What was the most recent net profit margin of your business? Were revenue and profit projections achieved? Is your venture comfortably able to manage its accounts payable? Were you, the owner, able to provide comprehensive medical and dental insurance to yourself and any employees? Were you able to substantively fund your retirement account last year? Were you able to afford a vacation?
If the answer to two or more of those questions is no, I respectfully suggest that you evaluate the future viability of your enterprise. More than a business model tweak or a pivot, you may need to explore another kind of business altogether, one with greater profit-making potential.
Take heed—Sageworks, a financial data services company located in Raleigh, NC, analyzed the net profit margins of 16,000 small businesses that earned less than $5 million between October 1, 2016 and October 31, 2017. The average net profit across all industries in that time period was 8.4 %.
Note that the list of top performers consists almost entirely of Solopreneur-friendly service industries. Despite the challenges of selling services, especially intangible services, to either B2B or B2C clients, Sagework’s list demonstrates that it is possible to make money as a self-employed service provider.
Some industries are more Soloprenuer-friendly than others. Accountants and bookkeepers, real estate sellers, attorneys, landlords and certain healthcare practitioners are all able to operate a one-person shop quite well, perhaps with a single employee to provide administrative help.
Educational requirements and professional credentials pose a formidable barrier to entry for several of these high-yield business opportunities, most notably dentistry, chiropractic, law and accounting (CPA or certified financial analyst). In contrast, real estate sales requires only a license to do business, the right relationships and no real selling skills if you are in a hot market. If someone with a broker’s license brings you into the business, you can work under the umbrella of that person’s credentials.
I look askance at the stated prospects for attorneys, however. There have been many mergers between big law firms and as a result, many lay-offs. From a former employee of a very prestigious law firm who was let go six or seven years ago and eventually started her own boutique firm, those who venture out on their own can encounter stiff competition in certain legal specialties. Welcome to the new normal. Below are the small businesses that on average have the healthiest profit margins.
Business Net profit margin
Accounting / Bookkeeping 18.4%a
Landlords 17.9 %
Legal services 17.4 %
Management of companies 16.0 %
Real estate sales 14.9 %
Dentist’s office 14.8 %
Health practitioners (chiropractors, etc) 13.0 %
Medical & diagnostic laboratories 12.1 %
Automotive equipment rental or leasing 12.0 %
Graphic and industrial design 11.4%
Warehousing & storage 11.0 %
Management, scientific, or technical consulting 10.3 %