Since 2010, 40% of newly created jobs are held by the self-employed. This massive boom in entrepreneurship means that currently 1 in 5 working people are self-employed, making the UK the entrepreneurial capital of Western Europe.
However, certain government statistics suggest that these new legions of 1st time business owners are not getting the support they need to build successful businesses for themselves. According to the ONS, the average earnings of the self-employed are just £12,000 a year, which means that many of the nation’s budding entrepreneurs are struggling to make ends meet.
We spoke to Mark Pearson, an award winning digital entrepreneur and the CEO of My Voucher Codes, to hear his thoughts about the UK’s rising levels of the self-employed and what can be done to help fledgling business owners.
According to Mark, one of the main reasons so many people are turning to self-employment is because technology has enabled them to do so: “A couple of decades ago, it would have cost many thousands to just start up your own company, let alone invest in advertising and business development. These days, anyone with a good idea and a little imagination can start and run a business with just a laptop, phone and an internet connection. I myself started MVC with £300, running the whole operation from my bedroom. Within a couple of years we had expanded to the point where we’ve hired 100 people. None of it would have been possible without modern technology.”
Mark also thinks that the revolution in how we can market our businesses and attract customers is a large factor in the growth of micro businesses in the UK. “Without a doubt internet marketing has changed the game for small businesses. Now, budget isn’t as important, and an intelligent small business can actually compete with huge companies in terms of SEO, social media and email marketing. The internet has given business owners a low cost option to reach literally hundreds of thousands of potential customers who are all interested in what they have to sell. To get that kind of targeted advertising before the internet, you’d need to spend many thousands on market research and traditional advertising methods, so smaller businesses were essentially priced out.”
Learn from available resources
Because businesses are so much easier and cheaper to start these days, the barrier for entry is so much lower. As a result, many people who don’t necessarily have any business acumen are starting their own micro-businesses.
Mark opined: “When a person decides to make an entire business out of their skill, their job stops being merely that one role. It’s now so easy to start working for yourself and selling your skills on a freelance basis that many people do it without first coming up with a solid business plan, and a good way of securing new business.
For example, if someone becomes a freelance copywriter, they now have the responsibility of not only crafting great copy, but handling the logistics of running a business, and finding new clients through effective marketing. It’s imperative that modern entrepreneurs really understand how to use the internet to market themselves.
Fortunately, there’s really no excuse not to, as everything you need to know to start making the most of online opportunities is freely available right now on the internet, if you’re willing to put the time in to learn.”
For those who respond better to more structured learning, there are also some great marketing courses available in the UK. In London, the British Library run a great half day course aimed specifically at small businesses which you can learn more about here.
Network with your peers
“Another hugely important aspect of my success has been having other businesspeople to learn from and bounce ideas off. Nothing great ever comes from a vacuum, and the best ideas come from collaborating with people with a similar mind-set. It’s important to network with other business people who you respect and can learn from, their insight will be invaluable in steering you towards growth. Even if you’re just a freelancer who doesn’t want to expand, getting to know other freelancers who have made a successful living by themselves will prove to be invaluable down the line.
Once again, the internet has given small business owners a fantastic way to network and interact with each other. Twitter alone is an unrivalled learning tool and forums such as Shell’s Livewire and UK Business Forums give you a great opportunity to get so much insight from other business owners.”
Since freelancers are becoming an increasingly attractive and cost effective means of hiring skilled staff for large companies, it looks like this employment trend towards people becoming independent isn’t going to stop anytime soon, and many industry commentators think that we are seeing the beginning of a larger workplace revolution.
Why we need to support our budding entrepreneurs
Mark thinks that, while there are resources out there for budding business owners, the UK isn’t doing enough to nurture entrepreneurialism. “If we don’t see a change in the way our education system treats business, we might be giving our kids a set of skills which will be redundant in the new, more entrepreneurial, employment world. Unfortunately, there simply isn’t enough affordable, quality training out there for entrepreneurs. Our education system is very good for teaching us the skills we need to become good employees, but it doesn’t necessarily nurture entrepreneurial skills, and doesn’t teach people skills which are applicable when running a business.
If we’re to see Britain’s many new entrepreneurs succeed, there needs to be a support network available, to train them and teach them essential business skills.”