The UK’s 20 most successful small business sectors

Written by Anna King

#startups #innovation

What makes a successful small business? The answer will depend on who you ask. People start small businesses for a whole variety of different reasons, from wanting to do what they love, to gaining control over their destiny or achieving the lifestyle that suits them. In most cases, it doesn’t come down to making loads of money.


But of course, a small business isn’t sustainable unless people want to buy your product or service and you’re able to build up a loyal and regular customer base to keep the cash rolling in. So, a big part of success is also providing something that people actually need or want - and doing it so well that they keep coming back.

Predicting startup success is never easy, however, there are some types of businesses that will always have a good chance of making it, as they provide products or services that will always be in demand. Here’s our list of the 20 most successful types of small businesses here in the UK. Reckon you could give one of them a go?

  1. Tradespeople: Plumbers, electricians, gas engineers, builders. The list goes on and on. And as long as people live in buildings where things need fixing and renovating, they will always be in demand. Research shows that there are over 26,000 tradespeople in London alone – and they’ll never go out of fashion.
  2. Retail and e-commerce: Retail businesses are the third largest SME group in the UK, making up 16% of businesses. And of course, nowadays you don’t even need to have a physical shop – although you can if you want – by running your retail business purely online. This helps to keep your overheads low, while helping you to reach a much larger audience than you would otherwise.
  3. Accountants: Most businesses need an accountant to help manage their finances and complete their annual tax returns, as they simply don’t have the time, expertise, or patience to do these tasks themselves. So, if you’ve got the necessary bookkeeping and accountancy qualifications, your services will be at a premium.


  1. IT consulting: And the same goes for IT services. As technology gets more complicated, and the threat of cyber-attacks and data breaches increases, businesses are crying out for expert support from those who know their stuff and can advise them on what they should and shouldn’t be doing – not to mention trouble-shooting the daily IT issues that inevitably arise.
  2. Legal services: Similarly, people and businesses will always need legal advice, whether it’s relating to family law, conveyancing, or defence in criminal proceedings. Naturally, you’ll need some pretty hefty qualifications under your belt for this one, but if you’re fully qualified you’re in a great position to start a business with your expertise.
  3. Childminding: With more mums and dads working to pay the bills, demand for childminding services is at an all-time high. Meanwhile, figures show that the numbers going into the profession are declining. So, if you like kids and want to work from home, it can be a nice little earner.
  4. Restaurant or café: We all need to eat and drink, so running a food-focused small business is never a bad idea. There’s a whole spectrum of ways to approach it, from a simple café, to a fancy bistro, or even catering for events and weddings. And with services like Deliveroo and Just Eat, reaching customers has never been easier.
  5. Health, beauty and wellness: The health and beauty markets are booming, as consumers head to salons and spas for their haircuts, pedicures and massages. And with new treatments and trends popping up all the time, there’s always plenty of scope for innovation to help you to stand out from the crowd.
  6. Dentist surgery: Another vital necessity that will never go out of fashion, good dentistry businesses are guaranteed a steady income, irrespective of what’s going on with the economy. And they can command huge fees, particularly for more complex treatments and cosmetic procedures, making this a good business bet.

Hotels and holiday accommodation

  1. Hotels and holiday accommodation: Hospitality SMEs are on the rise in the UK, contributing £98 billion to the economy in 2017. With consumers increasingly looking for that ‘boutique’ feel from their holiday accommodation, there is huge scope for entrepreneurs with some fresh thinking. Plus, if you don’t want to go the whole hog, sites like Airbnb mean anybody can rent out their home and make a tidy profit.
  2. Cleaning: The UK cleaning market is worth £3 billion per year, and it’s growing, as busy consumers look for help with the daily chores. And don’t forget, there is the massive commercial sector too, with huge contracts available to clean offices and other business premises.
  3. Recruitment consultancies: With low overheads, recruitment is arguably one of the most straightforward businesses to start. You essentially just need a computer, phone and a healthy book of contacts to make a good go of it. Plus, the sector has grown enormously, at an annual rate of 27% since 2008, as businesses fight to overcome skills shortages and land the best talent.
  4. Personal training and fitness: Fitness is big business, as an increasing number of consumers catch on to the importance of staying in shape. One in seven people are now a member of a gym, and there is a constant appetite for new trends and innovations, particularly in group-based, instructor-led classes. So, if you’ve got a passion for fitness, there are lots of opportunities to make your mark.
  5. Transportation: Making up 2% of the UK’s SMEs, transportation businesses span everything from taxis, to couriers and removals businesses. And as consumers look for ever greater levels of convenience, and with the help of the internet, demand is booming. From self-employed Uber drivers, to independent removals or courier businesses, there are opportunities aplenty.


  1. Marketing and media: The UK marketing industry is huge, and the sector is dominated by brilliant SMEs. From graphic design, to advertising, PR to SEO, there are tonnes of opportunities to build a successful business in the marketing space. And if you know your stuff, you only need very basic tools to get started – just a laptop and phone should be all you need initially.
  2. Manufacturing: Making up 3% of the UK’s SMEs, small manufacturers are still a force to be reckoned with in the UK. From food and drink, to clothes, furniture, metal, electronics and other equipment, UK manufacturers make a whole array of products to sell domestically and overseas.
  3. Automotive repairs: British car owners spend £21.1 billion on having their cars repaired and maintained every year, the highest of any country in the world. There are currently 42,500 vehicle service and repair locations around the country, and the market is growing, thanks to more than 30 million cars in use and requiring regular servicing.
  4. Gardening: Brits love their gardens, and services that helping us to maintain them are increasingly popular. From time-poor city dwellers, to those who want to introduce something more innovative to their outdoor space, there are lots of opportunities for horticulturalists and garden landscaping specialists – and the market is on the rise.


  1. Education: Making up 5% of the UK’s SMEs, education doesn’t just happen when you’re at school. Education businesses span everything from driving schools, to private tutoring and adult learning of skills as diverse as foreign languages and music. And with a whole host of online tutoring and learning hubs popping up, it’s easier than ever to get connected with enthusiastic students.
  2. Estate agents: There are over 16,000 registered estate agencies in the UK according to Companies House - the equivalent of 25.6 for every 100,000 residents. And while high street businesses might be under threat from new online providers, if you’re technically savvy, there are still plenty of opportunities out there in sales and lettings.

Of course, choosing the right sector is just part of the battle, when starting up and running a small business. All business sectors are constantly evolving in response to customer demands, expectations and trends, so it’s vital to ensure you know your market, and position your offering accordingly. Then the rest comes down to a lot of hard work.

Related Links

Have you got your business insurance sorted?

It only takes 2 minutes to get a quote.

Signup for more stuff like this!