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One of the most popular topics in the world of 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 a significant obstacle.
Starting or buying a low-maintenance business is one option for generating passive income. These businesses are usually side hustles that generate extra money as opposed to 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 to be 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, hopefully, the options covered here will give you some possibilities.
When it comes to low-maintenance business ideas, running a laundromat is often one of the first types of businesses mentioned. A 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 are able to use the washers and dryers on their own with no need for staff to be there, although some owners choose to have an employee on-site for safety reasons and to help protect the equipment.
To run a laundromat, you’ll need to rent the space (usually in retail strip malls), get commercial washers and dryers, and have a functioning change machine.
This is also the type of business that can be easily duplicated. If you have one successful location, you could open up another laundromat across town or in another nearby area. It’s possible that you’ll be able to grow your passive income by owning several locations.
2. Car Wash
A car wash business is similar to a laundromat in some ways. The small business can function on its own with very little involvement from the owner and low overhead costs.
There are basically two different types of car washes. The first is a self-serve manual car wash where customers would pull in, pay, and then use the provided equipment, water, and soap to wash their car. The second type is an automated 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 have your own car wash, you’ll need land (rented or owned), as well as the equipment. You may choose to have a worker present, but many car washes function without any employees on-site at most times.
A car wash is another type of small business idea that can be duplicated and repeated. With one successful location, you could start another car wash in a different area and follow the same business plan.
3. 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. In each case, 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 business ideas are low-maintenance because they generate income around the clock without the need for any personal involvement. 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 that has 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 and grow your small business with more machines and more 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 business ideas on this list, this one comes with low startup costs. At first, all you need is one machine and the initial inventory to stock it. As you make money, you can reinvest in by purchasing other vending machines to gradually grow your profitable business empire.
4. 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 owner or manager living on-site for safety reasons, but that’s not always the case.
One of the nice details about this business model is that it generates recurring 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) as well as 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. If you already have a garage, shed, basement, or other space you could rent out, you can create a profile on Neighbor.com. Other looking to rent storage space may find your offer on the site/app, making it a perfect way to get started.
While there are a lot of things that 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. Websites like RVshare, Outdoorsy, and RVezy allow you to list your RV so potential renters can find it. You may be able to make an extra $10,000 – $20,000+ per year by simply renting out your RV.
Another similar opportunity is to rent out your car through Turo or Getaround. Last year I published an interview with Justin, who started a car sharing business and is making more than $2,000 in profit per month with just a small investment of his time.
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 been earning six figures for more than 30 years with his trach 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 the majority 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 is in need of trash pickup, and they’re willing to pay someone to handle it for them.
Because the work is very simple, it’s perfect for outsourcing to other people. As the business owner or entrepreneur, you could find a few clients, outsource the work, and make money with a profitable 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.
There are many different products that can be sold with a print-on-demand business model. Of course, Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing 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 types of 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 is handled for you, it can be a very low-maintenance business.
The two most essential aspects of a print-on-demand business that will require your attention are 1) creating or designing the products, and 2) marketing. 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 sales 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 amount of customer support required. However, other types of 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 types of products are inexpensive to create, so even if your outsourcing 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.
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 all kinds of obstacles you’ll face with building a new billboard on your property. In most 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 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 can 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 a little more costly than some of the other options covered in this article. A single machine will run from $2,000 – $10,000, depending on whether you buy new or used. That’s for one machine. Of course, in order to scale the business, you’ll probably want to own multiple machines eventually.
Dropshipping is an ecommerce business model that doesn’t require you to purchase or handle inventory, plus it involves low startup cost. 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 exactly 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 ecommerce business revolves around inventory. Buying inventory requires a lot of capital and cash flow is a constant challenge for growing ecommerce 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. The downside is, your profit margins will be smaller with dropshipping.
13. Private Label Ecommerce
A private label brand doesn’t manufacture its own 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 needs to be sent to Amazon. With this approach, the majority 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
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 business to buy, there are a number of websites that you may find to be helpful, including BizBuySell, BizQuest, BusinessesForSale.com, and BusinessBroker.net.