Top 10 Small Business Ideas in the Philippines


With a population of over 100 million people, the Philippines presents a large base of potential customers for various businesses. Our culture is a unique mix of values, which is the consequence of decades of colonization by Spain, United States, and Japan and of trading engagements with other Asian neighbors.

Thus, tastes and preferences are generally eclectic but largely a product of Western influences. The wide range of diversity opens up oceans of possibilities for various products, services, and concepts in the Philippines.

Below is a short list of the top 10 business ideas that may fly high in the Philippines.

Top 10 Business Ideas in the Philippines

1. Mobile Load Business

The Philippines ranks 12th in the world in terms of number of mobile phones in use. In 2013, there were 106,987,098 mobile phones operating within a population of 94,013,200, thereby giving the Philippines a connection ratio of 113.8 mobile phones per 100 citizens. I am sure that number has increased in 2014 with the availability of improved smart phones.

The Philippines has also been hailed as the “Text Capital of the World.” A 2009 study showed that the average Filipino sends 600 text messages per month, which is 43% more than the text messages sent by the average American. Finally, a study by Fitch Ratings showed that 91.1% of mobile users in the Philippines are prepaid subscribers.

These data support the viability of a mobile phone loading business. Filipinos can buy load through authorized dealers. All you need to do is tell the dealer how much load you need and present your number. Then, the dealer will transfer the load to you. Moreover, there are vending machines that work like an automated teller machine or ATM. You enter all the details in the touch screen interface, issue payment through the money-receiving slot, and then wait for a few seconds to receive your load.

I operated a load vending machine from 2007 to 2008. It was called “Load Station,” and I installed a unit at the ground floor of the Allegro Center at Pasong Tamo Extension. Load Station was among the first vending machines at the time and generated a lot of interest largely because of its novelty.

As a franchisee, I was getting 7% of all load purchases, which offers a better return than the bank. However, the business proved to be an inconvenience. I would get calls from Allegro or text messages that the machine would not function or money was stuck. I didn’t have an assistant to trouble shoot, and the franchiser did not include technical support in the package.

Sometimes I would get calls at the most inopportune moments: at the office, in a restaurant, on the treadmill, in a family reunion, at church. One time I got a call at midnight while I was asleep! Eventually, I had to shut down Load Station.

2. Online Retail Business

Filipinos love to shop, but going to the malls can be quite a task, given the worsening traffic conditions.

I have noticed an increase in the number of online retail businesses offering everything from apparel to mobile phones to supplements. The great thing about an online retail business is that all you need is a computer and an Internet connection. You can designate a vacant room in your house as the stock room for your inventory.

From my conversations with friends who are in this type of business, their biggest risk is getting their merchandise through customs especially when they order in bulk from the US or China. Some have had their orders held up in customs for months because of all the bureaucracy. Then, there are those who bring in their goods from the US via “balikbayan box.”

Because operational costs are low, you can price your products very competitively in the market and still make good money.

3. Iced or Frozen Desserts

If coffee can sell in a tropical climate like ours, why shouldn’t iced or frozen desserts? We’re also the country that sweetened spaghetti. Filipinos have a sweet tooth, and given our eclectic tastes, it’s no surprise that our most celebrated dessert is halo-halo. Even renowned chef and author, Anthony Bourdain raved about halo-halo in an episode of his show, No Reservations.

In the past, we’ve seen iced desserts come and go. In the late 90s we saw Zagu phenomenon, an iced beverage with syrup and sago balls. It was a common sight seeing long lines at any Zagu outlet. A few years later, Quickly came to our shores. Quickly is similar to halo-halo with taro as its primary ingredient

Years later, Ice Monster became the hottest frozen dessert in town. Ice Monster came out with several versions of desserts that appeared to me as mere variations of halo-halo. Now, milk tea is apparently the new darling of the iced-drink market.

Whether it’s some incarnation of the halo-halo or soft serve ice cream, Filipinos are bound to try any frozen dessert.

4. Food Cart

Another trend that appears to maintain its popularity is food cart. You can see food carts line up along the designated common areas of the train station, hospitals, and schools. Standard fare includes siomai or dumplings, BBQ, chicharon, hotdogs, empanadas, donuts, shawarma, and ice-cold fruit drinks.

Foods sold at these carts are cheap and convenient. People who are in a hurry can stop by and get a quick meal.

I’ve done project studies on food cart business, and despite its lack of scale, it is still characterized as a low-profit margin business, which means volume is the key to success. Keep that in mind when you are thinking of buying a franchise because while the start-up costs may appear low, you may have to pay royalties and other fees. Unless your food cart is located in an area where foot traffic is high, your entire day’s work may just end up going to the franchiser.

What I would suggest is do a traffic count in a few selected areas and determine which food cart concepts are drawing most of the customers. Based on my own studies, these should be siomai, French fries, and hotdog food carts.

5. Homemade Frozen Foods

With most households becoming dual-income families, less time has been allocated to preparing home-cooked meals. Homemade frozen foods make it possible to still serve good quality meals that taste like they were prepared at home.

While attending a food exposition at Festival Supermall on Cordillera Provinces, I noted a large number of vendors offering a wide variety of sausages, coffee, pickled vegetables, and wine. The sausages were particularly good and inexpensive. I also saw a number of precooked home cooking staples, such as meat loaf, embotido, and sisig that were packed frozen and were sold briskly.

If you plan to start a frozen-food business, you should have a separate kitchen in the house for strict food handling and hygiene procedures. Develop a unique recipe that can be frozen and kept in storage for a long period. Before you distribute your products to the large retailers, test market your products around your neighborhood or within a 5-kilometer radius from your house.

6. Food Market

I have no idea how many readers are with me when I say, “Why can’t our food courts be as enticing as those in Singapore and Malaysia?” If you have no idea of what I am referring to, watch Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations, KF Seetoh’s Food Surprise, and Chef Bobby Chinn’s World Café on TLC, then visit your nearest food court.

Our food courts are pale by comparison. Food is inexpensive but most are of poor quality, and questions on food handling and safety abound. The last time I was at the food court at Glorietta IV, I found myself wandering around looking for a good place to buy food. I lined up at my go-to restaurant but pulled myself out when I saw how they were stocking food in the kitchen. I ended up eating at home. I spoke with one of food stall owners, and he said rent was so high in these food courts that some tenants have to make “short cuts” to make money.

In Singapore and Malaysia, food courts serve product that could pass for fine-dining quality in the Philippines. The portions are generous yet affordable.

I laud the efforts of Vivienne Tan and RJ Ledesma to upgrade food courts by developing food markets that are up to par with Singapore and Malaysia. The foods served are of great quality, reasonably priced, hygienic, and most of all, represents some of our best culinary talent. Not all are chefs; some are self-taught cooks with a passion for food. These food markets get packed and seating can be quite difficult to find.

Forget food trucks and bring on food markets!

7. Health and Wellness

One of the favorite ways that Filipinos use to de-stress is visiting a health and wellness spa. Whether it’s by getting a massage, a facial, a pedicure, or hair treatment, Filipinos like to feel good by looking good! These treatments offer various services at affordable prices.

It is not unusual to pass by a nail salon and seeing a line of customers waiting for their turn. I remember being in Bonifacio High Street in Taguig City years ago and chancing upon a foot massage salon located in the most nondescript area and packed with customers on a weekday.

With health and wellness business, you also have the flexibility of offering home service. Make sure you have licensed physical therapists and the latest products in massage therapy.

8. Photo Booth

Add to the list of achievements of the Philippines is being “The Selfie Capital” of the world!  I’m probably one of the few Filipinos who have never taken a selfie. I understand why people take selfies but I don’t get the fascination of it all. I remember eating at a local KFC and seeing a group a teenagers taking multiple selfies in their booth.

At a KFC?

My guess is most Filipinos enjoy capturing moments whenever we can. At the events I’ve been to, a photo booth is the most popular. I’ve noticed that whether it’s for a selfie or not, Filipinos act the same in front of a camera. There are calls for “wacky” and I still see people making the “duck face.”

Investing in a photo booth business is a good way to capitalize on our love of self! I’ve seen quite a few in the popular malls and customer turnover is good.

9. Personal Training

This remains a niche market but in my view, demand for personal training services is growing as Filipinos become increasingly active.

I’ve been involved in sports since 1987, and I can’t remember running enjoying this much popularity. Boxing as a fitness regimen has also gained a strong following because of Manny Pacquiao.

Many people look for individualized and specialized training for fitness purposes. People are downloading mobile applications to keep track of their fitness progress; from how many steps they’ve taken in a day to how much time they’ve spent sitting down.

You don’t have to be employed at a gym to share your expertise in personal training. If you have the certifications and licenses to conduct personal training, you can network from your website, create daily blogs, and actively participate in social media. People can hire you to train them at their home or at the gym.

With the popularity of body weight based exercises, you no longer need gym equipment to stay healthy and fit!

10. Hygienic products

In light of the different strains of viruses and bacteria that have developed and caused outbreaks in various regions of the world, the need to practice good hygiene has never been important.

In addition to the antibacterial hand lotions, there are also antibacterial hand wipes and antibacterial sprays available in the market. A product that I tried to introduce in the hygiene market in 2006 was disposable toilet seat covers. These were made of wax paper-like material and cut to fit any standard sized toilet seat. The material cannot absorb any liquid, thereby making contact with bacteria on the toilet seat highly unlikely.

I was surprised to find a local retailer of disposable toilet seat covers around the same time I was testing my product. I bought a few of these packs and asked my friends to try them. The feedback was not encouraging. The seat covers took time to unfold and these did not set properly on the standard sized toilet seat.

Also, the material was so thin absorption was possible.

I still have plans to pursue this project. One visit to the local mall restroom confirms the need for this product!

If you can dream it, you can build it!

There you go; a short list of 10 viable business ideas in the Philippines. I’m sure you may have other ideas that could be better than mine. The most important thing when you have an idea is to act on it.

If it appears viable, start the ball rolling! One of the worst things to experience is to have an idea and sit on it, then, in a few years, someone else make millions off it.

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