Editors note: We launched this guide in 2021, but as times change we figured so would the research. So we’ve updated this to reflect updates in 2022 and ultimately 2023 as we try to navigate this post-COVID economy.
Working with small businesses all the time, I thought it would be fitting to discuss which is the best service business to start.
Best? I thought that’s fairly subjective. What I might consider the best might not be the best for you. So I set out to come up with a relatively objective approach.
I’m giving you the most comprehensive analysis on which type of business you should focus your efforts on.
What is a Service Business?
A service-based business is a type of business that provides labor or skill, opposed to products, to customers. Chances are, you use service-based businesses regularly, but you probably don’t think much about it.
These services could be in the form of manual labor such as a landscaper or skilled labor such as a plumber.
At the end of the day, there are no products to make and nothing to ship. You provide the customer service, they give you money in exchange. Service-based businesses are super easy to start and, in some instances, easier to get going than a product-based businesses. Of course, there are exceptions.
This is probably why they’re a favorite in the sweaty startup community.
Service-based businesses are great for entrepreneurs at all levels. Whether you’re a novice without any business skills or an expert with multiple businesses, service businesses almost always generate decent revenue.
While they often require more physical labor than a product-based business, you’re probably okay with that.
You’re a hustler just trying to get after it! After all, you’re still reading this, right?
There are a few key points when it comes to picking the best service business to start that really draw the attention of entrepreneurs. They typically don’t require tons of overhead, some of them you can get into with minimal skills, and from some perspectives, they’re easier to start.
We’ll dissect the costs associated with each business we’ve chosen, but in general, there are fewer up-front and ongoing costs associated with service businesses.
You won’t have to worry about prototyping, the manufacturing process, packaging, or shipping. You sell your services and are compensated accordingly.
If you’re looking for an easy-to-start business then you really can’t beat a service business. Although some require an exceptional amount of skill, some of them require little-to-no skill at all.
Don’t be fooled, however, there are some that require a great number of hard skills and even some certifications. Plumbers and electricians, for example, are both service-based businesses but require some professional knowledge.
Easy Easier to Start
To say that they’re all easy to start wouldn’t be correct. In order to get a business going properly, you do have to put in some effort and possibly some sweat equity. Nobody has ever said running, let alone starting, a business was easy.
Though, compared to their product-based counterparts, service businesses are much easier to get started. As mentioned above, you won’t have to worry about making products and keeping inventory. Some of these you can get away with a stack of flyers and determination.
You’ll have a different set of difficulties, but nothing too monumental.
Which Businesses We Compared
Onto the fun stuff. Which types of businesses did we select to compare?
Well, we did some thorough searching and throughout the myriad of click-bait articles titled The best 942 Businesses You Can Start for under $1 we came up with a select few that were regulars on those lists.
Here are the 10 businesses that we decided to analyze and compare (not in any specific order)-
- Pet Sitting
- Freelance Writing
- Fitness Trainer
- Dog Waste Removal
- Residential and Commercial Cleaning
- Business Consultant
- Residential Painter
- Window Cleaning
One of those will be the best service business to start over all of the rest.
Right out of the gate you’ll notice we selected a broad range of businesses. Some may seem more challenging than others, but we’re going to provide you with the hard data to help you make a decision on which business to start.
If you don’t see a business you want to start on our list, feel free to use the criteria we outline below to see how your business idea ranks.
Criteria we used to measure the ease and feasibility of the business.
Although we’ve attempted to keep the criteria as objective as possible, there is inherently some subjectivity involved when determining the best service business to start.
We decided to focus on critical areas that many business owners focus on which include expenses, demand, skills, and travel requirements.
Start Up and Continuous Expenses
This criterion includes both startup costs and ongoing costs. Startup costs involve one-time expenses such as a company vehicle or a computer, whereas ongoing costs might be replenishing your cleaning supplies for a cleaning business.
Obviously, there are varying opinions on how much capital is needed to start different businesses, but this should give you a good starting point. It is worth noting that location, services provided, and quality of services will greatly affect the expenses required to start and maintain the business.
- 1 – Startup and Ongoing Costs $1,500 or More
- 2 – Startup and Ongoing Costs Between $500 and $1,500
- 3 – Startup and Ongoing Costs $500 or Less
As a budding business owner with minimal capital, you might focus more on this metric than anything else. But keep an open mind to the others.
Demand for the Services
This criteria is definitely important, but definitely the most subjective of the criteria.
Demand is essentially how much is the service needed. This may vary from city to city as well. A snow-removal company is not really needed here in Central Texas. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a snowplow in these parts.
So here’s how we broke down the demand on our three-tier scale.
- 1 – Little to No Demand / Select Market Demand Only
- 2 – Moderate Demand / Rarely Needed
- 3 – High Demand / Recurring Customers
Without question, demand is a critical factor in determining the viability of a business. You don’t want to start a business when there is not a clearly defined need for it.
For skills/certifications, we focused on hard skills as opposed to soft skills. Sure soft skills play a role, but that is different for everyone and very subjective. To keep this research as objective as possible, we focused on skills required to perform the tasks associated with the business.
You as the business owner don’t necessarily need the skills and/or certification to start the business (definitely preferred), but you may have to have someone on your staff that does.
- 1 – Hard Skills Required / Certification Required to Perform Operations
- 2 – Skills Needed or Recommended / Certifications Not Necessary but Might Exist
- 3 – Minimal Skills Needed / No Certifications Needed
Businesses that require skills and/or certifications definitely raise the barriers to entry. This makes it less competitive. But for this metric, since we’re trying to help you start any business, a lower barrier to entry would be better.
Travel or Remote Operations
Some businesses require face-to-face interaction, or at the very least for the business to perform services on-site. In the days of COVID, this is a big deal.
With that, we took a look at whether the business required to travel.
- 1 – Travel is Required / Services Must be Rendered at Customer’s Location
- 2 – Travel Might Be Required / Can be Performed Remotely or On-Site
- 3 – No Travel Required / Operates Strictly Remote
You may view this scale differently, but for this research, we went with less travel, the better. Why? Less travel saves you, the business owner, time and money for that travel.
Remember, we’re going for simplicity as well!
Business analysis of each type of business.
We’re breaking down each of the 10 businesses we’ve selected by the criteria we laid out above. We’ll also discuss how we came to the conclusion for each of the criteria.
Disagreeing with our assessment is encouraged! Feel free to do your own analysis and come to your own conclusions as well.
I’m hoping this is just a starting point for you to start your own service-based business.
Pet sitting is an ideal business for anyone that has a love of animals to start. Imagine, you get to hang out with furry friends all day – and get paid!
Overall, we’ve assessed the startup costs and ongoing maintenance of a pet sitting business to be around $500. This includes basic business requirements (i.e. business licenses), insurance, marketing, and training. Of course, some of this is optional and you may be able to lower the cost even more.
In the United States, there are about 79 million households that own either a dog or cat. That’s a lot of pet sitting! And the thing about pets, these families love them. So pet sitting will always be in demand in just about every municipality.
To start a pet sitting business you really don’t need any special skills like some of the other businesses. However, if you’re trying to really grow your business and take it to the next level you may want to consider attending a first aid class for pets or learning more about care for elderly animals. You won’t be a veterinarian, but you’ll have a foundational understanding and the pet owners will appreciate that.
There may or may not be some traveling associated with pet sitting. Most of the time you’ll find going to your customers’ homes is the preferred way, but if you had everything set up, they could bring their fur babies to you.
Freelance writers, or authors if you prefer, draft blog posts and other various articles for others. These articles may be scholarly and require intense research, or as simple as copy for a website. This is a huge industry and writers can fetch anywhere from 10¢ to $1 per word. This is probably the best service business to start if you don’t like physical labor.
Expenses associated with freelance writing are minimal. If you already have a computer and a comfy place to sit and hack on some keys, you could get away with zero startup costs. For the sake of this research, we assumed you would have a website developed and do some amount of marketing to get your name out there since your business is primarily online. All in, you can expect around $250 to get a decent freelance writing business going.
Demand is extremely high for writers. You can go to any number of freelance-for-hire websites and see countless jobs posted. Of course, these jobs depend on the skills you have and the reputation you have as a writer, but there should never be a shortage of work.
Speaking of skills, to get paid closer to that $1/word mark we talked about, you have to have some serious writing skills. Typically, you would hone your skills on a specific niche such as SEO content generation or ghost-writing a book. Nonetheless, no one is going to pay for content if it looks like it’s written by a 1st grader.
This is definitely the job you want if leaving your house is not on your to-do list. Freelance writers rarely, if ever, have to work outside of their home. Whether you want to relax and type while sitting on the couch or in a home office, the choice is yours.
Being a fitness trainer can be an extremely rewarding business. Helping people achieve their fitness goals goes well beyond just their weight, but also adds to their confidence and how they feel about themselves. By starting a fitness trainer business you can make that dream happen!
Fitness trainer expenses can vary wildly, mostly driven by their certification and where they decide to train their clients. Some gyms require a specific type of membership for trainers, whereas some trainers opt to have their own home gym to train at. This expense compounded with office equipment, marketing, and travel, makes it a not-so-inexpensive endeavor. We pegged the expenses to get this type of small business going at $1,000.
Let’s be real, we’re not exactly the healthiest country in the world. The upside to that is there is a steep demand for fitness trainers! The Bureau of Labor Statistics claims that the demand for fitness trainers will increase by 15% over the next 10 years, which is well ahead of other industries.
While there are not necessarily any requirements to be certified by any specific governing body, you’ll assume some risk by not being certified. That’s why there are so many certification programs on the market. To be a trusted expert in the fitness industry, you’re going to want to be certified by one of the reputable certification organizations such as NASM, NSCA, or ACE.
As discussed, travel really could go either way on this. As a trainer, you could meet your clients at a local gym or at their homes. But if you were to go above and beyond, you could furnish your own workout equipment and host your training sessions in your own home or facility.
Dog Waste Removal
The smelliest, albeit a quite lucrative business of this bunch – dog waste removal or a dog poop scoopin’ business. Yes, dogs lay their droppings every day in every city all over the nation. While there are some that don’t care to pick it up, there are many that do but don’t want to do it themselves. This could be the best service business to start since the odor isn’t in the criteria.
In general, expenses are fairly low. Print out some flyers, purchase some rubber gloves, recycle some old bags from the grocery store, and you’re in business! At around $100, this is probably the most inexpensive business to start.
In addition to it being so cheap to start, the demand is through the roof. Of those 79 million households that have pets as described above, about 48 million of those are dog owners. That comes out to about 1.6 dogs per household in the United States. If you can imagine, at around 1-5 droppings a day – per dog – that’s a lot of poop to remove.
There really is not much skill involved in this business either. There are no certifications required. You just have to have a stomach that can deal with a dirty job like this.
This is one of that handful of businesses that, by its very nature, requires you to travel to your clients. Remember, they want the feces removed from their own lawns, not yours. Pack up the rubber gloves and get a move on it!
Fun note: My son wanted to start a service business and created a poop-scooping business in our neighborhood. He did great. He ultimately had enough money saved up for a four-wheeler, but best of all, he learned that running a small business is a lot of work — but rewarding!
Residential and Commercial Cleaning
Do you keep a tidy house? Maybe have some amount of undiagnosed OCD when it comes to keeping a clean living space? If so, then residential and/or commercial cleaning may be the best service business to start. In times of the pandemic, more people are concerned with the cleanliness of their facilities and you can take full advantage of this.
Startup costs are on the upper end of this list. In addition to getting the business-related requirements out of the way, you’ll have to acquire some equipment to actually do the cleaning. On top of that, you’ll continually go through cleaning supplies so there will definitely be some recurring expenses. To break into the cleaning business in your local area is going to set you back around $1,000 with some recurring costs involved.
If I wrote this article a year ago I wouldn’t have put the demand as high as it is now. With COVID, more homeowners and businesses are aware of the pathogens that surround us and subsequently hire cleaning companies. I’m not sure how much longer you can ride this wave, but for now, the demand is ridiculous.
While there are not many skills required to clean a room or a building, you will need to be extremely detail-oriented. Clients are paying cleaning companies for top-notch cleansing. Whether it is routine cleaning in a commercial building or a one-time move-out cleaning for a property management company, they want their space to look good when you’re done.
Just like the poopy-scoopy business above, you will be required to travel. You’ll also have to have enough space in your vehicle for all of your cleaning supplies and equipment. You might want to consider a small pickup truck for this business.
People love nicely trimmed lawns and well-kept shrubbery, but they don’t want to do it themselves. Landscaping is a very labor-intensive business, but aside from some up-front equipment, it’s a very easy business to get into. Any business that makes peoples’ homes look good is going to be lucrative.
You wouldn’t think so, but if you’re starting from scratch you’re going to want to invest in some decent lawn-care equipment. If you’re servicing lawns over half an acre then you’ll want a riding lawnmower. Then there’s the slew of other equipment you’ll need to expand your services such as a hedge trimmer, edger, blower, etc. To top it all off, you’ll probably need a trailer to haul everything. You guessed it, those are fairly expensive on their own, hence we estimate it costs around $3,500 on average to start a small landscaping business. This may just be the best service business to start, but so far it’s the costliest.
There’s plenty of demand for landscapers all over the US, and the best part of it is you can get recurring business usually on a weekly basis. If it were only based on that I would give this a higher demand rating, but of course, the landscaping business is seasonal. Depending on where you’re at you could pivot in the fall to leaf removal and to snow removal in the winter, but those require additional startup costs as well.
Like some of the other businesses, there are not any certifications you’ll need to get to do this. With just a little bit of sweat and hard work, you can easily start a landscaping business. However, as you gain experience you’ll start to develop some methods for increasing efficiency so you can pack more clients into your schedule.
It’s quite obvious that this is a business that requires a lot of travel. And we’re not only talking about getting to your client’s location but also having all of your equipment in tow. So you’re going to need either a truck or a truck with a trailer to get all of your landscaping equipment to your client’s homes.
Business owners all over don’t know what they don’t know. That’s what might make this venture the best service business to start. Whether they don’t have the know-how or understanding of some specific business processes, they often hire out consultants to educate them and their team. If you’re smart in this area then you could start a consulting business helping small businesses all over the country.
You won’t need any fancy equipment, but there are some basics involved in starting this operation. Like all of the other businesses, you’ll need a computer and connectivity, but you may also need some decent outfits – if you travel – and these can get relatively pricey depending on which niche of businesses your serve. Between the startup and marketing, you can expect to start consulting for around $1,000.
As we’ve mentioned before, sometimes business owners don’t know what they don’t know. And that’s a problem you’ll have to overcome with them. If they don’t know or perceive a problem with their business model, they’re not going to reach out to you. To be effective in this field you’re going to have to create your own demand by educating business owners and managers on your expertise.
Of all of the businesses listed here, this one requires by far the most skill and credentials. This is because your customers are coming to you for your expertise, not necessarily labor. You’ll need to not only have the education – such as a bachelor’s or master’s degree – but probably some level of experience. There are also countless certifications you may want to have such as a PMP or Lean Six Sigma certification to bolster your credentials.
While you might not necessarily need to travel to consult, there’s definitely some value in face-to-face interaction. You get a sense of their emotions, you get to see first-hand how the business operates, and the list goes on. So with that, we’re going to say that travel could go either way for this small business endeavor.
If you have a steady hand and you’re extremely meticulous, you could start a business as a residential painter. You get a call to paint a home, for the most part, you can give a quote over the phone because your prices are by the square foot, and then you transform their living space. Simple enough?
Well, there are some expenses that go with painting, and it’s a bit more than just a paint set you received for Christmas. You’ll need to purchase ladders and scaffolding, drop cloths, high-quality brushes, and rollers, and if you’re really taking this seriously probably a paint sprayer setup. Of course, you’ll factor in your recurring costs into the quote such as paint and masking tape. Most painting businesses cost around $1,000 to get fired up.
Demand really depends on which municipality you’re serving. There’s always a demand for painters and it’s not exactly “seasonal” either; however, the home households the more painting. Furthermore, this isn’t a business that you set up recurring clients like house cleaning or dog waste removal.
While you won’t need any additional certifications, the more experience you have the better you will be at painting. It’s not completely a skill-less business, but customers are going to demand a certain level of quality from you.
And lastly, just as most home service businesses, you’ll have to travel. You might be able to provide quotes on your website or over the phone and that may save some traveling, but overall you’ll need a truck to haul your equipment.
Windows are often the face of small businesses throughout the community, so it’s easy to see why they would want them cleaned. Like landscaping, it’s easy to get into, there is a low barrier to entry, and you can make a decent living by washing windows.
To get started with your window cleaning business you’ll need a uniform, some equipment, and perhaps a small truck to get to and from the jobs. Since you’ll be cleaning some potentially expensive glass – depending on the size of the job – you may want to consider throwing in insurance as an expense. Overall, if you find some deals on equipment, expect to shell out around $1,000 to get into this business.
Since windows tend to attract dirt and grime every few months, we’re going to call the window washing business a high-demand business. After printing out some flyers, securing some initial customers, your recurring client base will continue to grow until you’re too busy and have to start hiring additional staff.
When you finally bring on your first employees you don’t have to look for any special certifications or skillsets. It doesn’t take much skill, just some attention to detail and a powerful cleaner, to give windows a glistening shine.
Unfortunately, for some anyways, a window-washing business is a labor-intensive business that requires you to travel to wherever the windows are located. You’ll probably want to purchase a small truck if you don’t have one already to take all of your equipment with you to the job sites.
Every parent wants the best for their children which includes excelling at their academics. However, some parents simply have more money than time so they hire out the tutoring. This is where you come in with your tutoring business and here’s why tutoring might be the best service business to start.
Of course, you’ll have to get the business going, probably add in a website and some marketing, but overall the initial and ongoing costs are relatively low. Your tools are your knowledge and a computer. Aside from that, there really isn’t much in the way of costs. We’re estimating around $500, conservatively, to get this business going.
With the increase in distance learning, there has also been an increase in online tutoring. Why? Parents still need to go to work and lack the time to help their children keep up. This is where your tutoring business comes into play. There is no shortage of demand for tutors in the days of the pandemic and you can surely capitalize on this.
You might not need to be a former valedictorian to be a tutor, but you definitely can’t be a slouch. You should have a strong working knowledge of the material you’re tutoring even if you’re not necessarily a renowned expert. Having a bachelor’s degree (or higher) will go a long way in securing the trust of the parents that are contracting you to support their little ones’ developing minds.
There was once a time when tutors were required to travel. They would pack up their books and go to the home of whomever they were tutoring and get to work. These days, you can Zoom it. In fact, most families would probably prefer that you conduct the tutoring sessions virtually. The best part of that? You can now expand your market nationwide.
Comparative analysis of the service businesses.
Now that you’ve seen our take on each of these businesses, let’s see how these businesses compare.
Overall, there were 3 businesses that clearly outlasted the other 7. Pet sitting, freelance writing, and dog waste removal. Is that what you thought would be at the forefront?
These might not be the most glamorous businesses, and unless you scaled on a national level you might not get rich, but you can make a decent living doing any of these 3.
|Dog Waste Removal||3||3||3||1||10|
|Residential and Commercial Cleaning||2||3||2||1||8|
Okay, I said I would deliver the best service business to start and I ended up giving you a 3-way tie. So I’ll subjectively pick the best of those 3.
Dog waste removal. Yup, the stinkiest. Why? It’s completely underrated, super easy money for minimal labor, and dogs are everywhere. You can even scale this and go nationwide. The market is wide open.
Are you starting up a business and need some ideas? Hopefully, this helped get you in the right direction and get you actioning on your dream in 2023. Even if the business you’re interested in starting isn’t listed here, you can still apply the same criteria to it and see how it does.
Let me know if you want to discuss some ideas and we can see what we come up with.