22 Business Ideas: An Entrepreneurial Retrospective
How many business ideas have you had over the years? What topics or causes are you passionate about? What special skills do you have? What are some opportunity areas or gaps in the market that you’ve seen?
As you read through this, grab a pen and paper and write down some ideas that you may have based on some of the topics, experiences and principles that I discuss. You may get a flurry of new business ideas along the way!
I am Andrew C. Belton, MBA, a Marketing and Licensed Financial Services Professional, Writer and Entrepreneur from Philadelphia, PA. I’ve worked in the digital marketing field for over 7 years and have worked in finance for 5 years. We’re going to discuss a variety of the new business ideas that I’ve had over the years, along with some commentary about their progress, potential outcomes and feasibility.
I’ll start this article by featuring the businesses that are either active, in development or were successful to some degree and then discuss ideas that had less substance or are unlikely to ever be successful. Keep in mind that the majority of these ideas are from the past, so my knowledge and understanding of business was much more limited, in addition to the fact that some of these ideas were never fully planned to the point where they could be an actual business. I wouldn’t be surprised if a few of these ideas re-appear or are reimagined at some point in the future. They may just look different in their execution.
I would also add that the 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss (that I read at some point in 2018) significantly changed my perspective on the type of businesses that I’d be interested in managing, as well as how I’d want to spend my time throughout my life in general. Even though I would say that a literal 4-hour work week isn’t realistic, I think the principle in the book that was the most impactful in my case was promoting the ability to pursue businesses and projects that provide you with the resources to control how you spend your time (oftentimes referred to as financial freedom). The productivity tips and resources were also very helpful. Even though I’m not interested in leaving my current job or being a digital nomad and theoretically working 4 hours per week, I am interested in creating diversified income streams via sustainable, low-risk, cash-stable businesses that require low capital or hands-on input to manage and could be operated/supported by employees or outsourced talent, therefore freeing up my time to do whatever I’d like (which would likely be working on something new, as a Serial Entrepreneur).
1. Symmetrical Media Marketing: Digital Marketing Consulting Company (2016-Present)
During the summer after my freshman year of college in 2015, I worked a social media marketing internship at HR Tech Advisor where I studied and created social media marketing strategies with a focus in the B2B (business to business) sector. At that time in 2015, their was a lack of understanding in the B2B sector about how to leverage social media to reach decision-makers, build brand credibility and promote awareness. Once I completed the internship, I created my own unique social media marketing strategy designed primarily for the B2B industry called the Symmetrical B2B Social Media Marketing Strategy and launched my own social media marketing consulting company called Symmetrical Media Marketing. I’ve had the pleasure of being able to work with companies in a variety of industries such as management consulting, e-commerce, retail, restaurants, arts, professional services and real estate. The social media marketing strategies that I create are customized and actionable for the companies that I work with. I work directly with business owners (or their designated decision-maker) to identify their digital assets, business objectives, suitable digital marketing resources and create an efficient social media marketing strategy that is designed to reach decision-makers, nurture professional relationships, generate leads, build brand credibility and promote awareness.
I’ve participated in a variety of content projects with Symmetrical Media Marketing such as writing on Medium (with features on Startup Stash and Venture), Business2Community, LinkedIn Pulse, participating in interviews (Authority Magazine, Montco.Today, Montgomery County Community College), specialty articles (like my extensive study on Recruiting and Retaining Millennials or Why the Sixers new Center City Philadelphia Arena is the right decision), podcasts, (guest hosting and participating in) Twitter Chats, creating a digital course (which was originally designed to be a ‘Quick Guide’ E-book) and more. Even though Symmetrical Media Marketing isn’t my full time job, I've been able to help a wide variety of businesses, it has created many opportunities for me over the years. It has aided me in getting multiple jobs since I launched it, meeting business leaders and provided enough income during college that allowed me to move out of my parents house when I was 21 and buy my first house at the age of 23. So I’ll continue to operate Symmetrical Media Marketing in the way that it is for the foreseeable future, as I always think that their will be a need for specialized small business digital marketing services and my knowledge of the industry is a valuable asset to any organization. In the future, the reputation, relationships, digital presence and digital marketing tools that I’ve created are going to be helpful with any future business that I start or am associated with. If you or someone that you know would be interested in working in the industry, I have listed a variety of helpful resources on my website that will provide contextual information, industry-leading trainings and tools that would be helpful for entering the industry. Please contact me with any further questions. 2. Only 1 Brand Company (2014–2015) / Only 1 Originals (2020–2021): E-commerce and Media Company (In Development)
During my first year of college, myself and a group of fellow entrepreneurial college students launched the Only 1 Brand Company. We wanted to turn it into a t-shirt company that would create unique and fun designs for merchandise that would be great to wear to parties. In all honesty, there was very little thought put into the original strategy and the whole thing pretty much ended as quickly as it started. The design itself looked great but that was pretty much as far as we got. We did sell through all of the shirts that we originally ordered (since print-on-demand services were much more rare at that time and we were focusing on ordering in bulk and then selling the inventory to then fund a re-order). Ultimately the reason why it failed was because our original order was supposed to arrive to debut at the beginning of the summer but we ran into a ‘supply-chain’ issue that resulted in our overseas merchandise being held until the end of the summer therefore not allowing us to sell the shirts during the time that we viewed as our ‘peak season’ and then our group quickly disbanded. I always loved the original Only 1 design since I always received great feedback on its unique design and I wanted to bring it back. In early 2020, I began working on bringing Only 1 back to life in the form of Only 1 Originals! I had the original design digitally recreated, created a few newer designs, started a Teespring shop that listed shirts, phone cases, pillows, towels and more including masks (as they became popular during the pandemic). I ultimately didn’t do enough to re-launch the company and it hasn’t sold enough merchandise for me to pour more time or resources into it at this point. I do plan on having some version of it return in the future. It could go in a variety of directions, including hopefully adding a podcast where I’d talk about business while mixing in some news, sports and lifestyle topics while focusing the podcast primarily on promoting individuality and encouraging the young and innovative to pursue their professional/life goals. I’ve even floated the idea of an Only 1 Gaming or Sports media branch, but I am very well aware that these kind of businesses are not the greatest in regards to effort-to-output value financially and I do have other more lucrative projects in the works so this is not a priority. There is no timetable for its return. It was always designed to be a lifestyle brand so whether I am ever able to make it successful financially or not, it is still a passion project.
Only 1 Originals merchandise is still available (including the original 2014 version of the shirt) on the website that was created in 2020 and it may be made available on Redbubble at some point in the future. 3. Real Estate Property Management & Airbnb: Short-Term Rentals (2019-Present)
When I purchased my first house in 2019, I started to rent my spare bedroom instead of getting a roommate. I heard of the earning potential that Airbnb had before I started hosting but I was shocked about the earning potential of it when I started hosting. Admittedly, the demand and supply of Airbnb rentals are highly variable based on a variety of factors (typically the seasons are the most significant source of variance). There were some months in which I would only have a few sales and there were some months where the sales covered well above and beyond the mortgage, which is great seeing as how the rental was just for a spare bedroom. Overall, I would recommend using Airbnb depending on the approach that you take towards managing it and I think rental arbitrage (renting a property from a landlord and subleasing it) is another potentially great opportunity.
As my financial objectives have evolved, I’ve become less interested in flipping houses and more interested in the acquisition and management of properties to provide sustained and diverse income. Real Estate is definitely one of the better businesses to have as a part of your asset portfolio. According to the Internal Revenue Service, the average Millionaire has 7 major forms of income and real estate rentals are oftentimes in the mix. 4. Notary Public (2015–2019)
In 2015 I became Notary for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania which provided me with the authority to take affidavits, verifications, acknowledgements and depositions, certify copies of documents, administer oaths and affirmations. I was also a member of the Pennsylvania Association of Notaries. My goal at the time was to create a mobile notary business. I did complete some signings but I ultimately didn’t complete enough to justify renewing my commission so I allowed it to expire in 2019. I think the mobile notary public business could be a good side hustle or be helpful if paired with a complimentary service such as having a role in real estate, business services or working at a logistics facility like The UPS Store. 5. Quartermasters Business & Development Group: Entrepreneurial Accountability Group (2020 — 2022; In Development)
Quartermasters was a monthly business-entrepreneurial accountability group that I started in January of 2020 that ran through April of 2022. This was one of the things that was really helpful for staying on track during the pandemic while also creating a small community of business-minded young professionals. At our peak it was a 5 member group and it was intended to be a small group that would be able to keep each other accountable, help each other think through our ideas and identify resources. It certainly was successful for our members as we were able to support each other through creating new businesses, life events, collegiate journeys, moving to new locations, job searches, starting new jobs and etc. Unfortunately by April 2022, most of the group members because too busy and the group became inactive. It is something that I’d bring back, but if it is going to be the same group of people it would probably need to be a Quarterly meeting (ironically). Even though this specific group is now defunct, I still believe in the monthly accountability meeting model and I think that it was beneficial during its time. There never was a monetization plan for this specific group, but I do think this would be an awesome idea for a podcast/blog series or it could be taken in a completely different direction with a paid exclusive community approach. 6. Business Capital Group (In Development)
In late 2022, I discussed a few different business opportunities with a friend and we both had an interest in some of the same sort of businesses. Specifically, we are both interested in low-risk, cash-stable businesses such as vending machines, ATM machines, self-service automated car washes, storage units, laundromats, etc. These are great businesses to have in your portfolio because they generally produce a profit every month consistently, usually aren’t limited by seasonal demand, are considered to be low-risk and as a collective group would create significant long-term sustainable income along with the opportunity to scale further. Out of respect for my friend, I’ll leave any further details in the business plan out of this article, but I do think that starting a capital group designed specifically to focus on these kind of businesses aimed primarily at driving income at a low risk is a fantastic business model (which could also branch into Venture Capital) that I am looking to execute on in some capacity whether it be organized together as a capital group or as independently-founded companies.
7. Wash Kings Laundromat: Laundromat Business Concept (In Development)
In late 2017 I started to create a business plan for a laundromat. Laundromats have gained a reputation as being one of the simplest, sustainable and consistently profitable businesses to manage. The advantages include the consistent nature of laundry cleaning demand, potential for additional services, few inventory concerns, limited potential customer issues and recession resistance. Common challenges include managing profit margins, monitoring variable utility expenses, limiting labor expenses, cash flow management, securing or maintaining favorable lease conditions, and maintaining laundry machine functionality.
Laundromats generally have a 25–40% gross profit margin (depending on a wide variety of factors), which would typically generate $5,000–$7,000 in gross profit per month. It isn’t exactly ‘passive’ income since there are a variety of operational considerations, however many self-serve laundromats are absentee managed. Laundromats could cost anywhere from $200,000–$500,000+ to purchase or anywhere within or beyond that to construct a brand new one. The value is likely to range significantly by area, it’s financial health, existing assets as well as whether the laundromat is leasing or owns its location.
What things come to mind when you think about a Laundromat? Laundromats are typically very simple, not very interesting or special, may lack some character and have a empty or generic feel.
Now consider how your experience in a laundromat would differ if it was visually appealing, had complimentary features and amenities, while making a conscious effort to be eco-friendly and engage with the local community. My business plan for Wash Kings Laundromat includes a variety of new concepts that you likely wouldn’t see in your average laundromat. The laundromat is going to have auto-dimming lights, energy efficient machines and a large recycling depository. The laundromat will also include the following (most of which are additional revenue streams): ATM machine, vending machines, arcade machines, laundry supply dispensary, folding station, high speed internet, book swap, local community/small business board and more. It will also feature ‘pop-up’ shop booths every week where a local entrepreneur will be able to have a place to engage with their customers in person similar to what you’d see at a farmers market (such as a food service, an artist, clothing creator (like Only 1 Originals hmm...), etc.), and a comprehensive local business advertising program designed to provide local small businesses with very affordable and efficient local visibility in-store (on screen) and online (a complimentary service facilitated by Symmetrical Media Marketing). The laundromat will also sponsor local events and host (or co-host) recurring networking events.
Since the laundromat is going to be highly differentiated from its competition by going the extra mile to enhance customer experience, the goal would be to progressively expand the local presence of the laundromat and take market share from less-engaged competitors.
I published a small preview slide further describing my vision for the laundromat. I don’t have a specific timeframe on when I would be able to acquire a laundromat primarily because of its extraordinary initial price tag, but I am reviewing capital opportunities. Feel free to contact me with any questions.
8. Honey Bell Brewing Company: New Concept Brewing Company (Never Launched)
When was the last time that you had a good honey beer? Think about it. I recall having one from Blue Moon that I enjoyed but it didn’t really taste like honey. I’m not talking about Mead, which is a beverage based primarily on fermented honey, water, fruits, grains, hops, spices, etc. I’m talking about creating a ale (or preferably a Ale-Lager hybrid similar to what Sam 76 by Samuel Adam’s was, which unfortunately was discontinued) that would be a lite refreshing drink that would actually taste like honey. I’d also want to include fruit purée (cherry or strawberry) and lavender buds. My guess would be that it is probably very difficult to create this kind of beer because of the unique substance/texture of honey being so thick and reactive to heat, which would explain why I have yet to find a honey beer that genuinely tastes like honey. I went as far as actually getting a home brewing kit from a friend, but never got further than that. Over the years I’ve learned that even though sometimes it is worthwhile to try new things, it may be more effective to focus on amplifying your strengths instead of trying to focus on fortifying your weaknesses. I’m not the best at making drinks, so I figure what would make the most sense is to bring my idea to a brewer who would be willing to give it a try either with their own brand or as a joint venture of some sort.
This business could be managed a few different ways. It could go the traditional brewery-pub route, or I could try to create a brand and mass produce it for distribution via retail or I could create limited batches every year and release them quarterly. I think an additional aspect of this that would make it even more interesting is if I were to promote the beer by discussing its food pairings, being visible at local events and providing education about bees, honey, history, etc. It all sounds great, but this is going to require an incredible amount of time and hard work as well as experience that I do not have.
I’d love for the idea to come to life one day, I’m just not sure that I am the person to create this specific product. I recently listened to a podcast (How I Built This with Guy Raz: Dogfish Head Craft Brewing: Sam and Mariah Calagione) and it gave me some helpful insights and ideas. Sam Calagione even mentioned a brewers trick about adding ingredients (like fruit puree) during the brewing process to alter the taste of the beer. I highly recommend listening to that episode if this idea sounds interesting.
And why did I choose the name ‘Honey Bell’?
The Liberty Bell!
The logo would be a Liberty Bell with a honey pot on it and I’d want to use locally-sourced honey from the Greater Philadelphia Area to make the beer.
Like I said, I think this idea has merit so if there are any individual brewers who would be interested in this or even a local industry-leader like Victory Brewing Company or Troegs, than that would work for me too. Please contact me. 9. The LinkedIn Leverager: LinkedIn Account Consulting (Never Launched)