From low-investment to quick-return ideas, here are the types of businesses that make money and how you can choose the right idea.
A lot of people in today’s economy are on the lookout for business ideas and opportunities, especially when they feel that they are about to lose the blanket of security their job provides. It’s also when people start hating their job as they are tired of being a subordinate. And I can totally relate to both of these, which is why my wife and I founded Shilpa Ahuja Media back in 2014.
Wanting to start a business on your own is a very natural desire, the reason might be internal or external. So what is the security a business can provide that a job cannot? In simple financial terms, everyone is on the lookout for a steady cash flow.
Whatever the reason, one should always understand the difference between a job and a business. Everybody may have their own interpretation of a business, so let me try to answer what you are looking for.
First things first, all businesses by definition are supposed to make money for their stakeholders, founder or owner. Some businesses make more money than others, most commonly high-risk businesses yield high rewards. Some businesses make no money for the first few years and then generate revenue. But either way, they do make money.
But what we’re more interested in is three types of businesses:
- Businesses that make money on the side
- Business opportunities with low or no investment
- Businesses that can pay off right away
So let’s discuss each of these categories with examples so that you can find the perfect type of business opportunity for yourself.
Businesses that Make Money Right Away
Most businesses have a period of investment where there is no cash generated and don’t fall in this category. But there do exist businesses that make money right away. These are mostly rental businesses that require some kind of investment or asset, which you could either lease or trade. Some examples would be:
- Stock trading
- Real estate leasing or rent collection
- Trading business or stock market trading, where you invest in merchandise stock and take orders and fulfil.
Businesses that Require No Investment
It’s very common for people to want to think of business opportunities that require no investment, especially financially. However, there are hardly any businesses that don’t require any investment. If not money, all businesses require an investment of time, effort, and skill. So if you are looking for businesses that require no monetary investments, some possible ideas would be:
- Doing freelance work based on your skill set, where you would be trading your skill and time for money. This includes photography, design, consultancy, art, app development, SEO writing services, etc. This could also include working as a freelance tutor or service provider on an online site.
- Working as a commission agent where you connect the buyer and seller in sectors like real estate, pre-owned machinery, pre-owned cars, manpower hiring services, etc. These include real estate agents, travel agents, etc.
- Running an online blog or publishing website, which makes money from ads. These do require some monetary investment in terms of web development or server costs. However, those are very few compared to other traditional types of businesses.
- Becoming an online influencer on social media, where you would grow your channel or account to attract sponsors or advertisers.
In businesses like these, since there is no major entry barrier, there is very high competition. To succeed in these businesses, one needs to survive long enough and work their way up patiently to get the desired result. High competition could also mean a fast-changing industry where you may see new competition every now and then in unforeseen ways.
Another issue with these business ideas is that success is more probable for professionals with particular skill sets. For example, while anyone can become a YouTuber, you need to have a specific skill like comedy or fitness to make a name and gather a following. Similarly, while anyone can become a photographer, only the most talented ones can impress enough clients to get new ones through word-of-mouth or repeat clients and earn enough to make a living.
Businesses that Make Money While You Sleep
Yes, there are businesses that make money while you sleep. Ideally, that’s what a business is. If your business requires your constant intervention and effort to generate or make money, it’s not a real business. Once you are able to run a business with people, with minimal intervention, that’s when you know you would be able to grow it or scale it up.
For a business to make money while you sleep you would need to achieve the following:
- You should able to spot and hire talented staff that can run the business for you
- You need to have good business processes in place so that your employees can follow a routine without your intervention, or with minimal supervision.
- You should be able to motivate your team and manager so that they run a profitable business for you.
For example, retail chains like KFC, Dominoes, Zara, Decathlon, IKEA, etc. have their business process and organization structure so well organized that these businesses almost literally run themselves.
Some possible examples of businesses that make money while you are sleeping would be:
- Running a retail store using a hired manager, who earns you a profit.
- Running a retail franchise, where you can consult others to setup a store and earn a share of their earnings.
- Real estate rental is one of the simplest examples where you can make money, however, this is capital intensive.
- Investing in a stock that earns you a regular dividend.
- If you are smart enough, there are now ways to trade in stock using software that makes use of smart computer algorithms. This is also called algo-trading. I’m not sure about the science of these algo-trading software and how good they are at making money. Surely there’s risk attached to everything, which I’m still trying to figure out.
Low-Cost Business Ideas with High Profit
There is a common saying, the higher the risk, the higher the return, and the lower the risk the lower the return. And this saying has stood the test of time. Yes, everyone is on the lookout to maximize their returns, with very low investment or risk involved. However, that’s true until one has a deeper understanding of a business.
If you are expecting to find a low-cost business idea, which yields high profit, then you need to think out of the box and be ready to take high risks. Out-of-the-box thinking requires breaking conventional business rules and boundaries.
These ideas are not found on the internet. You need to do extensive first-hand research and trial & error to spot a business idea that delivers high profit. If these ideas were popular and widely discussed in the media, then there would be high competition already, and profit margins would be thin.
Business Ideas that Make Money are Not Easy to Understand
If a business idea is over there in newspapers and all over the internet, it’s not a good idea to explore, as everybody would have explored it already, and there would be a lot of competition.
Businesses that make money are usually deceptive. A lot of businesses seem to be making money by selling something, but their real source of income is something else. For example, McDonald’s seems to be in the business of fast food, but they are actually in the real estate business. McDonald’s business case seems like popular knowledge, but very few people know how this works.
A lot of big businesses try to hide their actual source of income, to escape competition. I would recommend you read the book Zero to One by Peter Theil, who, and I paraphrase, says most businesses indulge in deception – companies that are monopolies pretend they have incredible competition to prevent the other players from entering their market and avoid government interventions.
On the other hand, non-monopolies are tempted to depict themselves in a unique way (using terms like USP) – to showcase that they’re doing something unique as they want to differentiate themselves in the eyes of their investors and customers.
Some Next Steps
I hope this guide helped you understand how to select a business idea that can help you make money with the available resources, i.e. time and/or money. You may have been looking for something more direct, but unfortunately, there is no readily available intelligence for money-making business ideas that don’t involve an equal degree of risk.
Money-making business ideas are never publicized. That’s because if someone is making money, why would someone invite competitors? I’m sure you would have come across several advertisements on the internet where people are posing to be wealthy by using props like expensive cars, hotels, private jets, etc. to entice you to join them to become rich quickly. Now just think logically, if you were really rich, would you do something like this?
What to Avoid
While one should look out for money-making business ideas, you should also be aware of numerous scams like MLM (multi-level marketing), Ponzi schemes that guarantee very high-interest returns, and the latest being crypto where we have recently seen the bust of FTX, and many other cryptocurrencies failing.
In my experience, in order to find a money-making business idea, one needs to work hard consistently in a particular field of business, and understand its intricacies to find the right direction. What’s next is to take the risk and not give up till it succeeds. After reading all business and leadership books, the conclusion is that it’s just grit that differentiates a successful person from an unsuccessful one.
The quickest way to fail is to quit, so keep trying to find the right direction. And if you think some people got it easy and just stumbled upon a business idea that made them rich, you would be very wrong.
A lot of people come across business ideas, but very few people believe in them and even fewer have the courage to take the risk and the patience to realize them. Finding an idea is one thing, but to make a business successful you need many other factors. These include skill, patience, hard work, flexibility, timing, team, etc.
So here are the 3 main things an entrepreneur needs in order to be successful:
- An ambition to succeed.
- An idea that stands apart or is different.
- Unlimited patience or grit to realize this idea.
Basically, these are the 3 things you need to be able to achieve anything big. You can also call these ambition, innovation and grit.
A few examples from politics & business that may inspire you:
- How Narendra Modi proposed the “development” idea and reached the pinnacle of Indian politics.
- How Obama’s “hope” campaign, got him to the White House.
- How Steve Jobs’s quest for simplistic design with high performance made Apple one of the most valuable companies in the world.
- How Elon Musk broke the stereotype of electric cars being slow and boring, which led to accelerated growth of EV adoption across the world.
The important thing to note is that they all, too, worked hard and for a long time to become successful. Nothing happens overnight and there really is no shortcut to success. The good news is, you’ve already begun your journey!
Best of luck!
Abhishek Sareen is a sales & marketing professional with over 16 years of experience. He started his career as a management consultant at Kurt Salmon Associates and has worked in marketing & brand management, international business in sectors like precision steel tubes for automotive industry, consumer goods and retail.
He’s is a passionate cyclist and participated in several endurance competitive events. His interests are in behavioral psychology, economics and chess. He is a graduate in Computer Science and an MBA in Marketing. He completed his executive education from IIM-A in 2016 focusing on business strategy.