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Many of the world’s largest businesses began life at home in a back bedroom, garage, or spare room.

American computer magnate, Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple Computers, began this business in his bedroom and initially traded from his garage.

Closer to home, Sir Alan Sugar, legendary Chief Executive of Amstrad (Alan Michael Sugar Trading) began his business life at home, selling electrical parts to retailers from the back of a van.

Karan Bilimoria, the entrepreneur behind the hugely successful Cobra Beer brand, had prior to launching this dipped his toes in a variety of import businesses until he finally found the right opportunity with this now-famous drink. His sales method was to visit as many Indian restaurants as he possibly could to persuade them to stock Cobra. He used an elderly, and often unreliable battered green Citroen 2CV to carry around his initial stock. He started off already in debt from his previous ventures and has gone on to literally change entirely the way Indian beer is sold in the UK. All of this was achieved initially from his kitchen table and delivering from the back of an elderly car.

The founders of Innocent Drinks, Richard Reed, Adam Balon and Jon Right, started creating their fruit juice drinks at home. And after a difficult initial trading period that would have seen most fair-weather entrepreneurs folding their tents and seeking once again the shelter and convenience of paid employment, the trio proceeded to build one of the country’s most innovative and sought after drinks brands.

James Murray-Wells, the student founder of Glasses Direct, began his online spectacles mail order business from home. Glasses Direct is now a household name and trades from offices at Charlton Park, Malmesbury.

The late iconic activist and entrepreneur Anita Roddick, founder of the Body Shop, set up her first business in a bed and breakfast in Littlehampton (the town where she grew up and where her mother ran a local cafe´). Although the Body Shop began life as a small shop in Brighton it was initially a home-based idea, started up by Anita as she wanted to sell products that hadn’t been tested on animals or otherwise brought about by harming anyone.

Online social networking site Friends Reunited was started at home by Steve Pankhurst and Jason Porter, who later sold the company for a reported £120 million a few years after. Once again, the idea and business began at home with the initial intention of creating a part-time business.

Legend has it that Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group, used the telephone box closest to his home as his office to make and receive calls. Whether this is true or not I’m not sure, but what is remarkable is that he founded his business from home, and later on ran his empire from a houseboat moored in London.

Why do so many businesses start from home?

The answer here is because great ideas begin at home.

Also, and let’s be brutally honest at this point, the reason most business empires initially trade from home is that their founders simply haven’t got the necessary resources to start anywhere else.

Sure, we’d all love bright modern offices, a fleet of freshly liveried vans to deliver our goods, bellboys in sharp uniforms at the doors of our shop and some posh sounding people to answer our phones, but alas starting a business isn’t at all like this. A typical home-base entrepreneur will have little or no money, can either be in debt or previously bankrupted by a failed venture, yet will still believe enough in themselves and their ideas to continue with their global dream – which inevitably can only begin from their kitchen table.

The next time you see a successful business that interests you, take the time to find out how and where it all began. I can guarantee you that nearly all the ventures you come across will at one time have been home-based.

Are all the best business ideas already taken?

When you sit down and try to come up with the next million-making idea, it may seem like all the best ideas are already taken. You may sit there thinking, if only I had come up with the idea for an online social networking site like My Space, Bebo, or Friends Reunited. You may also regret not being the first in line with the idea of smoothie drinks, which up until a few short years ago were relatively unheard of. But don’t despair. There is no reason why you cannot come up with a great idea of your own and build a successful business from it.

Where to get great ideas

It’s vital to explore all of the possibilities that present themselves. Often the greatest ideas won’t be immediately apparent, which is why we need to have some sort of strategy for unlocking them.

By far the most difficult way of coming up with ideas is to sit down with a blank piece of paper and try to think of things.

My favorite methods are:

o looking for ideas while enjoying my hobby

o brainstorming

o readers’ letters.


By far the easiest, and I believe the most enjoyable way of getting your creative juices flowing is to get out there and throw yourself into your hobby.

But rather than just enjoy yourself I want you to think about what frustrates you most about your hobby. You see, very often the best business opportunities lie in what we don’t like about something.

The problem was finally solved when someone came up with the simple idea of the retractable dog lead, which meant that at last you could let your dog walk in the direction they wanted to while still being on their lead. And if you don’t want your dog to walk any further you simply apply a brake using your finger. When your dog walks closer to you the lead retracts back into its housing.

But why did it take us so long to get this simple tool?

I’m convinced the reason is that those who manufacture dog leads never actually walked a dog themselves because the only person who could have come up with such a product is someone who has long suffered the frustrating limitations of the traditional dog lead.


These included such things as spades with extra-long handles, clipping shears with cushions to stop your elbows from getting jarred when you used them, and lightweight seats set at specially low heights to allow you to weed while sitting down.

Again, just like the modified dog lead, the reason these tools became overnight successes was they were designed by people who gardened, who believed their favorite pastime could be made more enjoyable and less painful by adding a few thoughtful modifications to the original products.

So ask yourself:

What’s the one thing you find most frustrating about your hobby?

The ‘thing’ needn’t even be connected to your hobby. For example let’s say you’re a keen walker and you find the maps you’re using difficult to store comfortably when you’re walking, or hard to keep dry in the rain.

For an entrepreneur this type of problem represents opportunities.

o You could design a map that suits the particular needs of your hobby, and either publish your own maps or approach map companies with your ideas on how their product can be improved, and offer your services as a consultant.

o You could come up with some sort of carrying case that makes it easier to store maps and read them in the rain.

o If one is already available elsewhere in the world you could apply to the manufacturers for a distributor’s license to sell the product here in the UK.


If it’s already available in the UK, you could investigate buying the product wholesale and maybe offering it as one item in a mail-order business.


Brainstorming is another way of coming up with fresh and innovative ideas. In its simplest form it involves you sitting down and writing down every idea that comes into your head on a given subject. It doesn’t matter what you write down, as the objective of the exercise is to ‘storm’ the right-hand side of your brain – the creative

side – while ignoring any signals from the left-hand side of your brain – the side that deals with logic and order.

Although an extremely effective way of generating ideas, if you’re new to this technique it might take you a little time to get used to it. So don’t be despondent if it doesn’t work for you. Stick with it and I promise it’ll pay dividends.

You may find the following ‘rules’ and techniques helpful, but do whatever you’re comfortable with and fairly soon you’ll reap the rewards.

‘Rules’ for brainstorming

1. Do not judge any of your ideas.

2. Write down everything that comes into your head regardless of how silly or irrelevant it may sound.

3. The exercise is all about quantity, and not quality.

4. Work in five-minute bursts, stop, and then do something else for a few minutes before starting again.

5. Don’t do it if you’re tired or irritable. This technique works better when you’re fresh and in a positive frame of mind.

Techniques for brainstorming

1. On a large, blank piece of paper write down a number of keywords associated with your hobby. For example, if your hobby is fishing you could write down: fishing rod, fish, hook, bait, fishing boat, beach, pier etc.

2. Allow yourself to go wild with your ideas and remember not to judge/evaluate anything you write down. As soon as you get an idea down on paper move on to the next one.

3. Use pictures to generate ideas. Open any page of your favourite hobby magazine, look at the pictures, and write down whatever comes into your head.

4. Use questions to generate ideas. Six great questions to get going on are: How?, Why?, Where?, When?, Who?, What?.

5. Don’t take this too seriously. Try to think of some funny ideas and write them down. For example if you’re hobby is water-skiing, imagine the Queen learning to water ski with Prince Phillip being towed behind in a doughnut.

6. Use a stopwatch to time your five-minute session and as soon it ends, STOP.

What can you expect at the end of a session?

Given time to master this technique, you’ll find that you start coming up with some exciting potential business ideas. But I stress that just like any other worthwhile technique it takes time and patience before you get the best out of it.

If you find after trying it a number of times that you’re still getting nothing – don’t despair. Take a break from it and come back to it later when you’re fresh and make sure you use all the techniques above. I find pictures a great help. It’s amazing what looking at just one picture can do for your imagination.


The readers’ letters section of your hobby magazine and the online forums and message boards for your hobby websites are fantastic places to get new ideas for your business.

Browse through them and you’ll start to see common moans, usually directed at manufacturers and suppliers who are perceived as failing to satisfy their customers’ needs. It’s a great place to find out what others are thinking and what people would really like to buy.

Most large businesses work on economies of scale and will only introduce a product or service if they’re sure there’ll be a large enough demand to justify full-scale production. Often this reluctance creates an ideal opportunity for a creative entrepreneur to hop in and plug the gap in the market.

In my own gardening business I regularly read online forums and the letters in gardening magazines and have found it to be enormously helpful when planning marketing campaigns and finding out what customers really want.


But beware of sharing your top tips with anyone else. A couple of years ago a reader of a sailing magazine I subscribe to submitted a simple solution for safeguarding an outboard motor against theft. To his surprise, and I believe understandable annoyance, he later saw an exact replica of his device on sale at the Southampton Boat Show. When he enquired further about the origins of the product the salesman told him his company had got the idea for the product from a reader’s tip in a sailing magazine.

The company in question is one of the largest in the world and is selling thousands of these gadgets worldwide without paying a penny to the original inventor.

If you are developing a prototype product you should look to have it patented to stop this from happening. To do this you’ll need to get specialist advice from a solicitor who deals with this sort of thing.

Keeping a notebook

Ideas are like jokes – you can never remember the good ones. So it’s essential to record everything you come up with in a notebook. Personally I prefer to use an A4, hardback, spiral-bound notebook, which I keep safely at home. I use a small pocket- sized notebook when I’m out and later transfer my notes into my master notebook when I get home.

Some tips for keeping a notebook:

o Find a notebook that you’re happy with and then as soon as you fill one book buy the same type of notebook so when you come to filing them on a shelf they’ll fit together. This way there’s less chance of you losing your information.

o Use your notebook to record everything about your intended hobby business.

o Record all your ideas in your notebook, even those you don’t like.

o Always be on the lookout for contacts. For example, names and addresses of businesses that make things you might need for your business etc.

o When you come across an interesting magazine or newspaper feature, cut it out and paste it into your notebook.

o Using your PC as a notebook is fine. Just make sure you back it up on either a disk or CD.

Evaluating your ideas

As someone once said, great ideas only work if you do.

While undoubtedly true, this doesn’t mean that every idea you come up with, regardless of how you work on it, will bear fruit.

Neither should you get frustrated if some of your ideas seem to be too far-fetched at this stage.

Instead, see your ideas as doorways to your future business. Some you can open today; others may have to wait until you have sufficient resources to put them into action; and a few doors you won’t be able to open at all until you do a bit more research.

Regardless of how many potential ideas you come up with for turning your hobby into a business you’ll need to have some sort of system for evaluating them.

Generally there are three areas you’ll need to consider:

1. your resources

2. your lifestyle

3. feasibility.

Your resources

However brilliant your idea may seem you will only be capable of starting it if you have adequate resources.

Be brutally honest with yourself here. It’s no good starting something and then finding that you haven’t got what it takes to continue with your venture.


Unfortunately too many new businesses fail simply because their owners hadn’t forecasted how much it was all going to cost to get started and survive the first and often difficult months trading that face every new business.


Unless you’ve got enormous financial backing for your venture you’re probably going to have to do everything yourself. This means being able to negotiate with suppliers, sell to customers and be shrewd with the books.

There are lots of places to get help from. You can either buy specialist books written entirely on sales, bookkeeping etc, or you can go on courses.

Regardless of your experience you should contact your local Enterprise Centre where you’ll find a wide range of courses specifically run for people starting their own businesses with little or no previous experience.

The courses are subsidised by the government so the fees are affordable.

Your lifestyle

Ignore this one at your peril! Starting your own business is one of the most exciting things you can do. Get it right and you’ll never have to work for anyone again. You’ll also enjoy the enormous satisfaction that comes with building and securing your own future.

But, and here’s the but!

Starting your own business comes with responsibilities that you might find are incompatible with your lifestyle.

If, like many people, you’re the type of person who values your free time and never wants to work weekends, and the business you’re planning to start will only work at weekends, then obviously you have a problem. One of the top dream businesses that people imagine themselves working at is running their own seaside guesthouse. Just imagine waking up every morning with a fresh breeze blowing through your chocolate box rose-adorned cottage. While you prepare breakfast your guests wait in patient anticipation complimenting your carefully chosen colour scheme. Unfortunately the reality is something different and there will undoubtedly be occasions where running this type of business means you have little time to enjoy where you’re living.

Don’t do what most people do and adopt the, ‘It’ll be ok, I’ll be able to hire people to cover weekends,’ attitude because this won’t work. If your business idea will only work at times when you don’t want to work at it then find another opportunity.


Before you invest time and money in any business idea you must be sure that what you’re proposing is feasible.

Later we’ll look at what’s involved in working out cash flow and profit and loss forecasts for your business. We’ll also look at formulas for calculating how much you need to charge for your products or services.


When you’re working through your ideas get into the habit of having a calculator to hand and working out very quick, rounded-off figures. Test your idea on a best scenario basis followed by a worse case scenario.

Let’s say you’re planning to run walking holidays.

So you work out very roughly what you’re hoping to charge your customers, taking into account all the costs you’re going to incur. Your basic costs should include provisions for:

o marketing

o stationery, brochures etc

o public liability insurance

o salary costs, including a provision for hiring in additional staff if you think you’ll need them

o stock if applicable.

I stress you’re making rough calculations here. You don’t need to work in the cost of every nut and bolt. Just try to be as realistic as you can, being generous with your allowances for expenditure.

Armed with some rough figures you’re ready to work out three useful and very difficult scenarios.

1. Best case scenario.

2. Worst case scenario.

3. Most likely case scenario.

Best case scenario

For your best case scenario work out how many holidays you could actually run, given your resources in terms of time, money etc.

What have you come up with?

For example, if the net amount you’re hoping to earn per customer, per holiday, is

£80, and given your resources in terms of time available etc, the most holidays you can expect to sell is 100, then that means at the best case you’ll earn £8,000.

Are you happy with the amount of the effort you’re going to have put in?

If you are, great – obviously you’ve got an idea worth continuing with. However if your figures are disappointing it doesn’t necessarily mean that your idea is unworkable. At this stage all you’ve worked out is that in its present form it’s not going to be sufficient to make a profitable business.

Worst case scenario

Don’t forget to calculate a worst case scenario. My favourite way of doing this is to imagine I’ll sell nothing.

Obviously this is the sort of scenario we all hope will never happen and provided you undertake sufficient market research before you invest any of your money, it should never arise.

However there will always be factors outside of your control which could destroy even the most carefully-laid business plans. For example, who could have foreseen the impact that the foot and mouth crisis would have had on local tourist business? Many of the walking holiday companies went out of business because most of the countryside in their areas was closed to the public.

Despite investing in advertising and successfully filling their holiday bookings they ended up with no customers and therefore no revenue.

Thankfully this sort of scenario is rare, but it’s worth taking a bit of time to ask yourself what would happen if the business you’re planning to start had no customers.

How would you survive?

Is the potential financial loss that you would suffer something that you can bear, or would you end up losing everything?

If it’s the case that you would end up losing you might like to revise your plans so as to reduce your risk.

Most likely scenario

All being well this is the scenario you most likely expect to achieve. although it’s impossible to predict exact expenditure and sales figures, you should be able to work out what you think is possible.

Again if the figures you come up with during this scenario fall below what’s needed to make your idea worthwhile then either re-work your idea or start afresh.

Don’t limit your feasibility studies to your own business ideas. It’s always interesting to look at what other entrepreneurs are doing. You’ll soon start to see businesses that are doomed from the start, and hopefully learn from others’ successful business ideas.

Your findings

Regardless of how brilliant, innovative or otherwise your idea might seem to be, it must be:

o capable of making enough money to make it a worthwhile investment in terms of your time and money. This needn’t be immediate, provided there is some identifiable period in the future when your idea will come into fruition

o capable of being started within your current resources in terms of finance, skills and knowledge.

The time spent working out some rough figures and projections at this early stage is time well spent and will highlight the strengths and weaknesses of your idea.

Don’t be despondent if your initial ideas don’t come up to your expectations. Now is the time to find that out. Better to suffer the disappointment now and get on with building new ideas than end up at some time in the future with a hopelessly loss- making venture.

Hobby business ideas

Most hobbies can find an opportunity somewhere in the following ten business models.

My advice is that you read through the following list with an open mind. Don’t dismiss anything immediately. Simply read through them all a number of times and then write them down on a piece of card or in your notebook. Then in the next few days, whenever you get a moment, start working through this list and seeing how many businesses you could start from your hobby.

Remember that most successful home based entrepreneurs have more than one business. They don’t risk their futures on one venture, but rather have a number of smaller independent businesses on the go at any one time. So even if you have already decided on the structure of your proposed business, don’t be afraid to let your imagination run riot and see what else you can achieve.


Probably the most common of all business models – this is where you either buy in a product wholesale or make your own product and then retail it.

Examples of this type of business are antiquarian book dealers, craft shops, art dealers, antique dealers etc.


A service business is one where you either sell your own skills, for example a gardener offering a gardening service, or you offer a business where you employ others and market their skills.

Examples of service businesses are: gardening services, dog walking services, interior design services, garden design service.

You could also consider employing others.

Another way is to employ others, and then ‘rent out’ their skills and experience. For example in our gardening business we employ people to a do a range of things including gardening, teaching and designing. Essentially we ‘rent’ their skills and sell them to our clients earning a profit on what we pay them and what we charge our clients.


Regardless of what hobby you’re interested in, there will always be new enthusiasts joining who will want to find out as much as they can about their new hobby.

The business opportunity here is to organize classes and courses so that both newcomers and those with some experience can learn the ropes.

Examples of tuition businesses include organizing and running creative writing courses, fishing courses, cookery courses, flower arranging and craft-making courses, candle making courses.

You don’t have to be an expert yourself to start and run this type of business. Provided you are a skilled organizer and capable of advertising and marketing your courses you can employ teachers or those with specialist knowledge to give your courses.

For example, I run gardening courses and never have any difficulty finding suitably qualified teachers for my classes.


Hobbies offer unlimited business opportunities for anyone with organisational skills.

The sort of businesses we’re looking at here are organising painting holidays, creative writing holidays, walking holidays, sailing holidays, tours to public gardens, and/or places of interest, deep sea angling trips.

The possibilities are endless here and the great thing about this type of business is that all you really need to get started is your kitchen table. For example, if you’re planning to run creative writing holidays you don’t need to have your own B&B, hotel or venue to run them from. All you need is to find suitable hotels or venues to run your courses from, negotiate the best deal you can with the proprietors, and organise your holidays.


This is a business where you arrange local, national and/or online exhibitions of work.

It is particularly suitable if your hobby involves photography, painting, flower arranging, crafts, candle making etc.

Your revenue comes from charging your exhibitors fees to exhibit at your shows, and/ or commission on what they sell.


Rather than simply retail products, you could also become a wholesaler. It’s worth investigating to see what products you could import and then sell to the UK market.

There are a number of international trade fairs held annually where you can meet and find businesses looking for agents for their products.

The secret with this type of business is to steer away from the main products of your hobby and look for those things that people have difficulty finding. Products that the larger businesses will ignore as they don’t believe they can sell them in large enough quantities to justify their expenditure.


You can run all sorts of hobby-based competitions, for example painting competitions, creative writing competitions, poetry competitions, photography competitions.

Revenue comes from charging entrance fees, a portion of which then goes as prize money.

Whilst not a huge business on its own, running competitions can be an excellent way of generating publicity for your business while earning a modest income.


Information sharing business is where you sell information regarding your particularly hobby or interest.

Examples of this type of business:

o Setting up a website where you list all the events that would be of interest to those participating in your hobby and charging a membership or subscription fee.

o Publishing your own guide books or annual directories listing all the information about your particular hobby.

o Publishing your own regular magazine or newsletter.


Whatever your hobby, the chances are there will be something you can rent out to other hobby enthusiasts.

Examples of this type of business include cycle hire business, fishing rod hire, boat hire, photography equipment hire, holiday home hire, tents and camping equipment hire, garden furniture hire, pot plant hire for offices, hotels, residential homes, stage and movie props.

A hire service can be an excellent way of generating additional revenue for a traditional sales business. Let’s say you’ve opened a cycle shop – why not offer cycle hire as well?

Whatever you’re planning to sell – what can you hire to boost your sales?

If you’re a classic car collector, could you hire your vehicles out to film companies?

Or if you’re an outdoor caterer could you also include a glass hire service in your business?

Don’t limit your ideas to your hobbies or what interests you

Don’t be afraid to broaden your search for your future business idea.

Although lots of successful business ideas come from hobbies, don’t limit your thinking to only those areas you’re knowledgeable in. When Sir Alan Sugar founded

Amstrad, he wasn’t a computer or software guru but an entrepreneur who saw a niche in the market.

Similarly, when Karan Bilimoria began his Cobra Beer company he wasn’t a brewer or had any previous knowledge of the drinks industry or Indian restaurant market. He simply saw a gap in the market and worked out a way of plugging that gap.

Neither had Richard Branson any previous experience of running an airline when he began Virgin Airlines, providing flights across the Atlantic.

And the late Anita Roddick, founder of the Body Shop, wasn’t previously a cosmetic retailer prior to starting up. Her previous business experience included running her own guesthouse and upmarket cafe´, neither of which, as she said herself, were really successful.

What all successful entrepreneurs have in common is a seemingly uncanny ability to spot the ‘next good thing’. At least that what non-entrepreneurs will usually tell you. I’ve often heard people remark, ‘they (successful entrepreneurs) have a gift or inside knowledge for spotting the next best opportunity’. The actual reality is somewhat more mundane. There’s no magic or specialist knowledge involved at all. It’s more a case that the successful entrepreneur will continue to slog away, enduring failure after failure, setback after setback, until such times as they hit on the right idea at the right time.

And that, dear reader, is the key to success in your venture.

Be prepared for setbacks. Be ready for the crushing blow when you think you’ve come up with what you believe is the mother of all ideas only to find either someone else has beaten you to the post or some other unmovable obstacle is standing in the way of you getting going.

When you consider that according to the banks only one in every four new businesses survives the first year of trading, and from then only one in every four will actually survive beyond their third year trading, you don’t need me to tell you that the odds of you being successful are fairly much stacked against you. But that should neither worry you, nor deter you.

My belief is that many business failures could have been avoided had the entrepreneur given enough thought to their initial idea. For example, I met two entrepreneurs this week who had just opened their first restaurant. The menu displayed in the window is handwritten, prices are cheaper than cheap, and the lady serving behind the counter looks like death has taken a break. In all honesty, why would anyone want to eat there?

When in passing I spoke to the couple behind the new venture, they told me of their plans to open a whole chain of these restaurants. They seemed to believe they were going to be the next McDonalds. Somehow I don’t think they’ll make it, but I do hope that before it’s too late they’ll realise that they are actually offering nothing. Yes, they’re offering cheap food. But the problem is that so are half the restaurants in the road they’ve just opened up on. And those that are offering cheap fare already enjoy a loyal following built up over many years, which means there’s no incentive for anyone to visit our cheap and cheerful friends except perhaps the bailiffs.

A great idea should be at the core of your business

If you’re simply offering something that’s already available then you might as well not bother. A successful business is one that doesn’t follow the crowds, but instead carves out a nice little niche for itself before the big boys try to move in on that market.

Prepare to work through lots of ideas. Some ideas you will have might look good initially, but make sure you work your way through all of these before starting your business.

I started the Dutch Bike shop from my kitchen table. I’d be embarrassed to tell you (but I will anyway because it makes for a better read) that when we first started our business we only had one model of a Dutch bike available and that could only be supplied in one colour. Today we have considerably more models, and a variety of colours and specifications, but the important thing here was the key idea.

When people ask me how I came upon the idea to import Dutch bikes into the UK, I tell them that when I wanted to buy one for myself I couldn’t find a single outlet selling them. So I decided to fill the gap in the market.

Try to remember for a moment all the times you’ve tried to buy something you simply couldn’t get hold of, but still dearly wanted. Think big. Don’t think small items that cost a few pence. If your idea involves selling something that costs pennies to buy, you’ll only make a fraction of that in return for selling one, so whatever it is you’re thinking of selling it will have to be sold in huge quantities. The area of mass retail isn’t suitable for us kitchen table entrepreneurs. That’s really the domain of the multi-retail giants. Think instead of the things these multi-retailers aren’t providing, or won’t currently sell, as it’s too specialist, too niche for them.

Start looking in such areas and I promise you will find some great ideas.


1. Getting ideas is simply a process of looking at things differently and working through lots of different ideas until you find the gems hidden in the sand.

2. Try to see if your idea fits into the hobby business ideas as these business models represent enormous potential.

Be prepared to start from where you are right now. If your dream is to run a florists’ shop, but you can’t afford to buy one or take on a shop lease, then be prepared to start with a bucket, selling door-to-door.