Study: The Best 25 Careers for Being Your Own Boss

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Updated on Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Plenty of people dream of becoming their own boss. However, options for self-employment are heavily dependent on one’s industry and occupation. To help better inform your career planning, this MagnifyMoney study takes a closer look at the occupations best suited for self-employment.

When evaluating the leading occupations where you can be your own boss, we looked at several key factors: median earnings, change in earnings, estimated employment change for long-term opportunity, annual occupational openings and the percent of people in each occupation who are self-employed.

Key findings

  • The best occupation for self-employment is food service manager. Currently, more than a third of food service managers are self-employed. Plus, the industry is expected to grow 10.8% from 2018 to 2028.
    • The average food-service manager made $54,240 in 2018, a decent income for a job that typically does not require a college degree, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
  • The second-best job for being your own boss is construction manager. Roughly 40% of people employed in this profession are self-employed.
    • The median wage for construction managers in 2018 was $93,370, a 2.20% increase from 2017. If you’d like to be your own boss as a construction worker, chances are you’ll need a bachelor’s degree, reports the BLS.
  • Real estate agent is the third best job for being self-employed. Roughly 56% of real estate agents are self employed, the highest percentage out of the top 25.
    • In 2018, the average real estate agent made $48,690, and average earnings for this profession are on the rise. From 2017 to 2018, the average real estate agent saw earnings rise by nearly 6%, perhaps related to the ever-increasing value of homes in America’s largest cities.
  • Our study found that the worst professions for being your own boss (not listed below) include a variety of lower-paying jobs, like metal workers and machine operators. These jobs tend to have low rates of self-employment, poor long-term career prospects and low pay.

The Best 25 careers to be self-employed

Want to be your own boss? The table below lists the top 25 careers for self employment, as well as more information on each profession.

  • After real estate sales agents, the top third pick, managers have the highest percentage of self-employed workers at 54.5%. Managers made a whopping median $107,480 in 2017 and typically requires a bachelor’s degree.
  • The industry with the highest projected percentage growth from 2018 to 2028 is substance abuse, behavioral disorder and mental health counselors, expected to grow 22.5% in that time.
  • There are a couple wage standouts towards the bottom of the top 25. For example, financial managers made $127,990 in 2018, but the profession ranks low due to its low percentage of self-employed workers (2%). This could prove difficult for those trying to break into the industry as self-employed.
  • Meanwhile, around 20% of lawyers are self-employed and they made $120,910 in 2018. Still, there’s less room for new prospective self-employed workers to join the legal industry, as it’s expected to grow only 6.1% in a decade.
  • Most of the best jobs to take if you want to be self-employed do not require a college degree. In addition to food service managers and real estate sales agents detailed above, massage therapists, chauffeurs, construction laborers and carpenters all cracked the top 10.
  • If you do want to be self-employed, it will still probably require some planning. Even if they don’t require a college degree, a good number of the highest ranking jobs require previous work experience or on the job training.

How we decide which were the best careers to be your own boss

In order to find the best occupations for people looking to be self-employed, we looked at data on 579 occupations. We compared them across six metrics, all pulled from the BLS. Specifically we looked at the following:

  • Percent of workers who are self-employed. We considered this the most important metric to indicate the best careers for self-employment, assigning it a weighting double the other metrics when creating our ranking. For this metric, a higher number indicates the job is more suitable for self-employment as there are already plenty of self-employed individuals in the industry. It also means you’ll have some company in the self-employment journey.
  • Estimated employment change 2018 to 2028. This metric shows the total new jobs for each occupation in the decade from 2018 to 2028. If you’re going to take the plunge into self-employment, you’re going to want to make sure there’s room for growth in your chosen industry. Otherwise, you could get squeezed out too early and left finding yet another job. A higher number here indicates more potential employment in the long term, which would help a job rank higher on our list.
  • Estimated annual occupational openings 2018 to 2028. This number provides a closer look at employment change between 2018 and 2028 by giving the estimated number of job openings each year. The best careers to be your own boss will have higher numbers in this metric as well, as that indicates for long-term opportunity.
  • Percentage change in estimated employment change 2018 to 2028. In addition to the number of projected new jobs, we also looked at the percentage of this change. This metric shows how fast an occupation is growing or contracting. A higher percentage means faster growth which, again, indicates greater long-term opportunity.
  • 2018 median earnings. Of course as with any job, you’re going to want to check the earnings prospects here, especially since being self-employed means you often set your own rates. So we included median annual earnings for each occupation for 2018 for you to get a better idea of each job. This is weighted the same as all the other metrics (except percentage of self-employed workers), which is why you will see a range of earnings within the top 25.
  • Percent change in earnings 2017 to 2018. Looking at a specific year’s earnings provides just a snapshot of that occupation’s pay. So we also took into account the percent change in earnings for each occupation from 2017 to 2018 to show whether an occupation’s wages seem to be increasing or not. A higher percentage indicates faster wage growth and can indicate a more sustainable job over the years, especially when paired with a high percentage of employment growth.
  • Education needed. This metric was not used to create our ranking, but used rather as a bonus tidbit of information. Knowing what kind of education or training is needed for an occupation can help you determine whether it’s right for you or what steps you need to take to be eligible for self-employment in that career.

Looking to make the most of your earnings? Consider working with a financial advisor to develop a plan for your financial future.

In order to create our final rankings, we first ranked each occupation in each metric. We then found each occupation’s average ranking across the metrics, giving a double weighting to self-employment rate. We used this average ranking to assign a score to each occupation. The occupations with the highest scores ranked first while the occupation with the lowest score ranked last.