a successful renovation contractor, you should have:

  • Extensive experience in building construction, with hands-on expertise in at least one of the trades and knowledge of the others.
  • Good contacts within the industry, so if needed you can call in subcontractors to get specialty work performed in a timely fashion.
  • Up-to-date knowledge of the local building codes and safety regulations.
  • Licensing and certification if required in your jurisdiction.
  • Good organizational skills.

Bike Sales, Service, and Rentals

Bicycles for sale in shop
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Given the health and environmental benefits, it's no wonder that bicycling has become one of the Top 5 outdoor activities in America by frequency of participation. According to the activity app company Strava Metro, there was a dramatic uptick in bike trips that coincided with the arrival of the coronavirus to the U.S. In Los Angeles, for example, bike trips increased by 93%.

Anything that’s healthy, popular, good for the environment, and heavily promoted by the government is a pretty good business bet. In addition to traditional pedal-powered bikes, e-bikes have become very popular. E-bikes can be pedaled without electric power or use electric power to assist, and sales are expected to rise to over 40 million units by 2023. Regular pedal bikes can even be converted to e-bikes with a special kit.

If cycling is your passion and you want to become an entrepreneur, this may be the perfect business opportunity for you.

Senior Care Services

Caregiver holding hand of senior woman
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Senior care services continue to rank as a great small business opportunity. The first baby boomers hit age 65 in 2011, and the entire baby boomer generation will reach age 65 by 2030. By 2050, seniors will make up a quarter of the entire U.S. population.

As the number of baby boomers increases, so does the need for senior services and care givers. The need for home health care workers increased 27% from 2018 to 2020.

For the most part, baby boomers are willing to pay for the services necessary to maintain their lifestyles. This includes continuing to live at home in their own communities. According to research by Aging In Place, 90% of seniors plan to stay in their home for at least the next five to 10 years.

Some seniors experience various health and mobility issues and are increasingly in need of assistance with daily activities including driving. They may find it difficult or impossible to take care of household chores such as landscaping, cleaning, cooking, or caring for their pets. Those who haven't experienced a decline in mobility may wish to travel extensively and require house sitting, pet sitting, and property maintenance services.

A wealth of opportunities exist for entrepreneurs who want to work with seniors. If you're not interested in starting your own business from scratch, various senior care franchise opportunities are available, too.

Gourmet Coffee

barista making coffee, close-up of hands
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Think an independent coffee shop serving espressos, lattes, and cappuccinos can't compete with Starbucks? Think again.

The market for gourmet, high-end specialty coffee continues to grow, making plenty of room for independent shops. Seven in 10 Americans drink coffee at least once a week, while 62% report drinking coffee every day, according to the National Coffee Association. Perhaps you can find a niche in this market.

Facilities Support Services

Manager talking to maintenance supervisor in empty room
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Facilities support or management services are catch-all terms that encompass the full range of facilities services for businesses, including cleaning, security, building maintenance, painting, and moving.

The industry is expected to grow by 10.6% from 2020 to 2025. If you have a background in maintenance or construction and good organizational skills, why not consider a business as a facilities support services coordinator?

Markets on Wheels: Food Trucks

Family ordering from a food truck
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Food trucks have expanded far beyond the confines of fast food in recent years, and they show no signs of stopping. The food truck sector is expected to grow 2.4% in 2021, bringing in an expected $3.9 billion.

For example, enormously successful Clover Truck of Boston ran a fleet of trucks that provided a seasonally changing menu offering vegetarian meals made from mostly locally sourced, organic ingredients (and actually, they do serve french fries). It was so successful they've converted the business into all brick-and-mortar locations now.

GMonkey runs an "eco" food truck that uses biodiesel for fuel and serves delicious vegetarian fare to residents of Durham, Connecticut. If you've got a wild idea, there's probably a food truck concept to fit it.

Gain the Necessary Education, Skills, and Training

There are no shortcuts to starting your own business. You'll have to acquire the necessary credentials, skills, and training to take advantage of some of these opportunities. Working as an employee or apprentice in your chosen field can give you the training, business skills, and experience necessary to start your own business. It can also help you make a name for yourself and develop a list of clients and customers ready to patronize your new business.

Develop a Solid Business Plan

Having a solid business plan is crucial when starting a new business. The work involved in writing your business plan, which includes examining your market, will tell you whether your business idea is feasible in your locale. A business plan is also essential if you need startup capital such as debt financing from a bank or equity financing from investors. 

If your goal in life is to become very wealthy, chances are you won't get there as a small business owner. But you'll have a chance to generate a healthy income, be your own boss, and make all the decisions. You could potentially have a more flexible lifestyle. Building something from the ground up can make starting a business very rewarding. 

Coming up with a great business idea is just the first step in launching your business in 2021, but it's an important one. Without a winning concept, all the planning in the world won't make your business successful.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a good business to start with little money?

The best businesses to start with little money are those that don't require a large inventory or a dedicated space you'll need to pay for. Businesses you can start with a small upfront investment include online resale, drop shipping, online teaching, virtual assisting, home care and pet sitting, and transcription services.

How do I get a business startup loan?

There are several places you can look for money to start your business. You can start by considering how you can contribute to your own success by using money you have saved away. Friends and family may also be able to help with this. The Small Business Association offers loans for small business owners, and you can also find investors looking for viable startup companies in which to invest. Government grants are also available.

How do I calculate startup costs for a small business?

It's essential to calculate startup costs early on in your business planning by:

  • Identifying your expenses and how much they will cost.
  • Adding your expenses up.
  • Using this number to come up with a realistic startup cost figure.
  • Including this cost in any loan or grant you apply for.

A startup cost calculator can help walk you through figuring out how much money you need to start your business.

How do I value a startup business?

To come up with a value for your business, you will need to come up with your earnings after taxes and consider several other factors including tangible assets and intangible assets such as branding. You'll also factor in the profitability of the business along with any liabilities. If you are in the position of selling your company, a professional valuation is in order where an accountant will ascertain how much money your business is worth. You can help the process by keeping documents such as tax filings, profit and loss statements, and proprietary documents safe and available.