An automated business can help you make the 4-Hour Workweek a reality.
And while most businesses can be automated to a certain extent, some models are more ripe for automation than others.
In this post, I’ll break down Side Hustle Nation’s top automated business ideas, based on:
- Interviews with over 500 entrepreneurs
- Feedback from the 50,000+ members of the Side Hustle Nation community
- 15+ years of side hustle experience
Ready? Let’s do it!
1. Vending Machines
Vending machines are one of the oldest automated businesses. They’re literally robots that collect money when you’re not around!
The challenge is managing inventory and keeping the machines stocked, especially if you have several locations. Still, the thought of returning to a machine and finding it filled with money is pretty motivating.
2. Self-Service Car Wash
Another automated business is one where the customers do the work.
For example, Hannah Ingram bought a self-service car wash in Tennessee with no money down. Then she set out to improve the business and now earns around $5k a month — in exchange for about 30 minutes of work a day.
Business owners are retiring every day, and may be looking for someone to continue their operation. Sites that list businesses for sale include:
With SBA financing, you can acquire a profitable business with as little as 10% down.
For Jono Santamaria, a laundromat met his criteria for an automated business:
- It was already operational and profitable (he bought it from the previous owner)
- It’s relatively hands-off (the machines do the work for you)
- He could improve the business (by applying some digital marketing skills)
The purchase did require an upfront investment, but was somewhat secured by the business’ track record of revenue, equipment, and remaining lease.
Then Jono set about improving the laundromat’s online presence and making other tweaks. Those optimizations ended up tripling the business in 12 months!
4. Automated Email Sequences
Those products could either be your own or those of your affiliate partners.
Rosemarie Groner has tried it both ways, starting with affiliate products that her audience of “chronically disorganized” moms could use. Following that strategy, you earn a percentage of every sale.
And it can really add up — building her business, Busy Budgeter, to $25k a month. From there, she started building out her own library of digital products, and selling those via automated email sequences as well.
“My goal was to be able to walk away, to come in and check on it every couple of months,” Rosemarie told me.
She admitted it wasn’t easy, but the result was a more consistent income. This enabled Rosemarie to take 5 months off, and work an average of 12 hours per week the other 7 months!
Here’s some more info on how to get people on your email list to begin with.
5. Printables and Spreadsheets
One of the most interesting automated businesses I’ve come across is selling printables.
These are digital files you upload to a marketplace like Etsy. Think:
- budget templates
- chore charts
- habit trackers
- meal planners
- intake forms
- wall art
- and more
And the best part? When someone orders, the file delivery happens automatically.
On The Side Hustle Show, Rachel Jones explained how she earned $10,000 a month from her portfolio of printables.
If you have an eye for design and can be quick to act on trends, you could capture lots of customers.
Similarly, Emily McDermott built a cool remote side hustle selling spreadsheets on Etsy. She specializes in budgeting templates, and has sold over $250,000 worth of them!
Self-publishing on Amazon is one of my longest-running automated side hustles. I started in 2012 and still remember the thrill of receiving my first author royalty direct deposit.
(It was something like $46.42!)
What makes it automated is that Amazon handles all the file delivery for you. Even for the paperback editions, they print and ship them out to customers whenever you get an order.
I’ve added several more books to my portfolio since then and consistently earn a few hundred dollars a month.
One of my books is actually free on Kindle if you want to check it out:
7. Drop Servicing
Chris Schwab started a residential house cleaning business back when he was still in college. In less than two years, he’d grown it to $60,000 a month—all while never mopping a floor or dusting a shelf himself.
Despite dozens of competing cleaning services, Chris discovered there was still opportunity. He figured that out while perusing Yelp reviews of existing cleaning companies.
“No one complained about the cleaning itself,” he said. “What people complained about was the customer service. They didn’t know when the crew was going to show up; they couldn’t get a quote; no one was answering the phone. I knew I could do that, and find cleaners to do the actual work.”
Since then, he’s delegated much of the customer support as well. When we caught up, the business took just a few minutes a day for him to manage.
8. Passive Investments
Fundrise is a cool “alternative” way to invest in real estate.
With just a $10 minimum investment, you can start building a portfolio of pre-vetted commercial properties. I’ve been investing with them since 2015 and they’ve paid dividends every quarter so far.
(Disclosure: when you sign up, I earn a commission. All opinions are my own.)
Check out my full Fundrise review to learn more.
Curious about other alternative investments? Play around with this cool tool to see what else is out there:
9. Create Product Review Videos
If you’re accepted into the Amazon Influencer Program, you can get paid to create short video product reviews.
In turn, Amazon displays those on the relevant product pages, and rewards you a commission when someone makes a purchase after watching your video.
I made over $700 doing this in my first few months, with very little effort! (After uploading, it’s totally automated.)
Plus, I’ve connected with other side hustlers earning $2,000 a month sharing their opinions on Amazon products.
10. YouTube Automation
Tony Lysandrides runs several YouTube channels, and what’s unique about his videos is he’s not on them. They’re faceless videos intentionally engineered for virality.
He currently has four team members:
- a researcher/scriptwriter, who creates the scripts for the videos
- a voice actor, who brings the scripts to life
- a video editor, who creates the videos, complete with background music, stock footage, and animations
- a thumbnail designer, who creates clickable thumbnails to bring in views
Tony oversees the whole process to ensure quality videos, but at this stage, the whole operation is largely automated.
11. Sell an Online Course
In 2014 I created an online video course on Udemy about how to launch non-fiction Kindle books on Amazon. It earned $3500 in the first couple months, and has gone on to earn automated sales ever since.
The total is now over $27,000!
All I have to do is respond to the (pretty infrequent) student questions or comments.
What could you teach? Consider what people already ask you for help with. What do you know more about than the average person?
With services like Teachable, it’s never been easier to create and sell an online course of your own. These can command premium prices ($100-$2000 or more) and allow you to help more people than you could with one-on-one consulting.
Over the years on The Side Hustle Show, we’ve seen people making money with online courses on just about every topic imaginable. Some of the more creative case studies include:
- Sourdough baking
- Motorcycle repair
- Getting dressed in the morning
- Helping toddlers read
- and so many more!
How will customers find you? If you don’t have an audience, one method to try is the YouTube-to-evergreen-webinar model, as described by Nate Dodson in this episode.
12. Print on Demand
Another fun, automated business for creative people is print on demand.
Print on demand is a great way to make money online because you can sell physical products without holding any inventory.
How it works is you:
- Upload your designs to sites like Merch by Amazon or Redbubble
- When someone orders, the site prints and ships the item on your behalf
- You collect a royalty on each sale
My wife and I love to see the Redbubble sales notifications come through — sometimes from designs we uploaded years ago!
13. Sell Stock Photos and Videos Online
But be warned: this is very much a volume game. Since you only earn a small royalty on each sale, the most successful sellers have tens of thousands of images in their portfolios.
14. Self Storage
Self storage appears on lots of lists of automated business ideas, and for good reason. Demand is strong, with more than 20% of Americans using self storage.
Plus, modern tools make it possible to run facilities remotely, though there can be a significant upfront investment.
A smaller scale alternative is an online platform called Neighbor. Neighbor helps you turn your extra space into cash.
What could you rent out?
Think parking spaces, sheds, garage storage, attics, side yards. Top hosts are earning $1000s a year relatively passively.
Check out our full Neighbor review to learn more.
15. Product Licensing
Product licensing is a unique way earn residual income from your ideas—while letting someone else do the work.
For example, Nate Dallas and his brother split $300,000 in royalties from a Pictionary-inspired card game they licensed to Mattel.
The duo (a dentist and a preacher) didn’t have to design it, produce it, or sell it—but they found someone who could—and they cashed the checks.
16. Sell Your Bandwidth
A new app called Honeygain has been building a lot “buzz” lately. According to the site, you can earn up to $30 a month when you share “your unused net traffic with data scientists.”
(Figures based on sharing 10 GB a day, which is a crap-ton of data!)
After you install the app (available on Windows, MacOS, and Android), connect it to the Internet, and earn rewards on autopilot. On average, it takes users 48 days to reach $20.
Before you get started though, make sure you’re truly on an unlimited plan as it sounds like this could chew through a lot of bandwidth in hurry!
17. Build a Helpful Website
Online publishing can be extremely lucrative.
It does take a ton of work to create the initial content, but once your content is ranking in Google, it becomes semi-automated. After all, I don’t need to be sitting at my desk to make money — and hundreds of people can visit my site at once.
- Scott earns 6-figures a year from his bird-watching blog
- Shelley earns $50k a month from her travel blogs
- Andrew earned over $1.2M from his gift ideas site
Their sites are monetized with advertising and affiliate partnerships, which scale as your traffic increases.
Want to start a blog of your own? Check out my free 6-part video course on how to start your own site.
Low startup costs
Great long-term earning power
Can sell the business down the road
Slow to see results
Lots of skills to learn
18. Rental Properties
With the right tenants and team in place, owning rental properties can be a pretty automated business.
(And to be fair, there are lots of burnt-out landlords who will tell you it is anything but.)
Dustin Heiner — a husband and father of 4 — started building his rental portfolio while working for the county government. He was ultimately able to retire in his 30s, generating $15k a month in cash flow from his properties.
Still, real estate side hustles come in many different forms, ranging from single family rental properties to commercial buildings and even raw land investing. Make sure you’re choosing a model that fits with your goals.
Software is the ultimate scalable, automated business in that the same underlying code can be sold to an unlimited number of customers.
A premium software tool can be sold either as a one-off purchase or a recurring monthly subscription.
As a customer, I’ve bought both smartphone apps and desktop software. If you don’t have the technical chops to build something like this yourself, you could always partner or hire someone who does—or white label software that already exists.
The biggest consideration is to make sure there’s a hungry market for what you’re building.
Automated Business Ideas: Your Turn
Let’s not kid ourselves: building a business is hard work.
But you’ve probably heard the phrase that an entrepreneur is someone who lives a few years like others won’t to live a lifetime that others can’t.
What that means is if you build your business the right way, you can set it up to be automated or semi-automated, in just about any industry.
I hope these automated business ideas sparked some inspiration and puts you on the path to stop trading time for money.
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