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Despite these lean times now may be a better time than ever to set up a business.
The government plans to roll out the National Enterprise Allowance, a package of up to £2,000 available to unemployed people wanting to set up their own businesses, later this year and with online tools such as social networking and blogging it is becoming easier than ever to market your product to a worldwide audience.
Feeling inspired I spoke to three local entrepreneurs who ditched their day jobs to set up on their own.
Two years ago Jenn Ashworth worked as a chartered librarian in a prison, these days she combines writing novels with lecturing, mentoring and editing. Her second novel, Cold Light, is due out this spring and she has recently set up The Writing Smithy, a mentoring and development service for committed writers, with poet Sarah Hymas.
“It seemed like there wasn’t a job going that encompassed all the things I was interested in, so I invented my own. All novelists who sell their work are self employed. Initially I wrote novels and short stories whilst working as a librarian. My writing wasn’t earning me enough to give up being a librarian so I thought of ways to expand the kind of work I did in related fields, such as setting up events and working with other writers, consultancy etc. It was a way to build a patchwork career that left plenty of time for writing.”
For Louise Day the arrival of her first child inspired her to set up her own business, “I have always wanted to work for myself and it was just a matter of time to find the right idea or product.”
When her son Charlie was four months old Louise came up with the idea for Lifft, a unique baby and toddler sling. Last year a friend told her about an article inviting people to apply and pitch their invented products to high street retailers in front of a TV crew.
“I applied at 3am one night whilst pregnant and too uncomfortable to sleep! Out of all the applicants I was one of a thousand to be chosen for Boots to review. Out of those they chose twenty to pitch to them. ”
Since filming the show Louise’s business has gone from strength to strength and she just shipped out her first order to a major high street retailer. Her business, Lifft Sling, will receive further publicity next month when her pitch is broadcast on The Next Big Thing, a new Dragon’s Den style TV show hosted by Theo Paphitis.
This year Fired4U celebrates it’s fifth birthday. The art studio was set up by Jane Fox to encourage people to relax and have fun painting pottery, making clay items and enamelling copper. Jane was inspired by an advert in Country Living magazine advertising Pottery Painting Parties.
“I had never thought about running my own business I was just looking for a new job. My husband said ‘you could do that!’ I found a teacher in Pontefract, went on a course and came back announcing this was what I was going to do!”
Making the transition from being employed by someone else or unemployed to running your own buiness is a huge step. Jane worked in the hotel and leisure industry for 23 years, spending seven years as a Hotel General Manager before setting up Fired4U. She found many of the business skills she honed whilst working in the industry were transferable but wishes she had been able to access funding earlier.
“I didn’t discover grants were available until it was too late,” she says. “I wish they’d made grants easier to find. I used our life savings to set up the business and we lived off them for a year. Last year I met an advisor through Business Link, we discussed mentors. I researched it and was awarded one in October.”
Business Link Northwest is a free service offering impartial business support and information service to businesses and individuals in the north-west. It offers relevant up-to-date information and advice on a variety of business issues, including starting or expanding a business.
“Preston has been a great receiver of European funding,” says Louise Day,”The Lifft sling is the only sling scientifically proven to improve posture. This testing was carried out by UCLAN with the help from a grant. I also have a fabulous business mentor from UCLAN.”
Jenn Ashworth has had a variety of experiences, “I was mentored by Sarah Hymas at Lancaster Litfest as I transitioned from full time librarian to full time writer. I received a small grant from the Arts Council that funded the first five months of me being a full time writer. It gave me time to write and sell my second novel and also to develop other income streams from my teaching.”
“Jenny Rutter at Creative Lancashire mentored me for a short period and gave me advice about practicalities. More recently, I’ve also had some contact from the Northern Lights Business Development programme at UCLAN.
“I also have a literary agent who vets everything I sign and takes care of the contractual side of things for me. So few people think of novelists as self employed workers so a lot of the advice I found in books and small business forums wasn’t applicable to me. The specialist advice I received on freelancing from Lancaster Litfest was the most useful. Although the other services I accessed were good for the more general issues like book keeping, setting fees, tax and invoicing.”
Part Two continues tomorrow and focuses on the challenges involved in running a small business as well as marketing.
Louise Day will be pitching the Lifft Sling on BBC2’s The Next Big Thing, hosted by Theo Paphitis, scheduled for broadcast at the end of March.
Jenn Ashworth’s second novel Cold Light is out this spring, published by Sceptre. The Writing Smithy is for committed writers, either poets or novelists, wishing to get one to one advice from a published working writer.
Fired4U have recently launched their online shop and are open Wednesday – Sunday inclusive. Tel 01772 203060. Check website for opening times.
Business Link Northwest can be accessed via telephone, online or face to face for more in-depth support. Anyone wishing to start up a business can also access the range of guides produced by Business Link Northwest via their website.