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Our most popular stories of 2011 were the ones that gave aspiring entrepreneurs new business ideas. We came up with lots of different business ideas ranging from the technical to the domestic. Despite a lingering recession, we feel confident there are still many viable startup opportunities, especially for entrepreneurs that want to start small. In 2012, we'll bring you dozens of new ideas, but before the clock strikes midnight on New Year's Eve 2011, here's a roundup of our favorite business ideas of the year.
- Career coach – Today's job search is different than it was even a year ago. In this competitive market, job seekers need all the help they can get. Enter the career coach. From drafting a résumé to salary negotiations, career coaches help job seekers in every step of the process to provide an edge over other candidates.
- Personal social media consultant - Anyone applying for college, a job or building a relationship with a business partner should expect their Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter accounts to be scrutinized. You want to stand out from the crowd, but in a good way. Personal social media consultants help individuals use social media to highlight their expertise and position themselves as an expert in their field while downplaying any negatives.
- Memory organizer - For as long as there have been cameras, parents have been documenting birthdays, holidays and first days of school. But instead of an album, those memories get stuck in digital cameras, video cameras, flash drives, computers and online photo- sharing services.
- Invasive species pest management - The stink bug and long-horned beetle and other tough pests have opened the doors to a new type of specialist—the invasive species pest management business.
- Tablet app development - The iPad started the tablet craze, but Motorola, Samsung, Kindle and others are breaking into the market. Where there are tablets, there is a need for apps.The rise of the tablet is opening up new avenues for those with a software background to help businesses market themselves in new ways.
- Online video production - A viral video can take a little-known brand and make it an Internet sensation. As brand managers recognize the power of the medium beyond television ads, this is an opportunity for everyone from telecommunications specialists to film school majors to turn their creative talents into a business opportunity.
- Specialty foods provider - The demand for gluten-free, organic, low sodium and lactose-free products continues to grow as more and more Americans follow restricted diets by choice or necessity.
- Online privacy management consultant - Hackers are becoming more brazen and the lackluster economy has only made them more determined to get a hold of sensitive consumer information that they can sell.
- PR for socially responsible businesses - Small businesses that make doing the right thing part of their business model need to get the word out about their good deeds.
- Personal concierge - For those among us with more money than time, a personal concierge can pay bills, pick up the kids or do the grocery shopping. Entrepreneurs can quickly turn a profit in this business with little investment, according to a recent study by the International Concierge and Lifestyle Management Association.
- Senior care services - While some seniors require advanced medical care, many just need help with day-to-day activities — or just a little companionship. According to research from Home Instead, a senior care franchise, the nation’s senior population will grow to 72 million by 2025.
- Resale retail - The recent recession forced many Americans to adopt thrifty shopping habits, including hunting for everything from clothes and house wares to sporting goods and antiques at thrift stores.
- Home day care - With the cost of day care rising, many parents are looking for inexpensive yet safe alternatives. If you keep your child headcount below a certain number you don’t need a license in many places, enabling you to start a business and stay home with your own kids.
- Yard work - With little more than some work gloves, a rake and a ladder, you could be in business. Landscapers will cut the grass, but homeowners want to leave the weeding, planting, snow removal and other time-consuming tasks for someone else, and that someone could be you.
- Affordable Computer maintenance - With the proliferation of tablets, smartphones and laptops for every member of the family, there are lots of opportunities to provide private computer services such as anti-virus software installation, desktop cleanups, software downloads and printer hookups.
- Cleaning service - Are you one of those people that love to clean? If so, you may be sitting on a gold mine. Cleaning people who work for themselves can make $30 to $40 per hour. Recession or not, there are plenty of people still looking for a little domestic assistance.
- Energy efficiency consultant - Homeowners and businesses, especially, are looking for any way they can to cut costs, but figuring out how to lower energy expenses isn't as easy as you might think.
- Recycler - Your average homeowner doesn't always know where or how to recycle the stuff they've got. A good local advertising campaign and a pickup truck are all you'd need to start buying or simply offering to remove scrap metal, old computers, electronics, ink cartridges and other recyclable materials. You'll be making a profit and doing the Earth a favor, too.
- Pet sitter - Recession or not, pets are people, too (or so many a pet owner believes). If you love animals, are reliable, organized and trustworthy, there's no shortage of work for you. The more satisfied customers you have, the more quickly your business will grow. Nothing soothes an antsy pet owner more than a good recommendation from another animal lover.
- Organizer - If there's one thing to be learned from the glut of reality shows dealing with hoarding, it's that Americans have too much stuff. And, many junk collectors don't have the time or skills required to organize it all. If you like to organize and create order out of chaos, then starting an organizing business could be for you.
Many companies let go of their full time administrative assistants during the recession. Now, they need help, but can't afford a full time person. If you've got a background in administrative work but want to work for yourself, this might be a perfect time to break out on your own. Virtual assistants work remotely and do all the things a business owner or manager doesn't have time to do, such as open and answer emails, follow up with customers, invoice customers or pay bills.
- Remote bookkeeper - During the recession, many companies cut their employee headcount to the bare minimum. Very few businesses, however, can live without a bookkeeper. But, that doesn't mean they have to have one on staff. If you've got a background in accounting or bookkeeping, you can offer remote bookkeeping services and, in many cases, do most of the work from home.
- Translator - As America becomes increasingly multilingual, everyone from doctors to insurance companies find themselves in need of foreign language speakers to help interact with their customers. If you can speak a foreign language, are organized and can come up with a good marketing plan, you may find you have more work than you can handle.
- Cost cutter - Ever notice how your phone bill seems to creep up ever so slowly and before you know it, you're paying $50 more a month than you agreed to? So does everyone else. The problem is, few people have time to go over their bills with a fine-tooth comb and call and argue with the provider. A cost cutter does this for businesses and can help them save thousands. Cost cutters need an eye for detail and a good sales pitch.
- Social media consultant - If you're one of those Gen Y types to whom using social media comes as naturally as breathing, you may have a career as a social media consultant. There's no doubt that social media presents an unprecedented marketing opportunity for businesses, but only if they know how to use it. If you can help existing businesses integrate social media into their other marketing campaigns, you should have no trouble making a go of it.
- Copywriter - Search engines favor websites with new, relevant and constantly updated content and most businesses don't have time to devote to generating copy all day. If you've got a background in writing, English or journalism, you might find there's a lot of demand for your services. Between Web content, blog entries and press releases, there's lots of writing to be done.
- Health insurance consultant - Many companies can't afford a full- time human resources person, and dealing with the complicated nuances of health insurance is more than most administrative assistants have time to deal with. That's why more and more companies will be looking for outside services to help them wade through the minutia of health plans and premiums.
- Home Renovation - The real estate market has been in the toilet for three-and-a-half years now. It's hard to sell a house and if you can't sell, you can't buy. Furthermore, a lot of people just can't get a mortgage. That's good news for anyone in the renovation business. People are being forced to stay in their homes and many are getting anxious for a little sprucing up. From flooring to roofing, homeowners are looking to do a little repair and updating.
- Tree care - If you've tried to call a tree service lately, you probably already know there's a big gap between supply and demand. Increasingly severe weather in all parts of the country is causing tree damage that only professionals can repair.
- Taxi service - Cars are expensive. Car insurance is expensive. Gas is expensive. And there are a lot of people without a steady income. The result is that more people are looking for less-expensive ways to get where they need to go. In suburbs with limited mass transit, taxis are just about the only alternative.
- Local farming - People are increasingly conscious about eating healthy and eating local. For many, however, locally grown produce, meat, milk and eggs are hard to find. Urban and suburban backyard farming has already staged a comeback. Now, it's time for the small time commercial farmer.
- Commuting service - Car pooling saves money on gas and tolls and, in many places, gives commuters access to high-occupancy-vehicle lanes, saving lots of time on commuting. The problem is that organizing your own car pool can be very difficult. A car-pool service that provides commuters with easy access to a low-cost ride stands a great chance of making it for the long haul (so to speak).
- Residential environmental-assessment service - People are increasingly aware of and concerned about indoor pollution. Fumes from paint, carpets, kitchen cabinets and furniture are of concern. Radon, electro-magnetic fields, lead toys and wireless and cell phone radiation are all concerns, too. The problem is, it's very hard for your average homeowner to figure out how to test for each of these concerns. Local health, children's, baby and environmental fairs would provide ample marketing opportunities for a business that offered a reasonably priced home-health assessment.
- Small-biz social media - By now, small business owners know that they need social media to promote their businesses. However, few have time to figure out exactly what to do and how to do it. Most social-media consultancies have "expensive" written all over them. Asocial-media consultant who could offer an a la carte menu of reasonably priced services to local mom-and-pop businesses that have yet to embrace Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn would be the toast of their virtual town.
- Interior design - If you can't move, redecorate! That's what a lot of people are thinking right about now. After nearly four years of sitting around on the same Cheetos-stained sofa, lots of people are antsy for a new look. Traditional decorators, however, are still the domain of the rich and chandeliered. For the rest of the HGTV-watching world, a decorator who can achieve Trump style on a Target budget stands a chance at making it big.
- Education consultant - College isn't as simple as it used to be. Now, parents and prospective students must wade through a long list of academic choices including four-year colleges, two-year colleges, online courses, for-profit colleges and trade schools. As education offerings keep expanding and changing, busy parents need some help figuring out how to navigate the higher-education waters. A consultant with a background in education who can simplify the process will be at the head of the class.
- Kids consignment shop - Everyone's looking for a way to save money and what better way than to buy your kids' clothes for less and sell their old clothes back. Kids consignment shops can include baby equipment, clothes, furniture and books. Best of all, the inventory is cheap and, in most cases, you don't have to pay for it until the items have sold. For the cost of the monthly rent and a marketing plan you could be in business in no time.
- Local Internet marketing consultant - Small businesses know they have to get online, but finding the time to figure out how is proving a real challenge for small business owners of every stripe. If you're Internet-savvy and know how local businesses can harness the power of local search, coupon pages and social media, you could be helping small business owners promote their companies online.
- App designer - Research continues to prove that mobile apps or mobile Web browsers are a must for businesses of all kinds. But most don't have the in-house teams to create them. Smaller companies also don't have the budget to hire an expensive firm to create their apps. An app designer could specialize in creating apps for one or two industries and build a strong following.
- Green consultant - Consumers want to buy from companies that are making efforts to turn their operations "green," or eco-friendly. In fact, research has shown that consumers are willing to pay more for green products. Big companies often have whole staffs and outside consulting firms dedicated to that cause. Small business owners don't have those kinds of resources, but many would still like to find ways to be more environmentally friendly and energy efficient. A green consultant would meet with clients, review their environmental impact and make recommendations on how they can cut their energy use, waste and costs.
- Off-hours child care - Ever tried to find child care on a Saturday afternoon? Unless you've got a standing relationship with a babysitter – and even then, it can be hard – there are few places you can count on for evening or weekend child care. Most states allow you to operate a home child care business and there's little competition and a great need for off-hours care. Licensing requirements are different based on your state, but many don't require a license as long as you keep below the minimum number of children.
- Ecommerce warehouse/shipping - E-commerce is a huge business, and it's an especially appealing one for small business owners who can't afford to rent a retail space. The problem, of course, is that packing and shipping all those orders can be a real hassle. Many e-commerce companies would like to outsource this function to a third party who can keep the inventory in stock and ship orders as they come in.
- Business security consultant - Just about every company has a website that has the potential to collect data from its customers. Furthermore, many businesses store their customers' data, personal information – even credit card numbers – in their company computers. Most small companies can't afford to hire a full-time data security specialist. That's where your home security consulting business comes in.
- Party business - We might be in a recession, but many parents will still spend big bucks to throw their kid a great birthday party. While they could just throw a party at home, many people don't have the time or energy to pull it off. That's where a kids' party business comes in.
Tablet repair - These days, it seems as though everybody has a tablet, but have you ever tried to get one fixed? It's not as easy as you think. In fact, recent research revealed that it costs almost as much to repair a tablet as it does to buy a new one. If you're capable of servicing and fixing this kind of technology, there's going to be a big demand for reasonably priced tablet repair. Especially, if you're willing to make house calls.