Last night Norfolk members of the Federation of Small Businesses gathered to celebrate the county’s real-life entrepreneurs. Annabelle Dickson found out about a campaign celebrating those who have already taken risks and found out how they think the government can help them to grow.

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Real Life Entrepreneur Lisa Angel

Real Life Entrepreneur Lisa Angel made the jump from being employed as a high street buyer in London to starting her own business when she moved back to Norwich to start a family.

Her jewellery and gift business took off and she opened a shop in Chapelfield Shopping Centre in

Norwich in 2006.

She now employs 15 people and last year she opened a shop on Lower Goat Lane. The company also has a thriving website.

“We actually felt quite nervous about opening a shop at the wrong time, but we went ahead with it anyway. It has been a lot better than we thought,” she said. “It is quite

unexpected how it has grown. I look back and I am quite shocked at how much it has grown.”

She said she first joined the FSB for peace of mind, but has used the organisation’s solicitors to look at contracts and for advice.

“You’ve got somewhere you can go. We feel we are a small player in a massive industry,” she said.

As a small business she said that she felt the government could do more to support businesses of her size.

Although she had lots of help as a start-up, she does not have much more help. “I don’t feel they’ve made our lives very easy.”

She added: “It took me ages to get a bank account and the charges shock me. It makes having a business quite prohibitive.

“The charges are quite high for what seems like nothing.”

She also said that they had to think hard about taking people on.

“It seems to be very much in on the employee side.

“It does tend to be quite tough for the employer.

“People really do want jobs, but it is so expensive to employ people, not in terms of the minimum wage, but in drawing up contracts, sorting out holiday pay.

“You might want to employ people for a short period of time, but it is so complicated it is quite prohibitive.”

When the term entrepreneur is banded about, glitzy biographies of “celebrities” such as Richard Brason and Lord Sugar spring to mind.

The “E” word has also become a popular part of political rhetoric.

At the spring Conservative Party conference last year, prime minister David Cameron said with no money left in the government coffers, the “only strategy” for growth was to get behind Britain’s entrepreneurs.

But for those already taking risks and showing initiative, working seven day weeks with a passion for their products and services, there is a belief that actions must speak louder than words.

In Norfolk there are almost 3,500 members of the FSB, and most of those are micro businesses employing less than 10 people. Nationally the FSB has 200,000 members across 33 regions and 194 branches.

Last year the FSB launched its Real Life Entrepreneurs campaign to celebrate small business owners who do not necessarily think of themselves as entrepreneurs.

The campaign also aims to highlight to the government what the FSB thinks needs to be done to help keep small businesses trading and growing.

Stuart Hallett, area development manager for the Federation of Small Businesses in the South East, said: “Our members are all owners of small businesses – with the emphasis on small.

“Lots of words are used in central government about how it is enterprise and entrepreneurs that are going to bring us out of recession. But our members say ‘we are the entrepreneurs’.

He said that members had already taken risks to develop products and that their members are the ones that actually need help.

“A big part of the campaign (Real Life Entrepreneurs) is about saying these are the entrepreneurs. They are not the dragons who sit with big bundles of cash.

“These are people who probably live next door to you, who go out and buy a product who turn it around to make several other products. They look for local ideas for the community.

“They look for new services that are needed and they take lots of risk in their own life to try and succeed.

“It is about saying the real life entrepreneurs are not the Alan Sugars. They are the people trying to make a go of their life on their own.”

The campaign was launched during party conference season last year.
Mr Hallett said: “What we were saying to government and opposition parties is that we’ve talked about entrepreneurs, we’ve talked about the benefits of entrepreneurs. As a leading business organisation in the UK and Europe, we understand that.” The FSB is enrolling MPs and senior businessmen and women behind the campaign. “They are saying they will help our members to help our businesses to grow,” said Mr Hallett.

Keynote speaker Michael Southon –known as the Beermat Entrepreneur – was due to give helpful advice at the Federation of Small Business event at Dunston Hall last night.

Mr Hallett said that bringing an entrepreneur along to talk about his experience as an entrepreneur was well received by the members.

“Very often within a room of FSB members if someone has got a problem someone has got an answer,” he said.

“Very often for example they will know a bank which has a different approach to finance.

“There is a lot of self help and mentoring support.”

Mr Hallett said he had been struck by Mr Southon’s words on book keeping at a previous event.

He said that often members were good at making widgets, but their strengths were not in book keeping.

He said that businesses should not just employ an accountant at the end of the year, but at the beginning of the financial year as they would also get business advice.

“They want your business to succeed as much as you do,” said Mr Hallett.

Mr Hallett said the FSB also wanted to give practical advice such as how to get better access to finance, how to increase sales, how to improve cash flow. How you can think about exporting, how you can think about job creation.

As well as recognising entrepreneurs, the campaign also has specific calls to action.

He said that access to finance and cashflow were key parts of the campaign with businesses needing to be paid.

He also said that job creation was another big part of the campaign.

“We sat down with members from this region and BIS (Business, Innovation and Skills) to talk about access to apprenticeships.

“We talked around it, particularly in the specific work that they do. One member’s business niche was around printing for funerals. There was no training course to link printing and business.

“He also said it was very hard for him to take on the training and he was in a rural location.”

Mr Hallett said that it was about understanding the businesses. He said that there were businesses who wanted to take on apprentices, but there were bigger issues to understand.

While the campaign has many themes that Federation has banged the drum on for years, Mr Hallett said the campaign was a “standard bearer” for members to understand they are the people who are going to lead the country out of recession.

“They are taking risks everyday to sell services, to sell products, to be innovative.

“They are putting their family homes on the line as they believe in the products. These are people that are desperately trying to change things.”

1 comment

  • Comments re government being "business friendly" are usually about tax cuts for big business - hugely successful cash rich organisations that don't need it. Similarly, quantitative easing money goes directly into FTSE 100 companies - why not those who are ACTUALLY employing people? The future will be built by us small firms of today, not the anachronisms of yester-year...

    Report this comment

    Jim Leeds

    Wednesday, February 22, 2012

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