EOW Reflections 22/09/2023

If ever I needed reminding about how important mindset is when it comes to starting up and running a small business, I was reminded on Monday in Hull.

The brilliant Making Changes 4 Careers (MC4C) programme celebrated 7 years. During that time Hull City Council and partners supported more than 400 young people to move from Universal Credit to set up in business, get into employment or into volunteer jobs. The programme is based on training participants in the Big 13 Enterprise Skills (initiative, leadership, problem solving to name but 3), allowing young people to develop their ideas through enterprising activities and business support. It’s the mindset of all involved that’s the real driver.

The programme raises the funds and recruits mentors. The mindset of everyone involved is enterprising, can-do, and above all belief. Belief in the capabilities of the young people, in their ideas and ability to develop the other business skills they need, and in the power of mentoring and support. Small amounts of money are granted to prime the pump but it’s the mentoring and support that make the impact.

Creative people want to apply their talents to something they love. These aren’t ‘just hobbies’. These are great ideas that can be turned into businesses and incomes allowing people to support themselves, their families, and wider communities, while avoiding dependence on the state and building their business skills. They may not start out wanting to grow but who knows how the ideas will develop as business acumen develops.

However, it seems to me that that mindset isn’t understood or respected as it should be. Creative and talented self-employed people are often viewed with suspicion: they’re unemployable; or trying to avoid paying as much tax as everyone else; or hiding behind the self-employed tag while tinkering at a hobby?

Nothing could be further from the truth. Self-employed people (freelance, sole traders, running micro or small businesses and I include my pre-Small Business Commissioner self in this) take all our own risks. If we don’t work, we lose money. There’s no one giving us paid time off in emergencies or holidays. We deliver the goods during the week and run the business in the evenings and weekends. We keep our skills and equipment updated or lose our edge. We do all the ‘jobs’ because there’s just us. We make mistakes, pick up our own pieces and get back on the horse.

We combine work with caring responsibilities. Sometimes we’re employed as well as getting the business off the ground or working on more than one business to make a reasonable income. Sometimes self-employment is the best option because of the lack of available and accessible employment opportunities, which is totally different to being unemployable.

I met all of the above on Monday. Every one of those young people was determined, resilient and self-reliant. They talked about next steps, plans for growth, new ideas and the excitement of seeing their hard work bear fruit. These are hugely talented people who have had the support they need to grow the confidence that will take them from strength to strength. We need more programmes like this. More young people need to know that university and employment aren’t the only routes to success. More need to be given the belief that they too could run their own business. But we need the mindset of people in employment in corporates and institutions, and of policy makers to switch from suspicion and misunderstanding to respect. Then we can all get on with playing our part in avoiding recession and rebuilding our economy.