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Top 14 Best Businesses That Run Themselves (2023 Examples)


If you have investment funds or want to get started as an entrepreneur, starting a business is often the way to go.

At the same time, if you work, have other obligations, or just don’t want to spend all of your time managing the day-in-day-out of a business, you want to spend as little time on that business as possible. 

Luckily, there are plenty of businesses that run themselves. At the same time, you’ll never quite get away from management and overhead for your business. 

At the same time, it’s important to keep in mind that there’s no such thing as a fully self-run business.

The most you’ll get is minimal time investment or having managers. This means you’ll have to invest at least some time in your business no matter what type of business you choose. 

However, there are many types of businesses that offer the absolute lowest amount of personal time investment. 

Here are the top examples of businesses that run themselves that we researched:

1. Laundromat 

A self-service laundromat is one of the closest to fully self-run businesses that you can choose. Here, once you get the laundromat set up, there’s very little you have to do on a day-to-day basis. 

Instead, you’ll have light management work. This includes ensuring that cleaning happens.

In addition, you’ll have to empty out coin slots if you’re using coin-operated machines. And, you’ll need someone to handle the maintenance. 

Otherwise, self-service laundromats require no attendance, no personnel, and no day-to-day management. That makes this one of the most autonomous options you can choose. 

Of course, you’ll still have to do the business aspects of owning a business. That will mean picking up the phone to offer customer service or support.

You may be able to outsource that, but it will eat into your profit margins. You’ll likely also want to spend at least some time on advertisement and marketing to ensure people start using your laundromat. 

In addition, you can hire a cleaning service to clean floors and tables twice a week. Otherwise, you may be able to simply check in on your investment once a week to ensure that it’s in good condition. 

  • Automation: Mostly runs itself, your responsibilities will include cleaning, maintenance, and if coin-operated, coin collection. 
  • Startup Costs: $200,000+ 
  • Upfront Time: Business research, paperwork, purchases, rental, etc. 
  • Passive Income: Yes 

2. Automatic Car Wash 

Automatic car washes, like self-service laundromats, basically allow you to install your business on a plot of land and then let the business do the rest. 

Here, if you have a good location, an automatic car wash can be extremely profitable. If you don’t, it may be a bad investment.

You’ll also want to check to see how much competition you have in the area, as people are very likely to go to what they know or the cheapest option. 

Here, you’ll have to do the research, figure out what kind of car wash to buy, and then set everything up. Once you do, the business will basically run itself. 

Of course, you’ll still be responsible for cleaning, maintenance, and handling customer service.

If you’re accepting cash, you’ll also have to handle that. And, of course, you’ll have to ensure that your automatic car wash is kept up to date.

In addition, automatic car washes normally cost about $75,000-$150,000 per bay.

Of course, you can have as much as half of that if you choose self-service instead, but allowing customers to handle equipment will increase the amount of maintenance needed. 

  • Automation: Mostly runs itself, your responsibilities will include cleaning, maintenance, and refilling  
  • Startup Costs: $75,000+ 
  • Upfront Time: Business research, paperwork, purchases, rental, etc. 
  • Passive Income: Yes

3. Vending Machines 

Vending machines, or a vending machine route, can be a great way to earn a passive income. In addition, if well placed, you can easily set up a network of vending machines across a mall or an entire town. 

Vending machines also offer an entry-level business opportunity. If you buy a brand-new vending machine, you can typically expect to pay $3,000-$38,000 per machine.

Once they’re in, you only have to refill machines, collect cash if you accept cash, and do maintenance. 

Here, it’s also important to note that vandalism is your biggest business risk. If you place vending machines outside or out of sight of cameras, you may lose your investment. Therefore, it’s important to get insurance. 

It’s also important to note that establishing a vending machine route will require networking.

For example, if you have a different business, you can easily install your own machines. But, if you want to install vending machines in schools, malls, or sports areas, you’ll have to make a deal with the owners. 

Often, that will mean giving them a percentage of the profits. It’s important to negotiate that carefully so you can make a profit. 

In addition, many brands, like Coca-Cola or Mars, will allow you to rent vending machines. Here, the brand will refill the machines as part of the service. This means you’ll earn less money than if you own the machine yourself. 

In most cases, refilling vending machines is your responsibility. So, this business isn’t fully automated.

However, many modern machines will simply alert you when a product is running low. Otherwise, you can do a circuit to check if products need a refill based on how quickly they normally sell out. 

  • Automation: Your only responsibilities will be maintenance, security, exterior cleaning, and refilling the machine 
  • Startup Costs: $3,000+ 
  • Upfront Time: Business research, networking, leasing agreements, stock agreements 
  • Passive Income: Yes
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4. ATMs 

Automated Teller Machines (ATMs) can be a good investment depending on where you’re located. Here, it’s normally important that you don’t have too much existing competition. 

ATMs normally cost about $3,000-$8,000+ to buy upfront. However, most of the work will depend on licensing, security, and leasing. If you have a convenient area to install your machine, you’ll be able to minimize costs. 

Otherwise, you’ll have to network and lease a space to place the machine. From there, you’ll have to install security to meet compliance, make arrangements with banks, and fill the machine. 

Once you do, maintenance is normally handled by a cash management company. This minimizes risk and ensures you always have cash on hand to fill the machine. However, it will cost more than filling the machine yourself. 

In addition, your largest risk will be theft and vandalism. It’s important to invest in security, use security cameras, and follow compliance. You’ll also want insurance. 

Like vending machines, ATMs are a good entry-level business opportunity if you want a business that runs itself. They’re low cost, relatively low risk, and you can always buy more as you earn your money back. 

  • Automation: You’ll have to keep the machine filled and the software up to date 
  • Startup Costs: $3,000+ 
  • Upfront Time: Business research, networking, leasing agreements, cash agreements 
  • Passive Income: Yes

5. Rental Service 

A rental service can be a good way to have a mostly passive income. However, if you want business ideas that don’t require your time, this only works in one format: self-service rentals. 

Here, you invest in a franchise or set up a fleet of eBikes, scooters, or similar rentals. People then rent them with their phones, and then return them. 

This kind of business model is increasingly popular because it allows you to generate passive income without managing your investment every day.

However, that’s not true if you have a traditional rental company. There, you’ll have to either hire people to man the business or do so yourself. 

At the same time, rental services also entail a lot of risks. You’ll need insurance. You’ll also have to spend time inspecting, repairing, and maintaining your investment. That can be considerable. 

In addition, you’ll have to make sure there’s demand for whatever you want to rent. If there’s already a lot of competition, you’ll probably have difficulty getting your business to take off.

On the other hand, rental services allow you to start off with a few models and then add to your fleet as demand increases. 

  • Automation: You’ll have to inspect, clean, and manage maintenance and repair for your fleet 
  • Startup Costs: $10,000+ 
  • Upfront Time: Business research, networking, leasing agreements, app setup, 
  • Passive Income: Yes

6. Billboard Rental 

Billboards are one of the easiest ways to generate completely passive income. Here, once you install billboards, you have to do almost nothing. 

In fact, if you invest in a digital billboard, you won’t even have to hire people to change signage. Instead, you’ll be able to update your signage from a computer via a content management system. 

That will mean you can make agreements with ad publishers – who will do the work of finding you renters for a percentage of the profit. Then, you can sit back and earn passive income. 

Of course, unless you’re installing a billboard on your own property, you’ll have to lease the location as well. And, you’ll normally need building permits to install signs. 

Depending on the signage you install, you’re also looking at startup costs of $10,000-$180,000. However, signage can earn anywhere from $200-$15,000+ per month, depending on location, demand, and population density. 

  • Automation: You’ll have to handle cleaning, network, and make agreements for sales 
  • Startup Costs: $10,000+ 
  • Upfront Time: Business research, networking, leasing agreements, permits 
  • Passive Income: Yes

7. Storage Facilities

Self-service storage facilities make an ideal self-run business. However, storage facilities typically need a considerable amount of security.

You can do so by providing secure boxes. However, you should also do so with security cameras. 

Here, your largest risks will be theft or burglary and people using storage facilities for illicit purposes. You’ll need insurance to protect your interests and your business. 

Otherwise, if you don’t have too much local competition, self-storage facilities offer easy, low-maintenance passive income.

For example, once you set up buildings, customers can request a storage unit, pay for it, access it with a passcode, and come and go as they please. You don’t need someone to manage that. 

However, you will have to handle maintenance, ensuring customers pay and remove their belongings on time, and cleaning the exterior of your units. 

In most cases, your largest consideration and cost will be the land to put the units on. And, in most cases, you’re looking at $25-$70 per square foot of storage in startup costs plus whatever you pay for the land. 

  • Automation: You’ll have to clean and inspect your units and provide security 
  • Startup Costs: $100,000+ 
  • Upfront Time: Building the storage facility or buying it 
  • Passive Income: Yes

8. Parking Lot

Private and paid parking lots can be remarkably lucrative in urban areas, giving you a simple and low-maintenance source of passive income.

That’s true whether you’re building a parking lot above or below ground or have a simple gated lot. 

In either case, parking lots can be fully automated. This means you can use automatic gates, charge customers digitally, and never have to handle day-to-day management. 

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Of course, you’ll still have to hire cleaners. You’ll also have to maintain the lights, ensure safety standards are met, and manage emergencies and accidents. In almost every case, insurance is mandatory. 

Otherwise, your biggest concern will be demand. If you know there’s a shortage of parking nearby, a parking lot can be profitable. 

  • Automation: You’ll have to manage cleaning, security, and emergencies 
  • Startup Costs: $100,000+ 
  • Upfront Time: Building or buying the parking lot 
  • Passive Income: Yes

9. Online Media Sales 

If you can create or purchase the rights to media such as eBooks, music, or other digital content, you can sell licenses to that media as part of passive income. Here, options vary a great deal. 

For example, many people make passive income by selling eBooks on Here, you can leverage a large audience to generate sales revenue for outsourced books.

This model is high-risk because you don’t know if your product will take off. However, it’s also low-risk because you don’t have to invest too much upfront. 

However, digital media can take many forms. For example, making and selling courses is another popular option. Others opt into building coaching courses and selling them via a private website. 

Essentially, if you can build a digital product, it could turn into a mostly passive income business.

Here, marketing and merchandising will be your largest responsibilities after you go through the trouble of either creating or contracting the media. 

  • Automation: You’ll have to manage marketing, content creation (or contracting), and merchandising 
  • Startup Costs: $0+ 
  • Upfront Time: Time to create the media 
  • Passive Income: Yes

10. Investing 

Investing is a great way to earn passive income without doing anything on a day-to-day basis. In addition, there are dozens of ways to invest.

For example, you could invest in stock, cryptocurrency, startups, or any number of other options. 

While investing can be a personal activity, you can also build a business around it. And, chances are, you’re looking for ways to earn money rather than to start a business. 

In most cases, investing is risky. You’ll have to spend some time considering your options and what risks are per investment you make.

That remains true whether you’re buying cryptocurrency, bonds, or partnering with local business owners who need extra startup capital. If you’re not sure, contact your financial advisor and go over the risks yourself. 

In addition, if you’re buying stocks and bonds, you can always hire an account manager to do the work for you. That will protect some of your assets and will reduce risk. However, it will also decrease your profit margin.

  • Automation: Almost complete if you have an account manager 
  • Startup Costs: $5,000+ 
  • Upfront Time: Time to research investments 
  • Passive Income: Yes

11. Warehousing 

Leasing or renting warehousing space can be a great way to earn passive income. Here, you’ll normally rent warehouse space to multiple businesses in need of storage facilities rather than to one big business.

However, this business model can be extremely profitable. That’s especially true as more and more people launch eCommerce businesses to sell on or similar sites.

Warehousing is necessary and, in 2022, the average cost per square foot is $7.96 per year. 

If demand is there, a 60,000-square-foot warehouse costs $750,000-$1m to build. Of course, you wouldn’t ever expect to max out your warehousing space, so it would still take some time to pay off. 

In addition, you’ll still have to do management – especially if you have multiple tenants. Hiring a management company will mean you don’t have to do anything at all, however, it will cut into profit. 

  • Automation: Almost complete if you have a manager 
  • Startup Costs: $500,000+ 
  • Upfront Time: Research, building or buying a warehouse 
  • Passive Income: Yes

12. Web Hosting 

Web hosting can be a passive income. However, it may also require more time investment than you’d like.

Here, you can choose to either rent or build your own servers. Then, you can lease out server hosting to clients. 

While this will mostly result in passive income, you may end up doing more customer service than you’d like.

For example, most people will require full support when getting started with your server and web host. You can hire someone to do this and outsource general customer service. 

In addition, running servers is not cheap. You’ll likely want to start out small and build out capacity in order to reduce costs until you have customers.

Plus, with plenty of competition, you’ll want to make sure you have a way to market and sell your hosting space before investing. 

However, once you have servers set up and have onboarded customers, your web hosting business will mostly run itself. 

  • Automation: Day-to-day maintenance is very low, however, you’ll have peaks of real work. You’ll also have to manage marketing and a website. 
  • Startup Costs: $5,000+ 
  • Upfront Time: Time to build or rent server space, marketing 
  • Passive Income: Yes

13. Franchise Ownership 

Investing in franchises can allow you to make money while minimizing the amount of effort you have to put in yourself. For example, if you invest in a FedEx route, a McDonald’s, or a similar franchise, you can have other people do all of the work. 

However, this route requires that you have a significant amount of startup capital.

A McDonald’s franchise requires that you have a minimum of $500,000 and a $45,000 franchise fee. Afterwards, you’ll probably expect to spend somewhere close to $1.5 million in having the location built and staffed to franchise specs. 

And, eventually, there’s very little difference between paying to have a franchise run for you and another type of business, except that with the franchise, the food, merchandising, and staff training are all provided to you by the franchise owners.

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However, if you’re looking for businesses that make money right away, franchises are often the way to go. 

  • Automation: As little or as much as you want, depending on how much you hand the business over to managers. 
  • Startup Costs: $500,000+ 
  • Upfront Time: Networking, licensing, time to build or purchase, meeting requirements, management 
  • Passive Income: Yes

14. Investment Housing 

Investment housing can allow you to create a mix of property investment and passive income. Here, you can choose to either rent for something like Airbnb or to long-term tenants.

In each case, you’ll want to check local zoning and city laws before getting started. 

Here, rental housing is normally very low maintenance. If you manage the property yourself, you’ll probably expect to do work for the property monthly and then when you have to find new tenants.

On the other hand, if you have someone else manage the property for you, you’ll have to do almost nothing. However, again, it will cut into profit margins. 

In addition, it’s also important to pay attention to rent and mortgage rates, because it may not be profitable for a very long time.

If a mortgage is higher than local rent, you’ll probably want to hold off on investing in property. 

However, for the most part, investment housing is a great way to earn passive income. 

  • Automation: Mostly monthly 
  • Startup Costs: $75,000+ 
  • Upfront Time: Research, renovation, marketing 
  • Passive Income: Yes

Characteristics Of Businesses That Run Themselves

There is no such thing as a true “business that runs itself”.

However, you can get very close with business models that are low maintenance and mostly automated. 


The best business model to look for is self-service. Here, customers get their own products or services either from a vending machine, website, or building.

The idea is that you “set it and forget it” and customers largely do all the work. That can be automated checkout with shops, ATM, vending machines, parking lots, etc. 

In general, if customers can do most of the work themselves, you can make money off it. 

Low Maintenance 

The more maintenance your business requires, the more hands-on you’ll have to get. For example, renting cubicles for random office visits will likely require constant cleanup, maintenance, and a front desk.

On the other hand, renting apartments will normally only require intermittent work plus monthly management. 

No Employees

The more employees your business has, the more maintenance and time investment it will require unless you can hire good managers.

It’s important to consider how much hands-on work people will need to do their work, how much you will have to be involved, and how much that will pay off. 

Why Start An Automated Business?

Automated businesses can help you to build your passive income, supplementing your total revenue, and allowing you to save, build investment experience, and build your portfolio.

Often, automated businesses aren’t extremely profitable. That’s normally because there’s already competition.

In addition, if profit margins were extremely high, everyone would be doing them.

Businesses that run themselves are not going to make you wealthy extremely quickly – although you can make a living off of them if you have, say, a full network of billboards or ATMs.

In addition, you can diversify with different types of passive income to create a larger income for yourself. 

How To Acquire Businesses That Run Themselves

In every case where you want a business that runs itself, you’ll have to either start out by buying land or buying a business off of someone else.

Normally, that includes: 

  • Researching your market and prospective sales
  • Checking the competition 
  • Checking your budget
  • Researching location opportunities 
  • Acquiring funding
  • Making your investment

In almost every case, the largest part of the work will be upfront research and deciding what will work in your area. For example, if you live in a small town, a vending machine or a parking lot is not an ideal business model.

On the other hand, if you live in a big city, your larger concern will be how much competition you have. 

  • Is it cheaper to buy someone else out or to build your own? 
  • If someone is selling a business, why are they selling it? Is it profitable? 

Starting Up A Business That Runs Itself

If you’re starting a business, you’ll want to start with market research. In every case, starting a business should follow this process: 

  1. Do the market research. If you’re looking for funding later, write a business case or pay someone to do it for you.
  2. Acquire funding.
  3. Choose a business structure. E.g., Limited liability reduces your own personal liability. However, if you’re operating as a sole proprietorship and don’t have employees, you don’t even have to register your business. If you’re operating as another business structure or want employees, register with your state. 
  4. Request federal and state tax IDs where appropriate. If you’re not hiring employees, you can use your SSN. If you are hiring employees, you’ll have to request an EIN from the IRS. This is free and can be completed online in a few minutes. 
  5. Register your Doing Business As name if you’re not doing business under your own name.
  6. Apply for relevant licenses and permits as required in your city and state.
  7. Open a business bank account to separate your finances.

Of course, if you’re building an app, starting a website, or actually building a store or warehouse, you’ll have to figure out permits, contractors, material costs, and timelines as well.

However, that will vary significantly depending on the type of business you run. 

To End

There are dozens of business models that require little hands-on work. However, most will require some maintenance, whether that’s cleaning, occasional customer service, or preventing vandalism. In addition, the less work your business model requires, the lower the profit margin is likely to be. However, businesses that run themselves can be a great way to start generating passive income and can be quite profitable, especially over the long term.