Be Your Own Boss

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Leaving the Armed Forces with a lump sum you’re looking to invest? Fed up with being told what to do? Why not become your own boss? You won’t be alone.

From Civvy Street Magazine #46 (April 2014), Words: Paul F. Cockburn

Glasgow-based Chief Petty Officer and submariner, Stewart Bisley is in his final two years of service with the Royal Navy. Unlike many of his peers, however, he knows exactly what he’ll be doing afterwards. Alongside his wife, Kim, he’ll be running his own snack food delivery business, a company that’s already up and running!

There were numerous reasons for this choice: for one, Kim has a sales background and so believes she has the necessary ‘people skills’. Also, the couple have a young daughter, Maia, so were keen to avoid wasting valuable family time in long commutes or being stuck in an office somewhere. And they clearly liked the idea of being their own bosses too.

They’re not alone; according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), the number of workers in the UK who were classified as self-employed in their main job rose by 367,000 between 2008 (the start of the economic downturn) and 2012; with the vast majority of these working alone or with a partner. Becoming your own boss appears to be the UK’s fastest growing ‘industry’.

TYPES OF BUSINESS

Businesses in the UK are generally split into three categories: large enterprises (employing 250 or more people); medium enterprises (50 to 249 employees) and small enterprises (up to 49 employees). Some experts also distinguish “micro” businesses which employ fewer than 10 people. Despite all the media coverage large companies tend to attract, Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) actually make up 99% of UK businesses.

Before starting up your own business, you need to do as much research as possible. Local enterprise organisations can advise you on the practicalities of starting up; most will run regular free courses on everything from sorting out premises and finances to marketing and taxation. Do remember, though, that the Career Transition Partnership (CTP), through its connections with the Regular Forces Employment Association (RFEA) and Officers Association (OA), may well be able to put you in touch with those who have gone before you; veterans who have already built up their own successful businesses.

Although you fully intend to start up on your own at some point, there’s some sense in initially working for someone else in the same field before branching out on your own. Supplying your product or service is only part of running a business, and unprepared newbies can come unstuck quite quickly. So take any opportunity you can to see how someone else does it, and take note of the things they get right, the things they get wrong, and the opportunities you see that they miss.

WORKING FOR YOURSELF, BUT NOT ALONE

Nearly half of all new businesses fail during their first three years. Like many a failed Military operation, this is invariably down to poor preparation and planning. So, you need to ask yourself honestly if you have the skills and attributes to make a go of it; and then work out a business plan that not only works in the short term (the next 12 months) but has a clear goal in the longer term (say five or 10 years).

Alternatively, of course, you could instead buy into a business plan that you know already works. Stewart and Kim Bisley’s new business is actually a Snack in the Box franchise, which means they’ve bought into using the Snack in the Box name, its branding and its business systems. “Buying a business felt safer with a franchise,” according to Kim. “I liked the idea of a head office cushion. We could run it ourselves but have the support and training of a bigger company.”

It’s often said that franchising enables you “to work for yourself, but not alone”; that, by following an already-proved business model, your own business is more likely to survive, assuming you put the work in of course. Certainly the Bisleys have a good start; they’re taking over from an existing franchisee.

POINTERS: DOING YOUR OWN THING    

Want to start from scratch? Here are some of the things you need to consider:

• Finance, including sales and purchases records, VAT (if registered), wages, Income Tax and National Insurance payments, etc. More businesses fail because they get their cash flow wrong than for any other reason.

• Health and safety – including registration with the Health and Safety Executive (for factories and workshops) and/or the local authority (for offices and shops).

• Environmental issues; including the disposal of business rubbish, hazardous materials, etc.

• Employees; including recruitment, employment, dismissal and discipline. Employer’s Liability Insurance is a legal requirement to afford protection for employees who might be injured at work.

• Premises: depending on the kind of business, you might be able to (initially at least) work from home. But if you do need separate premises, where should they ideally be?

POINTERS: CHOOSING A FRANCHISE

Here are some hints from the British Franchise Association.

• Use the British Franchise Association (bfa): member franchises follow a stringent set of criteria based on their systems, franchisee support, and the European Code of Ethics for Franchising.

• Know what you can afford to invest and how much you are prepared to borrow from a bank or family. (Remember to consider working capital.)

• Ensure the training on offer (initially and on an ongoing basis) will be sufficient for your needs.

• Talk to head office staff: don’t underestimate the importance of meeting the people involved at head office, finding out who you would be in contact with and what their experience is.

• Know what you’re signing up to; get a franchise-experienced lawyer to check any agreement before you sign it.

• Don’t be in a rush. Assess and re-assess everything before you part with your hard-earned cash and commit yourselves for (usually) five years.

MORE: 

BFA – 01235 820470, www.thebfa.org

DEPARTMENT FOR BUSINESS, INNOVATION & SKILLS – 020 7215 5000, www.bis.gov.uk

FEDERATION OF SMALL BUSINESSES – 0808 20 20 888, www.fsb.org.uk