One of the most popular topics in personal finance is passive income. It’s easy to see why most people would love to make money with minimal effort, but finding practical and realistic ways to do it can be challenging.
Starting or buying a low-maintenance business is one option to generate passive income. These businesses are usually side hustles that generate extra money instead of being a primary source of income, but with these income-producing assets, there are possibilities for scaling up.
While these low-maintenance businesses are often considered sources of passive income, they are not 100% passive. As the business owner, you’ll need to be involved to some degree. You can run most of these businesses with minimal involvement from the owner. However, you’ll still need to oversee the operation and put in some time and effort, even if it’s not constant effort like most other business models.
If you’re looking for low-maintenance business ideas, the options covered here will hopefully give you some possibilities.
When it comes to low-maintenance business ideas, running a laundromat is usually one of the first types of businesses mentioned. A self-serve laundromat could be a great option because many operate with very little involvement from the owner, and often the business will operate with no employees present.
Customers can use the washing and drying machines without needing staff, although some owners choose to have an employee on-site for safety and to help protect the equipment.
To run a laundromat business, you’ll need to rent the space (usually in retail strip malls), get commercial coin-operated washers and dryers, and have a functioning change machine.
This business is low maintenance and can be easily duplicated. If you have one successful location, you could open up another laundromat business across town or nearby. You may be able to grow your passive income by owning several locations.
Another of the best low-maintenance businesses is to rent something out. While there are many things you can rent out (see my article 30 Things You Can Rent Out for Extra Money), some will give you higher income potential than others.
The rental business idea with the highest income opportunity is to rent out an RV or camper if you own one. Most people who own RVs only use them a small percentage of the time, and the RV sits unused most of the year.
RVs have significant rental value, and by simply renting out your RV occasionally, you can make a nice side income. RVshare is a popular peer-to-peer rental platform for RVs and campers. You may be able to make an extra $10,000 – $20,000+ per year by simply renting out your RV or camper.
Do you own an RV? If so, you can make a great passive income by renting it out when you're not using it. RVshare is a platform that connects RV owners with renters.
- Use the RV when you want, rent it out when you don't need it
- Turn your RV into an income-generating asset
- Passive income opportunity
- You control all the details like pricing
- Largest RV marketplace
Another similar low-maintenance business idea is to rent out a truck. Many people rent trucks to move things they can’t fit into their car, so there’s plenty of demand if you have a truck. Fetch is the most popular peer-to-peer truck rental platform, and according to Fetch, owners can make up to $1,800 per month per vehicle.
Renting your truck with Fetch is very low maintenance. They’ll market your rental to people in your local area. They also handle customer service, renter verification, and payment processing. If you use the Fetch smart device, you won’t even need to meet the enters to give them the key. They’ll be able to use their phone to get into the truck, making it even more passive for you.
Fetch also has insurance that covers your truck while it’s being rented.
Rent out your truck and make money passively with Fetch. Fetch's platform automates most of the process for you. They'll promote your rental to people in your local area, handle all customer inquiries, renter verification, and payment. The Fetch smart device even allows renters to unlock your truck with their phone so you don't have to meet them in person.
- Great side hustle for busy people
- Turn your truck into an income-generating asset
- Excellent income potential
- Rent out a single truck or build your own fleet
- Fetch guarantees that you'll make at least $1,500 in the first 90 days
3. Self Storage
Almost every town has at least one self-storage business where people can rent storage units. There’s a high demand for storage units in a lot of places, and that creates an opportunity for entrepreneurs like yourself to start a low-maintenance business.
Smaller self-storage businesses often operate without an employee on-site at all times. Others opt to have the business owner or manager living on-site for safety, but that’s not always the case.
One of the nice details about this type of business is that it generates recurring passive income. Your customers will be paying monthly rental fees, so it’s ideal for building a profitable business.
To get started, you’ll need some land (rented or owned) and storage units. The startup costs are higher than some of the other low-maintenance business ideas on this list, but the profit potential is also high. And, of course, like the others already mentioned, you can scale up by opening additional locations.
It’s also possible to start a self-storage business on a small scale with no startup cost and no overhead. If you already have a garage, shed, basement, or other space you could rent out, you can create a profile on Neighbor.com. Others looking to rent storage space may find your offer on the site/app, making it a perfect way to get started.
Neighbor makes it easy to earn extra cash by renting out storage space in your basement, attic, garage, or even a shed. Make extra money each month without needing to spend time on a side hustle.
- Earn thousands of dollars per year
- Very little time or effort required
- Neighbor markets your space to people in your local area
- Set your own rates
- Neighbor handles all the payments for you
4. Car Wash
A car wash business is similar to a laundromat in some ways. The small business can function independently with little involvement from the owner and low overhead costs.
There are two different types of car washes. The first is a manual self-service car wash where customers pull in, pay, and then use the provided equipment, water, and soap to wash their cars.
The second type is an automated self-service car wash, where the customer would pay and then drive through the car wash. Both types are possibilities if you’re looking for a low-maintenance business idea.
To be a car wash business owner and generate passive income, you’ll need land (rented or owned) and equipment. You may choose to have a worker present, but many car washes function without any employees on-site at most times, especially for automated self-service car wash shops.
A self-service car wash is another type of small business idea that can be duplicated and repeated. With one successful business, you could start another car wash in a different area and follow the same business plan.
5. Vending Machines
I’m listing this as “vending machines,” but aside from vending machines, it could also include similar things like crane/claw games and small gumball machines. With all these businesses like vending machines, you’ll own the machine, find high-traffic locations to rent, and keep the machine stocked.
You might be able to get your machines in restaurants, retail stores, hotels, office breakrooms, and other places that have a lot of foot traffic. In some cases, you’ll need to pay to rent the space, or you may be able to come up with another agreement with the host/owner of the property.
These low-effort, low-maintenance business ideas generate income around the clock without the need for any personal involvement and with very low overhead. You just need to make sure they stay stocked and deal with any maintenance issues as they arise.
The startup costs for a vending machine business are relatively low. You’ll need some machines, which can be purchased new or used. You can reach out to local businesses, offices, schools, universities, or any other location with a lot of visibility. Once you get your machine in place, you’ll need to stock it yourself or hire someone to stock it for you.
You can scale up your small business with more machines and locations. You’ll probably need several machines in different locations to make a significant amount of money. You may not make a huge amount of money from any single vending machine, but the cumulative total of several machines in different locations can add up to a legit business income.
Compared to some of the other low-maintenance business ideas on this list, this one comes with low startup costs, as the investments are relatively small. At first, you only need one machine and the initial inventory to stock it. As you make money, you can reinvest by purchasing other vending machines to gradually grow your profitable business empire.
6. Cell Phone Towers
If you have land, you may be able to make a significant amount of money by leasing it out for a cell phone tower. According to Vertical Consultants, the average cell phone tower lease generates $45,000 per year.
For this low-maintenance business idea to be an option for you, you’ll need to have the land available and be in a location where cell phone towers are needed. With the rapid expansion and improvement of wireless networks, carriers are constantly analyzing new locations to place their towers. A lot of it will be outside of your control, and you may have to wait a while until your location is of interest to the carriers, but if your location is chosen, it could be a nice payday.
If you’re interested in this possibility, please read 7 Steps to Get a Cell Tower on Your Property.
7. Trash Pickup
Brian Winch has earned six figures annually for more than 30 years with his trash cleanup business. At first, Brian did all of the work himself (while he quickly replaced the income from his full-time job), but later on, he moved to hire others to do most of the work. Brian is the author of Cleanlots, a book that shows others how to run what he calls “America’s simplest business.”
Brian’s process involves finding businesses that need simple trash cleanup services for their parking lots. Every retail store, strip mall, and office building needs trash pickup, and they’re willing to pay someone to handle it for them.
Because the work is simple, it’s perfect for outsourcing to other people. As a small business owner or entrepreneur, you could find a few clients, outsource the work, and make money with a successful business that doesn’t require much of your time. Even a service business like this can be low maintenance when you hire others to do the work.
This is an interesting business model that’s potentially very lucrative, as Brian’s experience validates. It’s easy and extremely inexpensive to start, and you can scale up and grow the business as big as you want it to be. It’s definitely one of the best low-maintenance business ideas worth considering.
Many different products can be sold with a print-on-demand business model. Of course, Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) program for selling print-on-demand books (as well as e-books) is one of the most popular options. You could also sell t-shirts, mugs, calendars, and many other products.
A print-on-demand business is inexpensive to start because you won’t need to spend money on inventory. Instead, the products are printed and shipped as they’re sold. And since (in most cases) the order fulfillment and shipping are handled for you, it can be a very low-maintenance business.
The two essential aspects of a print-on-demand business that require your attention are:
- Creating or designing the products
It’s possible to outsource the product creation if you don’t want to do it yourself. And as far as marketing is concerned, you may be able to find a steady source of traffic through advertising platforms and social media that constantly send customers.
Writing and selling e-books and print-on-demand paperbacks can be an ideal way to start a low-maintenance business. Of course, writing a book takes a lot of work, but you can always hire a ghostwriter on a site like Upwork to do the work for you. Each book you publish has the potential to become an income-generating asset that produces passive income for years to come.
This course from bestselling author Jonathan LaPoma will show you the exact steps to follow to have success as a self-published author and sell your books and eBooks through Amazon's Kindle Direct Program. Get free access for two months!
9. Low-Maintenance Digital Products
There are countless types of digital products you can sell online. Some products like WordPress themes, WordPress plugins, website templates, and software are high maintenance because of the customer support required. However, other downloadable products are extremely simple, and the amount of service involved is very low.
These types of low-maintenance digital products include:
- Stock photos and video clips
- Photoshop actions and Lightroom presets
- Audio clips and music
- Graphics and design templates
- Icon sets
- Spreadsheet templates
- Printables (planners, organizers, budgets, etc.)
- Presentation templates
You may be able to create the products on your own, or you can hire a freelancer on Fiverr or Upwork to do the work for you. Most of these products are inexpensive to create, so even if you outsource some or all of the work, it’s still a low-cost business idea.
None of these products will be zero maintenance. You’ll need to provide some level of customer service with any of these products, but it’s generally very minimal. You may be able to create a product today and sell it over and over again for a few years with only the occasional need for customer service.
Of course, you’ll need a source of traffic to get exposure for your products. You could sell on sites like Etsy, Creative Market, or other marketplaces that already have an existing audience. Or you could create your own online store with a platform like SendOwl and use paid ads, social media, or an affiliate program to generate traffic to your offer.
If you live in a small town with limited options, this type of online business could be ideal since it can be done from anywhere.
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This is the perfect side hustle if you:
- Want to work from home
- Don't have much time
- Like the idea of selling on Etsy
- Don't have prior experience
If you own land in the right location (near a major road or highway), you may be able to construct a billboard and rent space to advertisers. While this can be a great way to make money in the right situation, there are obstacles you’ll face with building a new billboard on your property. In many cases, you’ll find that it’s not possible due to restrictions and regulations.
With that in mind, your best option for getting into the billboard action may be to purchase an existing billboard or land that already contains a billboard. This requires a larger investment than building a billboard on your own land, but it’s a more realistic option and one of the best passive income ideas.
A billboard in the right location can bring in a nice amount of money each month. Of course, the passive income potential varies based on several factors, most importantly the location and the visibility.
The concept of an ATM business is similar to a vending machine business. Instead of placing vending machines in high-traffic locations, you could place an ATM.
ATM owners make money from surcharges and fees when people use the ATM. Some ATM owners are also making money from advertisements shown on the screen.
Getting started with this business can be more costly than other options covered in this article. A single machine will run from $2,000 to $10,000, depending on whether you buy it new or used. That’s for one machine. Of course, to scale this low-maintenance business, you’ll probably want to own multiple machines eventually.
Dropshipping is an online business model that doesn’t require you to purchase or handle inventory, plus it involves low startup costs. When a customer places an order through your website, the order will be shipped from a warehouse straight to the customer. You’ll earn a certain amount for each sale but without the hassle and risk of buying inventory.
From the buyer’s perspective, the process is the same as buying from a retailer. In fact, the customer probably has no idea that they’re buying from a dropshipper. The product arrives and looks like it has been sent by you.
One of the major challenges of running an e-commerce business revolves around inventory. Buying inventory requires a lot of capital, and cash flow is a constant challenge for growing e-commerce businesses. Holding inventory also means financial risk since you’ll be on the hook if the inventory doesn’t sell.
But with dropshipping, you can avoid that risk and the challenges related to cash flow, and it’s mostly self-sustaining if you have traffic. The downside of this low-maintenance business is that your profit margins will be smaller with dropshipping.
13. Private Label Ecommerce
A private label brand doesn’t manufacture its products. Instead, you’ll hire a manufacturer to create the product and put your branding/logo on the product.
Private labeling is a very popular business model for Amazon sellers. My wife and I ran a private label business selling on Amazon for about two years and did pretty well by running the profitable business as a side hustle. We found a manufacturer in China (using Alibaba) to create our products, and then we sold them on Amazon.
By selling private label products through Amazon FBA, you’re essentially outsourcing the manufacturing process, as well as everything related to order fulfillment and customer service. And Amazon provides a massive platform and plenty of potential exposure.
A private label business can be relatively passive, depending on how you have it set up. Ideally, you’ll hire a company to inspect the products in China before they’re shipped (assuming your products will be manufactured in China), and then shipments will be sent directly to Amazon’s warehouses or to a third party that will store the inventory for you until it is sent to Amazon. With this approach, most of the work will be off your hands.
A private label business gives you the potential to earn higher profit margins as compared to a dropshipping business, but it also requires more capital for inventory. Your startup costs will be higher, and as your sales increase and you expand to add more products, your inventory costs will also rise.
Buying a Low-Maintenance Business
As you can see, there are a lot of businesses like laundromats, car washes, vending machines, and rentals that are mostly or partially self-operating. These hands-off business ideas appeal to people who want to make money without dedicating countless hours to a business.
Although starting one of these low-maintenance businesses is always an option, many people choose to purchase an existing business that’s already running and bringing in money each month. If you’re looking for a profitable turnkey business to buy, there are several websites that you may find helpful, including BizBuySell, BizQuest, and BusinessesForSale.com.
We hope this list of businesses that require little time has helped you to find the right option for you.