The Lone Wolf's Guide to Making Money and Research with Gunrunning
This is a guide designed to maximise the amount of money you can make playing on your own, and unlock the research items (without having 10m in the bank to fast track to begin with) as quickly as possible. It draws heavily on Calimeatwagons' excellent threads on these issues.
With more players to help you can potentially better this, however, speaking from personal experience you cant always rely on having skilled friends around all of the time. This is all based purely on maths of whats possible so in a sense there is very little opinion here.
Below I list some of the principles of why some activities are more profitable than others, and a schedule to make 321k per hour.
It is assumed you have a Vehicle Warehouse, and a fully upgraded Coke Factory and Bunker.
Focus on how fast you earn money, not just the total payout for the activity.
A lot of players just look at the total payout when considering what activity to do. However, its how fast you earn money that matters. Mission A might only earn half as much as Mission B, but if Mission B takes 3 times as long you will make more per hour out of mission A. Its worth keeping in mind however that for Bunker and Coke sale missions themselves are relatively short (10-15 minutes). The product takes time to produce of course, but you can be earning money doing other activities while you wait then you get a very quick an lucrative sale mission at the end albeit at a restricted frequency of how often it can be run.
Import/Export should still be the foundation of your income.
The important thing here is the frequency. Every 20 minutes you are able to sell a high end car to a specialist dealer for a net 80k, but to be conservative lets assume you take an average of 5k damage, earning 75k (experienced players using a cargobob will often be able to avoid any, although there are some missions where you will have to shoot the driver and inevitably lose some). You should use the 10-10-12 method to guarantee you only get top range cars. Expand the spoiler if you do not know what this is.
You should buy supplies for biker businesses and gunrunning, rather than steal them!
Why is this? The first thing you need to ask, are the supplies worth the 75k it costs to buy them? Firstly, all the businesses produce more value in product than that when upgrades and sold far, so you will definitely be in the black - but why not steal them and make even more I can hear people ask? Well, the question becomes how long does it take you to steal them? If you are on your own and can only carry one crate back it can be time consuming. Then consider that every 20 minutes you can sell a high end vehicle for, as it happens, an expected 75k (as described above). So, unless you can steal all the supplies in under 20 minutes, you are better off using the time to sell a high end I/E vehicle and use the proceeds to buy supplies. This may change if you had other players to help you.
It is worth running weapons manufacturing and Coke, but not the other Biker Businesses.
A full supply bar for weapon manufacturing will produce 210k in 2 hours 20 minutes of product when sold far, in a mission that probably on average will take you 10 minutes although the frequency is low, thats the best $ per minute in the game, netting you 135k when subtracting the cost of supplies. Coke after a full supply bar after 2 hours worth 168k gross, but will more often than not require 2 vehicles and probably take you an average of 15 minutes to deliver, netting 93k when the costs of supplies are considered. However, Meth and the other businesses will net you less than 75k so for a similar amount of time you would be better off doing I/E instead as they are more lucrative than the bike delivery mission.
This can by played in cycles of 2 hours 30 minutes. It involves doing an I/E sale every 20 minutes, supplemented by Headhunter, which if you own a Buzzard, Savage or Hydra can easily be squeezed in. While you are doing this your Coke Factory and bunker are filling up, which can be sold at the end of the schedule for a big bonus.
The total of 804k after 2.5 hours is worth 321,600 per hour - netting out property costs this will still be over a healthy 300k, although some of these can be minimised by deactivating CEO or President status where possible. As you can see, the weapons sale at the end adds a whopping 210k, but only takes 10 minutes of your actual play time. That's the real power of Gunrunning.
With 4 good players you should be able to net 380k doing Pac Standard in that time (1,250,000* 0.2 + 26,000 * 5, assuming a 40-20-20-20), so its not the best money in the game but crucially you dont need 3 good friends online. And if it takes more than 71 minutes to do Pac Standard, you're actually better off with this schedule. If you can't get in your own public lobby, you might want to sell Coke after 90 minutes instead for 124k to be guaranteed one vehicle. You should aim to re-supply in any multiples of 24 minute intervals in that case.
What about special cargo and [Updated] Smugglers Run?
It depends how quickly you can get crates back as to whether this is more profitable, but according to the work of Calimeatwagon here: http://gtaforums.com...?hl=+ceo +crate you would need to juggle two large warehouses and sell at $1m a time to beat this schedule and large deliveries take on the significant risk of losing the lot. I personally find I/E gives a better rate of return with only one player. However, if you're ahead of the game on the schedule you might be able to squeeze in some crate purchases and sales during the I/E cool down to bump the total per hour up a bit.
An added edit - I was able to squeeze into the schedule three buy missions for 3, 3, and 2 crates, with a sale of 8. However that costs 44k (18+18+8), and the sale gives you 118k, netting 74k. That's over 4 missions. So time wise, you would probably be better off supplementing your cool down with Sightseer (as in my video where I have extra time). Special Cargo crates only make sense if you are in it for the long haul, filling up a large warehouse because you need the non-linear pricing of bulk sales to kick in for it to be worth while economically.
Smuggler's run is simply not profitable for the Lone Wolf - as it's dependent on how many crates you can carry back and one at a time will only get you 10k of stock per mission (typically taking 10 minutes or more for me, whereas Headhunter pays twice as much in half the time). If you are flush with cash you may find the hangar useful though - especially since you can have personalised air vehicles you can spawn nearer when a Pegasus pad is not close.
Let your Coke Factory and Bunker produce while you are not playing the game by leaving it running.
Setting your character to watch TV or a security monitor will avoid the idle kick. So when you're not actually playing the game, buy supplies and still leave it running at any available opportunity so your product bars fill up. In 2 hours 30 minutes come back and you'll be able to sell coke for 93k net and weapons for 135k (subtracting the cost of the supplies). The two delivery missions can be done easily in under 30 minutes. That's an effective 456k per hour of actual playing time.
Jamwes also posted in this thread a great way you can get a full supply bar for only 15k if you are going afk. Click here for details.
It is more economical to fast track research
It costs 225k to fast track research. However, putting all you men on research will take ~3 hours and 33 minutes to complete. Alternatively, if you put all your men on manufacturing, you will be able to produce 150k worth of product in 2 hours 30 minutes, which can be sold far for 255k (the cost a fast track), but in less than an hour required to fill the research bar. So if you're playing the game, you're much better off to put your men on manufacturing and fast track, rather than put them on research. For all items, this will save you nearly 2 full 24 hour days of playing time.
There is one circumstance however when putting your men all on research makes sense however, and that's if you keep your game running overnight (assuming you sleep for 6 hours or more), leaving your character watching the security monitor to avoid the idle kick. If you start with a full supply bar, and chose to put you men on manufacturing, you'll have 210k worth a product to sell far in the morning. However, research uses up the supply bar more slowly, taking ~5 hours 52 minutes to drain. And crucially, that will completely unlock one item, and ~64% of the next one too, costing 90k to fast track what is left. So that saves you the cost of one full fast track at 225k, plus a partial on at 135k (225k-90k). That's an effective saving of 360k by morning versus the 210k you'd have got from a manufacturing. The difference here is that manufacturing uses your supplies up quicker, and while you are asleep you obviously cant resupply!
Using a combination of funding fast tracking from weapons manufacturing, and researching over night Ive been able to unlock all the items in under 2 weeks.
And finally - been there, seen it done:
Slight variations on this, with a few extra activities added, earning 847,836 net of all expenses in 2 hours and 47 minutes, working out at 304,611 per hour. Expand the spoiler for more commentary.