7 side income businesses that practically run themselves

For many, becoming a business owner is a key component of the American Dream. This means flexibility in how you spend your day, control over business decisions, and hopefully a path to long-term wealth and financial independence.

But you don’t have to start a business from scratch or say goodbye to work-life balance to be a successful entrepreneur. Whether you’re looking to earn some extra side income or quit your 9-to-5 for good, buying an existing business that essentially runs itself could be the answer.

“One of the biggest benefits of owning a passive income business is the opportunity to grow and create franchise value,” says Ben Johnston, COO at Kapitus, a New York-based small business financing firm. “If a business grows and proves to be sustainable over the long term, the owner may be able to sell it for a multiple of what it’s producing in annual revenue.” Also, Johnston says, if you decide to become more active in day-to-day management of the business down the line, you can trade some of the overhead for other management and earn a greater return in exchange for your time.

7 side hustles that require little daily involvement

The key to starting a successful, self-sustaining business is creating a solid foundation. This means investing the necessary time and resources upfront, which may mean purchasing high-quality equipment, securing clients and, if necessary, hiring support staff.

While the income from owning a business is rarely 100% passive, there are certain businesses that practically run on autopilot once you build that foundation. So if you’ve saved up a hefty initial investment (or qualify for financing) and are looking for a source of steady income, consider these low-maintenance business ideas.

1. Take over a washing machine

One of the biggest advantages of owning a laundromat is that these businesses are considered recession-proof because they provide a basic service. According to an analysis by the Coin Laundry Association, coin-operated laundries typically range in market value from $50,000 to more than $1 million. Additionally, they can generate between $15,000 and $300,000 in cash flow per year.

However, start-up costs for a laundromat can be quite high, which is why many people choose to buy an existing business. You can find laundromats for sale on business classifieds sites or through brokers. Laundry equipment distributors may also have inside information on local businesses and can put you in touch with owners who are considering selling. When it comes to investing in an existing washing machine, the general rule is that it is worth four to six times the annual net income.

2. Buy an automatic car wash

With the right preparation, another business that can essentially run itself is a self-service or automatic car wash. These businesses are relatively easy to manage as customers do the work using existing equipment. Few, if any, employees are required, as well as minimal inventory and maintenance.

For these reasons, owning a car wash can also provide an excellent return on investment. A 2022 study by Auto Laundry News, a car wash industry publication, found the average monthly revenue for a self-service car wash to be $1,975 per bay.

Again, the success of your business will depend on many factors. Oasis Car Wash Systems notes that several of the biggest considerations when choosing a car wash business include traffic and accessibility. You should aim for a site that sees at least 1,000 to 3,000 cars per day and is highly accessible and visible from the street (think: corner lot, multiple driveways, and separate entrances and exits).

The cost of purchasing a self-service or automatic car wash varies widely. It is possible to purchase an existing business for under $100,000, while locations in high cost of living areas can run into the millions.

3. Set up a vending machine route

If you’re looking for a passive income business with a lower barrier to entry, consider investing in vending machines. The costs involved in starting a vending machine route are essentially just buying the machines and stocking them with inventory. From there, all you have to worry about is occasional maintenance, as well as recharging and collecting money from transactions.

This is another business that relies heavily on location for success. You will want to work with companies to place your machines in high traffic areas such as office buildings, malls, hospitals, schools, etc. And the more vending machines you own, the more your profit margins can improve, as you’ll be able to qualify for wholesale discounts on inventory and the route will become more efficient overall.

It is possible to buy used slot machines for less than $1000. New ones will cost $3,000 or more, especially for modern machines with features like card readers or touchpads. However, with the right products and placement, you should be able to recoup those costs fairly quickly. eVending states that their machines can be paid for by selling seven to 10 products per day for an average profit of $0.50 per product.

4. Install ATMs in strategic locations

Like the vending machine business, you can also earn income by setting up a route of ATMs. When customers withdraw cash, they pay an additional fee to use the machine and you get a discount on that fee. An ATM location that receives 80–100 transactions per month produces about 40%–70% annual return on investment.

You’ll want to find places that get a lot of foot traffic, especially from people who may need cash. This can include grocery stores, casinos, gas stations, bars, restaurants and clubs. It’s also a good idea to choose locations that are well-lit, densely populated and monitored so that people feel safe using your ATMs.

ATM Brokerage notes that smaller routes require only basic maintenance, including filling the machines with cash and verifying that the receipt is complete. Installation costs can range between $200 and $500, depending on location and complexity. As for the machines themselves, a new, freestanding ATM costs about $2,000 to $3,000, although you can find used ones for around $1,200. Keep in mind that you’ll need to have a lot of cash flow to maintain a fleet of ATMs, as each one typically goes through about $6,000–$8,000 per month.

5. Buy a successful blog

Blogging is a low-cost business, although it can take months or years to create high-quality, original content that generates a lot of page views. The good news is that you don’t have to start a blog from scratch. There are many successful blogs that are already generating revenue – whether through affiliate links, display ads, sponsored content, etc. – and can be available for purchase on a marketplace like Flippa for just a few hundred dollars.

The older and more established the site, the more likely it is to generate consistent passive income (and the more expensive it will be to purchase). Your earnings will also depend on the subject of the blog. Google, for example, estimates that a beauty and fitness blog that receives 50,000 page views per month can generate about $7,800 in Adsense revenue per month. On the other hand, a science blog with the same traffic would bring in about half of that.

6. Rent billboards for advertising space

Selling advertising space on a billboard you own is the closest thing to a 100% passive income business. This is especially true if you already own land where you can place your billboard (note that you may need to adhere to local zoning laws and/or obtain a special permit).

The start-up costs of building one can vary greatly. For a single-faced wooden billboard, you can spend between $5,000 and $20,000 to make it, depending on the exact size and height. However, these costs may be worth it if you have a great location. On the low end, advertisers in a country town can pay about $250 a month for a classic billboard campaign. But if your billboard is located in a big city, you can charge $14,000 or more per month.

7. Invest in a self storage facility

Often categorized as a niche real estate investment, another business that doesn’t require much day-to-day supervision is the self-storage facility. From 2009 to 2018, self-storage facilities had an average annual return on investment of 16.9%, which was higher than any other type of commercial property, including offices, industrial buildings, retail and apartments.

Storage facilities also do not require much maintenance as steel buildings are durable and require little maintenance. And with technology like kiosks, dedicated monitoring and web-based contract management, there’s no need for anyone to be on site. However, if you are not interested in becoming a warehouse facility owner, you can also choose to be a passive investor in someone else’s business.

The taking

There are many ways to make money on the side, from picking up a small side hustle to starting a new business. If you’re looking for something average and don’t want to spend a lot of time, money and effort to maintain your side income, consider a business that (almost) runs on autopilot. If you go this route, it’s critical to do your due diligence, crunch the numbers, and invest in a business that can have long-term success.

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