Ever since its early days as a bustling Roman trading port, London has been a thriving city of industry and commerce. From the Danish mercantile settlers of the 9th century to the financial services and tech booms of the 20th and 21st centuries respectively, London is a city synonymous with trade, enterprise, and technological innovation.
Today, London remains a thriving financial, commercial and technological hub with over a million private business enterprises recorded in the city in Q4 of 2022. A migration of capital from silicon valley has revitalised the city’s tech sector. Science accounts for the greatest proportion of businesses in the city with 388,664 companies servicing the sector (14.3% of all London businesses). However, we remain a nation of shopkeepers, and retail and wholesale still account for 378,722 London businesses (13.9%).
Although Brexit, global conflict and economic downturn have cast a pall of uncertainty over the city’s business landscape, there are many growth sectors that are still rife with opportunity. Indeed, new business growth in London reached an eight-year high in 2022. If you want to start a business in London, read on to discover 8 business ideas in London with great potential.
1. Mobile hair and makeup styling
Londoners are among the most image-conscious people on the planet. Those accomplished in the field of hairdressing and makeup artistry may find that they can make good money eschewing the city’s salons for the life of a mobile stylist.
Managing appointments effortlessly via a mobile app, and receiving payments from clients with a portable contactless card reader, mobile stylists can get up and running fairly quickly and easily with relatively modest overheads. If you already work in a salon or have experience in the same, you may wish to consider setting up mobile appointments as a side hustle, build up a client base and create a profitable business in London with low risk.
2. Drone photography services
As drones have become more commonplace, enterprising photographers and videographers have used them to extend their offerings. Freelance drone photographers are becoming extremely popular throughout London. Not only are they widely used for weddings, events, and corporate video production, but they are also employed in everything from surveying and structural damage assessment to agricultural mapping.
In order to fly a drone legally in London, you will need to obtain a CAA drone licence and adhere to London’s specific drone laws. These are as follows:
Drone operators must fly at altitudes below 400ft
Drone Pilots must not fly within a 5km radius of any airport
Any drone weighing over 250g must be formally registered with the CAA
Drone operators must present their registration documents if requested to do so by the police
Photographers must have a valid operator ID and flyer ID
An online drone safety test must be taken before flying
Once this is accomplished, drone photography and videography could become part of one of the most exciting and profitable new business ideas in London.
3. Personal training services
London’s economy is primarily service-based. This typically means a lot of people sitting at desks for much of their day and leaving very sedentary lifestyles. It’s never been more important for us to invest in our health and fitness, and this is a message that Londoners have received loud and clear.
People of all shapes, sizes and ages are looking for more effective ways to meet their health and fitness goals. Inevitably, this requires a personal approach. Personal training is a huge growth market with over 25,000 personal trainers in London alone in 2022.
There are several qualifications that can allow you to legally become a personal trainer in the UK. These are:
Level 2 Diploma in Instructing Exercise and Fitness
Level 2 Certificate in Fitness Instructing
Level 3 Certificate in Personal Training
A DBS check will usually also need to be undertaken. Once you have obtained these you can either work in partnership with a local gym that uses self-employed personal trainers or establish an independent business. This may lead to you setting up your own gym or making house calls to clients. If you wish to offer PT sessions from home, however, you will need to check with your mortgage provider or landlord that you are entitled to do so. You will also need appropriate insurance. Public liability insurance is an absolute must, but PTs should also consider:
Personal indemnity insurance
Sports equipment insurance
Personal accident cover
4. Solar panel cleaning and maintenance
We’re all doing our best to live more sustainably and, at a time when energy prices continue to soar, solar panels are increasingly appealing to households and businesses alike. The mayor of London has also implemented a new scheme called Solar Together London to make solar panels more accessible and affordable for Londoners. And wherever there are solar panels, there are opportunities for a business to start in London. PV solar panels require regular cleaning and maintenance in order to ensure that the surface absorbs as much solar power as possible. If you have a good understanding of how solar panels work, a head for heights and the right tools and cleaning equipment, this could be a very lucrative opportunity.
As well as acquiring the appropriate brushes, poles, ladders and tools for repairs, you will need to invest in personal indemnity insurance and public liability insurance. As solar panels come to the end of their life cycle, you may expand your offering by recycling solar panels on behalf of customers.
5. Fast food delivery
Londoners have long had a taste for takeaway. And that hunger has outlasted the national lockdown. Last year, the London borough of Westminster was crowned the ‘takeaway capital of the UK’ with 116.7 takeaways per 100,000 people in the borough.
If you have culinary skills and a passion to share your food with the city you love, your own fast food delivery service could prove a most profitable business in London. Existing restaurateurs can increase their revenues by bringing their offerings to the takeaway market via a third-party platform like Deliveroo, Just Eat, or Uber Eats. Alternatively, you can manage delivery yourself by taking payments either online or via a physical terminal.
Even if you don’t currently run a restaurant, there are lots of delivery-only kitchens (also known as ghost kitchens or cloud kitchens) that can be rented with much lower overhead costs than running your own restaurant.
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6. Personal shopping
Although these may be economically challenging times for many, the luxury goods and services sector is still thriving. International tourists, the university-aged offspring of wealthy people, and new entrepreneurs who have profited from the pandemic all have appearances to maintain and money to burn. Since the 18th century, London has been one of the world’s foremost fashion capitals and still hosts some of the most iconic designers of our times from the late great Alexander McQueen and Vivienne Westwood to Stella McCartney.
Those with an abiding love of fashion and outstanding people skills may find that personal shopping is the best business to start in London. It’s a rewarding and creative way to establish a business with low upfront investment costs.
Many fashion outlets and department stores hire personal shoppers on a freelance basis, and there are numerous opportunities online for personal shoppers to meet new clients and help them find the perfect fashion fixes for their tastes and budget.
7. AI services
London is lauded as the AI growth capital of Europe and while this is a huge growth industry, it is not dominated by the giants of big tech. In fact, most of the 750+ AI service vendors in the capital are SMEs.
AI can be leveraged for all kinds of uses from customer service chatbots to SEO, recruitment and marketing automation. AI tools can help make business processes more efficient and less prone to human error from managing inventory to sending large batches of invoices. With demand continuing to fuel growth, there is huge scope for gifted programmers to develop AI services and solutions tailored to specific business uses.
Many AI tech startups are relatively small operations founded by small but passionate teams. If you have an MSc or higher in the field of computer science and are fluent in Python 3, Java, Apache Spark, or Pandas, proficient in database modelling, and understand how to develop an intuitive UI, you may be on the cusp of creating an indispensable AI tool for business.
8. Niche market eCommerce
Finally, if you want to start a business in London in the retail sector but can’t afford the overheads that come with an expensive storefront, setting up your own online store may be the way to go. There are a wealth of eCommerce platforms that enable you to sell directly to the consumer and take payments without any coding knowledge whatsoever.
Naturally, your business won’t be able to contend with omnipresent eCommerce brands like Amazon, nor should it aspire to. Instead, it should focus on a specific niche and focus heavily on grassroots marketing via social media. Find a niche that people are passionate about, set up a website that makes it easy to find the products they want and offer a choice of flexible payment options on a one-off or subscription basis.
Over time, you may find that you build a loyal customer base within London and beyond.
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