The Awards, organised and managed by North and Western Lancashire Chamber of Commerce, are a celebration of all that’s good about Lancashire’s business community. They celebrate our creativity, our innovation, and our entrepreneurial spirit. Many of these businesses are not just world-leading but also world-beating. They are at the forefront of modern technology, excelling across a wide range of sectors, generating a positive profile that turns heads, attracts new business and investment, and creates jobs and new opportunities.
But of course Lancashire’s economic potential is not just based on the expertise and talent that already exists amongst our business community. It’s also about creating the right conditions and providing the right level of support and expertise to encourage entrepreneurs to start up on their own.
The success of the New Enterprise Allowance contract that the North and Western Lancashire Chamber of Commerce has been delivering on behalf of the Department for Work and Pensions in their part of Lancashire since 2011 (our colleagues at East Lancashire Chamber of Commerce are our delivery partners in East Lancashire) has shown that our County is absolutely the right place to start up a business. No one will ever say that starting up is easy for everyone because taking that first step is daunting. Those who do decide to take that first step are driven by a desire to succeed and not by a fear of failure.
But even if they do fail (and let’s be realistic and pragmatic: businesses do fail and not everyone will succeed), it doesn’t mean that they are a failure. It simply means that they haven’t succeeded yet.
There’s plenty of advice and support out there to help anyone interested in taking that first step. A quick internet search will throw up a mass of information on what to do and how to do it.
I’m not going to simply repeat this advice. What I want to do is go through the initial questions that we ask when talking to our clients on the New Enterprise Allowance Scheme.
Starting right at the beginning with how and why the people we’ve helped have come up with their idea. It’s a fundamental question that we ask: how did you come up with your business idea? It’s clear from all the answers we get that there is no one single, or one right way, to come up with a business idea. Many of our clients come up with an idea based on their past experience or hobby. Other clients tell us that they decide to start up after finding out that no one else provides what they want to do.
Whatever the idea, we also ask clients what they’ve done to test the viability of their idea. We need to know how much market research has been done. Is there a market for the idea? How much competition is there? How much profit is needed to sustain the business and provide money to live?
We also look at the person because the skills, personality, attitude, discipline, ambition, self-confidence, and commitment that our clients show will have a big impact on their chances of making the business succeed. Clients that possess these qualities are arguably more likely to succeed than those that don’t (we don’t call it failure!). That’s not to say we won’t work with those clients that don’t have those attributes. We try and identify what’s lacking and if it’s knowledge then we point clients towards further training.
Before we get into the “nitty gritty” of the business idea, we also talk about money by asking whether clients can afford to start their own business? We need to be sure that they have enough money (or can get access to the money) to start up and keep going in the first few months. It’s a hard reality but businesses fail because they run out of cash, meaning that their owners can’t settle bills or earn enough to provide a decent living wage.
Our clients, to be fair, accept that overnight success stories are very rare. But we still need to explain that they might have to wait longer to earn the sort of money they were hoping for.
Finally, we ask about their commitment. If they’re ready to start the journey, we then provide as much support as we can to help them on their way. And once they’re on the way, we stay with them. We offer the opportunity to join the Chamber as a member free of charge giving them access to a wealth of additional help and support.
The New Enterprise Allowance scheme works. Of businesses that had started on the scheme, four in five were still trading, giving a sustainability rate of 80 per cent. Over nine in ten had been trading for over 12 months.
Together with our partners at Cumbria Chamber of Commerce, East Lancashire Chamber of Commerce, St Helens Chamber of Commerce, and Blue Orchid, we’re proud to have played a major role in that success across Lancashire, Cumbria and Merseyside.