8 Great Businesses Ideas You Can Start Today

Photo: Chad Anderson

Conventional wisdom says that starting a new business in an economic downturn is a bad idea. But we're learning that some industries are growing, despite the shaky economy. Here are some of the best ideas for starting a business right now. Most of them don't require much startup resources or capital, and many can be run from your home (or backyard). All you need is a little innovation and some elbow grease.

1. Mobile Design and Development

The mobile world is heating up. The smartphone market has exploded, and with the introduction of the iPad, mobile usage for websites is going to keep going up. This presents a great opportunity for web designers and programmers to dip into a growing industry, and there are plenty of opportunities to develop things like custom branded web applications, design mobile sites for companies, and on and on.

2. Local Farmer

"Local" and "green" have become incredibly popular buzzwords in ecommerce for the past couple of years. What's more local and green than being a local farmer? Local farming has taken off as well. More and more stores are starting to stock local food and promote local farming. There has been a massive push towards buying local, with major chains adding "locally grown" sections. Farmer's markets are becoming more popular too, with over 5,000 markets in the US, and growing. There is plenty of opportunity to be a local grower, with many options for specialty crops with relatively low startup costs.

3. Environmental Consulting

Because "going green" has become so popular among consumers, it's only natural that companies are jumping to make their products and services more environmentally friendly. Teaching these companies how to make themselves more environmentally conscious over the next few years is going to be booming business. IBISWorld estimates that there will be a 9% growth year over year within the environmental consulting industry.

4. Handmade Goods

Now that the internet has made the world a little smaller, it's much easier for individuals without physical storefronts to create and sell products solely online. Sites like Ebay and Etsy have created entire marketplaces for buying and selling handmade goods. All you need is a Paypal account (which is free) to receive money, and you're ready to go. The best part about selling handmade goods is that it takes very little startup capital. If you have a hobby that you'd like to turn into a business, selling handmade goods is a quick and easy way to go.

5. Small-Scale Food Producer

Aside from being a local farmer, the small-scale food production industry is heating up. Typically these producers use a membership model approach to keep a recurring revenue in place, offering weekly deliveries of hand-made food and keeping a regular client base. The recurring model is great for maintaining a steady revenue stream instead of relying on one-off sales. The goods offered might include bread, fresh produce, dairy, and baked goods.

6. Bakeries

Bakeries, pastry, and bagel shops are growing at a rate of 5%. AnythingResearch.com believes that the research shows that people aren't indulging on bigger purchases and instead splurging on lower-priced niceties. Small, niche baked goods stores are starting to grow rapidly.

7. Indie Video Games

It's become much easier to self-publish any type of video game with services like XBox Live. Microsoft has provided a development platform for small-time developers to create games to sell on their marketplace. The $44 billion video game market continues to grow, especially with the mobile and tablet markets taking off. Or you could try the iTunes App store for a mobile development platform. Nielsen found that of all the mobile applications that are being downloaded, 65% are games. There is plenty of opportunity and a low barrier of entry for game developers to tap into the massive mobile platform that Apple has created.

8. Pet Sitting

Americans spend more than $34 billion annually on their pets. When it comes to pets, Americans spend freely. This explains why niche industries like pet sitting have grown exponentially. Instead of owners leaving pets in a kennel, pet sitters feed, walk, and provide companionship while the owner is away at work or on vacation. For more information on how to set up a pet sitting or walking business, check out Pet Sitter's Center.


There are plenty of opportunities for entrepreneurs to start successful businesses in unstable economic times. With the recent emphasis on buying local, things like mom 'n pop niche shops are becoming successful. You don't even need a physical shop anymore to sell physical goods to people around the world thanks to the power of the Web.

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Guest's picture

Environmental Consultant? Good idea if you have a degree in Environmental Engineering. As much as I love the environment and keep abreast with the latest environmental news and trends, consulting a business to reduce their environmental impact requires more than just a saying "recycle."

Instead of Environmental Consultant, I'd suggest Social Media Marketer. Anyone who is internet savvy can be a Social Media Marketer. It is a fast growing field, but it seems like everyone these days is trying to get their piece of the social media pie, so it will be challenging.

Local farmer? Again, another nice idea that wouldn't work unless you have a lot of green to work with: money and space. I've been unemployed for over a year and started my own garden in my spacious backyard. I even considered doing this very thing, but there simply isn't enough room for me to be able to generate a viable income.

Ironically, pet sitting is something I'm actually giving a try right now. Not only pet sitting, but pet waste removal, dog walking, pet taxi service (to and from the vet), etc. Unfortunately, I'm finding a lot of people are like me- unemployed and at home with their pets. I still hope to gain a few clients to get this thing going though. I'd advise those interested in this venture to take a pet first-aid class and to become a member of Pet Sitters International.

Guest's picture

Re: environmental consulting - yes, thank you. That's my actual (traditional) career, and it looks very strange under a headline like this one. To be fair, though, most people aren't remotely qualified to just go out and start up a farm, either.

Guest's picture

internet marketing seems to keep paying the bills, the only problem is that it will take a lot of time and hard work before you see any fruits. I am more inclined to the internet for making a living because this is where my skill set lies. That coupled with the fact that i am entreprenueral means that i am for internet marketing and other ways to make a living off the internet. If i was very good with coding and stuff, i would make video game like call of duty and make me a million bucks

Guest's picture

Most of these seem to be about doing something you enjoy rather than actually being an owner of a business with passive income. If your profit is based on your personal labor of tending to another's dog, making that craft, baking those cookies, etc... then in today's world that probably won't be a big return on investment of your time. You'd have to add personal satisfaction from doing that labor to decide if it is worth it. If you can outsource the repeatable labor to people ARE content to just do the simple labor then that frees up your time for more creativity. That is how to start a business and scale it.

We should all try to find our personal 'labor of love' in this life and if you are happy growing organic vegetables to sell locally at a very modest gain versus your time and labor then great. Just make sure you don't do something labor intensive like that with the goal of making a killing, because it's not very scalable. Find your happy, but make sure you are honest with yourself on WHY you are doing it.

Guest's picture

Encouraging people to take on the up-front cost and commitment of something like a bakery is downright irresponsible. How exactly does that not involve a large capital outlay? Is this something you can do from your home and have appropriate licensing / sanitation?

Guest's picture

In California, the kitchen used to prepare foods for sale commercially need to be made in a commercial kitchen with all its applicable sanitation laws. But part-time / small-scale food preparation businesses can "rent" unused kitchen time from local restaurants. You can bake a few hundred cookies in the morning before the restaurant opens.

Guest's picture

It's funny how Network Marketing doesn't make the list. It is one of the most powerful business models around. Unfortunately, a lot of people have had bad experiences with people in MLM that are desperate and don't know how how to find business partners.
Finding a good team of people to work with is crucial to success in this industry. Where else can you find a home business with low start-up costs and the potential to make a good income!

Guest's picture

I think the organic products are also a niche to be considered.

Guest's picture

Mobile design and development sounds all cool and nice but it is not easy to make it successful as it is very competitive market and until you can offer soemthing great, don't waste your time developing apps

Guest's picture

There are numerous points of potential critique with each one of these business opportunities. However I think the author makes a great point in general with this article - most likely, you CAN make some additional income and you should be thinking of all the ways that this can be done and the current trends that support these ideas. I think far too may of us are too good at talking ourselves out of even trying something.

You always hear about the few that make it big, but even those people started out with just trying out an idea and running with it.