How To Do Life

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11 Business Ideas for People Who Aren’t Born Entrepreneurs

Under-the-radar, low-risk businesses you can start.

By choice or because they can’t land a good job, many people contemplate starting a business. But they’re daunted by the risk.

If that sounds like you, you might want to consider these simple businesses. They:

  • cost little to start and run.
  • have few moving parts so there’s less to go wrong.
  • don’t require much technical expertise.
  • have weak competition.
  • don’t sell something likely to fall out of favor.
  • are cloneable. Once one location works well, it can be readily reproduced.

If you’re seeking status, you’ve come to the wrong place. High-status businesses tend to be highly competitive and thus engender significant risk. Many people, including those with designer-label degrees, find contentment using their brain to create an excellent simple business, despite its lack of status. Indeed, status can be the enemy of contentment.

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11 Businesses with a Good Risk/Reward Profile

These are businesses I believe have a good risk/reward ratio.

  • Gift carts. In a high foot-traffic location such as next to a major bus or train station, sell scarves, wicker baskets of French soaps, etc. On the way home from work, some people will want to buy a present for their honey. Your well-placed cart makes that convenient.

Are you worried you won’t make enough money from your cart? Just run it for a month or two until it’s optimized. If it’s on track to generate even $20,000 a year when staffed by someone else, hire a trusted friend to do that and you clone your cart in another excellent location.

  • Affiliate marketing with Amazon in tiny, under-the-radar niches—e.g., zinnia seeds, webcams, work tee shirts, books on wellness coaching, dog diabetic supplies. Affiliate marketing with Amazon works like this: You earn an at least 5 percent commission every time anyone clicks from your website to Amazon and buys the product.
  • Relationship ad consultant. Ever more people try to meet Mr/Ms. Right on relationship sites, but it can be tough to create the right ad: How should they describe themselves and the person they’re looking for? Which photos will likely attract the right partner? You can help, including perhaps taking the photos.
  • Spacemaker. Many people have basements, garages, and attics that are overgrown with stuff. You clean them out and install shelves and cabinets. 
  • Install and remove home-for-sale lawn signs. Realtors may be happy to outsource this no-brain/some-brawn work.
  • Grief coach. Some people who lose a loved one, even a pet, want support in getting past their sadness. Sure, some of them may want a psychotherapist but others just need a good listener who's gently encouraging.  
  • Sports tutor. Many high school athletes want to up their game, both for now and because they dream of a college sports scholarship. Parents will spend to boost their child's chances.
  • Fundraising auction planner. One of the more lucrative fundraising events is an auction but it’s difficult to pull off. You offer to do it: solicit the donations, manage the volunteers, decorate the room, get the food and drinks, find the auctioneer, etc. because it can generate big bucks and you can charge a big fee.
  • Apartment house laundromat creator. I know someone who searched for apartment buildings that didn’t have a laundry in the building but had room for one. He then contacted the owners and asked if he could install washers and dryers and they’d split the profit. He's now rich.
  • Talk to businesspeople to identify an unmet need. For example, a guy attended a party in which a railroad executive said he was spending $20,000 a month on taxis for employees to get from one side of the Hudson River to the other. The guy offered to provide van service that would cost half that.  
  • Shoeshine stand. This is the simplest business I know. Of course, locate it on a high-foot-traffic location where people wear lots of leather shoes, for example, a financial district, airport, or fancy hotel. The stand would have prominent signage with a catchy name like Dianne FineShine. Run it yourself until you’ve learned the art and business of shoeshining. Then hire a trusted friend to run it, offering good salary and profit sharing. Keep cloning DianneFineShine until you are making enough money. 

Wikipedia’s profile of Marty Nemko tells you more than necessary.

Marty Nemko is a career and personal coach based in Oakland, Ca. and the author of 7 books. 
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