If you’re planning to start a business, you might start thinking about things like renting commercial real estate, commuting to an office, or managing employees.
But with the rise of home businesses, more and more people are discovering ways to use remote work to pursue entrepreneurship, with their business headquartered at home.
In today’s connected world, where technology affords us more flexibility in how and where we work, home-based businesses come in a variety of forms.
Some require you to convert a spare room into a mini-warehouse for products, while others can be run completely online. But generally, you can start these types of businesses using your existing space and means. You can also check our guide on how to make money online to explore more options.
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What makes a “home-based” business: the pros and cons
A home-based business is a venture—whether full time or run as a side hustle—that you can start and operate using your own home as your base of operations. A few home-based businesses, especially those that sell online and don’t buy and hold lots of inventory, can even be run on the go, without the need to be bound to your home.
Naturally, there are pros and cons to consider when deciding whether a home-based business is right for you.
- A low-investment business has fewer overhead costs (such as warehousing fees), plus potential tax deductions you can claim.
- The option to sell products or services locally or internationally.
- Flexible work-life balance, which is ideal if, for example, you’re a stay-at-home parent or a retiree.
- You can create a family business where your relations or your spouse can chip in as needed.
- You may need to convert space in your home to support the needs of your business (e.g., holding inventory, creating a home office, or storing equipment). The challenge can be doing this without disrupting your life at home.
- You still have to comply with any regulations that pertain to the business you want to start (e.g., you may need to rent a commercial kitchen if you plan to sell food products or a license/permit to hold inventory).
- Your business may outgrow your home and require you to rent additional space and hire employees.
- Working from home offers you a lot of freedom, but it can also be lonely. This might be difficult if you enjoy being around other people.
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13 home-based business ideas you can start today
While there are plenty of ways to go about starting a home-based business, the following are some of the most approachable paths to creating a home business for yourself:
- Buy products in bulk and sell them online
- Sell homemade products
- Start a dropshipping store
- Start a print-on-demand business
- Offer online services
- Teach online classes
- Productize your service or expertise
- Grow an audience you can monetize
- Buy an existing ecommerce business
- Start a subscription box business
- Get involved with pets
- Sell unwanted items
- Play video games
Ready to create your first business? Start your free trial of Shopify—no credit card required.
1. Buy products in bulk and sell them online
Many businesses center on the simple concept of importing products in bulk and selling them individually for a profit.
Maybe you recently traveled abroad and came across unique products that aren’t readily available in your market, but that you sense an appetite for. Or maybe you’ve zeroed in on a niche market and know the perfect way to serve it.
Either way, if these products are relatively easy to store and ship, you may have some solid home-based business ideas on your hands.
You can even initially use your home as a showroom to sell locally, giving you the option to expand with additional storage space and employees as you validate your idea and sales start to ramp up. This is how Artemis Design Co. got its start.
“I was living in the south end of Boston, and I had my living room just full of these products. I would have people come over if they wanted to look at something or try something on, and that’s how I made my first sale.” Milicent Armstrong, Artemis Design Co.
2. Sell homemade products
If you’re a maker yourself (or know someone who is), consider turning that hobby into a business. Even if you have to create your products elsewhere—in a studio, commercial kitchen, or workshop—you may be able to store and sell them in your own home.
When you have the ability to control nearly every aspect of the products you sell, you can make them more cost- effective, improve their quality, or cater them to a certain audience by targeting demand in the market.
Josh Pigford already had a thriving home business in a business analytics startup, but wanted to find a way to flex his creative muscles. He started printing succulent planters at home with his 3D printer—and a business was born. Cedar & Sail now carries planters, coasters, and other small desk tchotchkes.
Whether you choose to start on a marketplace like Etsy or build your own branded storefront, selling your creations is a great way to share your passion with others and make money too. Just be wary of regulations concerning products that customers ingest or put on their skin.
Check out these resources for launching a home-based business selling handmade products:
- How to sell candles
- How to start a jewelry business
- How to sell makeup online
- How to sell art online
- How to sell food online
- How to start a clothing line
- How to make enamel pins
- How to start an online boutique
Best of all, producing your own products doesn’t have to be overwhelming. When you’re ready to scale, you can establish a process and onboard new employees to help with production.
3. Start a dropshipping store
So far, we’ve covered business ideas that require you to hold inventory in your home. But there are a variety of online businesses ideas to pursue that don’t involve worrying about inventory and shipping.
These businesses employ a dropshipping model, where a third party produces, stores, and ships your products on your behalf, leaving marketing and customer service as your chief responsibilities.
Children’s brand Finer & Dandy is an example of a home-based business that uses a dropshipper. Founder Courtney White started the company in search of a way to make money online without spending too much time providing services to customers. That’s when she discovered dropshipping. Now, she wakes up at 4 a.m. every morning to run her dropshipping business before going to her day job.
Your dropshipping supplier can be local or overseas, but you need to ensure you find a supplier you can trust to deliver a consistently great customer experience after the sale. Always do your due diligence or you might put your business’ reputation at risk.
There are even Shopify apps, such as Oberlo, that can connect you with suppliers to import products into your own store while streamlining order fulfillment.
At its core, dropshipping involves becoming a distributor of a third party's products, taking on the costs (both financial and time-based) of marketing to be rewarded with the margins when you make a sale. In many cases, this can make your products a commodity with limited opportunity to brand your customer experience. Luckily, there are a few different ways you can still compete, even when there’s no shortage of your products in the market you’re selling in:
- Curate products from different suppliers to create a store that serves a specific niche.
- Compete through quality content and customer service, creating value beyond your products.
- Target an underserved region of the world. (Be sure to pay attention to your shipping costs.)
- Target a new audience with the same products (e.g., LED shoes can be marketed to music festival goers or runners).
If you’re interested in learning more about starting a dropshipping business, be sure to check out The Ultimate Guide to Dropshipping.
How to Get Started with Dropshipping in 2020
Learn how to find high-margin products, add them into your store, and start selling — fast.
4. Start a print-on-demand business
Using a similar dropshipping model, a print-on-demand business doesn’t require you to hold any inventory or ship anything yourself. Print-on-demand even offers you more flexibility to customize white label products with your own creative designs.
Rebecca Lee Funk launched The Outrage, a women’s rights activist apparel brand that sells print-on-demand t-shirt designs from her home. The business donates a portion of profits to Planned Parenthood in Donald Trump’s name. Her launch campaign went viral, and The Outrage turned into a thriving ecommerce business.
There are many other print-on-demand products you can sell: books, hats, backpacks, blankets, pillows, mugs, shoes, hoodies, phone cases, watches, and more, depending on the supplier you choose to work with.
Many print-on-demand businesses focus on serving a specific niche or, better yet, a shared identity. What are people passionate about and proud to share? What about yourself? From pet owners to vegans to gamers, there are plenty of passionate communities you can create products for.
If you have design skills, you can create your own designs. But if not, you can always hire the talent you need.
For a full runthrough of how print on demand works and how you can get started, be sure to take our video course inside Shopify Academy.
5. Offer online services
Services are even simpler than products to start selling at home, but the challenge is allocating your limited time. “Time is money” is never truer than when you’re running a service-based business.
Creative professionals, like designers or marketers, might freelance or consult with other companies, juggling multiple clients, often remotely from their own home office with occasional travel. Others might operate based on appointments and bookings to offer their services to individuals directly.
Service-based home business ideas include:
- House cleaning
- Freelance writing
- Personal training
- Virtual assistance
- Dog walking
Service-based businesses often require a lot of networking and word-of-mouth referrals to find suitable clients, but satisfied clients will likely retain your services over time.
For this reason, you don’t necessarily need a large number of customers to do well, as you would with a product-based business. Depending on the service you’re offering, a handful of high-quality clients can be enough to support yourself full time while working from home.
6. Teach online classes
Chris Carey, one of the founders of MAPerformance, started his automotive parts and services business from the comfort of home. He began by teaching car maintenance and repair tips to online users in forums. After establishing expertise and trust, people started heading over to his ecommerce site to buy parts.
If you have a teachable skill, you not only can share that knowledge in forums to get your name out there, you can also turn it into online classes. There’s an audience for just about any desirable skill, whether it’s English as a second language, advanced marketing, or everyday home maintenance hacks.
If I Made is Emily Newman’s home-based business teaching classes to creative professionals. When you teach classes online, not only do you have the flexibility to do it from home, you can also choose to offer live or pre-recorded teaching and training. For example, you might offer the live courses at a premium rate, while customers can purchase the recorded sessions at a discounted price.
That’s what Yegi Saryan, founder of Yegi Beauty, does with her business. After establishing a successful online beauty brand, she turned her talents into passive income. Now, aspiring entrepreneurs can purchase lash classes to kickstart their skills and add it as a service offering in their business. Classes are available both online and in-person.You can also choose the class size and length. If you like small groups or even one-on-one, consider tutoring, mentorship, or masterminds. If you like larger groups, do bigger training sessions and courses. Teach a one-time all-day summit, an hour a week, or somewhere in between.
Not interested in human interaction? Create a fully downloadable course for purchase. All you need is the content, be it a video walkthrough, templates, articles, or how-tos. Use a screen-recording tool like ScreenFlow to capture your screen and voice while you walk students through the material.
Whichever way you slice it, teaching online is a profitable home business idea because it requires low overhead—just an investment in time.
7. Productize your service or expertise
As we just discussed, one of the biggest downsides of running a service-based business is that you’re paid strictly for your time, skills, and effort. Emily Newman of If I Made productized her classes into digital courses, packaging the recordings from her live sessions and selling them at a lower rate.
“Productizing” your service—creating physical or digital products that package up your expertise and streamline or complement the service you offer—can add additional revenue streams to your business. You can cater to your current customer base or even find a new target customer in the same space.
Gabriella and Andrew Morrison started their home-based business by packaging up their expertise around tiny-home living. They sell courses and plans on Tiny House Build and StrawBale.com—operating everything from the comfort of their cozy, non-traditional house.
And here are some ideas for adding products to your service-based business:
- Selling photos online
- Downloadable reports
- Digital templates
As you can see, most of these ideas involve digital media packaged as products, which means no inventory to keep around the house. If you’re running your home business on Shopify, you can sell digital products seamlessly using the Digital Downloads or SendOwl app.
In some cases, though, productizing your expertise is more literal. That’s how Bullet Journal came about. Ryder Carroll created his own methodology to journaling that morphed into a home-based business idea. Now, he sells physical journals on his website.
Learn more: Shopify lets you sell wherever your customers are. Visit www.shopify.com/sell.
8. Grow an audience you can monetize
If you’re a content creator, have a sizable online audience already, or have always thought about starting your own blog, YouTube channel, Instagram account, or podcast, then you can potentially grow and monetize your following using any of the previous ideas on this list.
Andrew Finn co-founded Wait But Why, a blog-turned-business. After amassing more than 371,000 subscribers and millions of visits, they created digital content products tailored to an already loyal audience. Today, Wait Buy Why is a full-blown ecommerce site with digital and physical goods for sale.
Jordan Ferney, founder of Oh Happy Day Shop!, also built an audience via blogging and later turned it into a full-fledged home-based business. She designed her business around her life and being able to spend time with her family and now sells products on her ecommerce site.
Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark used Facebook groups to develop and nurture a community around their podcast, My Favorite Murder. This group of Murderinos, armchair investigators who are true crime fans, grew to more than 200,000 members before the podcast sunset in 2018. My Favorite Murder then created its own paid community, the Fan Cult forum, charging members an annual fee. Capitalizing even more on its fandom, My Favorite Murder also launched an ecommerce site with branded merchandise (it also sold event tickets there).
You can also explore becoming an affiliate—selling other products or services for a commission—or accepting payment for sponsored posts to give brands a chance to connect with your audience.
Building a loyal audience requires patience, consistency, and focus. This isn’t the easiest way to start a home-based business, especially not in the short-term, but if you’re able to build a following around something you love it can be one of the most fulfilling and enduring, giving you the flexibility to pursue multiple revenue streams at once.
The potential to monetize your audience often depends on the niche you choose to serve. If you’re starting from scratch or are in the midst of growing your own audience, be sure to check out the following guides to learn how to best grow and monetize the most popular channels:
- How to make money on Instagram
- How to make money on YouTube
- How to start a podcast
- How to start a blog
- How to make money as a self-published author
9. Buy an existing ecommerce business
If you’re more interested in investing in a source of income you can maintain while at home or on the go, consider buying an established ecommerce business.
Prices vary greatly based on a variety of factors, including total revenue generated, profit potential, available assets (like an email list or social following), inventory, and more. Some sellers will even onboard you and teach you the ropes of running their store.
Exchange is a marketplace powered by Shopify for buying and selling ecommerce stores. You can browse the listings for businesses that suit your budget, level of experience, and needs. Maybe you want to buy a proven business and are willing to invest more money to acquire it. Or perhaps one catches your eye with untapped potential that you’d like to build on.
Standing Health is one example of an online store available for purchase on Exchange. The company currently does $1,246 in monthly revenue with a 15% profit margin.
Just be sure to vet each listing and consider everything that’s included in the sale. Revenue and other data can be verified through Shopify, so you can rest assured those numbers are accurate. If you’d like some more guidance, check out our guide How to Buy a Business on Exchange.
10. Start a subscription box business
The online subscription box industry grew 100% over the course of just five years. That explosive growth has led to the emergence of new direct-to-consumer brands targeting this niche, as well as the adoption by major brands like Sephora and Walmart.
You can start a subscription business from home, using the help of Shopify's subscription management tools. Sylvia Song, co-founder of MISHIBOX, did exactly that. She started importing popular Korean beauty products and selling them to a global customer base—all from the comfort of her home in Virginia. Now, the thriving ecommerce brand is moving headquarters to New York.
For Song, starting a home business was about seeing a gap and finding a way to fill it. This is the secret to success for many top subscription box businesses. Birchbox, for example, saw that there was no way for consumers to test multiple beauty products without spending a fortune. So it filled that gap with affordable curated boxes of smaller sample-sized products.
Ashley Reynolds bundled surplus products into subscription boxes to sell via her ecommerce site, Cloth & Paper. If you already run an ecommerce business at home, you could do the same to make use of what would otherwise be dead stock.
Subscription boxes don’t have to necessarily be about selling. Haverdash is a subscription box company that rents clothes. When customers are finished using the items, they send them back—and Haverdash rents them out to another customer to generate even more revenue.
11. Get involved with petsPet influencers are all over social media, promoting brands like BarkBox and inspiring thousands of likes with their cuteness. If you’ve got a pet of your own, you could turn them into a social media influencer and work with brands to promote their products online.
Bodhi the Menswear Dog—a.k.a. the most stylish dog in the world—has made a name for himself on Instagram in particular. Browse his feed and you’ll see collaborations with several brands like Booking.com, Spotify, and Poly & Bark.
No pets at home? Take care of other people’s pets. Apps like Rover opened up the sharing economy to pet sitting and dog walking. Dog hotels were a $6 billion industry in 2016. If you’re looking to make money from home, offer pet owners a place to drop off their animals while they head out of town.
12. Sell unwanted items
As consumers become more environmentally conscious, they’re also looking for ways to adjust their shopping habits to support sustainability. The resale clothing industry is a $4 billion industry in the U.S. alone
COAL N TERRY is one successful home-based business that sells vintage finds. And while the business didn’t exactly start from a home—it was a college dorm room—it has since grown into a brand with a loyal following and celebrity fans.
You can start small with your own home-based business—sites like Poshmark and Mercari are great places to sell your unwanted clothing. You can even use Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace.
Unwanted items aren’t limited to previously used clothing. Food waste is an unwanted item that also presents a viable home-based business opportunity.
13. Play video games
While many may think video games are a waste of time, it’s a hobby that can actually turn a profit. And there’s nothing more home-based than sitting on your couch in front of your TV.
Esports and video game streaming platforms like Twitch have opened the door for gamers to gain notoriety—and eventually money—from their talents. The esports industry alone is worth more than $1.5 billion, and a Twitch streamer can get up to 100,000 viewers at a time.
So how do you monetize this? Sponsorships is one of the best ways to start a home-based competitive gaming business. Companies will pay you to play their games and stream it to your audience.
Video gaming is even known to be a great résumé-booster. Note, though, that all of the above requires some level of gaming skill.
Here’s a unique spin: Twitch isn’t limited to just gaming anymore, and Maxx Burman and Banks Boutté used the platform to launch an online festival where they featured 12 top video game art directors. They repurposed this content for other digital channels like Instagram and YouTube. After building a loyal audience, the two launched KitBash3d, where they sell 3D assets for video games and movies.
Find a home business idea that works best for you
The best home business really depends on your goals. Do you want a strong work-life balance as a stay-at-home mom, or do you want to hustle to achieve success quickly? How much capital do you have to start up? What skills are already in your arsenal that you can tap into?
A home-based business in today’s world is simply a remote-friendly business where technology can close the gap between you, your suppliers, your employees, and your customers. Altogether, this is a home business opportunity to start small, grow nimbly, and invest conservatively—especially when you can cut out the costs of renting an office.
As you would when starting any type of business, think carefully about your goals, what motivates you, and what you enjoy working on in order to create a home business that works for you.
Ready to create your first business? Start your free trial of Shopify—no credit card required.
Illustration by Till Lauer