Bet the farm: why rural entrepreneurship is booming in the UK

New figures show that the number of rural microbusinesses has risen dramatically over the past 12 months.

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Helena Young
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New research suggests that the UK’s countryside economy is experiencing a huge boom, as record numbers of ex-urban entrepreneurs start a business in a new (green) field.

Venture Forward is an annual international research initiative, carried out by GoDaddy, that analyses data from more than 2.3 million microbusinesses in the UK. The results show that 25.9% of Britain’s microbusinesses are now based rurally, up from 24.1% in 2022.

In total, almost 100,000 rural microbusinesses have been started in the past 12 months. Leading the charge is women entrepreneurs, who are taking advantage of low barriers to entry to set up shop in the countryside.

Why are so many rural microbusinesses cropping up?

According to GoDaddy’s findings, retail and consumer businesses are at the forefront of the countryside economy, accounting for 14% of ventures. The most likely culprit for the rise is the post-COVID ecommerce boom.

During lockdown, consumers swapped out shopping trolleys for scrolling. The legacy has since lived on. Today, government statistics show that more of us are making regular online purchases than ever before.

Because the ecommerce industry is entirely based online, rural microbusiness owners don’t need to worry about being based near to clients or employees. They can dropship to customers, market their business, and target new customers entirely remotely.

As a result, the ecommerce sector now has some of the fewest barriers to entry, facilitated by the increase in online tools and ecommerce website builders designed to help entrepreneurs build and manage an online shop.

GoDaddy also found that 40% of rural firms launched for less than £1,000, with a further 21% of entrepreneurs requiring under £5,000 to start trading. The return on investment is also substantial – research shows side hustlers can earn over the annual living wage.

Entrepreneurs leave London for wellbeing boost

The South of England is the most popular region where new companies are pitching up, with the South East and South West accounting for 24% and 15.8% of businesses respectively.

This could be a result of people moving out of London. Many business owners living on the capital’s green belt have decided the grass is greener elsewhere.

Taking advantage of the shift to flexible work arrangements, like hybrid working, they have moved to base themselves away from the busy rush of the Metropolis.

The myth that you must lay foundations in the capital is often told to fledgling startups. There are certainly benefits to doing so. London is the top city for networking, and is also the UK financial capital, making it a great location for meeting angel investors.

But with business rates skyrocketing, it’s also increasingly difficult to find cheap office space in London. Entrepreneurs that wave goodbye to the Big Smoke report feeling less stressed thanks to shorter commute times and reduced financial pressures.

Startups heard from Rosie Davies-Smith, about the benefits of moving her PR agency, PR Dispatch, to the Devon countryside during the pandemic. Speaking to Startups, she identified the decision to embrace remote work as game changing for the team, improving employee mental health and wellbeing.

“Living in Devon has revitalised my perspective on work-life balance,” Davies-Smith said. “It’s just one of the reasons we’ve implemented a four-day work week for the team.”

Female entrepreneurs lead the charge away from the city

The GoDaddy figures indicate that the trend is being driven predominantly by women. Last year, just over a third (33.1%) of rural entrepreneurs were female.

In the past 12 months, however, this figure has jumped to 43.6%. Comparatively, 35% of urban microbusiness owners are women.

Startups has reported on the numerous challenges faced by women entrepreneurs, compared to men. One of the biggest hurdles to overcome is accessing finance.

Earlier this year, we found that the gender funding gap narrowed slightly in 2023. However, male entrepreneurs still get, on average, 6.2x more early-stage funding than female founders.

Another obstacle is childcare. Working mothers typically bear the brunt of child-rearing duties, and it can be difficult to balance care responsibilities with the demands of starting a business.

The dual benefits of starting a rural microbusiness, like a remote shop, both directly address these challenges. Minimal funding required, plus improved work-life balance, combine to explain why women entrepreneurs are leading the escape to the countryside.

Commenting on the findings, Andrew Gradon, Head of GoDaddy UK and Ireland, said: “This data demonstrates a sizable shift we are seeing in the UK’s microbusiness community.

“While in the past commerce and enterprise was associated with major urban hubs, advancements in technology and online tools mean businesses can be easily started from anywhere.”

Interested in starting a side hustle? Check out our guide to 100+ cheap small business ideas you can start from the comfort of your own home.

Written by:
Helena Young
Helena is Lead Writer at Startups. As resident people and premises expert, she's an authority on topics such as business energy, office and coworking spaces, and project management software. With a background in PR and marketing, Helena also manages the Startups 100 Index and is passionate about giving early-stage startups a platform to boost their brands. From interviewing Wetherspoon's boss Tim Martin to spotting data-led working from home trends, her insight has been featured by major trade publications including the ICAEW, and news outlets like the BBC, ITV News, Daily Express, and HuffPost UK.

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