10 great start-up business ideas to launch in weeks

What businesses can you get off the ground fast without having to spend lots to set up? John Fagan, head of RBS branch business, picks 10 of the best

Take a look around you this morning as you drive or catch the train to work.

From the window cleaner who arrives on your street as you close the front door behind you to the coffee cart serving cappuccinos and lattes at the station, the world is full of thriving and profitable small businesses that have been set up for relatively little initial outlay.

These are not ‘clever’ businesses trading on the strength of innovative new products and nor do they require the backing of deep-pocketed investors to get them off the ground. They succeed because their owners are responding to genuine demand for tried and trusted services.

And with a low initial outlay and overheads, many of these small-scale ventures can be profitable within weeks or months and over time provide their owners with a good income.

So how do you get started? Well, to give you an idea of how it’s done, here are 10 great businesses ideas I’ve come across that you can get up and running within weeks:

  1. Household cleaning
  2. Dog walking
  3. Home hairdressing
  4. Mobile coffee bar
  5. Mobile juice bar
  6. Window cleaning
  7. ‘Man in a Van’ business
  8. An eBay business
  9. Jewellery and crafts
  10. Photography business

Find out more about how you can put these great business ideas into action within a matter of weeks below…

1. Start a household cleaning business in little time

Household cleaning

The lower your outlay, the faster you turn a profit and that’s one of the big attractions of launching a domestic cleaning business. For instance Millie Dark, founder of Sussex cleaners, Mrs Muscle started her company with no real investment. “My customers supply all the equipment and cleaning products,” explains Millie.

Millie worked part-time for a few months before advertising in the local press and word-of mouth generated enough work to go full time. Today she employs 12 part-timers. “It’s taken me a couple of years to get that stage,” she says.

Read our step-by-step guide on how start a cleaning business

2. Start your own dog walking business

A dog walking and pet sitting service can also be set up with minimal investment. For instance, when Catherine Cleaver started her business – Catherine’s Pet Services – all she needed was £500 for a couple of garden kennels.

Catherine placed a few ads in shop windows. Over time – and with the help of word of mouth recommendation and ads in the local magazine – what started as a part-time activity became a full time job.

“I was earning enough to live on after about three months,” she says “and after about a year I felt I had a sustainable business.” She succeeds by offering a range of services, including dog walking, pet visits and boarding.

Click here for our guide on how to start a dog walking business


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3. Become a home hairdresser or barber

Many hairdressers dream of starting their own businesses but are deterred by the cost of renting a salon. Setting up a home visit service can be an ideal way forward.

There is a significant outlay on brushes, tongs, dryers, mirrors and products. “You’re talking several thousands rather than hundreds,” says Ela Lapus, founder of Home Hair and Make Up.

“And customers expect to see the same products they find in a salon. Customers will also expect evidence of recognised skills. I have Level 2 and Level 3.”

The key to profitable success is effective marketing. Hairdressers can use local ads and web directories to publicise their services. Social Media can also be effective. “About 50% of my work comes through Facebook,” says Ela.

Once the initial investment had been made Ela was able to start earning immediately but the present business, operating across several counties has taken a number of years to build.

Here are some other business ideas you can start without leaving your front door

4. Buy a mobile coffee bar

We’re a coffee hungry nation and beyond Starbucks and Costa there are thousands of small mobile barista carts selling lattes on the go.

“A coffee maker will cost about £5,000,” says Beth Baxter, co-founder of Camper Cafe. “And then you have to pay for the cart or a van to put it in.”

Prices vary but carts or trailers can cost anything between £5,000 and £10,000. The founders of Camper Cafe were given a Volkswagen van which they kitted out to become their visual signature. Training is an additional cost. Courses for coffee making can be had for between £50 and £200.

Finding pitches is the most challenging aspect as you are often in competition with other vendors. “It took us a year to find out about the market,” says Beth. “After that we took off.”

Everything you need to know about how to start a mobile catering business here

5. Make your own juice and sell it in a mobile juice bar

Juice Bar

The rise of coffee carts has been matched by the emergence of juice bars in markets, shopping malls, public thoroughfares and events. The set-up costs are similar to coffee in terms of equipment and training.

Click here to find out more about starting a beverage business here


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6. Start a window cleaning business

If you have a car with a roof rack you can start a window cleaning business for a few hundred pounds (bucket, ladder, clothes, etc).

Alternatively you might invest in high pressure pure water sprays, water tanks (around £2,000) and a van to carry them (say £15,000). This is increasingly common.

The challenge then is to build a customer base and that tends to be up close and personal. “Initially the most effective way to do it is to knock on doors and ask,” says Guy Lupton, co-founder of Khameleon Window Cleaning Ltd.

Building a solid base can take time. “We spent about three years of trial and error to get it right,” says Guy. “We’ve been going about five.”

However, when you do get it right the business can grow rapidly. “We still knock on doors,” says Guy. “But we get a lot more business by word of mouth.”

If you dream of making windows glisten, find out how to set yourself up as a window cleaner here

7. Become a ‘Man in a Van’ business

Advertisements for ‘Man in a Van’ and ‘Light Removals’ services are a common sight on shop window advertising boards.

The pre-requisite is a van, probably a Luton-style box van with a tail lift and that’s also the main expense. You’ll need public liability insurance (as is the case for all the businesses listed here). The ongoing costs include petrol, servicing, MOT, and repairs.

The main challenge is building a customer base and most operators use flyers, shop window ads and online directories. Man or woman in a van businesses can be quick to establish but work is required to build a market and perhaps the biggest challenge is getting the pricing right.

Gardening, painting and decorating and being an electrician are just some of the businesses you can start today with a van and a bit of drive. Find out which is the ideal van for your business here

8. Start an eBay business

eBay business

Launching an eBay business allows you reach a national and occasionally an international market. You can auction goods or sell at a fixed price.

Most eBay businesses will pay at least £19.99 per month as a subscription fee (rising to £59.99 for a featured shop and £349 for an ‘Anchor Shop’) and on top of that you will pay fees for each auction or fixed price insertion and each sale.

To succeed on eBay you usually have to find goods that can’t be bought elsewhere or offer popular products at knock-down prices. For some it’s a part-time source of pin-money, for others a full-time business. Posters on eBay include Nasty Gal and six years after starting to sell vintage clothing on the auction site it’s now a £60m business.

Get on the road to cyber success with this step-by-step guide to setting up an eBay business.


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9. Sell jewellery and crafts

Many small businesses are based around the skills of their founders. For instance, if you have training as a jeweller or sculptor, an obvious way to sell your work is to market direct to the public via web, craft fairs or through shops.

Tools can cost anything from a few hundred to many thousands of pounds but you can keep costs down by working from a home studio. Ongoing costs include materials, rental at craft fairs (from as little as £20 per day to more than a £1,000).

Jane Faulkner, a jeweller based in Sussex, sells via the web and craft fairs while also having shelf-space in a local co-operative (Billingshurst Creatives) where craftspeople and artists can display their goods in return for taking turns manning the store.

“Craft fairs are my biggest source of income while the shop provides a regular cheque every month,” says Jane. Teaching is also part of the business.

With these revenue streams Jane feels she has a sustainable business, but it has taken around eight years to establish.

Find out everything you need to know about starting a jewellery business with our comprehensive guide.

10. Set up your own photography business

Photography business

Photography is another skills-based business. Go to almost any event – from music gigs to vintage car rallies and weddings and you’ll find photographers hard at work.

As Art Hutchins, a freelancer photographer trading as Artseye points out, it’s a business that requires investment in time and money. “Being a serious pro photographer requires a high level of financial investment in good quality equipment and time to acquire the knowledge and skill to use it.”

Starting from scratch would mean buying pro-quality cameras (around £2,000) lenses (£100-£1,000), tripods and lights but many photographers who set up their own businesses will already have acquired some of the equipment over time.

According to Art Hutchins, the best approach is to decide on a target market – in his case small businesses, editorial and family portraits. “The best marketing is word of mouth,” he says.

Very different businesses but all can be started quickly and easily using readily available equipment or existing skills. Importantly most of these businesses take payment either at the point of sale or soon after and that’s great for cashflow.

Demand is there but the key is to market effectively and at the right price.

This step-by-step guide will tell you everything you need to know about starting a photography business.

John Fagan is the head of RBS branch business, England & Wales and direct banking. His team work with businesses to build a bigger support network inside the bank and beyond with partners and fellow customers. www.rbsbusinessconnections.co.uk      


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