Top Ten Opportunities in 2008 for Personal Businesses

Single person business - one person (maybe two) on your own running the businessEditor’s Note: Dawn Rivers Baker joins us once again outlining the 10 best opportunities for those who run single-person businesses — also known as nonemployer businesses or personal businesses or the self-employed. Even as a business of one person, you’re sure to find at least one opportunity worth checking out.

By Dawn Rivers Baker

The U.S. Census Bureau started producing annual nose-counts of “nonemployer” businesses — that is, firms with no paid employees other than the business owner or owners — in 1997. Since then, their numbers have exploded. The total number of U.S. firms grew by 21% between 1997 and 2004, and almost all of that growth consisted of nonemployer businesses (also called personal or single-person businesses or the self-employed).

You wouldn’t think that these smallest of small businesses could be such a big deal and, individually maybe they aren’t. Collectively, however, they numbered 20.5 million as of 2005, almost 80% of the businesses in the country, and they raked in about 8% of GDP that year.

It seems that circumstances came together in the final years of the 20th century to make the nonemployer firm a growing force in the U.S. economy. The technology that lets a nonemployer firm communicate with customers worldwide and operate a business on a 24/7 basis matured. In industry after industry, technology has lowered barriers to entry as well. And, in a service-oriented, knowledge economy, it became possible to construct a business with no more inventory than the expertise and information lodged in a human brain. In many ways, the 21st century belongs to nonemployers.

So, what are the best opportunities for these nano-businesses going into 2008?

Some of them spring from the way technology is changing how we work:

  • 1. Virtual staffing agencies. You might be surprised at how much money there is in human resources and that is true of virtual staff, too. As more and more businesses are waking up to the virtues of telecommuting and the costs savings in hiring independent contractors, there will be an accompanying demand for all kinds of professionals who are willing to work remotely.
  • 2. Content aggregators. Just as firms like NetFlix, and Rhapsody have found success in aggregating the Long Tail in the movie, bookselling and music industries, opportunities now exist for all sorts of aggregators who can create systems to help confused Internet users navigate the bewildering wealth of niche information available online. That includes content verticals (topic niches such as parenting, gardening, business and entrepreneurship) as well as format-based horizontals (newsletters, blogs, social networking sites).
  • 3. Digital content producers. One of the virtues of the online world is that it lets you create digital product that can be made once and sold an infinite number of times. So, if almost-elastic profit margins appeal to you and you are a reasonably good writer, an excellent opportunity may exist in creating information products of different types at different price points for different kinds of customers.
  • 4. Business and personal coaching. When policy wonks talk about education, they don’t usually mention the silent but growing problem of a generation or two whose schooling has not prepared them for the world in which they live. More specifically, most of us were educated to be employees and, because of that, many have trouble coping with the unsupervised nature of independence and self-employment. The rise of business and personal coaching to meet that need is a trend that shows no signs of slowing.
  • 5. Business services. Microbusinesses tend to want to focus on their core competencies and outsource other business functions to independent contractors and/or other microbusinesses. This creates a large and growing market for all sorts of business services, particularly advertising, marketing and public relations.

Another trend that will create opportunities for nonemployer businesses is the growing concern about the environment, global climate change and energy.

  • 6. Environmentally-friendly construction. The construction business is, believe it or not, composed almost entirely of nonemployer businesses; in fact, research from the 1990s found that 77% of the industry consists of home-based businesses. As Americans become increasingly eco-conscious, nonemployer construction firms that specialize in using environmentally sound materials or in building especially energy efficient properties are likely to find themselves in demand.
  • 7. Oil and energy extraction consultants. This is already one of the fastest growing segments in the nonemployer universe, both in terms of number of businesses and in terms of revenue growth. Obviously, a certain amount of training and experience in this line of work is a necessary prerequisite. But, again, with the focus on domestically produced, environmentally friendly energy sources, companies in the business of producing oil products and generating energy will be looking for these consultants and the guidance they offer.
  • 8. Energy-related environmental consultants. Another notion that is rapidly taking hold is for individuals to do their bit to reduce their oil consumption. For starters, it is patriotic (reduce dependence on foreign oil) and philanthropic (help save the planet). It will also reduce the costs of living and doing business for everybody. Nonemployers that can help homeowners and businesses to increase their energy efficiency, select alternative or renewable energy sources, or change their processes and procedures to decrease their carbon footprint should enjoy a brisk business in their chosen market.

Finally, there are those aging Baby Boomers.

  • 9. Health care service providers. There are likely to be any number of business opportunities for nonemployers in the health care business in the coming years, especially in home health care, long term care and hospice services. Here, the real opportunities are not in actually providing care — in this industry, the only care-givers who really make money are doctors and surgeons — but in helping patients and their families navigate the administrative maze of long term care, insurance and various federal benefits. And don’t forget the opportunities inherent in virtual staffing in this particular niche.
  • 10. Personal services. It sounds a bit science fiction when you stop and think about it but there is a growing Sandwich Generation market for personal services ranging from the traditional housekeeping/cooking to child care to house-sitting to shopping to social organizing and more. Believe it or not, as people get busier and busier, they are becoming more willing to farm out bits and pieces of their lives to the hired help. This is not going to be glamorous stuff but, if you choose the right service and the right market, it can be both lucrative and even fun.

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About the Author: Dawn Rivers Baker runs a publishing business focused on the microbusiness market. She is the Editor and Publisher of The MicroEnterprise Journal, located in Sidney, New York, USA.


Dawn R. Rivers Dawn R. Rivers, an award-winning small business journalist, regularly reports and analyzes small business policy and research as the publisher of the MicroEnterprise Journal. She also publishes research at the Microbusiness Research Institute and she blogs at The MicroEnterprise Journal Blog.

20 Reactions
  1. Thanks Dawn!

    I really enjoyed your post, especially the way you grouped the opportunities into three categories. I’d agree with everything listed and have personally experienced growth in #4 and #5 already.

  2. Dawn, good posting. This came at an opportune time as my wife and I have started brainstorming for new business ideas. Given your experience with micro businesses, what do you think about small start-ups as web destinations…perhaps even community building portals for very targeted groups of people? Clearly, the resources needed for a large, MySpace-esque community site is not possible for most personal businesses. But with social networking becoming so popular, I see that trend creating lots of splinter markets that could be tapped by smaller companies. Do you see a lot of personal businesses involved in that type of venture…or is the lack of early revenue from that type of business model make it impossible for someone without deep pockets?

  3. Microbusiness startups as web destinations have been around for quite some time actually, and have been particularly active in the work at home mom (WAHM) space. Online properties like the now-defunct (but sold for a few million by founding WAHM), the still alive and kicking and others found much success by starting and building communities long before MySpace was a gleam in anybody’s eye.

    My suggestion, though, is that you build your social networking site for somebody other than your fellow micro and small business owners. Research from JupiterResearch found that microbusiness owners (the largest and most active set of online small business users) may join social networking sites but they don’t actually use them. They are much more inclined to participate in a simple message board or email discussion list than they are to really work those social networking sites.

    Lack of early revenue won’t hurt all that much because microbusinesses are such lean operations that they can survive lean times. Hope this helps and good luck!

  4. really good advise about building your social network

  5. adding more in the above are Internet marketing and personal advicery

  6. Also personal insurance sector

  7. I really appreciate this post on top business ideas for the new year. This is a great list that any entrepreneur can use to build a terrific business that works. I have featured this post on our content site: in the Research and Planning category.

    Thanks again for this useful bit of information!

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  9. Dawn,
    I personally have been involved in many transactions with digital product download sites , mostly from where entrepreneurs were making thousands of dollars a month with no effort after creating an e-product. They typically have an army of affiliates promoting the products for them and split the cost – clickbank pays every two weeks. With a good idea in a unique niche this can be extremely lucrative -I currently have two clients selling their digital download sites for close to $1Million
    David Fairley
    Website Businesses For Sale

  10. Even now is in june, I think this article keep usefull for many people who are looking for business idea especially for non employee.

    For some countries those business ideas maybe unsuitable due to some reasons such traditional behavior and business behavior.

    Good post…..

  11. As a small business consultant and author – and instructor of entrepreneurism I found a cool new trend for small business for home based businesses who sell a service of coordinating yard sales for home owners … business owners often need this to for inventory liquidations! Vicki Wiederkehr, Cardinal Young Entrepreneurs in Action

  12. You are right on about the emergence of new business services!
    My microbusiness – Cost Reduction Experts – is a wmoen-owned company that helps organizations and companies understand, consolidate and benefit from the best in world-class procurement. There are major companies doing this type of consulting, but so far, we seem to have a niche in dealing with medium sized firms. Please check us out at and provide feedback.


  13. it is a very good idea! thanks for sahring!

  14. How can an individual find out information about getting a Personal Business started???