12 Simple Businesses That Can Run on Autopilot

Want the incredible income that comes from owning a profitable business but don’t want the headaches of running one?

You need to own a business that runs on autopilot.

I know it sounds impossible and too good to be true, but these businesses are out there.

Businesses that run on autopilot fall into two camps: (i) those that are so simple to operate that they run without your active involvement; and (ii) those that may be a little more involved but have employees that run the day-to-day operations.

Either type can be a great option and we will explore businesses in both categories below.  We will also discuss traits that allow a business to run itself and I'll share my autopilot business system for starting a new businesses that can run itself.

Finally I will share 12 examples of businesses that can be run on autopilot. There are some unconventional options included that I think you'll find intriguing.

Here's the table of contents for all of the topics we'll cover (with hyperlinks in case you want to jump ahead)

That’s a lot to cover, so let’s get into it!

This post may contain affiliate links. If you click on a link and complete a transaction, I may make a small commission at no extra cost to you. 

The information contained in this post is for informational purposes only. It is not a recommendation to buy or invest, and it is not financial, investment, legal, or tax advice. You should seek the advice of a qualified professional before making any investment or other decisions relating to the topics covered by this article.

Traits That Allow a Business to Run on Autopilot

Not every business can be run on autopilot. 

Some businesses are too complex or require the involvement of the owner to be successful.  

So how can you tell if a business is suitable to run itself?  

Businesses that are good candidates for running on autopilot exhibit the following traits: 

  • Business Has Simple Operations
  • Business Doesn’t Need Owner’s Specialized Skills
  • Business Is Established and Has Strong Management
  • Detailed Processes and Procedures Help Run the Business  

Business Has Simple Operations

Simple operations are a clear sign that a business can run itself. The simpler the operations the easier this is.

For example, a business with really simple operations will have no inventory to manage, no customer interactions, no physical location to oversee, no complicated marketing strategies to implement, no employees to manage, no order fulfillment, and limited legal requirements to follow. 

Think they don’t exist? They do – see my #9 business below

On the flip side, a business with complex operations may exhibit the following:

  • Extensive inventory management 
  • Complicated marketing strategies (businesses where constant lead generation is critical)
  • Lots of customer interaction (think any retail establishment with walk-in traffic)
  • A large employee base to manage
  • Operation and maintenance of complicated equipment (factories, etc.)
  • Extensive or complicated order fulfillment (e.g., e-commerce, highly technical services).
  • Complex legal or regulatory requirements (banking, finance, insurance, etc.) 

Business Doesn't Need Owner's Specialized Skills

If a business depends on your specialized skills, knowledge, or relationships, it can't run on autopilot. I am talking about businesses like professional offices such as those run by lawyers, doctors, accountants, real estate agents, etc.  

The value of that type of business is in the person who has the knowledge, skills, and client relationships. It’s very hard to step away from that type of business if you are the owner.  

Business Is Established and Has Strong Management

This is the big one. Most successful businesses that run on autopilot use strong management and well-trained employees to handle their daily operations.

You want an established business, if possible. If it’s been around and has weathered economic downturns, it won’t require your constant attention when there is a recession. 

If it also has a great management team in place that can run daily operations, you have a winner.  

Small mom-and-pop businesses usually won’t qualify here. You will need a business that generates enough revenue to support a strong management team and that means you will either have to pay up for a business like that or you will need to devote a lot of time to build up a business to that level of revenue.  

Business Has Processes and Procedures in Place

A comprehensive operations manual will allow an owner to more easily step away from the day-to-day operations of the business. 

An operations manual is basically a roadmap for how to run your business. It lays out how a company does things or gets things done.  

The more comprehensive and detailed, the better. If every process is laid out for how you run the business, there is very little room for error or guesswork. That’s the beauty of a franchise like McDonald’s for example. Every step of making the product and operating the business is spelled out.  

You train the manager on those processes, and they train the employees. Once everyone knows how to operate the business according to the manual, and the manager makes sure that everyone is doing things the right way, there is far less for the owner to do to run the business.

Closing Thoughts on the Four Traits

The four traits we just covered are indicators of a business that can run on autopilot, but you should not use them to robotically assess a business. For example, if a business has incredibly simple operations, it may not need a management team or a meaty operations manual.  

On the other hand, a more involved business that has a very strong management team can absolutely be run without active owner involvement. After all, their entire purpose is to take care of the day-to-day operations.    

Think of these 4 traits as factors you should consider, not boxes you should check.

Starting a Business With My Autopilot Business System

Based on these four traits, I have developed a system that you can use to start a business that can be run on autopilot. The autopilot business system consists of the following 7 steps:

  • Step 1: Select a Business Where You Have Some Knowledge or Expertise (Or Can Learn Quickly)
    • The more knowledgeable you are about the type of business you are starting, the easier it will be to get up and running on full auto-pilot mode.
  • Step 2: Don't Choose an Overly Complex Business
    • Simple operations make for easier autopiloting later on. It's as simple as that.
  • Step 3: Your Business Shouldn't Depend on Your Unique Knowledge, Skills, Contacts, or Licenses
    • You cannot run your business on autopilot if you cannot remove yourself from the business.
  • Step 4: Develop a Robust Operations Manual or Standard Operating Procedures
    • As discussed, a detailed operations manual will help you quickly train managers and staff on how the business should be run.
  • Step 5: Position Your Business For Success First
    • Don't hire a bunch of people as soon as you start the business and step away. Make sure you know everything about the business and can step in when any part of it needs attention. If you try to autopilot it too soon, the business can fail.
  • Step 6: Hire a Good Team to Take Over the Daily Operations of Your Business
    • Once your business makes enough to support a team, find suitable employees to run your business for you.
  • Step 7: Develop Strong Oversight Controls and Reporting
    • Even businesses that run on autopilot need a guiding hand to make sure it is traveling in the right direction. Develop a plan to get regular and detailed reports on how your business is doing from your managers. Fine tune it as needed.

Here's a cool little infographic of the autopilot business system for those who prefer a visual representation.

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So there you have it, my short and sweet seven step autopilot business system.

Now, if starting a business from scratch seems a bit too intimidating, you may want to explore buying an existing business that is already running on autopilot. In many ways, this may be a better and safer option. Let's talk about it.

How to Buy a Business That Runs on Autopilot

Starting a new business is tough (I know – I have started several).

Starting a business also carries a ton of risk. You don’t know if it’ll be profitable, let alone profitable enough to support a management team that can relieve you of your daily responsibilities.  Buying an existing business, on the other hand, is far less risky. It should already be making money and possess many of the traits that you are looking for.

Here are some key questions you will want to consider when buying a business that may be able to run on autopilot.

  • Has the business been through at least one significant recession?
  • Does the business have an experienced management team?
  • How much work does the current owner do for the business?
  • What type of work does the current owner do for the business?
  • Do you have any experience in this type of business?
  • Do you have skills that translate easily to this business?
  • Is the owner willing to train you on the business?

The answers to these questions should point you in the right direction when deciding on which business to buy.

Once you are ready to begin your search, I think the best place to start is online. You will be able to browse hundreds of listings in your area at every price point. 

Below are some of the best sites that offer businesses for sale (tip: you can google search “absentee run businesses for sale” to get relevant search results for these sites)  

12 Businesses That Can Run on Autopilot

Now let's turn to 12 businesses that are great fits for being run on autopilot. I think you'll find some ideas that may surprise (and hopefully inspire) you.

We have some in-depth guides (with step-by-step instructions) on almost all of the 12 examples listed below, so I would definitely check those out.

1. Laundromat

A laundromat can be a terrific business that runs on autopilot.  

After all, the machines are doing the hard work of washing and drying the clothes (with your customers doing the work of loading and unloading the clothes).

The process is mostly automated, but not completely. There are things you will need to do to successfully have this business run itself.

Want to learn more? Check out my article on starting a passive laundromat in six easy steps.

For an in-depth discussion of how to run a laundromat as an absentee owner, check out my article on this topic.

2. In-Bay Automatic Car Wash

Here’s another solid choice.  In-bay automatic car washes are about as automated as you can get when it comes to a car wash. 

These types of car washes are usually unattended and you often see them at 24-hour gas stations, convenience stores, etc. People just pay for their ticket, pull their car into the bay and the machines do the rest.  

If you are interested in this type of self-running business, check out my beginner’s guide on how to get started with a passive automatic car wash

3. Vending Machines Route

Owning a vending machine route can be a great business that runs itself. The idea is that you place a bunch of vending machines in high-traffic locations and make money every time someone buys something from your machines.

The only part of this that requires some work is restocking and collecting money from the machines, but you can easily outsource this function.

You will also want to install your machines with helpful technology that can make you operate your business remotely, such as modern payment readers and inventory tracking software that tells you when you are running low on product. 

The software also keeps track of every penny that goes into the machine, so you can hire route runners without worrying so much about them skimming off the top.  

For more details on this business, check out my beginner’s guide on how to start a vending machine route for passive income.

4. ATM Machine Route

Like vending machines, this type of business involves you placing ATMs in high traffic areas and receiving a fee every time someone makes a withdrawal.  

But it’s even simpler to operate than a vending machine route. You don’t have to worry about buying 17 different types of snacks and drinks and lugging them around in your van.  

There is only one type of inventory you need and that’s cash. Fortunately, there are services that can restock your ATMs with cash for a fee.  

Interested in finding out more? Check out my beginner’s guide to ATMs for Passive Income.

5. FedEx Route Business

Did you know that you could buy a FedEx delivery route that covers a designated territory? That means that you will make money for each delivery made within that territory. It can be a highly profitable business and, if you structure it right, it can run on autopilot.

The business is very simple. You just need to focus on making the deliveries within your territory on time.

And that can easily be outsourced. In fact, most owners have multiple routes – they are not driving a truck and making deliveries. 

Once you have good managers and reliable drivers in place, the day-to-day operations of this business can be run without your involvement.

If you want to learn more about this business, check out my beginner’s guide to owning FedEx routes for passive income.

6. Bread Routes Business

Like a FedEx route, you can buy a bread route that covers a territory. Once you own that territory, you can sell bread to various retailers and pocket a commission for each sale.  

Best of all, you can have drivers run these routes for you.  At that point, the business basically runs itself.  

To discover more about this business, read my article on buying bread routes for passive income.

7. Billboard Rental Business

Renting out billboard space can be a solid business that mostly runs itself.  Like any other asset that you can rent out, billboards generate money without you having to do much of anything. 

Of course, like with all of these businesses, the billboard business is not completely automated. 

You will need to oversee the business, including finding new customers who want to lease out billboard space from you when the current customer’s lease expires, etc., but day-to-day operations are pretty much non-existent.

Want to learn more about this business? Check out my article on how to get started in the billboard business.

8. Bounce House Business

I am sure you have seen bounce houses before and understand the appeal that they can have for parents who want to do something special for their kid’s birthday or other special occasion. 

The great thing about this business is that it is really easy to structure this business to run itself.  

You can simply outsource the work-intensive part of this business. After all, these bounce houses are just plastic structures that you deliver, set up, and inflate. When the rental period is over, you deflate the structure and pack it up.

It is not complicated and you can find and train people to do this for you pretty easily.

For more information on how to start a bounce house business, read my article on the topic here

9. Blogs

A blog may be my favorite business that can run on autopilot. Now I am not talking about starting a new blog. That is not a self-running business, especially if you are writing your own articles like I am.

What I am talking about is buying an existing money-making blog where the prior owner did all of the hard work of writing the articles and making sure they generate money.

These existing blogs can generate high revenues relating to their price and can be run almost entirely without your active involvement. You can buy an existing blog for 25 to 40 times its monthly revenue on sites like Flippa, Empire Flippers, and FE International. 

So if you buy a blog for $10,000 you will be earning between $3,000 to $4,800 per year. That gives you an annual cash flow of 30% to 48%!

And unlike other businesses, there is no physical location to oversee, no inventory to manage, no marketing needed (if you write good articles, google sends traffic your way), no customer complaints to address, no employees to supervise, and no orders to fulfill.  

Blogs are generally monetized through ads or affiliate links placed on the website. That’s just a fancy way of saying you can get paid every time someone visits the blog and views or clicks on an ad or buys a product you are promoting through one of your affiliate links.  

It’s really that simple.

To read more about buying blogs, check out my detailed article on the topic here

If you don't have the funds to buy a blog right now and don't mind putting in the work to start one, check out my article on passive income blogging, where I provide 8 simple steps to get you started, including setting up your website, positioning it for success, and structuring it to generate passive income for you.

10. Rental Properties

A rental property business is another business that can run itself.  

The obvious solution is to simply hire a property manager for your rentals.  This is an extremely common practice among rental property owners (in fact, anyone who owns property outside of their local area basically has to use a property manager). 

Property managers will find tenants, screen them, and sign them up for leases. They will collect rents, make repairs, and basically take care of every issue that pops up when it comes to your rentals.

I own nine rental properties and self-manage them, so it’s a little more work. But even then, it’s hardly a daily grind. I may spend on average about 5 hours a month managing these 9 properties (I do outsource all of the repairs, etc. to my team of contractors).  

That’s pretty much a self-running operation in my view.

If you want to learn more about rental property investing, check out my step-by-step guide to start investing in rental properties

11. Bakery

This one is interesting. 

I was a hair’s breadth away from buying a bakery last year, but then the pandemic hit as we were in negotiations.  I pulled out because it was a scary time to be buying a retail bakery. But I loved the business!

It was in a great location and had been in business for over 20 years. The owner had in place a chief baker and several experienced assistants that had been working at the bakery for almost the entire time.  He also had a team of workers manning the front of the store.  I saw the business up close and personal: Everyone knew what to do every day and it operated like clockwork.  

It was on the market for approx. $700,000 and made on average around $250,000 per year.  

It seemed like the perfect example of a business that seamlessly ran on autopilot.  And it was: In fact, the existing owner did not know how to bake a single item!

12. Self-Storage Facility

Want to own a profitable and passive real estate business where you don’t have to deal with tenant complaints, broken toilets, and the usual hassles that come with managing rental properties?

The unmanned self-storage facility may be perfect for you. As the name implies, the facility is unmanned, which means it can basically run itself.  

With this type of business, you can enjoy a combination of high returns and low maintenance, all wrapped in the security of a business that has a success rate of 92%!

If you want to learn more, check out my guide to starting a passive self-storage business in 7 easy steps.

Conclusion

So there you have it: 12 great businesses that can run on autopilot and guiding principles and systems to help you find even more.

Hope you found this article helpful and best of luck finding the perfect business for you!

Young M.

Young M.

Young is a lawyer working in the financial services industry and writes about real estate investing, personal finance, passive income, and starting businesses. He owns and manages 9 rental properties, has started several businesses, and enjoys learning about financial matters, especially anything off the beaten path.

Start a Business
Passive Income
Real Estate Investing

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