I think we might have all heard this phrase, I heard it first a couple of years ago at a conference I attended in Scarborough where Sahar Hashemi spoke about the jump she made from a career as a lawyer to opening a coffee shop
She says on her website:
“When I started my working life, as a lawyer, I believed creativity was for special people like Richard Branson.
I left the law after 5 years, disillusioned that what I did didn’t suit my personality. On a trip to New York I fell in love (as a customer) with the then-new style coffee bar concepts. I was encouraged by my brother Bobby to bring the concept to the UK – and thus by accident became an entrepreneur.” Sahar was about to launch the success national company ‘Coffee Republic’
We must have all had similar thoughts maybe I could make an idea happen? But we do not always take the plunge, this might be for various reasons, too risky, if my idea is that brilliant why hasn’t someone else done it? Or how can little me make such an impact? On the later I smile at a comment made by Anita Roddick of the Body Shop “if you think you are too small to make a difference then you have not slept with a mosquito”. So why not have a go.
But what if you were made redundant tomorrow would you jump then? Sometimes we stay in the safe humdrum of our lives thinking about the dream that never materialises and it’s an upturn that helps consider ‘the what if’ for some its redundancy, an incident at work or perhaps an acquired disability.
Of course starting up on your own carries risks but does that infer that employment does not? An employer can dismiss a new employee now within the first two years of employment without going through all the necessary warning procedures, it might just be we cannot afford to keep you on, or on consideration you are not the right person for the job. Even when the employment extends beyond two years there are very few jobs that can be described as a job for life anymore.
It needs to be more about considering the options against the risk so for instance: if you have a product i.e. something you are making or something you can purchase at a good rate then consider how you might take a low risk approach to starting in business. This might be taking a market stall on a one off arrangement or attending a craft fayre and seeing if people are interested in your goods or have comments to make. The risks here are low, no rental commitment and you can buy or make just a few items to test the market, if it works then build on it alternatively you might have a type of product party in a friend’s house and invite people round to see if they like your goods. I have seen people even market services at fayre’s, for instance I saw a photographer have a stand showing some of their images and then encouraging people to book sittings or take away a leaflet for future use this was a great way to showcase the professionalism and uniqueness of their work, the stand at the fayre cost just £20.00 and did lead to bookings.
In my spare time I run a Vintage and Retro stall with my daughter we both work and this is a hobby or interest beyond our work it started due to both of us having a love for shopping and seeking out a bargain and so this takes our love of shopping to earning money. We source our items at low cost through many sources sometimes we repair and wash if necessary and then sell them on at a margin that covers our costs and provides a little additional income. We are on a regular market now with customers returning to us, this stall costs us 26.00 a time and we do the occasional additional fayre (as long as the rent does not exceed 25.00) and now in year three we average around £150.00 takings at each fayre but have taken several times in excess of £300. We split some of the money and keep some back for buying the next items for sale. Our risk is nominal in fact should it finish tomorrow we would take all the remaining stock and sell it at a car boot and owe no money to anyone. Should either of us lose our jobs we have a business readymade to further develop, perhaps by selling on eBay, doing mid-week markets or maybe even owning a shop; who knows.
If you are designing a new service why not offer it someone (a business) for free this might prove a chance to test the market, get someone to provide feedback or help in the design. This way you can both test and gain a testimonial for your website or advertising material to encourage others to purchase your service.
If your service or product is quite unique why not look to work with others, partner up with other organisations, not by creating legal partnerships but in a way to offer a greater service to the customer. For instance if you provide web building why not team up with a graphic designer; if you are a hairdresser team up with a beautician; a trainer in disability awareness then link up with someone who trains on transgender issues etc. This way you can share delivery and marketing etc. without making a legal commitment to each other. Working with associates like this can bring great benefits but make sure you meet up with people that share your common values, attitude to work and wish for similar things, once agreed consider hard how it’s going to work.
After coming into a bit of money some time ago and with bank interest low along with my husband we decided to purchase a small apartment in Shrewsbury and again turn it into a business, we looked at letting it the return would have been around £350 a month but by turning it into a serviced apartment for holidays and short working or business trips we could more than double this but it would take more work, cleaning, marketing and being on call for the visitor. What’s the risk? Perhaps we cannot provide the time needed to meet customer needs or no-one wants the facility then we could take it down to permanent rent and if this fails we still have the property to resell and it is unlikely to have lost money. The greater risk of course here would have been if we had had to borrow to purchase the apartment and that the cost of borrowing was above £350 a month therefore increasing the risk.
Interestingly whilst starting up a business might seem like a challenge it is often those already facing challenges that are more likely to take up this route. Statistics for instance show that people with disabilities are 2% more likely to take up self-employment than someone without a disability and the same might go for ex-offenders, those in caring roles, single parents etc. as it can be a way of earning money that fits your life style or does not require you to further justify your capabilities.
Being someone myself running a business with a disability I have to say self-employment was an easy choice not because of my disability as I was self-employed before it was because I had grown up with it. My family ran small businesses so it seemed not having a boss was a natural choice for me but it in the work I do you have to be very self-motivated as the work rarely comes to you, I have to be out there being pro-active most of the time.
Did everyone think about self-employment in the same way? This question interested me and so I asked the question of Professionals with Disabilities – why did you become self-employed?:
Most agreed with me it was about the reasons most choose self-employment:
- Could work in areas they valued and not those of their boss
- Liked having an understanding boss (themselves)
- Could do things in a different way
People said that technology had so greatly improved that it allowed people with even the most debilitating conditions to work from home, siting webinars, web based work and IT development as some of the advancements.
Many have seen it liberate their worlds, I thing this comment for me sums it up from the Managing Director at Promove UK Ltd
‘Because of increased disability I took early retirement when 56 after best part of 40 years working in the public sector. After a couple of years going up the wall I decided to start my own business and now, working from home, export my manual handling slings all over the world. Thank goodness for the technology’
It was interesting that many of the businesses were linked to supporting or improving the lives and opportunities of people with disabilities, so it was taking a life experience so as to improve the lives of others, many of the aims of a Social Enterprise ‘a business with a heart’.
Some came back to me saying that they were not self-employed but had been inspired by those responding and wanted to know how people could be supported to start their business. Of course in the UK we have that additional support if needed through Access to Work which will help provide or assist in the purchase of equipment for those that have disabilities whether in the workplace or seeking self-employment for more information go to Wave-length’s guidance note on Access To Work: click here
When offering support to people with disabilities considering setting up a business or in the early years of start-up there is a wider question to be considered ‘should there be specialised support to people with disabilities or should mainstream business support provide the additional support?’ At Wave-length we think it’s probably a bit of both. There of course additional considerations or knowledge needed by some people with a disability which might include: knowing your legal rights, understanding Access to Work; additional benefits; impact on existing benefits and support if seeking more training. Or there might be a need for better understanding, more time to take in information or perhaps a need for information to be presented in a different way. This we can provide at Wave-length through our Junction Box programme see more at: www.junctionbox.org.uk
Through the Junction Box we offer workshops on subjects like ‘What’s Stopping You’, the ‘how to’ we also offer peer to peer meet ups – which can provide a social opportunity to come together to discuss your business ideas in an informal, non-judgemental way and then in addition we can offer enabling support which might include:
- Finding the company that might help you trial your idea/service
- Helping you get a low cost stand to trial your service/product
- Involvement in a community project so that you can put your skills to the test in a non-committal and well supported environment
In our workshops we consider the risks to both the business and to individuals in stating a business. As someone myself with a disability I know that no-one pays for holidays when you are self-employed or for the time spent off sick but it’s about understanding this and trying to plan for it.
Having then received this additional support from Wave-length we can signpost you on to the next step, perhaps how to get the best out of mainstream business support might seem the next obvious step. So seeing Wave-length as an educator, gateway and enabler would seem the best image to hold.
We would love to hear your stories about setting up in business so that we can continue to inspire others to take the leap.