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How to come up with good startup business ideas in the UK

Successful startups are built upon good business ideas. So, where do they come from and how can you test whether your new business will work?

What makes for good startup business ideas?

You need three key ingredients to succeed when starting up.

  • Firstly, enough cash to cover the setup cost to stay afloat until you manage profitable businesses.
  • Secondly, the knowledge, skills, and attributes to start from home.
  • Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly – a good business plan. Otherwise, you won’t make enough sales and soon your new business will fail, it’s that simple.
Good ideas don’t have to be unique (most aren’t). In fact, many profitable businesses simply offer their own version of products or services that are already available, whether they’re better quality, more convenient, cheaper or otherwise different and more appealing. This is the same for online business ideas, business from home, and many other businesses in the UK and Northern Ireland.
 
Often, a new business ends up being an updated version of ones that have been around for a while. Inspiration for startups sometimes comes from other sectors or places, and, although some good business ideas are complex, most are actually quite simple. They can result from someone wanting to solve a problem, or after they spot a gap in the market. For example, selling on eBay came from the idea of car boot sales, selling unwanted items to a wide audience.
 
The ultimate test of a great business idea comes down to sales. You must be able to make enough profit to keep the business afloat and pay yourself and any staff. If you can’t — you don’t have a business.

How can I come up with a good business idea?

  • Old TV
    Television and radio

    Watching The Apprentice, Dragons’ Den or other business entertainment programmes might inspire you to come up with your own winning business idea. TV or radio current affairs programmes could reveal a gap in the market or you might get an idea for a new food product from a cookery show or get inspiration from a profile of a successful business or entrepreneur.  

  • Reading a mag
    Newspapers and magazines

    Many publications (general, business and trade) include case studies of small businesses and owner profiles. Often there’s no better way to learn than from those who’ve been there and done it. And reading about how others came up with their idea and turned it into a successful business might also enable you to think of a great business idea of your own.

  • Smartphone
    Websites and social media

    Many news and business websites also profile small businesses and owners. Finding out how they came up with their business idea could spark ideas for your new business. Some small business websites also feature insightful, inspiring podcasts you can download, while a huge number of successful small businesses post on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. For inspiration, you can follow them and find out more.

  • Swing
    Life experiences

    Many people start businesses after coming up with an idea inspired by their own life experiences. Often they’ve encountered a problem to which they’ve been unable to find a solution, so they’ve created their own. Thinking of challenges you face or products and services that you wish existed might enable you to think of a great business idea. Maybe you can think of ways to improve existing products or services.

  • Map
    Travel

    Travel broadens the mind, but it could also provide inspiration for your new business. Seeing a successful product, service or business elsewhere, whether in the UK or overseas, could inspire you to try to replicate that success where you are. Localising products or services from elsewhere might provide you with the basis for a profitable enterprise of your own.

  • Chatting
    Conversations

    A good business idea might also result from speaking to people you know, whether friends, family or colleagues. Finding out more about their wants, needs and challenges could enable you to create a business to supply that demand. You may even decide to start a business that meets a need in society or your local community.

  • Chinese cat
    Good fortune

    Some of the most successful products and businesses have resulted from pure luck or accident. Often they were developed originally for other purposes. Examples include Post-it Notes, Viagra, Kellogg’s Cornflakes, Coca-Cola, Vaseline, Teflon, Super Glue, Velcro, Play-Doh and chewing gum. Each is phenomenally successful, of course, yet created by luck or for other purposes rather than by design. Such examples are rare, of course.

Will my startup business idea work?

Just because you think your new idea is fantastic, doesn’t mean it can be turned into a successful business plan. Many people have launched startups on the back of ideas they believed in, only to find out the hard way that they were wrong. There are many businesses in the UK and for yours to succeed you must bring something different.
 
If your business idea is to succeed, enough people from your local community must buy from you at the prices you charge. You must create enough profit to keep the business afloat and generate an hourly rate for you and any employees. If that doesn’t happen — you don’t have a business.
 
To reduce the likeliness of seeing your new startup fail, simply because your business idea isn’t viable, you should test it thoroughly before you launch. Compare your service with any other UK based business. Research other internet business plans. Ask others what they think of what you’re planning to sell and, crucially, how much they would pay for it.
 
Some people mistakenly don’t do basic market research, or they only ask friends and family, who can be reluctant to criticise. But you must speak to your local community and potential customers and encourage them to be totally honest about your products, services, prices, and brand. Below, you’ll see some places from which you can canvas opinion and conduct research on the cheap.

The key here is to listen carefully and be prepared to act on their feedback, which might mean relatively small changes to improve your chances of success. This could be simple changes to your ecommerce store or web design. Alternatively, big changes or a total rethink might be necessary if your idea isn’t well-received. You could contact an SEO consultant for advice. Remember, these are your potential customers.
 
Harsh feedback can be difficult to take, but don’t ignore it, because it can prevent you from making mistakes. Use it to improve your business idea so you’re more likely to succeed. Whether you want to be a personal trainer or set yourself among other app developers, the advice you take on will make or break you.
 
Potential customers might love your business idea, leaving you with the confidence that you’ll succeed. Take that opportunity to try to make some sales or take orders, because they could help you to get off to a great start.

Should I base my business on my hobby?

Many people base their business on their hobby or things they love, whether that’s coaching football, pet sitting (or pet grooming!), being a personal chef, or starting a cleaning company.

If you’re doing something that you genuinely love, often it doesn’t seem like work. Your knowledge or skill could be highly valuable and it could give you a competitive edge, while passion is a great motivator and it can help you to deal with less appealing aspects of running your own business. You could be your own virtual assistant. App developers create their favourite fantasies from scratch and pour their hearts into their work.

 

Nila Holden

 

For example, Nila Holden (pictured above) turned her love of baking into a full-time business, leaving her public sector role behind. “Nearly four years on, I now run a small bakery production facility and employ a team of staff producing high-end products for quality outlets and corporate clients,” says Nila. “It’s great, although there is far more pressure now I have to cover salaries and overheads.”

You might be able to turn your hobby or passion into a successful business and make a lot of money, but it’s not a given. It alone won’t guarantee that enough people will pay your prices for what you’re offering, which means you don’t have a viable business idea.

Much also depends on how much you need to earn. Not everyone starts a business to get rich and famous, some people are happy to earn less so they can do something they genuinely love. For some, it could be a chance to give back to their local community by starting a local business. For others, it could be creating gift baskets for people to buy and send to their loved ones. Both are rewarding.

Your hobby or passion might provide enough sales to sustain a part-time business that gives you a little bit of income to live on. Alternatively, you might be able to combine it with other earnings (possibly part-time employment). Before starting a business based on your hobby or anything else, you should accurately work out whether it will generate sufficient returns.

Does my business idea have to be unique?

Some people struggle to come up with a business idea because they think it has to be unique. It doesn’t.

If you can come up with a genuinely unique idea that enough people want, you may well earn a fortune. Although rare, it happens. Think of the search engine Google.

But, in reality, most ideas are variations on things that already exist. They’re not unique, just different. That could mean products or services are of superior quality or are more convenient, or they could be more environmentally friendly and cheaper.

If you really want to run a unique business start up, but can’t think of an idea that hasn’t already been done, then start a business that’s similar to others and find ways to make it different. Your business must stand out if it is to attract customers, and you must give them clear reasons to buy from you rather than your competitors. If your going to walk their pets, offer a service that brings something completely new to the table.

Don’t simply set out to be the cheapest option, because price might not be the only factor that influences customer buying decisions. This goes for local business more than online business. Some customers will willingly pay more for better quality, and this will help to grow your business. Moreover, you might not be able to beat some of your competitors’ prices, so find other ways to appeal.

The best business ideas for 2022

The Covid-19 pandemic has had a transformative impact and created an interesting landscape for prospective business owners and entrepreneurs. Many new opportunities (and business ideas) have emerged as a result of the pandemic – particularly in the digital world as we’ve been forced to conduct more of our lives virtually. On the other hand, we’re now seeing people looking to regain what they’ve lost, fuelling a resurgence in live events, dining and hospitality, and travel.

Here are some business ideas to give you fuel for thought:

  • Ecommerce store

    During the pandemic, consumers flocked online to fulfil their shopping needs. This prompted 10 years of ecommerce growth in just 90 days and, according to Shopify’s Future of Commerce Report, 150 million people made purchases online for the first time during the pandemic. This trend is showing now so signs of slowing, even as retail stores reopen. 

    Some of the most popular items sold online include:

    • Consumer electronics
    • Footwear
    • Fashion accessories
    • Toys and video games
    • Exercise gear
    • Furniture

    One question you’ll need to figure out is whether you start your own e-commerce store or get your products out there via marketplace websites such as Etsy and eBay. 

  • Social media management

    There has been a flurry of activity in the digital space as businesses look to enhance their presence across digital channels. One of the most important digital marketing channels is social media. If you’ve got the skills and experience already plus an entrepreneurial mindset, starting a social media management business offering your expertise and hands-on services to small businesses could be a good way to go. 

  • Video marketing

    These days, just reading text on a company website often isn’t enough to convince target customers. Businesses are on the lookout for creatives who can turn their brand and messaging into engaging content for use across a range of channels – whether that’s fun TikTok shorts or longer-form explainer videos and product demos. Offer your video production skills to help brands improve their brand awareness, demonstrate expertise and authority, and, ultimately, drive sales.  

  • Aerial photography

    Due to the affordability and mass availability of drone technology, aerial filming has become an increasingly popular hobby in the UK. This has helped to spawn a number of companies offering both filming and surveying services using state of the art drone technology and high-tech cameras. Whilst such equipment doesn’t come cheap, it is still a very young industry with huge growth opportunities. With these ideas you can start your own production company… one day!

    “Currently, the majority of our work is creative. In my opinion, the real market moving forward will not be in the creative industries. It will be in intelligent drones carrying out survey and inspection work worldwide, with small teams of people managing these autonomous vehicles.”

    Will Glover of Fleye

  • Greetings cards

    Powered by the online market, the greetings card industry has grown 6.12% in the last five years. Smaller businesses might take a different approach to their larger counterparts, instead offering unique and quirky designs that cater for specific interest groups. Personalised greeting cards are a great way to do this, as they allow customers to add their own personal touches.

    “Originally I handmade every single card that someone ordered. I remember being so excited about my first few orders, I hand wrote the addresses in my best handwriting.”

    “Since then, I’ve built a much more automated process. 95% of my cards are pre-printed with my designs with just a handful that I’m testing out being handmade. It means the quality is more consistent for the customer and it also means I have more time to focus on growing the business.”

    Andy Cordina of Bettie Confetti

  • Street food

    If you go to any town or city, you’re likely to find a bustling street food market with an ever-expanding selection of cuisines to sample. As consumers have embraced this casual and fun approach to eating out, so have more and more startups, making it one of the most popular business ventures. You don’t necessarily need a background in catering companies to start a food business – just a passion for food itself. You need to want to be your own personal chef. Street food also has the scalability factor. Many popular restaurant chains started out that way. Just don’t expect success to come easy – this is a competitive industry, and so your marketing strategy will be vital if you want to succeed. 

    “The quality of your food is everything. To succeed, you must work very hard. Customers see the glamorous and fun side of the industry, but it’s seven days a week of hard graft, with occasional reward.”

    Emma Potter and Jack Torkington of Manchester-based Mac Daddies

  • Professional dog walking

    Offering your own dog walking services is one of the cheapest and simplest businesses to set up. It’s also a great option if you don’t want to be stuck in an office all day. With an estimated 8.5 million dogs in the UK, there’s also the opportunity to scale your dog walking business to be much more than one man and his dog.

    “We’ve grown a huge amount. I now have a team of 20 full-time employees, seven new vans on the road and we walk around 180 dogs per day.”

    Joe Thomason of Green Dog Walking

  • Handmade jewellery

    Designing and selling handmade jewellery has become increasingly popular with the emergence of marketplace websites such as Etsy and eBay. This is a great way to start an ecommerce site. Not only have these websites made it much easier to sell your products online, wether you’re a beginner or professional, they also attract the increasing numbers of customers who prefer to purchase unique items. The next phase is to sell your products in person at craft fairs and on a market stall. You would also need to find other stockists.

    “Selling at fairs can be a great networking opportunity and I’ve been approached by a few new stockists whilst selling on the day. It’s a great way to interact with your customers and meet some of your online followers in real life.”

    Sarah Empson of Geo Heaven

  • Baking

    With the help of the Great British Bake Off, baking has seen a surge in popularity. According to research, since 2012 the number of cake makers and decorators in the UK has increased by an incredible 1,500%. This is an industry where small businesses seemingly have the edge as consumers opt to purchase artisan homemade delicacies over mass-produced products. As with street food businesses, if you start a business in this sector then there is a lot of competition, and so you will need a good marketing strategy.

    “Nearly four years on from starting, I now run a small bakery production facility and employ a team of staff producing high-end products for quality outlets and corporate clients; it’s great, although there is far more pressure now I have to cover salaries and overheads.”

    Nila Holden

  • Sustainability

    The drive towards sustainability shows no signs of abating, particularly as the UK has the stretching target to hit net zero carbon emissions by the year 2050. The government is pumping lots of money into achieving this target and those in green industries are likely to see lots of investment in the coming years. Whether you’re in the business of electric vehicles, offshore wind, or carbon capture technology, those across the supply chain – small to large businesses alike – will be set to benefit from this green industrial revolution. 

  • Escape Room

    Escape Rooms first became popular in Asia and have since popped up in towns and cities across the UK over the last decade. Tapping into the human urge for adventure and puzzle solving, this is a local business venture that allows you to flex some serious creative muscle and have a lot of fun in the process. 

    “We had gone away for a stag do in Budapest and the Best Man had organised for us to do a couple of rooms out there. We were so impressed with the concept that we spent a good portion of that evening – and indeed the rest of the trip – talking about how exciting it must be to dream up puzzles and scenarios like the ones we had just done. At the time of discussion, Brighton – our town – didn’t have any rooms, so we just made the decision to create one ourselves, and the rest is history.”

    David Staffell of Bewilder Box

  • Fashion brand

    eCommerce has enabled many fashion brands to launch without the prohibitive costs of running a high street store. It’s not hard to find a market, especially if you use online platforms, research other internet business ideas, and get your social media right. Starting an online clothing business does still comes with significant startup costs however, such as getting your products designed and shipped. But the scale and growth opportunities can be huge.

     “I’ve always been interested in fashion and making my own garments and accessories. When I couldn’t find items I wanted to wear in stores, I started making them myself and it struck a chord with my peers. I guess I was my main customer and inspiration!”

    SJ Cook of Spangled

  • Sports nutrition

    Sports nutrition products have a mass-market appeal far beyond just bodybuilders and professional athletes. In 2015, sales of nutrition products were worth £66 million, while two in five (42%) UK consumers aged 16-24 have consumed sports nutrition products in the past three months. Many sports nutrition brands have also built a loyal community of followers by putting on events such as run clubs – which also provide all-important brand exposure on social media. This is a great way to delve into potential subscription fee opportunities. You can offer a monthly service for a set amount of money.

    “We found that heavily refined sports nutrition products weren’t giving us what we needed as runners. We set out then to start making performance nutrition from natural ingredients.”

    Rob Martineau of TRIBE

  • Mobile ice cream van

    The mobile ice cream van was once a popular entry-point into business for entrepreneurs. In recent years, the industry has been hurt by changing consumer habits and supermarkets selling cheap ice cream. However, whilst ice cream van numbers may be down overall, savvy mobile caterers are instead tapping into the new demand from corporate events, weddings and festivals.

    “I had my round and was also doing local events, school fairs, and fetes. I was meeting a lot of people and had my regulars.”

    “One of whom asked if I’d bring my van to her wedding and serve ice cream to her guests. I couldn’t turn that one down. From there, word got out and we started picking up more and more wedding bookings, and Pinks Vintage Ice Cream was born.”

    Katy Alston of Pinks Vintage Ice Creams

  • Working from home

    Whilst there has been a return to the office of sorts, working from home looks set to continue in the post-pandemic world. This has created an entirely new ecosystem of products and services that specialise in supporting businesses and staff to work remotely. Cloud computing, event hosting, display screen equipment (DSE) assessments, online yoga classes for mental wellbeing, the list goes on!

  • Artificial Intelligence

    When we talk about AI, more often than not we’re talking about automation. Automation is used in a variety of guises, whether that’s car assembly lines, self-service machines, or email marketing technology. The whole idea is to save companies valuable time on repetitive tasks – potentially freeing up time for other things. Or, more controversially, free up wages. 

    Whichever way you look at it, there’s no doubt automation is set to increase and, as such, opportunities for entrepreneurs and business owners.

    Could you collaborate with people skilled in this area and set up your own AI business that solves efficiency pain points for businesses?

    Or could you get trained in the best AI technology available and position yourself as a trouble-shooting consultant?

  • Web development

    If you’ve worked in any modern business, you’ll know how in-demand and well-paid web developers are. They’re the skilled coders who can bring a business’s digital infrastructure to life, make it look great and work seamlessly. With the huge impact this can have on the performance of a business, it’s no wonder those with web development skills are highly sought after. 

  • Consultant

    You name the field, you can be a consultant. The reason it’s a good business venture is that you don’t really need to do too much to do it apart from one very important thing: be an expert. Yes, if you’re experienced in project management, events, web development, infrastructure security, GDPR, marketing – you can be a consultant. You’ll naturally need to be good at communicating and working with others in order to win business and translate your ideas. 

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