5 businesses to start in 2012

Despite what the analysts say, there's never been a better time to start a business. In 2012 the conditions are perfect: sluggish economic growth is forcing consumers to seek out new products and services and the government is pulling out the stops to get start-ups, well, starting up.

Meanwhile, free sources of help and advice are everywhere and hardware is getting cheaper by the day, meaning you can start a business in 2012 for the price of a laptop and a mobile phone. And you can get all sorts of software to do things like run your accounts and advertise your business for next to nothing.

Conditions are right; now you just need a good idea - but what? Of course the answer is to assess your skills: what can you do that people are prepared to pay for? Are you good at selling products, or do you have knowledge that you can pass on as a consultant? Everyone is different, and so is every business.

But if you're still wracking your brains for ideas, we have laid on a few examples that could be particularly successful against the unique backdrop of 2012.

1) Holiday homes

Trouble in the Eurozone, rising air fares and the ever-present threat of industrial action means more people than ever are opting to holiday right here in Blighty. 'Staycations', as they are popularly known, rose to eminence in wake of the credit crunch.

In 2010, the newspapers were full of reports about millions of Brits turning a brave face to the weather and marching off on camping or B&B holidays. So it was in 2011 (according to a recent survey, around half of us considered staycationing that year) and so it seems it will be again in 2012 - only now people are more comfortable with the idea.

The trend has sprouted into a thriving industry and some of the UK's best known entrepreneurs have piled in. Simon Nixon, the millionaire-many-times-over founder of moneysupermarket.com, has invested heavily in plush five-star holiday accommodation in the form of Simon Escapes.

The reasoning, he says, is that property (in this case huge houses in beautiful settings) is an asset that you can sell when the market is strong; but in the meantime you can make thousands of pounds a week by renting it out on short lets.

Most of us couldn't replicate the scale of Nixon's business, but it still makes sense on a less grand basis. All the more so if you have property in London, because rents are going through the roof spurred on by the thousands of people flocking to the Olympic Games.

2) Pound shops

It's a sick fact that there are now more pound shops than book stores on Britain's high streets. But as one star falls the other is shining brightly, and demand for goods at knock-down prices has never been stronger. 

This 'coup de tat' is reflected in some pretty stark figures: the number of pound shops is going up by 15 per cent a year and now there are well over 3,000 in total. Demand is high, the stock is - by definition - cheap and the time is seemingly right for this retail niche.

And, believe it or not, there's room for a profit too. In October, Poundland reported record turnover of £624m, 26 per cent higher than in the 12 months to March the same year. Operating profits also jumped to £31.7m, a 34 per cent increase.

But here's a caveat. The biggest risk to the pound shop boom is inflation, which is currently charging ahead at more than five per cent a year. In other words, things that cost £1 in 2011 will cost around £1.05 in 2012.

Add the effect of rising input prices to creeping taxes, such as VAT, and margins could get tight very quick. Poundland is doing very well for now, but that £1 ceiling can't last for ever - and 'Onepoundtwentyland' doesn't have the same ring to it.

3) Microbreweries

In a climate where policymakers are waging war on alcohol and 40 pubs are going bust every week, starting a brewery doesn't sound like a brilliant idea. Beer drinking is becoming less and less popular, with cider and wine picking up the slack.

And yet around 100 new breweries are starting up every year. Despite the fall in overall volumes being drunk, produce from microbreweries is up around nine per cent. Why? Because beer from microbreweries is all the rage.

People like to buy local and enjoy the multiplicity of flavours on offer, while many more like sampling ales that few others have tried before. Microbreweries give pubs a chance to offer variety and they spice up the act of buying a pint.

The market for local ales is growing and even the youngsters are getting involved. Better yet, ale drinkers make for loyal customers. When Scottish independent brewery BrewDog made shares in the company available via its website, it sold £500,000-worth in two days.

It eventually raised more than £2m in exchange for eight per cent of the business, a massive inflation of its £3.3m turnover. However, investors were seemingly attracted by fringe benefits: a lifetime discount on BrewDog beer and the opportunity to influence the future course of the business.

4) Weather-dependant businesses

Apart from matters relating to the economy and the Olympic Games, a third massive challenge for the UK could be brought on by the recent unusual weather conditions. November was the driest since records began and meteorologists expect unseasonably warm and arid weather to continue into 2012.

The result could be a drought next summer, unless we get some seriously heavy rain before then, and the Environment Agency is already putting plans in place to make sure all parts of the country have enough water.

It's not a great time to be an umbrella salesman, then, but entrepreneurial as well as meteorological skills will be required to sort the problem out - and you can bet the government will be willing to invest in businesses offering solutions.

Meanwhile, extended periods of warm weather starting earlier and ending later in the year will create a number of new markets for businesses. Summer fashion brands - punting t-shirts and warm weather accessories - can sell stock at premium prices for longer, while

UK holiday lets (see point 1) should see an upturn in interest too.
In addition, be prepared for sales of deck chairs, barbeque ware, silly hats, bottled water and beer (point 3) to go through the roof. Even the humble ice cream man gets a cut when the weather's good. Is 2012 the time to make a leap into the 99 industry?

5) Funeral homes or accountancy practices

"Nothing is certain but death and taxes," said Benjamin Franklin, and so far he hasn't been proved wrong. If all else fails then these two stalwarts of business will always be in demand. At least until people stop dying or the government bans tax, and neither seems likely in the next 12 months.

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