Three small business ideas you can start on a shoestring

Nicky Tatley looks at three small businesses that are quick to get up and running and don’t require a heap of cash to start, with some real-life case studies for inspiration.

It’s often said that everyone has a book inside them – but how about a small business? Many of us have talents that are going to waste as we plod on with the 9 to 5. The thought that these skills or passions could be channelled into small business ideas of our own perhaps rarely crosses our minds.

The biggest mental block of all when it comes to putting your small business ideas into practice and starting your own company is usually money.

When you’re struggling to make it to the next payday it can seem inconceivable that you might one day be your own boss, making a profit doing something you love.

However, not all new businesses require expensive premises, overheads and staff. Pick the right sector and the investment can be modest. All it takes, then, is a little self-belief.

Here are three small business ideas that are quick to get up and running and don’t require a heap of cash to start, with some real-life case studies for inspiration.

1. A home baking business

We Brits have always loved to bake but, thanks to the remarkable popularity of The Great British Bake-Off, homemade cakes and cookies have become a national obsession.

The hit show has inspired workplace bake-offs and charity cake sales that demand more than your basic Victoria sponge or fairy cake. And, with the emergence of artisan bakeries like London’s Hummingbird Bakery chain and myriad baking blogs, standards for both everyday and occasion bakes have soared.

Requiring neither premises nor expensive equipment, home bakers are well-placed to exploit this huge demand, making it one of the better small business ideas.

Case study: Lady Bakewell-Park

Lady Bakewell-Park – AKA Becky Sebright-King – can give testimony to that.

Sebright-King lived a high-paced London life as a design consultant. Yearning to bake, she gave up her well-paid role to work in commercial kitchens.

The move ignited her passion for baking and when her then boyfriend proposed, the two decided to opt out of expensive city living and move to the Suffolk/Essex borders.

It’s here in a cosy kitchen in Manningtree that Lady Bakewell-Park was born. Add to that the arrival of her first baby and Becky certainly had her work cut out.

The past three years have seen Lady Bakewell-Park grow into a thriving business and Sebright-King’s bespoke bakes – including her signature Bakewell petit fours, personalised marbled biscuits and gluten-free brownies – have won her local and national acclaim.

A background in brand consultancy ‘definitely helped me with creating Lady Bakewell-Park’, she believes. ‘For me, Lady Bakewell-Park ‘the brand’ is really important and displaying who she is as a persona is all part and parcel.’

Standing out from the crowd is essential in this business, as is making the most of social media. ‘I use social media a lot,’ she explains. ‘As my following is through a blog, it’s an obvious place for me to advertise what I do.’

2. A pet care business

Perhaps even closer to our hearts than cake are our beloved pets, so when it comes to small business ideas, you could do a lot worse than a doggy-day-care company.

The PFMA (Pet Food Manufacturing Association) estimates that in 2016, 40 per cent of UK homeowners have a pet and we’re spending increasing amounts to keep our furry friends happy, healthy and looking their best.

Last year we spent a staggering £7 billion on pet pampering and pooch-grooming parlours, pet-accessory boutiques, dog-walking services and luxury cat- and dog-boarding facilities.

Doggy day-care businesses charge an average of £17.50 per dog (or more than £20 in London) and, based on taking on approximately 300 dogs a month, you’re looking at an annual income of more than £60,000.

When it comes to small business ideas, even a simple dog-walking business can be lucrative with the potential to earn a fifth more than the average UK salary. And that’s working just two weeks a month – not bad considering all you need to start up are a pair of legs and a local park!

Case study: Paw Pals

Starting out in 2005 as a family-run pet-sitting business, Paw Pals has grown into a successful national franchise.

Paw Pals offers pet boarding (for any type of domesticated animal) and/or dog walking.

The UK network is now run by former franchisee Susanne Cook who moved on from her Salisbury-based franchise to take on the national business. Having secured a franchise agreement with a grant from The Enterprise Network, Cook intends to add to her 18-strong band of franchisees across the country.

She told the Salisbury Journal, ‘We offer tailor-made care […] following pets’ usual routine in their own home, minimising the stress and anxiety that can sometimes occur when they are apart [from their owners].’

With a relatively low franchise start-up fee of £12,995 and an expected turnover of £18,000 in your first year (rising to anything up to £70,000 after becoming fully established) this is a great low-cost start-up for anyone with a passion for animals.

3. A dating agency business

Any online business is generally low on overheads and a dating agency or app is no exception.

Thanks to the likes of match-making giants such as, eHarmony and Tinder, looking for love online has become the norm rather than a last resort.

In fact, online dating has become so popular that the industry has diversified to cater to almost any niche imaginable. There are now dating apps that pitch exclusively to dog-lovers (Tindog), farmers (Farmers Only), salad lovers (Salad Match) and coeliacs (Gluten-free singles)!

The only start-up costs are those related to building an appealing website or app; no stock required. Check out what other dating sites are doing for inspiration and think of a niche or USP that can carve you out a following in this crowded but highly popular market.

A key consideration will be charges: most sites offer subscriptions in bundles (3-6 months or a year) but there are many free apps, like Tinder, that now offer a ‘premium’ service for a fee. Others will provide an initial search free of charge and then ask for payment when contact is made.

Case study: RSVP

When Roland and Anne Stringer acquired RSVP in 2006 the agency had been bringing singles together for more than ten years and had a thriving membership.

The couple have now grown the business to cater to more than 24 UK regions, offering tailored memberships and popular singles events.

The agency’s unique selling point is its personal approach, with clients offered either ‘neon’, ‘platinum’ or ‘gold’ membership and a ‘family’ feel where any age over 30 is welcome.

At the outset, the couple focused on image and responsiveness. ‘There was quite a lot of work to do on unifying the branding,’ recalls Roland. ‘We also invested heavily in technology, in a new network and new membership system.’

He claims that their business model is also key to the agency’s success. ‘All our members pay a monthly fee, whereas with most dating agencies you pay a fee up front and that’s it.’

The couple justify their charges with an array of events and activities. ‘We’re one of only two or three agencies in the UK offering events and we offer far more than anyone else. We arrange meals out, cinema trips, dances, a couple of grand balls.’

The agency also offer extreme sports, activity weekends, ‘mix and mingle’ events, workshops, ‘cosy Sunday lunches’ and even music festivals.

A former accountant, Roland says the decision to take on RSVP was driven by a passion to make a real difference to people. ‘We’d always worked in business to business, so we wanted to do something that actually touched end customers for a change.’

Anne, the agency’s ‘chief matchmaker’, echoes this sentiment. ‘I wanted to do something which changes people’s lives. And you only have to look at the wonderful letters and emails we receive to know that RSVP certainly does that.’

Nicky Tatley is senior writer at, the market-leading directory of business opportunities from Dynamis. Nicky writes for all titles in the Dynamis stable including and

Further reading on small business ideas

Nicky Tatley, Senior Writer at

Nicky Tatley

Nicky Tatley is senior writer at

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