They make it look easy

WHETHER it is because they fair well or badly with the likes of Sir Alan Sugar or Duncan Bannatyne, TV contestants make becoming a successful entrepreneur look so easy.

Left-right: Dawn Lee, business link's Tom Newbould providing a helping hand, & Joanna Lee

WHETHER it is because they fair well or badly with the likes of Sir Alan Sugar or Duncan Bannatyne, TV contestants make becoming a successful entrepreneur look so easy.

But even for those who have a sound business idea, must-have product to sell or innovative new service to offer, getting any business off the ground is a tough task.

Thankfully in the Tees Valley there are a wide range of organisations and professionals who can point people in the right direction to turn their business ideas into a reality.

Joanna Lee, 31, boss of specialist card and gift retailer inspirations4u.co.uk, received support from Business Link before starting up with sister, Dawn, and mum, Linda.

Joanna said: “We were first inspired after spotting a gap in the market for party products after a friend’s hen night.

“We researched the market with a visit to a gift trade fair and found a clear link between party supplies and gifts.”

After opening a shop in Stonebridge, Darlington, Joanna decided online sales provided the best opportunity to increase sales.

Business Link helped source funding and contact web consultants to develop a new site, and Inspirations 4 U became a dedicated e-business.

Alastair MacColl, chief executive of Business Link North East, believes other would-be entrepreneurs need to put the same ground work into their business to ensure success.

He said: “Developing a business idea into a viable product or service is a critical part of building a business.

“Thorough assessment and market research at an early stage will help you to establish whether there is a market for your product or service.”

Even when you do manage to get the ball rolling, you need to be prepared to bounce back from setbacks, respond to changes in the market, and alter your business plan if things don’t work first time.

Nicola Winn, 19, of Ormesby, hasn’t had an easy ride in her quest to become a successful businesswoman.

After securing funding from the Prince’s Trust and a grant from the Shaw Trust to help her get back to work after having her baby, Nicola set up her jewellery stall, Busy Beadz.

But when thieves stole the stall from a communal cupboard at her flat, Nicola had to act quickly to find other ways of selling her products.

She said: “I had new customers at the market who were relying on me and I needed to think of other ways to make sure I didn’t lose them.”

Nicola now runs jewellery parties from customers’ homes and has set up her own website to drive sales online.

She hopes to earn enough money to run a shop, and is working towards this with the help of her Prince’s Trust mentor, Chris Yorke.

Nicola said: “I’ve had a big setback but it has made me think more about the business and given me new ideas, so I’m determined not to let it beat me.”

Nicola’s ability to turn such a negative start into a positive one demonstrates the kind of determination which new businesses need to succeed.

But success also depends on attitude and skills.

Judith Gill, head of programmes at the Prince’s Trust, says: “Setting up your own business isn’t an easy option, but could be the most rewarding thing you will ever do.

“Ask yourself, ‘Do I have the skills and experience to make it work?’ and look into the legal aspects, such as the structure of the business, premises, insurance, tax and state benefit implications.”

Joanna Lee admits that with all this to consider, starting up your own business can be as daunting as it is rewarding.

She said: “The best thing is it’s your venture, you make the decisions and the buck stops with you.

“That does mean you are responsible for anything that goes wrong but this is balanced against the wonderful feeling of achievement.”

It also means providing a valuable contribution to the local economy.

At regional development agency One NorthEast, the belief is that successful new businesses are vital to economic growth in the region.

But according to the North East Economic Forum (NEEF) the region has relatively few businesses, and low levels of entrepreneurial activity compared to the rest of the UK.

That is why One NorthEast is striving to ensure there is enough start-up support, while also working hard to promote the region to new businesses.

Promoting entrepreneurial spirit in young people has also become a top priority, not only for local government and in schools, but for the future success of businesses.

“If you instill the spirit of entrepreneurship in young people from the age of 12, you can develop that spirit, and hopefully help create the entrepreneurs of the future,” says Anthony Emmerson, project manager of the Enterprise Academy.

The Academy, in line with its slogan ‘Creating tomorrow’s legends today’ provides access to advice, guidance and activity relating to business and enterprise, using Middlesbrough Football Club as a business model.

It also allows 11 to 19-year-olds to learn more about self-employment, raising expectations and encouraging them to think about running their own business as a viable career option.

Young Enterprise North East (YENE) also works with schools and colleges to give students aged 15 to 19 an insight into the highs and lows of self-employment.

Students on their Company Programme start their own business, electing a board of directors, raising share capital and marketing and financing a product or service.

During their year of trading, they participate in Young Enterprise Trade Fairs where they sell and market their services.

At the end of the year, they present a report and accounts to their shareholders.

Nikki Wilson, development manager for YENE, said: “The Company Programme opens the student’s eyes to self employment and business creation as future career options.

“This helps young people to assume a role where they can make ideas happen, encouraging them to develop the sort of enterprising qualities that are essential to the long-term prosperity of the UK.”

But once young people are convinced they have what it takes to make it in business, another challenge is retaining that talent in the region.

After setting up Hospitality Guaranteed with business partner Amanda Jackson, young entrepreneur Victoria Brunton, 26, of Redcar, is keen to encourage other young people to follow their career path here in the region.

She said: “I can relate personally to the importance of investing in young people as I perhaps wouldn’t be where I am today without the fantastic opportunities I had with my first graduate role.

“I now want to put something back and help create an environment where people live, work - and stay.”

Hospitality Guaranteed works with large blue-chip companies to source ideal venues for conferences and meetings.

Victoria and Amanda have been so successful they are now looking to recruit another full-time and part-time member of staff - and they want to give young ambitious people just like themselves a chance.

Victoria said: “We are a dynamic young company with the scope to develop and we want to do all we can to encourage keen graduates like ourselves to make the most of the opportunities here on our doorstep.”

Will Pratt, managing director of Stockton-based InBiz, which has more than 20 years experience helping people start up in business, said: “The North-east is proving to have a great stock of budding entrepreneurs and I think we are all very proud of that success.

“Statistics show 84% of our entrepreneurs never return to benefits and, after two years, more than 16% are creating new jobs.”

So although there’s no doubt setting up your own business is hard work, with all the available support it can be the first step to a new life, and help shape the future of the Tees Valley.

Journalists

David Whetstone
Culture Editor
Graeme Whitfield
Business Editor
Mark Douglas
Newcastle United Editor
Stuart Rayner
Sports Writer