18 Businesses That Run Themselves for Passive Income

Want to know what the best businesses that run themselves are? Have you ever dreamed of having a business that runs by itself? Whether you want extra income or a full-time job, these businesses make money without needing you all the time. Having a business that runs itself means more time for you to do…

Michelle Schroeder-Gardner

Last Updated: July 4, 2024

Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links, meaning if you decide to make a purchase via my links, I may earn a commission at no additional cost to you. See my disclosure for more info.

Want to know what the best businesses that run themselves are?

Have you ever dreamed of having a business that runs by itself? Whether you want extra income or a full-time job, these businesses make money without needing you all the time.

Having a business that runs itself means more time for you to do what you love. This could be more family time, traveling, pursuing passions, or starting another venture. These kinds of businesses are perfect for making your dreams a reality.

Now, that doesn’t mean that all of the businesses below will require zero hours of work from you – they will need varying amounts of time dedicated to them. Maybe some time in the beginning to get it started, some time to maintain it, or even hiring an employee to keep it going or check in occasionally.

Recommended reading: 18 Passive Income Ideas To Earn $1,000+ Each Month

Businesses That Run Themselves

Below are the best businesses that run themselves.

laundromat Businesses That Run Themselves

1. Self-service laundromat

A laundromat business can be a great business idea if you want something that mostly runs itself.

With the right setup, you might only need to check in occasionally. Laundromats can give you a steady source of income because people always need clean clothes.

The day-to-day operations of a laundromat include opening the business up in the morning, maintaining machines (the washers and dryers) and keeping the business clean, stocking detergents, and having someone handle the finances. The average self-service laundromat has 2 employees or less, so this is a business where you can outsource that job even.

Running a laundromat can be rewarding and mostly hands-off, making it a popular choice among business owners. If you’re looking for a steady income with minimal daily effort, this could be the option for you.

Recommended reading: Are Laundromats Profitable? How Much Do Laundromats Make?

2. Sell printables

Digital products, such as printables, can be a great way to have a business that runs itself.

Making printables on Etsy can be a great idea because you just need to create one digital file per product, which you can then sell an unlimited number of times. This is what makes it a great passive income opportunity, plus, you can make printables without anything other than just your laptop/computer and internet connection.

Printables are digital products that customers can download and print themselves at home. Examples of printables include:

  • Grocery shopping checklists
  • Gift tags
  • Candy bar wrappers
  • Printable quotes for wall art
  • Patterns
  • Planners
  • Coloring sheets
  • Stickers

These items are designed to be easily printed from a computer or other devices, being convenient for buyers who want to customize and use them right away.

Recommended reading: How I Make Money Selling Printables On Etsy

Free Training: Earn Money Selling Printables

Do you want to make money selling printables online? This free training will give you great ideas on what you can sell, how to get started, the costs, and how to make sales.

3. Blogging

Blogging can be a business that runs itself mostly, but it’s not passive, especially at the beginning. It requires a lot of hard work and can take up most of your time when you’re starting out. Over the years, I’ve automated much of my blog so that it runs with about 10 hours of maintenance from me each week.

Starting a successful blog is challenging – it’s not something everyone can easily do!

That said, learning how to start a blog has been one of the best decisions I’ve made. It’s a great way to earn semi-passive income and extra money.

I think it’s one of the best businesses that run themselves, and it’s something that I have been doing for years. I can take weeks off at a time and still earn a great income during that time.

Blogging can generate passive income because you can create a blog post (high-quality content is key) and continue to earn money from it for years. This income can come from affiliate marketing or display advertising. Unlike traditional jobs where you have to work daily to earn money, a blog allows you to make money around the clock – even while you sleep – thanks to the work you’ve already done in the past.

I have a free training that you can take – How To Start A Blog FREE Course. Want to see how I built a $5,000,000 blog? In this free course, I show you how to create a blog, from the technical side to earning your first income and attracting readers.

4. Affiliate marketing

Affiliate marketing is a great way to make money with a business that mostly runs itself and can make money in your sleep.

Among these businesses that practically run themselves, this one is my favorite. I’ve earned more than $2,000,000 through affiliate marketing over the years, and much of it is semi-passive. I can earn money while I’m on vacation, without internet, while I’m sleeping, and more.

Affiliate marketing is when you earn money by placing a special link on your website or social media. When people buy something through your link, you get a commission. For example, if you link to a book on Amazon (after joining the Amazon affiliate program) from your website and someone buys it through your link, you earn a commission. Companies like Amazon value good affiliates because they help promote their products and services.

You earn a commission by promoting other companies’ products or services. When someone buys through your link, you get paid.

Now, this doesn’t mean that affiliate marketing completely runs itself. You will need to write the content that draws readers in and find ways to get page views. But, once you get things started, you can earn money without always actively working for it.

Recommended reading: Affiliate Marketing Tips For Beginners – Free eBook

5. Rental real estate and rental properties

Being a property owner and managing properties can be a great way to run a business that makes money on its own.

One way to earn extra money is by listing your property on Airbnb or another short-term rental platform. You can rent out your entire house, apartment, or just a room to travelers looking for short stays.

Another way to earn money is through long-term rentals. Long-term rentals involve renting out a property for an extended period, typically six months to a year or more. For example, you might rent out an apartment or house to a family who will live there full-time.

One advantage of long-term rentals is the stable and consistent income they provide. By leasing your property to tenants for a longer duration, you establish a steady stream of rental payments. This reliability can be particularly appealing for those seeking a reliable source of passive income. Plus, managing a long-term rental is usually less demanding than a short-term rental since you don’t need to clean the property frequently or find new renters regularly.

Whether you rent out your property short-term or long-term, you can lessen your involvement by hiring a property manager to do any of the day-to-day work that may be needed. This can make your rental property business more of a hands-off business model.

Recommended reading: 23 Best Real Estate Side Hustles To Make Extra Money

6. Online courses

Creating and selling online courses can be a great way to earn passive income. Once you develop the content and put it on a platform like Teachable, it mostly takes care of itself.

With an online course, you share what you know with others. Maybe you’re good at math, photography, or playing guitar. You can turn those skills into a course.

Creating online courses is a smart way to take what you know and turn it into a business that runs almost by itself. It can be fun too, and you can help a lot of people at once.

I created Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing, my first online course, several years ago and have earned over $2,000,000 from it.

Creating a course is not the easiest way to start a business that runs itself, but it can be a great way to earn an income around the clock. Most of the work is done in the very beginning, and then there is some maintenance along the way to keep the course updated, help students, and so on.

Recommended reading: How I’ve Made Over $1,000,000 From My First Course Without a Big Launch.

storage facility Businesses That Run Themselves

7. Storage facility

Running a storage facility is a great way to have a business that can largely manage itself. Plus, this can be a steady income stream, and many storage facilities have long waiting lists and are in high demand.

Self-storage facilities are places where people store their belongings, like boxes of their keepsakes, vehicles, RVs, and more, in storage units or in a big lot.

Owning a self-storage business can be a way to earn money with low expenses. These businesses usually only need a couple of employees.

Often, when I visit a self-storage lot, it’s just the owner or one employee working, and there are very few customers around. Sometimes, no one is working and I just use a code to go in and out.

Another idea similar to this is to rent out your storage space on Neighbor.

Neighbor.com is a platform where you can rent out your space to people who need storage for their belongings such as boxes, furniture, and even cars. You can list spaces like your driveway, garage, closet, and more on Neighbor.com. It’s similar to Airbnb but for storage – no one stays overnight, just their belongings! Depending on demand in your area and the type of storage space you have, you can earn between $100 to $400 or more each month.

Recommended reading: How To Invest In Self-Storage For Beginners

8. Stock photography

Stock photography is a great way to start a business that will eventually run itself. With this type of business, you take photos and upload them to stock photo websites. When someone buys your photo, you get paid.

Once your photos are online, they can sell again and again too.

Stock photos have many different purposes for websites, companies, blogs, and more. Businesses use stock photos because they may not have the resources to photograph everything they need. Instead, they can use stock photos to improve the visual appeal of their content, website, or business.

I personally use stock photos in my blog posts, as do many others. All the photos in this article are stock photos, actually.

There are several well-known stock photo websites such as Shutterstock, iStock by Getty Images, Adobe Stock, and Dreamstime.

To sell photos on these sites, you’ll need to create a contributor account and upload your images following the site’s rules. Each time someone downloads your photos, you earn a commission.

On stock photo websites, having high-quality photos is very important, but having a larger portfolio also matters. The more pictures you have in your stock photo collection, the more potential income you can generate.

Recommended reading: 18 Ways To Get Paid To Take Pictures

9. Car washes

Running a car wash business can be a great way to earn money with minimal effort. Automatic and self-serve car washes are especially popular because they require less work to manage day-to-day.

A self-service car wash is a place where customers pay to use equipment to wash their own cars.

An automatic car wash is a place where customers drive through a tunnel where machines do all the cleaning.

Starting a car wash can be cost-effective over time. The equipment can handle many customers with little human help. You just need to check the machines and refill supplies.

10. Write ebooks

Creating ebooks can be a great way to generate passive income streams. Once you write and publish an ebook, it can keep earning you money with very little effort.

Writing a book can provide passive income because you only need to write it once, yet you can continue to earn money from it for years. While you may need to do some promotion to keep readers engaged, the writing itself is a one-time effort. This makes it possible for the income to be passive over time.

Plus, you can start by self-publishing an ebook and selling it directly on Amazon or on your own website.

11. Dropshipping

Dropshipping is a popular business model that lets you sell products without keeping any inventory. You simply partner with a supplier who ships the items directly to your customers.

Dropshipping can be a great choice because there are low start-up costs as you don’t need to buy stock or rent a warehouse. This keeps costs down at the beginning.

Plus, there’s a lot of flexibility. You can run your dropshipping business from anywhere with an internet connection. This makes it perfect for those who like to travel or work from home.

There are many different things you can sell in a dropshipping business, such as T-shirts (you could even have a print-on-demand business), home decor, mugs, kitchen tools, pet supplies, and baby items.

Print-On-Demand Free Guide

This freebie will teach you about print-on-demand as well as give you a list of 17 hot-selling products you can sell via print on demand.

12. Run a membership website

Membership websites are a great way to run a business that can almost take care of itself. These are websites where people pay regularly to access exclusive content or services.

Now, these will require work and some maintenance. But, you can earn recurring income 24/7, without actively needing to work.

Plus, as more people join, your income grows without adding lots more work.

Some examples of membership sites can include running a Patreon for your YouTube channel, a stock photo membership site, a paid forum, and an online school.

13. ATM business

If you want a low-maintenance business idea that almost runs itself, you may want to look into ATMs.

ATMs can be great because they don’t need much daily work. Once set up, you just need to check them regularly and refill cash.

To start, you’ll need one or more ATM machines (these typically cost around $2,000 to $10,000), you’ll need to find locations (such as convenience stores, malls, gas stations, etc.), set up the ATM (connect it to a network), and monitor and maintain it.

You would earn money through the ATM transaction fees that people are charged when they withdraw money.

Using ATMs can be a good way to make extra money without a lot of effort. They need some work at first but can become a reliable source of income.

14. Parking lots

Parking lots can be great businesses that mostly run themselves.

People always need places to park, such as in cities, near popular venues, at airports, and at shopping centers. If you can find a good location, your parking lot can bring in steady income without much daily work from you.

To get started, all you need is a plot of land. You can set up pay stations to handle money collection. Some lots even use apps for payments, making the process easier for everyone.

And, with the right setup, you can keep things running smoothly with just occasional cleaning and repairs.

Businesses That Run Themselves ideas

15. App development

If you have technical skills, developing and selling an app can be a way to start a business that operates autonomously.

Creating your own app, whether it’s a useful tool, a fun game, or something else, can be profitable.

Although it requires initial effort and investment, once your app is available in app stores, it can generate revenue around the clock through in-app purchases or with the initial download.

You can create mobile apps like a budget tracker, meal planner, fitness tracker, meditation guide, travel planner, and others that cater to specific needs or interests.

16. Billboards

A billboard business is a great way to make passive income. Once set up, it needs little maintenance. You can rent the advertising space to companies for their ads.

Now, building new billboards isn’t allowed everywhere, but in many places, you can still add them onto your own land or buy one that already exists. You’ll want to check local laws to know more before you begin.

Billboards require minimal upkeep, which makes it a great business that runs itself. Regular checks and occasional repairs are needed. Digital billboards need more maintenance, but they can display multiple ads and increase income.

17. Sell on Amazon

Amazon FBA (Fulfillment by Amazon) allows sellers to store their products in Amazon’s warehouses. Amazon takes care of shipping to customers, handling returns, and managing customer service for the seller. This setup frees sellers from storing inventory or dealing with shipping logistics.

While you still need to find products to sell, Amazon FBA makes it possible for anyone, even without experience, to earn money selling items like household goods, toys, books, electronics, and more through their platform.

Recommended reading: How To Work From Home Selling On Amazon FBA

18. Vending machine business

A vending machine business can be a great way to earn passive income. With some initial investment and a bit of planning, you can start making money with minimal effort. Vending machines typically need minimal upkeep and the hours are low.

You can start with as little as $1,500 to $3,000, and even buy used or refurbished vending machines to save money.

Vending machines can be placed in high-traffic areas (with permission and an agreement, of course), such as schools, offices, gyms, hospitals, and more. You may need to pay 5% to 25% of your earnings to use their space.

Vending machines run on their own for the most part. You will have to refill the machines regularly and make any needed repairs.

A vending machine business can be a smart way to generate passive income while requiring little hands-on work. With the right location and products, you can see steady profits.

Recommended reading: How To Start A Vending Machine Business – How I Make $7,000 Monthly

Frequently Asked Questions

If you are thinking about having a self-running business, here are some common questions and helpful answers that might guide you in the right direction.

How can I start a business that doesn’t need me to be there all the time?

To start a business that doesn’t need you to be there all the time, I recommend finding a business model that can be easily automated. Examples include online stores using dropshipping or print-on-demand services. These models let you automate order processing and inventory management, reducing your need to be involved in daily operations. Other businesses include running a laundromat, selling printables on Etsy, blogging, rental real estate, and stock photography.

What are some top businesses known for making money while the owner sleeps?

The best businesses known for making money while the owner sleeps include rental real estate, blogging, stock photography, dropshipping, ATMs, developing an app, and selling an online course. These businesses have systems in place that handle most tasks automatically, allowing you to earn money with minimal hands-on management.

How to have a business that runs itself?

To have a business that runs itself, you need to try something like vending machines, ATMs, blogging, stock photography, dropshipping, and more. Then, you can either automate as much as you can, or outsource the hours where something needs to be done (such as refilling the vending machine).

What is the easiest business to start and run?

Among the easiest businesses to start are online stores using dropshipping, vending machines, and digital products like printables. These business ventures require low upfront investment and minimal ongoing management, making them accessible for beginners.

How do you find a self running business for sale?

To find a self-running business for sale, you can look for listings on business-for-sale websites or contact business brokers. Many websites list businesses for sale, such as BizBuySell and LoopNet. Always research and vet any business thoroughly before buying.

Businesses That Run Themselves – Summary

I hope you enjoyed this article on the best businesses that run themselves.

Self-sustaining business examples include online businesses like blogging and affiliate marketing, where you create content or promote products and enjoy passive income.

Even offline options like laundromats and car washes can be mostly self-sustaining, needing only occasional maintenance. Another good example is a vending machine business. You just put your machines in good spots and let them do the work.

Managing a rental business can be another way to have a business plan that doesn’t require a lot of active hours from you.

For me, I have a business that I work a low amount of hours and can run itself for the most part. I have automated a lot to make this possible, as well as have worked a lot of hours in the beginning. I love having a business that can run itself, as it means that I have more time for other things in life.

What do you think are the best businesses that run themselves?

Recommended reading:

Michelle Schroeder-Gardner

Author: Michelle Schroeder-Gardner

Hey! I’m Michelle Schroeder-Gardner and I am the founder of Making Sense of Cents. I’m passionate about all things personal finance, side hustles, making extra money, and online businesses. I have been featured in major publications such as Forbes, CNBC, Time, and Business Insider. Learn more here.

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