Work on your own steam

The Guardian

One in five Britons would like to leave behind the drudgery of the nine to five to run their own business, according to a recent report published by National Savings and Investments. Self-employment is an attractive option because it means no longer having to answer to an unreasonable boss, you’ll attend fewer or no meetings and have the chance to take a holiday when you want. But this popular path is not an easy one to follow. In the US, the hotbed of entrepreneurship, 95 per cent of small businesses fail within five years of starting up.

In the UK, 471 businesses go bust every week on average, according to a report by Industry Watch. Poor planning, cash flow problems and expanding too rapidly are some of the reasons why businesses fail. But don’t let that put you off. Fear of failure could lead to regret. What’s more, you could be just the kind of person who is cut out for business success.

If you can answer “yes” to six or more of the following questions, then you probably have what it takes:

•Are you willing to take risks?

•Do you have one or more goals to achieve?

•Are you an optimist?

•Do you make the most of opportunities?

•Are you motivated and willing to work long hours?

•Do you believe in yourself?

•Can you bounce back after a setback?

•Can you stand by your actions in spite of criticism?

•Can you take your own decisions?

•Do you have the potential to lead people?

Passed the test? Well done. If you fall short of what’s required to run a business but really want to go it alone, then you’ll need to work on your weaknesses. The first step on the road to a successful business is to have a good idea. Begin by looking at jobs you’ve had and the skills you have already acquired. Ask yourself how you can use these skills to start a business. Think about your hobbies - can these be transformed into a viable business? Also, look at the products and services you use. Can you improve them? Are there products and services you need that do not exist?

Inspiring stories abound of go-getting individuals who have improved exisiting services or products or created new ones. Former TV presenter Anastasia Baker was desperate for

uninterrupted sleep after her second baby was born but could not find an overnight nanny through the various agencies she contacted. So she took the extraordinary step of setting up her own business, Night Nannies. That was three years ago and now the business has a six-figure annual turnover. While dining in a New York restaurant with her brother, Bobby, Sahar Hashemi mentioned how much she missed New York’s fat-free muffins and skinny cappuccinos back home in London. Bobby knew she was disillusioned with her job as a corporate lawyer and suggested she open a coffee shop. So she left her job and the popular chain Coffee Republic was born. The only way to know for sure if you idea will “fly” is through research. Find out if people will buy your product and if they have other related needs you could meet.

If you want to provide a service that already exists, look at the competition. Consider your potential rivals’ strengths and weaknesses and ask yourself how you could provide a better service. Consider the impact your product will have on the environment. What waste will it produce? What can be done with the waste? Is any of it recyclable? The next step on your journey to setting up your own business is to write a business plan. A business plan is more than just a tool to help you get funding - it is a roadmap to get you where you want to be. Developing your plan requires a lot of time and energy but it is invaluable for one primary reason - it forces you to come to terms with your business idea. Your written business plan should show how you will generate income, what your expenses will be and the purpose of your business. It may seem obvious what your business does but you need to think about what sets your venture apart, what is unique about your service and what is going to put you ahead of the competition. The good news is that you do not have to walk alone if you want to set up a business in the UK. There are many organisations just waiting to give you the support you need. They can give you advice on how to conduct research, write a business plan, they can suggest an accountant for your business and connect you with a network of likeminded people. Some bodies will even give you a grant.

Fashion designer Susan Atkin, enrolled on the north-west programme at Manchester Metropolitan University. She had always wanted to set up her own business and decided to take this bold step after being made redundant from her job as a PA. After the course, NES (New Entrepreneur Scholarships)gave Susan £3,500 to buy a sewing machine and office equipment. “After the course I went straight into doing trade shows, something I wouldn’t have had the confidence to do without it,” says Atkin. The Prince’s Trust provides support and advice to aspiring entrepreneurs up to the age of 30. Many of the businesses the trust helps to support have been refused funding elsewhere. The organisation helped 4,359 people start their own business between 2002 and 2003. It also provided ongoing support to 8,210 people. What’s more, 55% of the businesses helped by the trust are still trading in their third year.