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Make money in your sleep: 15 businesses that run themselves

businesses that run themselves

If you're seeking a low-maintenance career or side hustle that can free up your time while earning a steady income, you've come to the right place.

Picture this: you're lounging on a tropical beach, drinking something delicious out of a coconut, while your business churns out profits without a hitch. Sounds like a dream, right? Good news: it doesn’t have to be when you own a business that practically runs itself.

In this article, we'll explore 15 of the best business and side business ideas that have the potential to run themselves, offering a brief overview of how to get started, the initial costs involved and the ongoing duties (if any) required to maintain them. We’ll also dish out essential pro tips along the way—like the importance of building a business website that can seamlessly integrate business automations. So put on your Speedos, because we’re diving into the clear, turquoise waters of passive income.

15 businesses that run themselves

  1. Vending machines

  2. Car wash

  3. Amazon FBA (fulfillment by Amazon)

  4. Rental properties

  5. Dropshipping

  6. Automated social media marketing

  7. Affiliate marketing

  8. Content licensing

  9. Automated online courses

  10. Laundromat

  11. Membership websites

  12. YouTube channel

  13. Ebook publishing

  14. App development

  15. Stock photography

01. Vending machines

Vending machines are the unsung heroes of convenience, delivering treats to the masses while their owners sit back and watch the profits roll in. With a well-placed machine, a variety of products and occasional restocking visits, you can keep the hunger pangs satisfied while taking advantage of an effective passive income idea.

Setting up a vending machine business requires an initial investment in machines, product inventory and securing suitable locations. The cost of a single machine can range from $1,000 to $6,000 or more, depending on its size and features. You'll also need to budget for purchasing snacks or beverages to stock the machines initially.

Once your vending machines are up and running, the beauty of this low-maintenance operation shines through. You don’t need a wealth of knowledge on how to start a business to make it work. Your primary responsibilities involve restocking the machines when necessary and addressing any maintenance or repair needs that may arise. With a well-designed system in place, you can streamline these tasks and ensure a smooth operation that continues to generate revenue with minimal effort on your part.

02. Car wash

A car wash can be an excellent option for entrepreneurs interested in a business that practically runs itself. Automate the payment and wash process—or hire attendants—and you'll enjoy a consistent revenue stream.

That being said, starting a car wash business requires upfront investment in equipment, location and supplies. Costs can vary depending on whether you opt for a self-service car wash or an automated system. A self-service car wash may require a lower initial investment, while automated car wash equipment can cost upwards of $50,000.

In terms of sweat equity, you'll want to spend time setting up the car wash infrastructure and securing permits. You’ll also need to hire your staff if you plan to have any and promote your services to establish a strong customer base.

03. Amazon FBA (fulfillment by Amazon)

You've probably ordered something from Amazon, but did you know that you can tap into its massive customer base and infrastructure to sell your own products? Amazon FBA simplifies the whole process by allowing you to ship your inventory to Amazon's fulfillment centers and let the company handle the storage, packaging and shipping on your behalf.

Starting an Amazon FBA side hustle involves sourcing products, creating listings, marketing your products and sending inventory to Amazon's fulfillment centers. You’ll have to budget for product sourcing expenses, shipping fees and storage fees charged by Amazon for housing your products. You’ll also have to invest time into researching profitable products, creating compelling product listings and remaining competitive on Amazon’s massive marketplace.

04. Rental properties

By investing in residential or commercial properties, you can generate passive income through rental payments. Hiring a property manager or using online platforms can help handle tenant inquiries, repairs and collecting rent, leaving you with the freedom to explore new investment opportunities or enjoy the fruits of your real estate empire.

It’s important to note that investing in rental properties requires upfront capital for property acquisition, down payments and renovation costs, if necessary. Additionally, you’ll need to consider ongoing expenses such as property taxes, insurance, maintenance and property management fees.

In addition to monetary investment, rental properties require initial effort in terms of property acquisition, tenant screening and property management. That being said, the return on investment can be substantial. If you’re interested in starting your real estate empire, creating a website is a great place to start. With a website, you can showcase your properties, provide rental information and even enable online applications all from one centralized dashboard.

real estate website example

05. Dropshipping

When it comes to online businesses that run themselves, dropshipping is a top contender. Dropshipping is a business model that allows you to sell products without having to stock inventory or handle shipping logistics. When a customer places an order, you forward it to a supplier who then fulfills and ships the product directly to the customer.

Dropshipping minimizes upfront costs as you don't need to purchase inventory before making sales. However, you'll need to invest time and effort into product research, finding reliable suppliers and setting up an online store. Wix's eCommerce platform, for example, simplifies the process by providing ready-to-use templates, inventory management tools and seamless integration with popular dropshipping platforms like Modalyst.

This unique business model provides tremendous flexibility, making dropshipping an ideal side hustle for individuals who are juggling other responsibilities like a full-time job or family commitments. You have the freedom to work from anywhere, whether it's your home office, a coffee shop or even while traveling. This means you can build and grow your dropshipping business at your own pace, fitting it seamlessly into your lifestyle.

06. Automated social media marketing

Social media has become an indispensable marketing tool for businesses, and the demand for automated social media marketing services continues to rise. As a savvy entrepreneur, you can tap into this demand by offering comprehensive solutions that streamline content creation for your clients. By harnessing the power of scheduling and automation tools, you can help businesses maintain a consistent online presence while freeing up their valuable time to focus on other aspects of their operations.

To establish your automated social media marketing business, you'll need a keen understanding of social media strategy and some serious creativity. It's your role to develop effective social media strategies tailored to each client's unique needs, curate engaging content that resonates with their target audience and monitor the performance of their social media campaigns.

While there may be costs associated with running an automated social media marketing business, they are relatively minimal compared to traditional brick-and-mortar ventures. Your primary expenses may include social media management tools, advertising budgets to boost client campaigns and potential training or certification to enhance your skills and stay ahead of industry trends.

07. Affiliate marketing

Are you that friend who everyone goes to for advice and recommendations? Well, with affiliate marketing, you can turn that skillset into cold, hard cash. By partnering with companies and promoting their products through unique affiliate links, you’ll earn a commission on each sale that originates from your referral. With the right marketing strategies and a dash of charm, you can monetize your influence and watch the affiliate income pour in.

Affiliate marketing requires minimal upfront investment as you don't need to create your own products. Instead, you earn commissions on sales generated through your unique affiliate links.

Keep in mind, you’ll need to be strategic and invest time into selecting profitable affiliate programs, setting up a marketing strategy and then making the actual content. You’ll want to ensure you’re creating engaging, high-quality content that drives traffic and allows you to excel in this competitive market.

wix affiliate marketing homepage

08. Content licensing

Are you a talented musician or writer? Then content licensing might be your golden ticket to a business idea that needs minimal maintenance. By licensing your creative works, such as captivating music or engaging prose, you allow others to use your content in exchange for licensing fees. Platforms and agencies can help you manage the licensing process, ensuring that your creations continue to generate income while you focus on your next stroke of genius.

Content licensing can be a profitable business for creators who have existing content, such as music or written works. While there may be minimal upfront costs, sweat equity is likely to be the biggest initial step, as it's crucial to your success. You’ll want to invest time in creating high-quality content, negotiating licensing agreements and marketing your work to potential buyers.

09. Automated online courses

Are you an expert in a particular field or do you have a valuable skill to share? Create an online course that practically teaches itself! With the help of online course platforms and tools, you can design and automate your course delivery, allowing students to enroll, learn at their own pace and receive access to valuable content without your direct involvement. As your class roster grows, so will your bank account.

Creating and selling online courses requires expertise in a particular field and investment in content creation, course platforms and marketing efforts. Costs may include course production expenses (such as video equipment or course materials) and subscription fees for an online course platform.

High-level knowledge and expertise is needed to create high-quality course content in your given discipline. You’ll also need to put in some hours up front to design engaging lessons and promote your courses to find your target audience. If you integrate Wix's Online Programs app into your website, you can offer your courses on a paid subscription basis. You’ll be able to track participants’ progress with real-time feedback, engage with your online community and provide a seamless learning experience for your students.

seo online program created with Wix

10. Laundromat

Running a laundromat can be a lucrative venture that generates passive income with minimal effort. By setting up a well-equipped facility and creating a convenient experience for customers, you can enjoy steady revenue while freeing up your time for other pursuits.

To start your own laundromat, you'll need to cough up the cash for a space and commercial-grade washers and dryers—at least $200,000 to start. While this initial investment can seem a bit daunting, by providing a clean and user-friendly space, you'll attract a loyal customer base. The great thing about being in the laundromat business is that it's pretty recession-proof. People need to wash their clothes on a consistent basis and you can give them a beautiful place to do it in.

Once you've found and set up your space, all you have to worry about is routine maintenance, any overhead like utilities and rent, and employee salaries if you choose to have someone there as an attendant. So if becoming a laundrepreneur sounds like your jam, give it a whirl and watch the quarters drop into your bank account.

11. Membership websites

Welcome to the world of exclusivity. With a membership website, you can offer premium content, services or perks to members who pay a subscription fee. Whether it's access to in-depth tutorials, exclusive community forums or special discounts, membership websites provide ongoing value to subscribers while generating a steady stream of passive income. With the right content management system and marketing strategies, your membership website can be a virtual goldmine that practically manages itself.

Creating a membership website involves planning, content creation and platform setup. Costs can include website hosting, membership software or plugins, and potentially offering exclusive content or perks to members.

Some expertise is necessary to curate in-demand content, create a membership structure and foster your community. With a Wix website, you can easily build and manage your membership platform as well as engage with your audience through online forums, live stream events, weekly digests and more.

12. YouTube channel

Lights, camera, action. If you have a charismatic personality, a passion for a particular topic or a talent to showcase, starting a YouTube channel could be your ticket to passive income and fame. By creating engaging video content, building a loyal subscriber base and monetizing your videos, your YouTube channel can become a self-sustaining platform that earns money while you pursue your creative endeavors.

Starting a YouTube channel requires creating engaging video content, building a subscriber base and monetizing through ads and sponsorships. While there are no direct costs to start a channel, you may want to invest in quality video equipment, editing software and self-promotional efforts. There will also be some sweat equity necessary to consistently create compelling videos, optimize video titles and descriptions for searchability, and engage your audience.

Wix YouTube logo maker website

13. Ebook publishing

Do you have a way with words and a story to tell? Self-publishing eBooks has revolutionized the world of literature and opened doors for authors. Whether you’re an organizational wizard or have a heartwarming children’s story brewing in your imagination, all it takes is some grit and determination to gather your thoughts and write them down.

With platforms like Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing, you can write, format and publish your own eBooks, making them available to millions of readers worldwide. Costs may include professional editing, cover design and book formatting services.

It's important to acknowledge that self-publishing an eBook requires considerable upfront effort on your part. You'll need to dedicate time and energy to the writing process, meticulously revise and edit your work, and navigate the intricacies of publishing and marketing. But once your masterpiece is unleashed into the world, it has the potential to generate passive income through book sales. This means that while you focus on crafting your next literary gem, your published work continues to earn for you.

14. App development

In a world dominated by smartphones, app development has become a thriving industry. If you have coding skills or can collaborate with a developer, creating a mobile app that solves a problem or entertains users can be a lucrative venture.

Once your app is available on app stores, you can generate income through in-app purchases, subscriptions or advertising. As the downloads and user engagement increase, you'll see the rewards of your app development continue to grow.

Developing a mobile app involves coding or collaborating with developers, designing user interfaces and launching on app stores. Costs can include development tools, hiring developers and potential marketing expenses. Investment of time and energy is necessary to conceptualize the app idea, oversee development and market the app to gain users.

15. Stock photography

Sometimes the easiest step in planning how to come up with a business idea is to start with something you love. If photography is your passion, why not turn it into a business that practically runs itself? Stock photography platforms allow you to showcase and sell your captivating images to businesses, publications and individuals worldwide. By uploading your photos to these platforms, you can earn royalties each time someone purchases a license to use your work. As your portfolio grows and your images gain popularity, you'll see a steady stream of income flowing in.

Selling stock photography involves capturing high-quality images, organizing your photo library and submitting your work to stock photography platforms. Costs may include photography equipment, editing software and potential marketing expenses.

Keep in mind, you’ll have to invest some serious time into capturing compelling images and curating your portfolio. Since this is a competitive industry, you’ll also want to learn about how to maximize SEO for better discoverability. If you have a Wix site, you can take advantage of its robust integrated SEO solutions and built-in marketing tools.

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