What business to start in 2012: Top 5s

We select the top 5 business opportunities for students, freelancers, and older entrepreneurs

Top 5 business ideas for students

1. Logo design

In the age of mass media and the internet, every company needs a logo, and every design needs to be eye-catching – a cheap-and-cheerful design just won’t cut it anymore.

With new competitors coming to market every day, companies need to get their logos turned around quickly, and requirements can change suddenly. The flexibility provided by student labour can be the perfect answer – and much cheaper than hiring an experienced freelancer.

According to Joanna Ward of StudentGems, a business set up to save money for small businesses by matching them with skilled graduates and students for project work, “We regularly see new businesses asking for students to design logos, because start-up businesses have a tight budget, and students are in touch with the latest design ideas – plus they haven’t been moulded to think a certain way yet.”

2. Tutoring

The UK tutoring market is thought to be worth well over £1bn, yet it remains free of government regulation – this allows many tutors to charge excessive fees for their services, and sparks fury from hundreds of parents forced to pay through the nose for their children’s coaching.

Students provide a reliable, and up-to-date, answer to this problem. Joanna Ward says: “We have plenty of student tutors, and they teach everything from detailed Mandarin and German classes to a couple of hours’ technical coaching on an Apple laptop. Students have all the skills, and tutoring allows them to demonstrate their talents.”

3. Fashion and jewellery

As discussed in the hobby and crafts section, independent creative businesses are thriving at the moment. Fashion-conscious consumers are leaving the big brands in search of the next boutique trend, and skills courses are now available to help talented artisans hone their skills.

According to Joanna Ward: “We see lots of our members designing and making jewellery and fashion accessories, and students in creative courses can get real work experience this way. It is paid work, and it enables them to use their skills – an ideal combination.”

4. Research

Research is a student’s bread and butter, and it’s something many businesses would rather palm off on someone else – an irksome expense that often saps the time and patience of a company’s staff.

By taking on students, companies know they can get fresh, diligent and resourceful support at little expense. Meanwhile, the student gets to experience working life, and a real boost to their CV. What’s not to like?

5. Web design

Just like logos, compelling and attractive websites are a necessity in today’s business world. Creating a website is often a one-off task, which won’t have to be revisited for years, so many firms are reluctant to employ a designer in a permanent role. Students provide a versatile and affordable alternative.

Joanna Ward says: “Web design is a really popular avenue for our students; because the hours are so flexible, it’s perfect. In fact we have one student who started doing web development work and carried on with it when he went travelling to New Zealand. The clients loved it – they went to bed and by the time they woke up it was done!”

Top 5 business ideas for freelancers

1. IT and web development

Ok, this may seem slightly obvious, but it’s more relevant now than ever, with thousands of permanent IT jobs being cut in both the public and private sectors. According to Jon Norris, of freelanceadvisor.co.uk: “There’s loads of opportunity for developers, especially for those using specialist languages like Java.

“Recently, the agency workers regulations give temporary workers the same rights as full-time employees after 12 weeks, so temps are effectively as expensive as full-time staff. IT contractors are outside the AWR so they present a great option.”

2. Tender consultancy

Businesses can live or die by their ability to win tenders, and there are millions of contracts to be had out there – Tenders.co.uk, a website specialising in EU tenders, contains links to more than three million documents. However, there isn’t much advice out there – although the Business Link website offers some helpful introductory info, there isn’t enough detail to guide you through the tendering minefield.

Thus there is a real demand for tendering consultants who can provide clear, comprehensive and affordable advice; this opportunity is particularly relevant to ex-public sector workers looking to turn their knowledge into profit. Companies such as TED’s Friend have received real rewards from providing honest, accessible guidance, and you could too.

3. Accounting

Again, not especially new or glamorous, but crucial nonetheless. The recent explosion in start-up activity across Britain has created many companies which lack accounting expertise, as Jon Norris explains:

“Freelance accountants can have real joy in thebusiness-to-business (B2B) space, simply because there are so many new companies starting up. As long as the accountants can find a way to market themselves to new businesses, they could be sitting pretty.”

4. PR

For a public relations company, every job is completely different. Some clients require nothing more than the occasional press release; others demand a perpetual, holistic media campaign worth millions of pounds. So PR bosses have to constantly up and down-scale their business to meet fluctuating demands.

Thus a freelancer offers many advantages to a PR company – particularly in the present economic climate, when marketing budgets are tight and client rosters can dip and swell rapidly. Entrepreneurs such as Ella Davidson, founder of Startup PR, have built hugely successful PR businesses on freelancers, so the model is there.

5. Translation services

With more than 270 different nationalities now represented in London alone, Britain is a truly polyglot society. This is reflected in booming demand for translators; freelancer.com recorded a 17% growth in translation job postings during the fourth quarter of 2011, and Britain’s translation industry is now thought to be worth over £600m.

More than 80% of translation buyers outsource most or all of their jobs, so there’s huge scope for part-time and remote work. All you really need is fluency in a foreign language, and the start-up costs are low.

Top 5 business ideas for the over-55s

1. Garden design

If you want a business which allows you to flex your creative muscles in a low-stress environment, garden design could be the answer. By working with clients on their gardens, you can guarantee the exercise and fresh air essential to a healthy lifestyle, and build a business career at a gentle pace.

According to Wendy Platt, who retired from teaching in Warrington to set up her own garden business, Secateur Sisters, in 2009: “This line of work is perfect for me. As an art teacher I was used to working directly with people, and taking on new creative challenges every day. Garden design offers me the same stimulus, and because my garden has long been my hobby, it’s hugely enjoyable.”

2. Tea shop

If you want to start a business based on your own age group and lifestyle, a tea shop could be fantastic. Tea shops are woven into the fabric of British life, and can be perfect for older entrepreneurs looking for a rewarding and social business venture.

As we wrote in a guide to starting a tea room business earlier this year, tea shops have had a rocky road in recent months. But with the right location and offering, they can still provide a marvellous opportunity for more mature entrepreneurs, particularly those with good presentation and conversation skills.

3. Social networking

This choice might seem slightly incongruous. Social networks are the playground of the young and fancy-free, right? Well, not exclusively. According to a report on American start-up site Smallbusinessnewz, published in August 2011, 32% of people aged 50 to 64 now use social networks – a year-on-year increase of 60%. Meanwhile, social networking activity among people aged 74 and over quadrupled between 2008 and 2010.

Pioneering networks dedicated to silver surfers have already registered considerable success. For example Ravelry, a social site geared towards knitting and crocheting enthusiasts, has generated around 80,000 users. There are all kinds of niches to explore, and this could be a great option if you’ve worked in IT or web design.

4. Reflexology

For those who don’t know, reflexology is a gentle pressure message designed to stimulate the reflex points in the feet and hands, and relax the body’s core systems. If you’ve previously worked as a healthcare practitioner, this could be an ideal new departure.

Reflexology demands patience and compassion (and of course you must obtain the relevant qualification), attributes which older people tend to possess in abundance. And you can get real rewards; Penny Wallis, a former nurse and health visitor in her 60s, now practices reflexology as a home-based side-line, and attracts clients from all over the capital.

5. Fitness consultancy

Let’s face it, a person in their fifties is unlikely to appreciate being yelled at by a 20-year old fitness instructor; their needs and capabilities are completely different. Older people looking to exercise want someone of their own age to coach them – someone who understands their bodies and will handle them with care.

The opportunities for a more mature fitness instructor are endless. Although plenty of local authorities offer specialist classes for older people, few private gyms and health clubs do, so you won’t have to fight your way through the crowd to chase your business dream.

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