Updated: Dec 23, 2021
Earlier this year Courier magazine published a bigass issue covering 100 of the latest, greatest ways to make a living in a less 9-to-5, more self-high-five way. To save you hours of time as well as any number of potential papercuts, I’ve distilled and summarised the hell out of the whole thing.
There’s so much good stuff in there, even my summary is a longass one — so I’m breaking it into quarters. Each idea comes with a takeaway — and the best thing is, those takeaways are pretty universal, so even if running a dog grooming salon isn’t for you, it’s worth checking out the insight or tip that comes with it, instead of throwing the baby (puppy?) out with the bathwater.
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Idea 51: Self-storage. Among other things, the self-storage sector caters to people going through life-changing events: like having a baby, or redecorating their home — both of which boomed during the pandemic. There has also been an exodus from cities as the new WFH lifestyle has made people rethink their living arrangements. The population of London is expected to shrink for the first time in 30 years in 2021, falling 300,000 to 8.7 million. Sure, there’s big companies in this business — like Big Yellow Self Storage — but there’s plenty of room for innovation, and besides, you don’t need to buy a warehouse yourself: you can rent out your own spare cupboard or shed through websites like Stashbee or Storemates. Takeway: The need for self-storage is likely to keep growing, and you don’t have to compete with the big dogs to step in: either to offer up your own space, or to innovate within the sector.
Idea 52: Using deadstock fabric. Example: Vpaintz Upcycling, Protean, Lydia Bolton, upcycled_gemz, Sojo. As people are becoming more aware of negative effects of fast fashion, a growing number of eco-consious designers are reviving abandoned clothes and fabrics in creative ways. It can be a lot cheaper to buy deadstock than going through the whole production process yourself. The trick is in finding unwanted materials that customers will actually want to buy. Younger consumers who are used to fast fashion price tags often struggle to afford long-lasting clothing, let alone designer labels. Deadstock pieces offer these options at a reasonable price, and are totally bespoke — so it’s no surprise they often sell out within hours of being listed. Vpaintz Upcycling turns everything from old denim to bicycle parts into customisable waterproof bags. Protean turns heritage Liberty prints into luxurious silk scrunchies. Lydia Bolton transforms vintage tablecloths into colourful gingham shirts and skirts. The brand’s secret is to work on a made-to-order model, where buyers get bespoke clothing and no money is wasted on purchasing stock that might not be bought. Anna McAnallen at upcycled_gemz has carved out a niche for herself by turning disused Prada and Dior charms into pieces of jewellery. Teaching people how to upcycle their own clothes will grow over the next few years, as well. Apps such as Sojo are springing up to help people alter and repair their old garments. Takeway: The process is fairly simple: 1) Source deadstock from anywhere you can think of, including charity shops, Facebook marketplace, eBay, and even donations from friends. 2) Redesign or spruce it up. Educate yourself by watching tutorials if you need to. 3) Sell. Unlike Depop, on Instagram sellers currently don’t pay fees, plus it’s a good place to tell the item’s story, which always helps to add interest.
Idea 53: Themed prints and merch.
Created by Sean Kesterson, Alimo is a niche art and merch brand that draws from surf and snowboard culture, which Sean got into as a teenager. His art business has evolved to sell a range of products including naturally prints, dyed socks, mugs, and recycled jigsaw puzzles. The brand embeds environmentalism into its products: they are all manufactured within 50 miles of California, and the prints are made on demand to reduce waste.
Takeway: Apply your creative flair to a niche interest such as a hobby, sport, or any other obsession — and you are will find an audience.
Idea 54: Plant-based food.
In the Asia-Pacific region, 3 in 4 people are willing to pay a similar price for plant-based alternatives as for meat and 56% of young Asians are actively trying to cut down on their meat intake.
Takeway: Whether you’re doing it for the environment, to improve people’s health, to prevent animal cruelty, or all of the above, plant-based food is a fantastic business opportunity right now.
Idea 55: OnlyFans (it’s not just for sex, y’know)
Example: If you think OnlyFans is exclusively for adult content, think again. A growing number of content creators on the site don’t sell sex at all: from wellness coaches to comedians and professional chefs. ZoahHedges-Stocks runs Great Tits British Wildlife Cam (it’s just a bird pun, you pervert), giving her subscribers wildlife footage from her back garden. She is considering using the income towards a pension — an unexpected benefit of sharing her habitat with badgers and foxes.
Takeway: Content subscriptions are popular, and OnlyFans is a platform that makes it easy: you just need to find something people would want to pay to see on a regular basis.
Idea 56: Floral design.
As a child, the Danish designer Thilde Kristensen spent many weekends at her grandmother’s farm picking wildflowers and arranging them into colourful bundles. It wasn’t until the birth of her first child and experiencing burnout after 15 years in the theatre industry that she considered it as a career. After selling small bouquets at a local market, she got her first commission from a friend and coffee owner, then word spread to a few fashion stylists and a vintage boutique. Since then, she has grown her brand Poppykalas into a floral conception and styling studio working with the likes of Net-A-Porter, Nike, Gucci, Louis Vuitton, and Bang & Olufsen.
Thilde says that Instagram has played a valuable role, by extending the lifespan of her ephemeral creations but also making it possible for big name brands to find her.
Takeway: Think back to your childhood interests. Sometimes the thing you loved doing most as a kid can become your Big Idea.
Idea 57: Lingerie brand.
Examples: Parade, Cuup, Neiwai, Gugu intimates, Valiant Lingerie, Womanhood. There are lots of opportunities in the $250 billion lingerie industry as woman are starting to take control of the lingerie sector, creating brands that prioritize comfort, innovation, body positivity and diversity. Non-wired and sports bras are gaining poularity, as are comfort-focused design innovations like fasteners to the side of the bra instead of the back. Some newbrands choose to focus on skin colour diversity for their nude product lines, others provide attractive options for people who have had surgery or treatment on their breasts.
Takeway: The fashion industry, and the lingerie sector in particular, is undergoing a rethink under the flags of body positivity and comfort combined with beautiful design. There are still plenty of opportunities to be found in there.
Idea 58: Greeting cards.
Example: Aya Paper Co
In just over a year since she quit her full-time design job at an art museum, SaVonne Anderson has gone from selling greeting cards at local markets and events to being stocked by Macy’s and Kohl’s. Her unique angle was her refreshingly inclusive designs in an industry that’s hardly representative of the wider population. She also says that the pandemic has made people pay more attention to small gestures of attention to their loved ones, such as sending someone a real greeting card. And despite being stocked by over 40 stores, she still only employs a handful of staff and does about 3/4 of all the design work.
Takeway: Representation matters — and there are many spheres where it still has a long way to go.
Idea 59: HR tech.
Example: With hybrid working now being embraced in most of the world, demand for HR tech has never been higher. For example, 6 in 10 businesses are planning to embed predictive analytics into their human r4esources and employee experience processes over the next few years.
Takeway: The way we work has changed forever — and that requires a whole new infrastucture. You can just pick one area and fix its problems.
Idea 60: Start a community.
Examples: Ethel’s Club, Somewhere Good. From activity clubs to co-living spaces, more and more people are looking for new ways to meet up and become a part of like-minded communities, both online and in physical locations. Naj Austin founded Ethel’s Club, an online wellness and mental health-focused community for people of colour. More recently she launched Somewhere Good, a social networking platform for communities of colour that connects people based on their interests. To her, it’s less about the ‘scroll of death’ and more about co-creating content and collaborating in ways that you don’t get on other social media.
Takeway: Traditional social media are increasingly proving how damaging and unhealthy they can be for people’s mental health and happiness. There is a lot of room for new, healthier, happier, more human-friendly alternatives.
Idea 61: Car customisation
Example: Based in Nagoya, Japan, Paradise Road is a full-service lowrider shop. The founder, Junichi Shimodaira, says that when he first saw lowrider cars, his jaw dropped — and later he fiund a way to turn his obsession into a business. Instead of just selling car parts, he really wanted to remodel and fix cars — so he opened a store with a garage, where he started restyling. These days he spends most of his time in his garages and workshops putting together custom car designs. Junichi draws on influences from magazines, films, music videos and his customers’ favourite images — and the internet allows him to bring his customising to the whole world.
Takeway: If there’s something you are obsessed with that has a dedicated community of like-minded nutjobs, you can turn that hobby into a business.
Idea 62: Haircare innovation
The haircare industry shake-up is long overdue a shake-up. The same brands, faces and hair types have been front and centre for too long — and now consumers are demanding change, which creates multiple business opportunities. Here are just three of the evolving areas within the hair care industry where brands and doing interesting work:
The scalp as skincare Increasingly, people want haircare products that tackle scalp concerns as well as looking after their hair. This trend is often referred to as ‘skinification’ of hair, with lots of haircare products using ingredients that are typically found in skincare. It’s a big opportunity for new brands to encourage greater spending on a relatively ignored part of the body: the scalp.
Diverse offerings Black hair brands have been historically treated as niche by corporations. Black haircare has been more of an afterthought — which is baffling, given that women of colour spend 9 times more on beauty products than any other group. Now, new brands are ensuring that every hair type is represented. One example is Swivel, which connects black women to great hairstylists.
Takeway: Whether you choose to focus on sustainability, inclusivity, or previously overlooked aspects of haircare such as scalp health, there’s plenty of room for innovation in haircare.
Idea 63: Pickleball
In 2020 alone, 21% more Americans started playing pickleball. The racquet sport is a combo of tennis, badminton and table tennis which began as a children’s sport but is now massively popular in older communities in the States, with 3 players out of 4 being over 55.
Takeway: With pickleball equipment sales expected to grow 9% every year until 2030, there are multiple opportunities for brands to get involved with the sport.
Idea 64: Food and drink blogging
Andrea Hernández is the founder of food and drink trend forecaster Snaxshot. Her newsletter and consultancy, which she runs from Honduras, has caught the eye of big players, from the New Yorker to Target and several multinational companies. Andrea is one of the emerging food and drink writers who did not start out with traditional outlets but decided to go it alone instead — and made it work.
From the Desk of Alicia Kennedy is a weekly Substack newsletter on food, politics and media. Also on Substack, Paula Forbes runs Stained Page News, covering the cookbook publishing industry and featuring recipe excerpts, interviews and news for cookbook lovers.
Takeway: The boom in newsletters as an alternative to established media has been well documented, with platforms like Substack allowing people to develop their personal brands and opening up their publications to free as well as paid subscriptions.
Idea 65: Seaweed-based businesses
Seaweed is natural, healthy, plentiful and sustainable — so it’s no surprise it’s becoming a profitable business.
Based in Maine, US, AKUA is a company making jerky and burgers out of kelp. Its founder, the former tech journalist Courtney Boyd Myers, says seaweed has become a hot commodity in recent years due in part to growing global health consciousness and the rise of veganism.
It’s increasingly used in food as well as in skincare and supplements, due to its nutrient diversity. Kelp in particular is considered a ‘sea superfood’. It’s a zero-input crop that grows without dry land. fresh water, fertiliser or feed — and it’s good for the planet: it can remove carbon and nitrogen from the sea five times more efficiently than land-based plants do from the air.
Brands have already started capitalising on its nutritional benefits to make seaweed butter, tea, kimchi and even kelp salsa. Additionally, recent research suggests that seaweed could be used in animal feed: feeding cows seaweed could reduce as much as 70% of their emissions of the greenhouse gas methane.
Takeway: Seaweed wood will only keep growing (no pun intended), and it’s time to seas… er, I mean seize the opportunity.
Idea 66: A purpose-led online store Founded by Montreal-based twin brothers Byron and Dexter Peart, GOODEE is an online marketplace selling a curated selection of responsibly sourced, design-focused products that have a positive impact. The question at the heart of everything that Byron and Dexter do is: ‘what are the key issues right now, and how can we address them?’
At a time when anyone can set up an online store, there is more choice than ever — but it’s not so easy to find a trusted destination that supports your values, says Byron. That’s why GOODEE isn’t just another e-commerce store: it brings together independent design-led, purpose driven brands from around the world, tells their stories and helps customers understand the positive affect their purchases have. It also aims to help people make better and fewer choices: or example, the website doesn’t rush customers to check out, but invites them to contemplate their purchase before clicking ‘buy.’
The founders’ vision is to reframe the narrative around what good design and luxury mean. An artisan’s craft in a small community in West Africa is as valuable and desirable as something shown at an art fair in New York, says Byron.
Takeway: Don’t just open yet another e-commerce store. Open one that has a reason to exist — and enjoy a whole new level of satisfaction and customer loyalty.
Idea 67: AI-based products and services
Examples: Arthur AI, #Selfcare, Jupiter Intelligence, Dendra Systems, Bearing Arthur AI was born in 2018, when Adam Wenchel left Capital One to work on his startup. The idea was designed to solve an issue that’s recently come to light: AI can often exacerbate societal inequalities, because it’s learning from historic precedents, many of which were affected by biases of the eras when they occurred. Arthur AI is an agent that plugs into a company’s AI mode, monitoring what it’s looking at and the findings it produces. It then picks up any issues of equity that result from misfiring AI models.
Founded in 2014, Dendra Systems combines the processing power of AI with the all-seeing capabilities of drones. The technology scans and classifies areas of land using a drone-mounted camera and identifies how much grassland, water and vegetation there is. The computer vision tech also enables it to identify the species growing in any given environment, so that hardware attached to the drone can replant the land by dropping seeds. This enables companies to rehabilitate land that has been degraded through industry or misuse 11 times faster than traditional methods.
#Selfcare is a game that lets users pretend they are in bed all day — as an antidote to the stresses of everyday life. Created by the CEO and founder of TRU LUV, Brie Code, it has been downloaded by more than 4 million people without any advertising campaigns to promote it. It was born out of Brie’s frustration at the way that most of today’s games are designed around the fight or flight response to stress, leveraging adrenaline to create engagement — so she used a polar opposite approach.
Jupiter Intelligence uses AI to monitor the effects of climate change and warn governments about the need to intervene to prevent catastrophe. The company has raised around $40 million for its predictive AI technology which is used by clients ranging from BP to NASA, and the US government has used its services to assess the risk of flooding, heat changes, wildfires and wind.
Bearing is a Silicon Valley startup founded by Dylan Keil and David Liu that aims to bring more efficiency to the world of shipping. Ingesting data from various sources including ship sensors, satellite positioning and weather data, it than feeds it into its deep learning model to provide performance analytics and a smart routing engine suggesting the best route for vessels to take as they traverse the globe — helping the environment in the process, because its 90% accurate estimates of fuel consumption are far more accurate than the traditional non-tech-enabled guesses, which are only right 80% of the time.
Takeway: Artificial intelligence is one of the most game-changing technologies to have emerged in generations, and it will have a massive impact on almost every industry for years to come — just pick an industry you know and care about, and see how you can improve it through AI.
Idea 68: Investing in farmland
US-based FarmTogether is a platform that crowdfunded $22 million in April 2021. It’s one of a handful of ideas that are opening up access to farmland as an asset. You can invest in agricultural land starting with as little as $10,000. AcreTrader, which facilitates the trading of farmland online, reports that the average annual return of farmland is about 11.5%.
Takeway: Money may not grow on trees, but apparently it does on farmland.
Idea 69: Craft classes and creative spaces
Examples: El Torn, BCN Clay Studio Demand for craft classes is at an all-time high the world over as people are looking for ways to get their mind off the tumultuous news cycle and get their hands dirty. That means lots of opportunities for collaboratively inclined suppliers of creative spaces. For many would-be business owners in the pottery space, the best approach is a collaborative one. Through partnerships and co-working opportunities, getting a proper studio off the ground can become much more manageable.
BCN Clay Studio was launched by four women who met at El Torn, another ceramic studio in Barcelona. Initially they used Kickstarter to fund the specialist machines and tools they needed to get started. According to them, offering classes as well as co-working areas is more than just a savvy idea: it’s an integral part to making the physical studio work. The key is to keep costs as low as possible, so that you actually have a shot at making a profit through the courses.
Takeway: Don’t let the business kill your creativity — that’s the worst that could happen. When you open a business, make sure you never lose the excitement: money can’t be the only motivation, but as long as you love doing it, you have a chance of being successful.
Idea 70: A craft brewery with a twist
Bature is Nigeria’s first craft brewery that opened in Abuja in 2017, spotlighting local ingredients like sorghum malts, coffee, zobo and pomegranate. To co-founder Kevin Conroy and head of brewing Bayo Ijasan, the aim is to shift the scene away from mass-produced lagers. They began small, selling at markets. Building a culture of beer consumption is no easy feat — and to get the word out, the team have doubled down on WhatsApp deliveries, a wholesale strategy, and finding supermarket stockists. To create a buzz, the tap room doubles up as a social space. And despite all these challenges, Bature won an African Cup Award for its Black Gold Stout.
Takeway: One of the challenges a small brewery will always face is producing good beer on a schedule: they’re small enough to experiment and have fun with ingredients and flavours, but they have to produce great beer again and again consistently, which is harder when you’re small.
Idea 71: Online learning
Between 2018 and 2020 there’s been a 200% increase in start-up funding going to remote learning technologies. Online learning has been spurred by the rise of hybrid working, remote education, and companies adopting more in-house training.
Takeway: Whether you’re planning to teach something yourself or enable other to do it, online learning is a massively promising and profitable area.
Idea 72: Commercial sound design
During the pandemic music consumption has shifted from the public to the domestic realm, fuelling the desire for high-quality sound. In the meantime, brands have been realising the importance of setting the right audio environment. This is great news for anyone running or launching a business within sound design. There’s been an uptick in consultancies offering sound design services, and many of those who work in the sector embrace hybrid roles such as composer, sound engineer, designer, and performer.
StudioNeu works with companies to translate their brand identities into experiences, which often involves the use of sound. It’s not about making music from music‘s sake or creating a podcast because it’s the in thing, says the founder Atman Naféei — it’s about making sounds more worthwhile, purposeful and meaningful.
Open Ear create playlists tailored specifically for brands. Founder Brian d’Souza says that one of the reasons for the industry sprint towards holistic sound design studios has been a desire for ‘at home’ audio experiences. His clients across the globe want holistic solutions for sound across physical spaces as well as digital platforms — with a huge shift towards ‘at home’ brand experiences. Sound wellness solutions for businesses are also on the rise. Takeway: If you’re someone who understands music, has some audio savvy and can work to a brief, there are many brands who’d love to hear from you.
Idea 73: Food brands
There has never been a better time to launch a food brand from your home. From the professional chefs leaving restaurants to set off on their own to first-timers making use of delivery platforms and social commerce tools, here are just a few people crafting their own path:
Wes Altuna, founder of Toronto-based Bawang, started cooking Filipino dishes to create feelings of comfort, family, nostalgia, and a sense of togetherness in the midst of the pandemic, during a time of anxiety, grief and isolation. His leftovers made their way as care packages to friends around the city, and from there the concept has grown into a popular local food delivery service serving 150 customers each week.
Makan Malaysia is run by Kat Perry and Sue Encarnacion in Reading, England. It was originally a Malaysian supper club and pop-up, but the business was forced to shut down and reboot due to COVID-19. The founders soon pivoted by opening an online shop offering chilled plastic-free Malaysian meals for home delivery. They say the first hurdle was promoting themselves with no budget and without a physical shopfront to meet potential customers face-to-face. They relied heavily on traffic through their personal social media accounts and creating engaging content. This required a lot more time and dedication than they ever had thought, but it was paying off, so they soon hired some much-needed help.
Danny Castañeda began making nut butters in the kitchen of his New York City apartment in at the start of 2020. He was pan-roasting each batch of nuts by hand, selling jars via Instagram, and delivering them in person by bike. Since then, his product and perspective have caught on. His mission stems from the desire to make healthy, high-quality food that’s accessible and relatable to communities of colour — and the brand’s voice, look and feel all help create accessibility and relatability to many who have not yet seen themselves represented within wellness marketing. Danny’s Nut Butter is now stocked in several stores across the US.
Xulo is a Bay Area business founded by chef Michael de la Torre. Handmade from local ingredients and Mexican sea salt, his tortillas are partially cooked, giving the customers the ultimate experience of watching them puff up in the pan. Reliant on pre-orders to determine numbers, the tortillas are made available for collection each Wednesday. Michael says that he has never used any advertising, relying instead on word-of-mouth, Instagram, and people sharing with loved ones.
Melbourne-based drinks garnish business Summer Thyme Co was born when its founder Aga Kozmic was dealing with both the loss of a partner to Covid and the shattering of her small travel guide business. Aga uses seasonal fruits sourced directly from growers: either at local farmers’ markets or further afield, but still within Australia. She dehydrates all the produce herself and interacts with her growing customer base on social media, often within Australian craft distillery groups on Facebook or Instagram.
Takeway (no pun intended): Your personal story, personal network, and providing a human, personal service will all go a long way when it comes to promoting a small food business.
Idea 74: Live-streamed sales A whopping 71% of Chinese shoppers watch at least one live-streamed sale event per week. This is already a mature market in China, but now many retailers and brands globally are hopping onto the bandwagon, with niche live streaming platforms on the rise. Takeway: Combine online shopping with entertainment and curation, and you’re winning.
Idea 75: Vintage furniture
Curated Spaces is an online marketplace for secondhand and vintage furniture with 115,000 followers. According to its founder, Pip Newell, the conception story is pretty simple: she started buying furniture to fill her house, and when she didn’t have any space left, she started selling it. It all started one evening when Pip, a photography and art student in Melbourne, noticed that a set of chairs in her house clashed with the carpet. She tried selling the chairs on a popular Melbourne-based Facebook group called My Stuff = Your Stuff. After listing the chairs for $150 she kept getting offers, and in the end the chairs sold for 3 times the original list price. After that she became one of the group’s most prolific sellers and eventually decided to strike out on her own. In 2017 Pip set up Curated Spaces on Instagram; today she sells via her website as well. She has a dedicated network of about 20 ‘vintage hunters’ based around Australia who go looking for special vintage pieces for the platform. They hunt online on eBay, Gumtree and Facebook Marketplace, as well as going to garage sales and auction houses.
Takeway: Having a shop on social media means opening yourself up to potential criticism from trolls eager to trash-talk your baby aka your business. At the same time, it has decreased barriers of entry for business owners: previously it would have been impossible to know whether people actually like what you offer without a physical store, but now it’s a different ball game.
…phew — that’s 75 done, and just 25 more to go (#neveragain). If you don’t want to miss all those other ideas, you can sign up for my newsletter where I share tips and ideas on personal branding, inventing your own work life, non-sleazy self-promotion, and creative problem-solving.
llustration by Julia Gnedina from Ouch!