53 small business ideas to start at university
Running low on cash and inspiration? Have a look at our list of profitable small business ideas you can start from home with just a small investment.
Setting up your own business and working for yourself is a great way to earn extra money at home without being tied down to shift work – but finding a great idea can be quite tricky!
These small business ideas should get your entrepreneurial juices flowing and set you off on your merry way to startup success.
How to come up with a profitable business idea
- Do some research: what do people need or want? Think of an everyday obstacle – how can it be overcome? Start with a Google search.
- If you could provide or invent something that would make life easier, better, safer, fairer or cheaper – what would it be?
- What are you really good at or love doing? Perhaps start with that.
- Think about what business ventures might support your future or education.
Best small business ideas
Here is our list of profitable business ideas you can easily start from home:
1. Make money from social media
Whether you're big on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or whatever else, you can make money (and get freebies) by advertising products for brands.
You'll probably have more luck with companies that are relevant to your brand (so if you're a food blogger, you may be better off approaching kitchenware companies to promote their gadgets), but it's not uncommon for influencers to promote all kinds of products.
Check out our guide to making money from social media for the full lowdown.
2. Start a website
As far as small business ideas go, things don't come much easier than setting up your own website – and the best part is that it can be about anything you like (within the confines of the law, of course).
Just pick a subject you're passionate about, get blogging and then start earning. To set you on your way, we've identified some ways to monetise your website – you'll be a dot com millionaire in no time.
3. Become a YouTuber
Whether it's the ads that YouTube places on your videos, or the opportunities for sponsored content that come with having a successful channel, there's some serious money to be made here.
And you don't have to reach the levels of PewDiePie or Zoella to earn money from YouTube videos – just pick a topic that interests you (games, comedy and music tend to be popular) and put together simple guides or reviews. As long as you're offering something different, there's no reason for you not to do well.
4. Pet sitting
All of these business ideas are worth a go, but honestly, does it get any better than getting paid to hang around with animals?
From busy workers who are out during the daytime, to families going abroad for a couple of weeks, plenty of people are willing to pay someone to look after their beloved pets – even if it's just to walk the dog for an hour or so each day.
And, as we explain in our guide to becoming a pet sitter, the money isn't bad either!
5. Resell textbooks
Although selling your own textbooks is a great place to start, that's not your only option.
At the end of the semester, offer to buy your classmates' second-hand textbooks. Chances are they'll accept a fairly low price as it saves them having to go through the hassle of selling it online themselves.
Then, at the start of the new term (or new year), find the latest students taking that module. Sell the books to them for more than you bought them for – but less than the cost of a new copy – and you're in the money. Simple supply and demand.
6. Sell on creative marketplaces
These sites are the perfect place to cash in on your talents, whether that be graphic design, composing music or even developing recipes.
7. Publish a magazine or blog
The easiest place to start here would be to focus on your main interests. That way, you'll know enough potential contributors to start filling out your publication.
If you're a student, speak to tutors, experts and even your classmates to see if they'd like to chip in. Once you've got your writers (and your content), you could then place adverts in your magazine (or blog).
But it's not all about the money! Seeing this kind of project through to completion will look great on your CV, too.
8. Sell clothes on Depop
Extra money in your pocket? Check. Encouraging sustainability? Check. More space in your wardrobe? Check.
And if you want to take things to the next level, why not head to the charity shop, scout out some hidden gems and sell them online for a profit?
9. Upcycle and sell for a profit
Sites like Gumtree and Freecycle are perfect for selling upcycled goods, and it's not just clothes that can be transformed, either. There's a huge market for upcycled furniture, so if you're in a charity shop and spot a tired old chair that could do with a lick of paint, give it that lick!
Once you're done, take to the internet and sell your handy work for a profit. Before you know it, you'll have your own small business.
10. Run a delivery service
Starting your own delivery service is just one of the many ways to make money from walking – although, if you've got a bike (or even a car) you should be able to complete each order a lot quicker.
Evenings and weekends are the ideal time to deliver McDonald's and beer combos (although you'll have the likes of Deliveroo to compete with in larger towns or cities), while in the mornings you could bring people their coffees, newspapers or train tickets.
11. Buy and sell popular graphics and icons
Assuming you've not got the skills to design them yourself (if you do, this one is pure profit for you), pay a flat rate to a freelance graphic designer to create popular web graphics or icons.
Then head to a marketplace, like GraphicRiver, and sell them for a recurring income. You may need to sell a few copies before you break even, but once you do, it's all profit from there on out.
12. Film screening club
Got access to a church hall, or a bar that could do with a few more punters on a quiet night of the week? How about a lecture hall (a.k.a. a glorified cinema)?
Arrange to show a film on the big screen (bonus points if the venue already has a projector) and sell tickets to your friends, coursemates, family – pretty much anyone who might be interested!
13. Get paid to queue
It's often said that we Brits love to queue but, in reality, everybody hates it – we just respect the order and accept that it's the fairest way to approach things.
So, now that we've established that nobody likes queueing, it's time to offer a solution. Whether it's queueing outside a venue for tickets or waiting on the phone to finally get through to a member of staff, you can profit from enduring the misery on somebody else's behalf.
14. Convert CDs into MP3s
This is more likely to be one you can use on your parents or grandparents rather than people your own age (although don't rule it out!), but if you find someone willing to pay, don't let age get in the way.
As long as your computer has a disc drive, you can copy the songs off the CDs and onto your PC (this guide explains how to do it, but it's actually very simple). Then it's just a case of dragging and dropping the songs over to whatever device your paying customer would like to listen on. A simple task, if not a little time-consuming.
15. Self-publish a book
Always had an idea for a story? Well nowadays, with the rise and rise of eBooks, there's nothing to stop you from becoming a published author.
In fact, even if you don't fancy penning a novel, you can still make some money from writing. Set yourself an unusual goal and either blog or write a book about it – just like student Ken Ilgunas, who self-published a book about living in a van.
16. Start an accommodation reviews website
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, setting up your own website is so easy. But finding somewhere nice to live at uni often isn't, so do your fellow students a massive favour by starting a review site for accommodation in the area.
17. Set up a Skype language course
Are you bilingual? If so, whether you realise it or not, you could be making some serious cash from something that probably seems completely natural to you.
There are loads of ways to make money from your language skills, but one of the best (and easiest, in terms of the time and effort required to get started) is to offer language classes over Skype. That way, you can sell your services to people all around the world without ever leaving your room!
18. Grow and sell your own fresh fruit and vegetables
You can grow loads of different fruit, veg and herbs at home – so many that we've even got a guide to it.
Lots of plants can even be grown indoors, while some don't even need proper pots and can thrive in old wellies!
19. Sell original work on Etsy
If #6 on this list took your fancy, then give this a go too! Etsy is the place to sell your original works – be it t-shirts, jewellery, stationery or anything else.
Of course, you should make sure you read our guide to making money on Etsy before you get started.
20. Sell audio or eBook versions of out-of-copyright works
Modern books won't be covered by this trick, so if you're thinking of producing your own audiobook of the Harry Potter series, you're out of luck.
But older works (we're talking several decades, if not centuries) will often be out of copyright, meaning they're essentially free to use and free for you to reproduce as eBooks or audiobooks.
We'd recommend targeting harder-to-find works, like medieval literature or 18th-century science tomes, as there'll be less competition and possibly more demand for an accessible copy online.
21. Become a professional finder
Always fancied yourself as a bit of a Sherlock Holmes? You can use these skills, as well as the internet and some local contacts, to help people track down the impossible (by which we mean irreplaceable possessions that they've lost, or extremely hard-to-find items that they'd like to buy).
All for a small fee, of course.
22. Become a freelancer
Whether it's related to your current course or your dream career, you can offer your skills to people who need web design, illustration, writing, admin support and much more.
23. Create food hampers
Parents of students will always be concerned about what their children are eating – but they can worry a little less once they've sent them one of your hampers.
24. Run speed dating nights
Dating apps are all well and good, but nothing quite beats meeting someone in the real world.
So, for students looking for a slightly less virtual matchmaking service, organise a speed dating night and charge a small fee for entry.
25. Make bespoke photo albums
Use a site like Lulu.com to produce professionally printed books or magazines and, to make each one unique, add hand-crafted touches or notes.
26. Offer a transcription service for lectures
Not that we'd encourage people not to turn up to lectures (no, seriously, we wouldn't do that), but rarely will a class ever have 100% attendance. So, as the lecture slides often lack a bit of context, offer to transcribe the lecturer's words and sell them to the absentees.
Heck, sell them to the people who turned up, too – they'll be the best lecture notes anyone's ever taken.
Or, if you've got some graphic design skills, why not offer to produce some handouts for your tutors?
27. Create a swapping site to match owners with borrowers
Clothes, services, bikes, books – people are always looking to borrow all of these and more.
A swapping site is a great small business idea to help match those wanting to borrow something with those who have something to offer, or maybe one that matches students who want to see the UK with those who live in other towns.
Not much to explain here! Our guide has all the details on becoming a babysitter, but the most important thing is to actually enjoy the company of children. Otherwise, what's the point (other than the money, of course)?
29. Organise student trips
Scout out some popular festivals or cities (either in the UK or Europe) and organise a trip for yourself and a few dozen other students.
Booking en masse is more likely to get you a discount (on top of our tips for saving money at festivals), so it's only fair that you charge your mates a little commission for setting the whole thing up!
30. Help friends and family with matched betting
Matched betting is a risk-free way of making a guaranteed profit – but only if you follow the instructions exactly.
If you drop the ball you could end up losing money. So, in exchange for a slice of the winnings, offer up your expertise to your friends and family.
And if you've not yet got to grips with the whole thing, here's our guide to getting started with matched betting.
31. Become a model for stock photographs
The beauty of stock photos is that you don't need to be a typical model to feature in them – after all, they're meant to be more realistic.
That said, if you don't feel comfortable getting in front of the camera, you could help photographers find models instead.
Or, you could just cut out the middle man, grab a camera and have a go at shooting and selling your own snaps! Check out our guide to selling photos online for some tips, as well as an idea of the kind of money you could make.
32. Produce a campus newsletter
To save on costs (and environmental impact), go for an email newsletter rather than an old-fashioned paper copy. And to make some money, you can sell advertising space to local businesses, organise exclusive deals and discounts to offer readers, or even run some competitions.
33. Start an annual gift or card service
Always find yourself forgetting people's birthdays? Yeah, us too. Save yourself (and everyone else) a world of embarrassment by setting up a service that not only reminds people of important dates (anniversaries and Valentine's Day are just as lucrative as birthdays!) but sorts the gift and card, too.
And when you do, let us know so we can sign up.
34. Become a market research consultant
Despite students famously having no money, companies are still absolutely desperate to sell to them.
So, as a student, you can offer them some invaluable insight into how their brand and products are perceived by young people – and it's only fair that they pay you for your services.
Head over to our guide to product testing for more info on this kind of thing!
35. Publish yearbooks
Yearbooks are always great fun, but it's unlikely that your uni will be publishing one for you. So why not take up the responsibility yourself and be the hero of your course?
There are loads of print-on-demand publishers that will help you do this, and if you want to maximise your profits (or keep the costs low for your buyers), you could even sell advertising space to local businesses.
36. Buy and sell old gym equipment
Seemingly everyone has some unused home gym equipment sitting in the garage, right next to a pile of good intentions.
Look on the likes of Facebook Marketplace or Gumtree, buy the kit at a bargain rate (or even ask to take it away for free) and then re-sell it – either to an individual or a local school, gym, office or personal trainer.
37. Offer to collect or wait for deliveries
Pretty similar to number 13, this one! Save someone else the time or cost of rearranging a missed package by offering to wait in for them, or to collect it on their behalf.
38. Help connect musicians with local events and businesses
Create a portfolio website for bands and musicians, and then promote that website to local events and businesses. They'll then have a go-to resource for booking acts in the area!
39. Sell smoothies or sandwiches to local businesses
Call local businesses first thing in the morning and get them to place some orders for later in the day. Then, make the smoothies and sandwiches at home (we've got some great sandwich ideas here) and deliver them to their door at lunchtime. Like Deliveroo, but much, much cheaper!
40. Turn your best photos or artwork into posters
Sound like something you could hack? Check out Snapfish and start printing your masterpieces.
41. Start an essay or thesis proofreading business
Ok, so maybe the last thing you'd want to do after writing your own essays is proofread other people's. But think of it this way: you'll get loads of exposure to how you should (or shouldn't) structure an essay, and unlike when you're doing your own work, you'll be getting paid for your time.
Hit up some freelancing sites to start offering your services – there are thousands of people out there desperate for someone to give their writing the once over.
42. Create a guide to the local area
A website, a magazine, an app – whatever you settle on, use your knowledge of the area to create a resource that helps freshers make the most of their new town.
Include the best cafés, cheapest deals and some hidden gems. You can sell the guide on, or give it away for free and ask businesses to pay a small fee to be included.
43. Start your own travel exchange
Put together packages of budget flights, accommodation and events and co-ordinate it between your own university and one based abroad. If it's easier, try starting with a uni that yours is already affiliated with (usually one of the ones on offer for a year studying abroad).
44. Sell a university essentials welcome package
When we say "essentials", we're talking stationery, kitchen utensils, discount vouchers and more – basically anything from our what to take to uni checklist that can be delivered to freshers’ rooms ahead of their first day.
45. Start a tutoring service
Private tutors get paid seriously good money – like, over £30 an hour kind of good money.
Naturally, you can market yourself as a tutor for school students in whichever subject you're studying at uni, but don't limit yourself. If you're studying English but did really well in Maths at school, offer to help kids with this, too.
And, as we explain in our guide to becoming a tutor, you can even tutor online to expand your customer base.
46. Rent out your unused parking space
If you have an unused parking space outside your house, see if you can rent it out for some extra cash. You'll have to check with your landlord first but, if necessary, you could always offer to give them a slice of the profits if that's what it takes.
This idea's especially lucrative if you live near a train station, airport or high street, or if the area is largely permit parking only. Basically, anywhere where parking's at a premium!
47. Be a sports coach for local or uni teams
Pretty simple, really. If you're good at a sport, or just have a knack for teaching it, get paid to be a coach for one of the local teams (or the uni team, if they pay).
48. Collect other students' dirty laundry
We're probably not helping to fight the whole 'lazy students' stereotype here, but if your fellow students can't be bothered to take their washing to the laundrette (or don't know how to use a washing machine), why not do it for them?
You only need to charge a couple of quid per person and, depending on the size of the flats in your halls, you could be making upwards of £20 from each one.
49. Create a motivational app
Along with some inspirational messages, make sure the app can log lecture/seminar/gym attendance. It can then award users points, vouchers or gifts for sticking to their targets (or exceeding them!), and give penalties for slacking.
50. Start an outdoor fitness trail
People are always looking for ways to keep fit without paying for a gym membership, and outdoor fitness trails are among the most popular alternatives.
Set up a trail on MeetUp.com and lead groups of people to unusual locations, or places off the beaten track, all the while working out without any gym equipment.
51. Offer a CV design or review service
Most people feel a bit uncomfortable putting a CV together, especially when it's their first time.
Read our guide to CV writing to brush up on your expertise, and then offer out your services as a résumé reviewer.
52. Design secret cases for gadgets
Have you ever seen those tins of beans that are actually secret containers for your valuables? Well, this is the same principle, but for all your favourite gadgets.
Think phone covers that look like pencil cases, or laptop cases that look like a ring-binder – essentially, anything that's so worthless, no thief would ever think to steal it. And there are bonus points on offer (from us and the customers of your small business) for using recycled materials.
53. Offer a study survival pack
Customers can sign up at the start of the year and let you know whenever they expect to have an intense period of revision or deadlines.
Then, whenever they need it, you can deliver them a study survival kit to their house or the library. Pack it full of things like Berocca, teabags, scented candles, cans of Red Bull and a few brain foods and they'll be ready to go.
Golden rules for starting a business
Keep your best start-up business ideas on track with some common sense:
- Don’t do anything illegal
- Don’t compromise anyone's safety to make a buck
- Don't slack on your studies in favour of making some cash
- Check any rules your uni or student insurance provider might have about running a business
- You'll need to complete a self-assessment tax return each year
- Make sure you sound-out any rules about plagiarism if you intend to sell your notes or essays
- Check whether you need a licence, insurance or qualification to put any of your ideas into action before you move forward
- Don’t just think in terms of the money – going for ideas that help your community or local charities can do just as much for your CV or personal satisfaction.
Anyone can have a weird or wonderful idea, but very few actually turn their dreams into concrete reality.
Whether you've got a world-changing concept or just want to make some extra cash, you've got to make a start before you can have a startup business!