20 businesses that can be run by one person

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October 14, 2019
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20 businesses that can be run by one person

Americans are increasingly becoming their own bosses. An estimated 57 million Americans freelance today, according to the sixth annual Freelancing in America report from Upwork and Freelancers Union. That number represents an increase of 4 million over six years.

The spike in freelance workers represents a confluence from two different trends. First, the advent of social media and Web 2.0 have made it easier to launch large data-driven applications such as personal delivery services. The proliferation of smart technology means most people have a computer in their pocket, making it easier to communicate and track contractors and work processes. Second, more companies are now relying on independent contractors or freelancers. As a freelancer is paid per project and not by salary, this gives companies the freedom to scale their workforce according to workflow. Additionally, independent contractors and freelancers are not paid benefits or employment taxes, reducing costs. While it is immoral and illegal to treat someone doing the equivalent of full-time work as an independent contractor, the "gig economy" has opened up a number of opportunities for spec or on-demand work.

The vast majority of these on-demand jobs can be done by a single person, evidenced by census data showing more than 20 million businesses are single-employee operations, or four out of five businesses. Meanwhile, the number of businesses making $1 million to $2.49 million annually with no paid employees besides the owner rose 1.6% from 2015 to 36,161 businesses in 2016. The types of businesses raking in this kind of cash include professional services, construction, real estate rental and leasing, and healthcare and social services.

To take a closer look at these industries, Stacker used the census data as a launching-off point for a gallery of 20 businesses that can be run by a single person. While these businesses can employ more than one person, they typically rely on the skills or expertise of just one individual. Thie gallery avoids jobs that rely on a centralized app or dispatching service, like rideshare drivers or on-demand food delivery.

Advances in technology will continue to make it more possible to live and work outside of formal constraints. Web 3.0, for example, will bring about mass adoption of data-decentralizing concepts such as blockchain, making it easier to create enterprise-level applications without the need of a server or central office. While the idea is still in its infancy, such a concept may render traditional offices obsolete.

Keep reading to find out if your line of work made the list.

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Accountants are charged with measuring the validity of personal or business financial information—a necessary step for strong financial health. One of the largest member organizations for accounting, AICPA, has more than 431,000 certified public accountants (CPAs) who are members of the group. CPAs looking to start their own, independent firms often begin by taking clients on a part-time basis for extra side money. That growing client pool will help transition into a more independent line of work and demonstrate how many clients are feasible for one acocuntant to take on, especially during tax season. Accountants must have passed the CPA exam and maintain their certification continuing professional education courses.

Healthcare and social assistance

Nonemployee businesses comprise 68.7% of the healthcare and social assistance sector, according to census data. While most doctors maintain practicing privileges with a hospital, some choose not to work there. For non-surgical medical roles such as a general practitioner, general dentist, or specialist, some doctors find it easier to run their own offices. While many would hire a nurse/hygienist and/or a receptionist to help run the office, it is technically not necessary—especially for small practices.


Like doctors who can work in a practice with other doctors or in a hospital, lawyers can work in firms with other lawyers or in a corporate setting. However, a lawyer can choose to go out on their own with a solo practice. Like a doctor, the smaller the law office, the less likely the need for additional staff. 

Personal chef/caterer

A personal chef is available for hire to families or individuals either on a continuous basis or to prepare a single meal. A caterer is similar to a personal chef, except they are asked to provision an event. Both positions typically require kitchen training, a current food safety certification, and knowledge of diets and food allergens, with some level of formal culinary education and/or extensive experience working in kitchens.

Home daycare provider

Most states have strict rules for home daycare providers. In New York State, for example, the provider must be licensed or registered, submit to and pass fire and safety inspections, and pass the required site visits and personal wellbeing requirements. Home daycare providers are also required to have some level of training.


More than any other job on this list, writing eschews teamwork. While there are writing teams, such as newsroom collaborations, ultimately a writer must create a narrative from his or her own thoughts, which is an extremely personal experience. Writing is one of the few jobs where it is more common to see standalone or freelance writers than embedded writers—particularly in light of the collapse of the traditional newsroom.

Tech repair

Most modern, personal technology is beset with terms and conditions making it difficult—if not illegal—to repair a piece of tech in a non-approved repair center. However, going to an approved repair center can be expensive; so as the laws surrounding the tech companies’ claim of perpetual software ownership via licensing are being challenged, and as obsolete or non-covered tech will continue to break down, there will be a need for independent contractors who can fix electronic toys with low overhead.


One of the great nuisances in homeownership is caring for your outdoor spaces. Whether mowing the grass, laying out and planting new gardens, weeding, and maintenance, or snow removal, there will always be someone willing to pay someone else to do the heavy lifting for them.

Artist/graphic designer

Representing another creative field, artists have a highly personal job. While there are graphic-design firms and artists who can be found in advertising and media companies, many artists and graphic designers work on commission or as freelancers.

General contractor

A general contractor is a professional that bids for and fulfills contracts for construction and maintenance work. A general contractor can manage their own team, hire workers for a project, or work as an independent. The contract bid typically covers the cost to complete the project, including all planning, licensing, supplies, equipment, waste disposal, and subcontractor costs. Nonemployee companies make up 78% of the construction sector.

Web developer/computer programmer

Per the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the demand for web developers is expected to grow by 13% from 2018 to 2028, thanks in large part to e-commerce and mobile devices. As we continue to move toward a more interconnected world, there will be a need for more skilled front end, back end, and full stack programmers.

Bespoke fashion designer/producer

Most fashion designers work for fashion houses or brands. But for those with an entrepreneurial spirit, there is a market for people that design and produce bespoke or custom-made clothing. This can include traditional tailors and seamstresses, as well as anyone willing to sew his or her own designs.


While watching more than three kids at a time requires special certification, watching one to three kids on an informal basis is typically more straightforward. A typical “first job” for teenagers, babysitting has grown into a preferred “gig economy” job—especially for mothers and for those that love children.

YouTube creator

While the larger YouTube channels mirror television productions regarding their complexity, most YouTube creators started with a single person speaking to a webcam. This “anyone can do it” mentality has led to most of the largest YouTubers today represented by teenagers or those who began as teenagers. The requirements for monetization, however, means that most people wishing to jump on YouTube will have to do it for free until they develop a sufficient audience.

Pet sitter/pet walker/pet groomer

Just as we need people to take care of our babies, we need people to look out for our “fur babies.” The expansion of the “gig economy” has made it easier to hire pet walkers, pet groomers, and pet sitters without the need for contracting with a larger company.


Traditionally, editors and proofreaders are employees of a publishing firm, contracted to ensure that the printed content meets the standards of the publication. While some editors freelance for publications, other work directly with writers as independent contractors. Starting one's own editing business has been bolstered by freelance platforms like Upwork where contractors can seek out gigs as needed, or post resumes for clients to find.

Exercise trainer

When you go to the gym, you typically see trainers advertising their services or working with clients. While some gyms have in-house trainers, many are freelancers who have an access agreement with the gym. Trainers help to instruct clients on proper techniques and provide advice for effective exercising. While there are no formal requirements for being a trainer, there are certifications.


While most commercial farms are—at a minimum—family businesses, there is a tradition of “gentlemen-farmers” and private gardeners; while not necessarily farming for sustenance, those who enjoy farming can do so and sell their produce without the need of a third party. Farmers markets and farm stands allow for small-scale operations, as do organic farm businesses.


A disc jockey (or DJ) plays prerecorded music and makes announcements for events, such as weddings and parties. While radio DJs are sometimes available for private events, a freelance DJ typically is cheaper and may have more experience performing at the type of event you are planning.

Mechanic/auto detailer

Most mechanics start off in the shop of a more seasoned mechanic. One of the few remaining apprenticeships in the United States, mechanics usually work four years or more under a master mechanic before seeking work as a journeyman mechanic or starting their own shops. As the job, however, has no formal requirements, anyone with a mechanical aptitude, an understanding of car repair, and the required tools can work as a mechanic on a freelance basis.

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