When we think of a business, we tend to picture an office with a bunch of people inside. But businesses aren't always made up of many people.
A taxi driver, funeral director or real estate agent are examples of one-person businesses. They make up a growing part of the economy.
"Nonemployer establishments," defined by the Census as a business without employees, earned $1.17 trillion in receipts in 2016, up 1.5% from the year before.
We analyzed Census data to see find out more about these one-person businesses.
Where are the most successful one-person businesses?
We looked at which counties had the highest receipts per establishment. Surprisingly, Wilkin County, Minnesota, population 6,576, topped the list, with its one-person businesses averaging $86,311.16 a year in receipts, more than New York County ($82,309) and San Francisco County ($61,138).
The highest-earning solo businesses in Wilkin were in the funeral homes and funeral services industry, with businesses earning an average of $968,350 in receipts. Two-thirds of funeral service managers are self-employed, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. (Self-employed taxes are hard. Read one freelancer's tax lessons.)
While funeral service managers might hire help, it's usually on a contract basis, said Daniel Simone, certified funeral service practitioner and director of funeral service education at Eastwick College. Contract workers don't show up on business payrolls, so the Census counts businesses who hire them as nonemployers.
"We use a lot of part-time employees," said Simone, who also owns his own funeral business in New Jersey. "A lot of retirees, a lot of second-income people like police or fire." (Some part-time jobs pay well beyond minimum wage, like these 13.)
Basically everyone in the funeral industry is self-employed, with the exception of very large funeral homes, Simone said. And in a rural area like Wilkin, with a little less than nine people per square mile, there's probably not much competition among funeral homes when people die, so the few funeral businesses serving the county do well.
Use our interactive map to see how successful nonemployers in your county are:
Data source: U.S. Census Bureau
What are the most successful solo businesses?
People who own and operate their own investment, banking and securities dealing businesses are the most successful nonemployer establishments, earning an average of $180,241 in receipts per year nationwide. Other financial businesses fare well also, including commodity contracts dealing and brokering as well as securities brokerages.
The fastest-growing group of nonemployer establishments was transit and ground passenger transportation, which includes taxi and limousine services, chartered bus, school bus and special needs transportation. Taxi and limousine services grew particularly fast, adding 220,261 establishments (up 45.9%) from 2015 to 2016, likely driven by the growth of ride-sharing services.
Benefits for nonemployers
Striking out on your own, without the help of any employees, can be tough. There's no human resources department to help you establish benefits like retirement or health insurance.
Benefits can get expensive. That's part of the reason many nonemployers, when they need hired help, turn to contract workers, Simone said.
"Benefits cost money," he said.
Looking to build your own benefits package as a solo owner and operator? Start with our guide.
Graphics: Megan Moore