I'm Tony Robinson OBE, the Micro Business Champion, a business owner, professional speaker and the author of the popular satire 'Freedom from Bosses Forever' (Kindle, paperback and audio book). I'm the founder of the SFEDI Group and co-founder, with Tina Boden, of the Enterprise Rockers CIC which organises and presents the annual, global #MicroBizMattersDay.
2016 was the 30th Anniversary Year of our primary business - The Business Advisory Bureau Limited/Entrepreneurs UK and the 20th Anniversary Year of my founding the UK Government recognised Sector Skills Body for Enterprise and Business Support, the SFEDI Group (includes the Institute of Enterprise and Entrepreneurs), which I still co-own.
I was honoured to receive an OBE in 2001, and two Lifetime Achievement Awards for Enterprise Support - in 2012 from the IAB and 2013 from SYB magazine and have appeared in the Fresh Business Thinking and Smith and Williamson Power 100 of influencers on UK entrepreneurship in 2014 and 2016.
Thanks for an excellent summary Francois.
Labour's policy proposal is a direct result of my 20 years #PayIn30Days campaign. It will get £30 billion cash flowing in the UK to indie business owners.
Many thousands of business owners I've heard from have had their lives ruined or gone out of business altogether because of the debt from unfair contract terms on payment and late payment. At least 2 millions micro businesses owners are in debt because of this.
Because large corporations and the financial services industry make so much money out of lengthy payment terms and delaying payment for as long as possible I doubted whether the #PayIn30Days campaign would ever succeed. My petitions never got more than 5,000 signatures and naming and shaming is difficult. This is because 5.2 million micro business owners cannot afford to complain about their biggest customers which is why they accept unfair payment terms from larger businesses and institutions - 72 days is the average wait in the UK for payment.
#PayIn30Days will succeed now. Here's what the Labour policy is (your words):
"They will declare “war” on late payment. Namely, anyone bidding for a government contract pays its own suppliers within 30 days. The UK will also adopt a version of the Australian system of “binding arbitration and fines for persistent late-payers for the private and public sectors”"
Thanks so much for this article on the mental health of start up owners. This is the third brilliant article you've written on real life issues that the hypernormalised world of the business media will not tackle.
I've recently started my never ending '4 Futuristic Lessons' speaking tour, next stop a theatre in Newcastle on Thursday, to tell it like you tell it and how to survive and thrive in your own business in the future. It is for those thinking about, starting or running their own micro enterprises (95% of all biz) and although it re-affirms 'micro is magic' it explains many of the 'snakes' which your article mentions that can be avoided.
Whilst extreme wealth may not be achieved by this alternative approach (including 'ladders' like test trading, multiple income streams and bootstrapping) to starting and running your own business it is still worth it in terms of earning a living in an independent, fulfilling and happy way. Keep up the great writing - thanks.
Perfect - bootstrap don't borrow :-)
Nice article and I can understand the cautionary comments and, in some cases, clear bias against employing 'the brilliant jerks'. I hope that existing micro business owners aren't put off by these comments from either employing, collaborating or partnering 'mavericks' that have a different skill set and can see different opportunities from the owner.
I agree you can't 'manage' them so you need to negotiate a deal with them. They're not likely to be great team players either. Yet working with people that create something out of nothing - are entrepreneurial - is stimulating and still the fastest way of growing a micro enterprise.
If they share the owner's values and you can find a win-win way to share the reward of their brilliance then it can be much less of a risk in growing the business than borrowing or investors.
This is an excellent article because it's real life. If you can start part time whilst you have another income stream(s) it is best. Cut all your living and business costs to the bare minimum and bootstrap don't borrow.
As my 'Freedom from Bosses Forever' satire and conference talks emphasise don't think you're not succeeding if it seems to be like wading through treacle. It's called test trading and learning by doing - you'll eventually find something that works that you can move into a more full time business. Even after 31 years of running our own business I still like the safety net of other income streams even if it's just selling stuff through ebay, Amazon, Etsy, PeoplePerHour, part time jobs - whatever.
It's hard work, especially, for the first three years but so worth it. Don't be seduced by the short cuts suggested by the business opportunities' industry, the investors' industry, the lenders' industry, the government or advisers that aren't business owners. They'll make you think there's a fast scale up way of business idea, business plan, get some funding and a mentor deal. But it's not a straight line - it zig zags all over the place. Organic growth is best and control of your own destiny is best too.
It's hard work and persistence and all about testing and modifying whilst your costs are low and you're minimising the risk. As Warren Buffet says the first rule is 'Not to lose money' and the second rule is 'Always observe rule number one'.
As Francois has said in another excellent Business Zone article this 'fail fast' message is just terrible. Micro business is magnificent and very worthwhile but it's hard work too. Dhrvin Patel and Scott Sherwood are role models - fabulous - thanks for the reality.
There has always been an 'influencer economy' it just wasn't on social media. I agree that, as a sector, it has more than its fair share of 'shysters and charlatans' and I'm grateful for that as it is a rich source for satire in my books, videos and conference talks.
The benefits of the connectivity, engagement and influencing through social media far outweigh 'the selfie effect'. Tina Boden and I, with all our voluntary Head Roadies and Enterprise Rockers (free, informal, no membership, no contact details required) , could not have run 3 global, annual, #MicroBizMattersDay social media and networking events, to help each other as business owners, without these influencers, particularly through twitter, facebook, youtube, google and instagram.
It's a phoney kind of entrepreneurship as a social media influencer but these authentic, passionate, business owners with a high social media influencing capability are a massive plus for brands trying to make a positive difference. We are grateful to Charlie Mullins, Kanya King, Tim Campbell, Penny Power, Laura Henry, Emma Jones, Chris Percival, Tom Evans, Tina Fotherby and many others, for their social media influencing. They are the reason we have a global #MicroBizMattersDay of recognition, action and learning to help each other as business owners.
Millington nails it with: “Especially when you find influencers and bloggers who are more consistent with their content and are actually following their passion and not just pursuing a paycheque." Thanks for another highly relevant aricle. #YouRock.
Thanks Francois for challenging a myth and and for quoting one of my top 3 favourite writers and all time fave playwright.
I've been starting and running my own businesses for over 30 years and you will see from the hundreds of interviews I've conducted with successful business owners that whilst we all have had and learned from 'failures' we don't advocate them. That's why being advised by a successful business owner, keeping your costs to the absolute minimum (no loans or investors) and most important of the lot - test trading - are a 'must do' at #startup.
Watch our interviews with people like Chris Percival, who at 25 has a huge business in many countries with 800 staff and has just built his own HQ. Chris is a massive fan of Sir Richard Branson and I bet when you get the two of them together - what they mean by 'fail fast' is much more like the continuous process of finding opportunities and taking immediate action in a 'test trading' way. We risk a little every time we move forward - but not a lot. It's called enterprise.
Sometimes there is no learning and nothing much to measure. My business partner, Clare Francis, and I once invested in and began to market a cosmetics range called 'Sudden Change' which turned out to be 'Sudden Death' when we lost the license to distribute in the UK.
Many 'failures' like this hasn't stopped us, and our friends, from always pursuing new income streams and opportunities. Staying in business forever requires continual lean start ups. It's much more about test trading and being willing to fail and learning by doing, rather than 'Waiting for Godot' because Godot never comes.
The 'control test' is the key here. With luck, and the fact that Uber and others cannot afford to employ their 'workers', the profit and productivity hungry Corporations will just have to relax their control on self employed people.
They should not be able to specify start time, finish time or hours worked per week nor should they penalise through payment terms or lack of opportunity those that may not meet 'standards' but do deliver the self employed task or service.
It is really the same power, productivity and profit issue as exploitation of the lowest paid employees by the largest corporations. The proliferation of zero hours contracts, interns, short fixed term contracts, invasive time monitoring, 'battery farm' working conditions, hire & fire in first 2 years, govt funded apprenticeships that are really training for one company's jobs and do not lead to a career - the bigger the corporate the easier it is for them to get away with it in the UK and US. Trade Unions may bring test cases but large corporations are used to being fined and settling out of court, almost weekly. Government will never intervene on behalf of self employed people or low paid employees against large global Corporations.
The 1 in 6 of the UK workforce that are running their own business - even as a taxi driver working fo Uber and themselves - are quite poor in comparison with equivalent employees but they are three times happier. 'Freedom from Bosses Forever' is the title of my 5* satire but it is also a fact that this is how the future will be and we must learn the skills to live with it.
The number of employees in the UK workforce will continue to diminish and the current high rates of self employment will continue. At least 50% of millennials will run their own business in their lifetime.
The largest Corporates, backed by Governments, will continue to increase market share and wealth (the 1% having 60%), and self employed people will have to look for multiple income streams including Uber and all the freelancer type platforms, to earn a living and make ends meet.
Excellent - so true. There is also nothing wrong, there can be advantages, with preferring to build the business as a micro business (0-9 employees). I agree with everything you say about 'the struggle', growth and scale up. I'm also a devotee of Michael Gerber's 'The E Myth' and the wise words of Seth Godin about the great opprtunity we all have and how you grow by working on not in the business.
However, there are some of us, like myself and my business partners, that just have not enjoyed having too many employees and ''managers'. For people like me, we'd rather enjoy growing through multiple micro enterprises. Maybe we're a bit control freakish too - but heck they're our businesses - might as well enjoy them :-)
Great article thank you and congratulations on your amazing achievements.
Music to my ears! This is more than a #rocking useful read it is an essential debate. Thank you for summarising the key issues, that have kept me awake at night. It's my daftness I know but I've worried for 20 years about the vast sums of government and corporate money spent on dodgy advice and schemes to vulnerable #startups regarding the mythical 'must haves to succeed'.
These 'must haves' usually include loans, borrowing, funding (including crowd), investors, pitching, digital platforms, business plans, 'fake it 'til you make it' purchases and specialist advisers, coaches and mentors to pull it together. The end result are costly encumbrances that inhibit a new business owner's chances of surviving and thriving.
I'm not negative about the Government's Start Up Loan scheme I just don't want anyone to be held back by indebtedness (as we've seen with Student Loans) and particularly before they've proven to themselves through real buying customers that the numbers stack up.
The average earnings of new business owners in the UK are very low, not through any failure on the business owner's part (we learn fast by doing), but because many of the basic costs such as energy, travel, broadband, telecom, property and covering cashflow (unfair payment practices - #PayIn30Days) are too high.
There is nothing wrong with growing organically, over the long term, and 90% of the highly successful business owners I've known, many famous, have done just that. Some are even now very outspoken about the dangers/risks of banks, investors and funders.
So, in my view a Start Up Loan shouldn't be sought or given until there's been a minimum of 6 months test and actual trading. Until then 'bootstrap don't borrow'. and keep all your costs to the absolute minimum. As you've advocated Emma - home is a great place to start.
I get really scared when I see the government and media pressure to 'pick winners' (for the benefit of the economy) by encouraging 'scale up' which often translates to taking external 'top down' advice, more risks and more borrowing and/or investment. I hope your Conference comes to the conclusion that, on current evidence, new women business owners are more likely to build longer term, more sustainable businesses than men. So who should be teaching who on 'attitude to risk' and 'access to finance' which have been top of the Conference Agendas for decades?
Finally, your opening anecdote struck a chord. That stereotypical view on attitude to spending and building a successful business which was presented to you and your original male business partner is still prevalent today.
My business partner since inception of our first business, still going, in 1986 is Clare Francis. Clare is also my best friend. We've found it quite useful, sad and funny that every enterprise expert, adviser, Corporate CEO, entrepreneur and senior civil servant has assumed that I was the 'business brains', driver and decision maker. This was and is utterly wrong.
We are both qualified and highly trained business professionals that had been in director level corporate HR positions and believe none of this helped us with our business. Clare is independently very wealthy from the large commercial property portfolio, which, since her father and husband died, she continues to run successfully. No-one ever bothered to find this out.
However, I learned very early on that Clare knew far more about backing winners and showing the door to imposters than I did.
Similarly, the reason that Enterprise Rockers CIC @MicroBizMatters and the annual, #MicroBizMattersDay (13.01.2017) has grown to be so influential for millions of micro business owners is because you and hundreds of other organisations and companies with micro business owner customers back it.
That all this voluntary support has been garnered is due to the human dynamo that is Tina Boden who starts and runs successful businesses, as did her parents and as do her sibling and son. Her attitude to risk and borrowing (and non indie shopping) is almost zero tolerance.