5 Business Ideas the Self-Employed Can Start Today

5 Business Ideas the Self-Employed Can Start Today

More and more people are looking to explore self-employed work, attracted by its freedom, variety, and—in some cases—business opportunities not realized in full-time work. To be your “own boss” has a nice ring.

Upwork’s Freelance Forward 2020 study found that 59 million Americans did freelance work in the past year—about 36% of the U.S. workforce, which is an increase of 2 million freelancers since 2019.

Independent workers have become a mainstay of the U.S. economy, contributing $1.2 trillion in annual earnings. These professionals bring highly developed skills to the table and, more often than not, realize earning potentials that match or exceed those available with traditional jobs.

As more professionals in many fields seize entrepreneurship, you too might be eager to start your own business. Fortunately, there is a wide variety of part-time, freelance, and contract business ideas that allow relatively straightforward entrance to the self-employment market.

While starting a small business or taking other independent career paths is never easy, some low-cost options offer great potential and small barriers to entry.

Have a brilliant business idea in mind? But not sure how much money will it take to bring your idea to life? Try Startup Cost Calculator to get cost estimates

The shift to self-employment: Building your own best business

Freelancers, consultants, self-employed, and independent talent and entrepreneurs have always been with us. Perhaps you even had an entrepreneurial spirit early on and spent your spare time blogging, designing websites, or making podcasts.

The last 10-plus years have seen high demand for independent talent and the number of skilled professionals looking for work, driven by the rising prevalence of high-speed internet (and the rise of online work marketplaces like Upwork).

There’s also been a major shift in attitude. Where once self-employment was an alternative to traditional work, now it’s sought by all types of professionals. Independent work is attracting a greater number of highly skilled professionals and providing much-needed flexibility to people whose personal circumstances may not allow them to take traditional employment.

5 self-employed small business ideas you can start today

Whether you want to launch a startup business as a side hustle to earn extra income or as your main job, and whether you plan to rely on your existing skill set or try something new, you need to have a sound freelance business plan and business model to succeed. Having these things is instrumental in helping to get new word-of-mouth and repeat business.

That said, some choices offer faster entry to self-employment, with fewer hoops to jump through. Here are some great business ideas for the self-employed:

1. Social media consultant

Suppose you spend an extended amount of time on different social media platforms and have some strong insights into how they work. Why not consider becoming an independent social media consultant? It’s increasingly important for brands to engage their audiences through social media platforms and not all have the budget or desire to hire someone for an in-house position.

As far as the background you need to become a social media manager, it can be helpful to have an active social media presence, be up on the latest platforms, and understand how brands use social media. Whether you have a marketing degree or studied liberal arts, focus on gaining real-world experience by running Facebook ad campaigns and analyzing social media metrics to fine-tune marketing efforts.

And with the rising importance of social media to business, there remain a lot of good job opportunities with the only drawback being the amount of competition out there. When you find a project that suits you, social media consultants may charge anywhere from $19 per hour to $65 per hour depending on years of experience and your particular set of skills.

2. Virtual assistant

A virtual assistant performs tasks for a client that an in-office administrative assistant would do for a boss, including making appointments, composing correspondence, returning phone calls, handling social arrangements, and making travel plans. They may also be tapped to do more specific tasks, such as data entry, bookkeeping, and even online research.

Since a virtual assistant works for themselves, they may have more than one client. While a virtual assistant can learn their job quickly, working as a medical, legal, or executive assistant can require more training and experience (usually rewarded with greater compensation).

Virtual assistants can charge anywhere from $13 per hour to $35. To be able to charge more, it’s good to have experience in areas such as customer service, event management, speaker support, social media management, billing, bookkeeping and other administrative tasks.

As more companies embrace remote positions, the demand for virtual assistants remains strong.

3. Freelance writer

Freelance writing has a lot of appeal to all types of people, including those with extensive journalism backgrounds, college graduates who majored in writing, university academics, and anyone interested in copywriting.

Besides training and experience, most writers have skills in researching and conducting interviews. It also helps to be a proficient wordsmith with a good track record and portfolio to thrive in the field.

What you can earn largely depends on the type of work you do and your experience. Freelancer writers can charge anywhere from $20 an hour to $95. While being a freelance writer does allow you a certain amount of freedom in your schedule, the vast range in rate also points to a highly competitive field.

4. Interpreter or translator

Are you proficient at speaking and writing in another language? Perhaps it’s time to put your skill and know-how to good use as an independent interpreter or translator. Your work could range from interpreting for a speaker to translating text from one language to another for publishing clients, courtrooms, corporate clients, and others.

While a bachelor’s degree is often a requirement for working as an interpreter or translator, the most important qualification is proficiency in both another language and English. In terms of what you can earn, translators can charge anywhere from $15 an hour to $30.

One of the benefits of the job is that translators have job options that include remote work , requiring little more than an internet connection and dictionary.

5. Designer

As the economy becomes more competitive, many traditional and online businesses are looking for a competitive edge with the quality of their designs. There are different types of design, including:

  • Graphic design for marketing and branding materials
  • Industrial design for creating better products
  • Architectural and interior design for making better living and working spaces
  • Web and interactive design to create compelling online experiences and e-commerce setups

Requirements depend on the type of designer you are, but they usually include a bachelor’s degree and a visually pleasing portfolio. If you already have a degree and experience, it might be a relatively smooth transition to freelance or independent work, helping clients who need to polish their image. For freelance work, typically you would need a high-powered computer to run memory-intensive graphic arts programs, and a good, accurate color printer for proofing.

Graphic designers can charge anywhere from $25 per hour to $90 largely depending on their experience and specific skill set.

No better place to begin a business

Now could be the perfect time to  launch your own business and work for yourself, enjoying the freedom and chance to do projects for various interesting clients

If you’re ready to start, consider launching and promoting your business through a proven platform like Upwork, a resource used by 30% of Fortune 500 companies and many other leading companies and organizations. See how you could turn your dream or side hustle into an ongoing successful business venture and sign up for an account.

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5 Business Ideas the Self-Employed Can Start Today
The Upwork Team

Upwork is the world’s work marketplace connecting millions of businesses with independent talent around the globe. We serve everyone from one-person startups to 30% of the Fortune 100 with a powerful trust-driven platform that enables companies and freelancers to work together in new ways that unlock their potential.

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