This article is part of our “Business Startup Guide” – a curated list of our articles that will get you up and running in no time!

Every month over 1 million people visit Bplans. Most of those people are at the very early stages of starting a business and as such, are looking to see what others have done. Some have already decided and are in the process of writing a business plan.

They’re asking questions: What should a tutoring agency include in their business plan? How do you write an executive summary for a car washing business?

Whether you’re writing a business plan, or simply looking for data to corroborate your research, reviewing sample business plans can give you excellent insight into things you may want to think about.

Either way, it can’t hurt to play it safe and do a bit of digging. What are the most popular industries? What opportunities are opening up? Where should you be focusing your energies in 2015?

Our data isn’t going to tell you exactly what business to start (that would entirely take the fun out of things) but it will tell you what business plans were most popular on our site in 2014. And here’s a hint: tech startups don’t even make the top 10!

In fact, it’s the micro businesses that win all the points.

The most popular business plans on Bplans

In 2014, our most popular sample business plans—by download—included:

  1. Bakery Business Plan
  2. Coffee Shop Business Plan
  3. Nonprofit Youth Services Business Plan
  4. Fast Food Restaurant Business Plan
  5. Hair and Beauty Salon Business Plan
  6. Clothing Retail Business Plan
  7. ECommerce Retailer Business Plan
  8. Clothing ECommerce Site Business Plan
  9. Cafe, Bistro, Coffee House Business Plan
  10. Cleaning Service Business Plan


Start in the food and drinks industry


Our sample business plans in this category rank consistently within the top 20 sample business plans on Bplans. Given that, as a population, we’re now thinking more about supporting sustainable, local, and healthier options, it’s not entirely surprising.

Of course, fast-food businesses are also still booming. However, don’t be quick to assume all the options are unhealthy; expectations are changing, thanks to the likes of Shake Shack, Chipotle, and Panera.

If you’re thinking about starting a business within the food services industry, we recommend preparing for a healthy if eclectic year ahead. Take a look at this great list of food trends for 2015 compiled by TakePart contributor Jason Best. I have to admit, I’m interested in seeing restaurants offer more vegetarian options, and I’m really hoping Neurogastronomy comes to Eugene, Oregon!

If you’re serious about your research, also be sure to have a look at the “What’s Hot Culinary Forecast” compiled by the National Restaurant Association. I particularly enjoyed reading the survey of professional chefs to get a glimpse into the future, or at least what I might expect to see on menus this year. Yes please to artisan ice-cream!

And, don’t pass up our own guides, including The Baker’s Guide to Opening a Successful Bakery, How to Start a Successful Restaurant, 13 Tips to Open a Successful Coffee Shop, and Should You Serve Fair Trade Coffee?


Start in the youth services sector


This is an industry that encompasses many different types of youth-focused programs. As such, it appeals to a wide audience. If you have an interest in psychology, you could start a counseling or mentoring service; if you have an interest in sports, you could start a basketball youth league; and if you have an interest in education, you could start an after-school homework-help program.

Perhaps another reason this sector is so widely appealing is that it gives people the opportunity to share knowledge and apply their own skills in order to help a younger generation.

Beyond that, the reasons to start are many: kids are fun to work with, working with at-risk youth is fulfilling, and it takes very little initial capital to get something like this up and running. Start with kids you know—your friends’ kids, your kid’s friends, and so on.

If you’re concerned about demand, talk to community leaders, churches, high schools, and your local Chamber of Commerce. Find out which areas the youth in your community need help with. Are there any after-school initiatives you could start? Could you help to combat child abuse and neglect prevention? Could you help children develop skills, stay off the street, and get more engaged in their own or in another community? Perhaps you could educate in order to prevent violence, bullying and substance abuse, or even provide some kind of counseling or mentorship service for children that have suffered these things.

Scour the news in your area, or use a service like Google News in order to find out where children need help, perhaps as a result of budget cuts or lack of resources. For example, Arizona currently ranks 2nd in the US for eating disorders among youths, and Middletown, Connecticut just cut funding for the student arrests prevention program. Two immediate opportunities for anyone looking to fill the gap.

Bringing technology to disadvantaged communities or to rural areas is another potential opportunity, especially given this is one industry guaranteed to be in-demand in the future. What better way to help children prepare than to introduce them to programming, engineering, and design from an early age?


Start in the retail and clothing industry


Clothing retail sample business plans are another subset of plans that we see people searching for time and time again. It’s not surprising given how well this industry does; according to financial information company Sageworks, privately-held clothing stores averaged a net profit margin of nearly 7% in 2013.

If you’re looking to start a clothing retail business or boutique store of any kind, staying abreast of fashion trends is a must. Don’t discard runway trends as foolish. Chances are the bigger retailers will be incorporating them into their product lineup. Rather than piggybacking on their ideas later, why not get an early start and build a reputation as trendy and in-the-know.

This year, make sure you at least glance at Pantone’s color charts—the bigger companies do, and as they often create trends, why not ensure you’re selling things people want ahead of time? Don’t forget, Marsala is “the color of the year” (that’s the color in the picture above).

Keep your eye on Pinterest as well—check out the women’s and men’s fashion categories in the dropdown feature next to the search bar. And, of course, be sure to at least have a look at how people are putting outfits together on Lookbook. That way, you’ll be able to sell outfits.

And, if all else fails, do something a little bit crazy, especially if you’ve got a window display to model your fashions. This is a great way to attract people and to bring a sense of fun into the business.

And don’t forget the online aspect. ECommerce businesses have never been stronger and easier for people to start on their own—sites like Bigcommerce, Shopify, Wix, and Squarespace have seen to that!


Start a popular service business

Salon and spa businesses

Just as a clothing retailer has to know fashion trends, hairstylists and beauty salons have to stay on top of trending hair styles, looks, and other beauty trends, including new treatments and products. Make sure you know what services other salons are adding to the beauty menu in 2015.

Cleaning services

It’s not surprising to see cleaning services rank so well. After all, this is probably one of the easiest and most affordable businesses to start.

If you’re looking to stand out from the crowd, consider a couple of things.

Firstly, keep in mind that people are inviting you into their own home. By allowing you to clean, they are giving you insight into their life—their habits, who they are as people, when they come and go, and more. Because of this, discretion and professionalism are important. The people who hire you will be looking to your personal reputation, and to online reviews to get a feel for whether or not they can trust you before they even decide to call.

Secondly, consider offering services that set you apart. Could you do a laundry pick up? What about offering a leather cleaning service? And, what about marketing yourself as environmentally friendly? Social sites like Pinterest have popularized the notion of DIY cleaning supplies. Consider mixing up your own vinegar and baking soda cocktails, and going down the non-toxic, organic route. Mind, be careful about using the word “organic” or “natural” in any advertising. The FDA has strict rules about this. It’s best to go with simply listing your ingredients. Be honest.

Business plans that are rising in popularity

While the food services industry, the services industry, and the retail industry business plan templates are popular on Bplans year after year, other categories are rising in popularity. These include:

Given the trend toward local, more sustainable living, the fact that farm and food production businesses make this list isn’t a surprise. No doubt this is a good venture for the future.

Like a cleaning service business, car wash and construction businesses are fairly easy to get started.

And, as the future is increasingly global, import export businesses are really a no-brainer.

What business are you thinking of starting? We’d love to know more.

In fact, why not share your story? Get in touch with us directly. 

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Candice Landau
Candice Landau

Candice is a freelance writer, jeweler, and digital marketing hybrid. You can learn more about her on her personal website or reach out to her on Twitter @candylandau.