How to start a business without a revolutionary business idea

Want to be your own boss? But have no idea what type of business you want to start? Read our guide on how to start-up without reinventing the wheel…

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Whether it's winning the World Cup or the Lottery, us Brits really are a nation of dreamers – and it’s no surprise that so many of us dream about starting our own business.

Combine this with the 5.5 million start-ups and small businesses already in existence, the appetite for enterprise in the UK is very apparent and shows no sign of slowing down.

While so many of us are intent on quitting our day jobs and becoming our own boss, one big stumbling block often gets in the way… the business idea.

So, what do you do when that lightbulb moment seems like it’s just never going to arrive? Are your entrepreneurial dreams already over?

Don’t throw in the towel just yet because, thankfully, we’ve compiled a launchpad guide on how to start your own business WITHOUT a revolutionary business idea.

So, read on and you could soon be ready to start a business…

Become a franchisee

A proven business model and low-risk way of starting a business, a franchise is a great way to go it alone and doesn't require you to have a business idea; as the idea is already well established.

A franchise opportunity enables you to trade under a franchise brand's name and image while selling their products and services; and you may also be required to buy or rent necessary equipment. Some well-established franchisees in the UK include McDonalds, Coffee Republic and Subway.

Working under a big brand name, you’ll immediately have a defined marketing and advertising strategy in place – with the majority of consumers already knowing what to expect from your business.

Tapping into an already established market, half the battle is already won from day one and you can immediately start trading and engaging with the general public who often flock to newly opened franchises in their area.

Furthermore, you’ll continually receive support and mentorship from the franchisor who can help with training processes for new staff, retaining customers and provide payroll support.

Often a delicate consideration for budding business owners, your franchisor will also carefully select and choose where your premises is located to take advantage of massive amounts of footfall and often in areas you otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford.

Finally, banks and lenders are also traditionally more favourable to franchises than start-ups who they often see as having a greater chance of surviving.

Launch a low-budget business

A common barrier to many people deciding to take the plunge and start their own business is a perceived notion that it’ll cost them a lot of money – particularly if they go bust.

However, the real truth is that not all start-ups require vast sums of investment to take off. Even better, some low-budget business ideas will enable you to start earning money straight from the get-go, unlike certain sectors where you can wait months for a return on your initial start-up costs.

So, if you’re still waiting for your eureka moment why not start a business on a shoestring budget? While there’s never a guarantee of success or survival, should you decide to wind down, your net loses could be incredibly minimal.

Here are a few examples of low-budget business ideas:

eBay entrepreneur

A first port of call for many businesses is selling their products online and this process is a lot easier and cheaper than you may realise. To become an eBay entrepreneur, all you have to do is create and online profile, upload images of your products and sell to a global audience of 18 million in the UK and 167 million worldwide.

With basic business packages starting from just £25 per month, most sellers buy products in bulk from wholesalers while others trade in antiques, single items with incredibly high value – or even just bric-a-brac.

Testament to the fact that one man's trash is another man's treasure, aspiring entrepreneurs who want to sell their wares in return for a profit should look no further than an eBay account.

Cleaning business

For those looking for a more hands-on approach, starting a cleaning business could see you clean up in no time without any huge initial investment sucking up your profits.

You could either start a business in the domestic or commercial markets but take note that the latter will typically incur higher start-up costs as you're more likely to require professional equipment.

While its likely you’ll want to employ staff to carry out the cleaning to leave you to manage and oversee operations, to keep costs low we advise carrying out the work yourself in the initial first few months.

Should you enter the domestic market, you're likely to find the majority of the cleaning equipment in the houses you clean, with most other start-up costs going towards advertising in local papers and flyers.


Similarly, people from all backgrounds who have grown tired of the nine to five have taken advantage of becoming a handyman.

A ‘jack of all trades’ position, the cost of setting up a handyman business is quite low as you’ll normally already own many of the tools needed to complete your jobs. While some form of transport will be required, even a scooter would be large enough to carry most of your equipment or you could hire a van for business.

While you certainly won’t be reinventing the wheel, low-budget businesses will allow you to take the plunge into the start-up world, without fear of losing substantial amounts of cash if things go pear-shaped.

Start with a tried and tested business model

If you find yourself struggling to think of an entirely unique business proposition, there’s no reason why you can’t just take the road most-frequently travelled.

It’s often said that imitation is the biggest form of flattery, so you start your own enterprise with a tried and tested business model.

Some of the most popular models include:

  • (SaaS) and subscription model: The SaaS model, or software-as-a-service, is where consumers rent online software as appose to purchasing it outright and installing it on their computers. Particularly popular among B2B services such as accountancy, salesforce automation and HR, the SaaS model normally allows users pay a monthly fee for software that would normally be too expensive to purchase. For example, Startups 100-ranked Appsumer allows mobile-first brands access a range of specialist analytics for a recurring monthly fee.
  • Traditional subscription model: Similar to the SaaS model except for product-based businesses, examples include and Cornerstone.
  • Traditional e-commerce business: Old fashioned but still viable, consumers buy products from your website and assume immediate ownership. An example of this is Derbyshire-based Solesmith which designs and sells personalised socks.
  • Online marketplace: Connecting buyers with sellers, you would normally take a commission off each item sold or charge sellers a monthly fee for using the site. Examples would include LendInvest.
  • Freemium model: The freemium model allows users access a basic model of your service for free with additional or advanced features costing extra. Examples of the freemium model include Spotify, LinkedIn and Startups 100-ranked Azoomee.
  • Pay-as-you-go model: Users would pay for your service when they need it. A pay-as-you-service is offered by Hostmaker, which helps Airbnb owners organise their viewings.
  • Affiliate and commission model: Offering your service to the consumer for free, you earn revenue from affiliate sales and third-party purchases. This model is used by the likes of Laundrapp.

Research trends and use market insight

There’s an old rule in business that states ‘you don’t have to be first, you just have to be better’.

The truth is that, the majority of unicorn start-ups (companies with a valuation of $1bn or more) today didn’t dream up of something completely new, they merely improved upon an existing business or trend.

However, while you don’t have to be first to the market,  you certainly can’t be late and your start-up will have little chance of success if it arrives into a saturated sector surrounded by the big boys.

So, what can you do to help anticipate an emerging trend and start a business without turning the industry upside down?

Take a look at the following:

  • Updated annually, our What businesses to start feature is an extensive report compiling industry insight and analysis from the likes of Yell Business, the Office of National Statistics (ONS), and existing start-ups. Released every January, the guide presents the best business ideas to pursue that year.
  • Research from industry-leading organisations like Mintel and Nesta.
  • Scan current affairs and see can you if can identify businesses to provide a solution or alternative. With global political uncertainty at its highest for decades, it can help to think about what you can provide that governments can’t. Think about how your business could play on public anxiety and ease concern. For example, following the United States’ decision to pull out of the Paris Agreement, consumers will be more likely to spend more on green businesses or those with more of a social conscience.

Maximise on your hobbies and interests

It’s often said that if you enjoy what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life.

A well-worn piece of advice, it’s surprising that so many don’t consider their hobbies to a be viable career choice.
Going ‘fulltime with your pastime’ comes with many advantages –  not only will you have a pre-existing knowledge of the industry and space, you’ll also already be natural suited to the working environment and shouldn’t need to waste time perfecting your product.

For example, if you’re a keen cat or dog lover then setting up your own dog-walking or pet sitting business could lead you straight to success or if you’re a dab hand at making desserts then setting up your own bakery could be easy as pie.

While you’ll probably start production for whatever you choose to make at home, market stalls can also be a great place to sell your produce and expand your brand.

Just because you want to be a business owner, doesn’t mean you have to quit the day job. Consider whether you could continue your current role but on a freelance basis or look at part-time business opportunities. Not only will it give you more flexibility in terms of the hours and days you’ll work, you may also be able to take on more clients and expand your offering to suit your own specific skills and interests.

For example, if you’re a qualified teacher you could potentially earn a lot money by going down a freelance-style route and setting up your own tutoring business, or if you work in IT you could start your own IT consultancy.


If you're feeling the pressure because you just can't seem to nail down a business idea, then taking a break could actually be all you need. For decades now, a whole host of UK entrepreneurs have made their money on the back of ideas they picked up while on holiday – and even though its becoming a smaller and more connected world, the trend shows no signs of stopping.

Just last month, it was revealed that 29% of business owners decide to take a trip to the countryside when looking to get their creative juices following, while 17% opt for the beach – proof you don't even have to leave our not-so-sunny shores to find the missing piece to your start-up dreams.

While many holidaygoers are no doubt exposed to wide range of exotic and alien cultures while abroad, your imported business idea doesn't exactly have to be out of this world. In fact, many successful start-ups have just brought back some international twists on some existing UK favourites.

For example, Joseph Sopher was inspired to found his gourmet popcorn brand Joe & Seph’s from his travels to Chicago, while a trip to Brazil paved the way for brothers Charlie and Harry Thuillier to found healthy ice-cream brand Oppo.

So, why not clear your desk, pack your bags, and set out to start your own business?

In summary, this is how you can start a business without a revolutionary business idea:

  • Become a franchisee
  • Launch a low-budget business
  • Start with a tried and tested business model
  • Research trends and use market insight
  • Travel

Ready to turn your business dream into a reality? Now view our free start-up guides.

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