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A Nation of Part-Time Portfolio Entrepreneurs

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Lots of people would love to turn their passion into cash. But finding the time to start your own business can be difficult. Most of us have other things on our minds: there's the full-time job and the children, just for starters.

But the internet is changing all that. Now it's perfectly possible for people to start a business from home. Today there are more people running their own businesses around full-time work than ever before. The Internet allows portfolio careers to flourish and the government must support this groundswell of eager new business people.

How one great business got started

In December, 1969, Michael was short of cash but wanted to buy his mother a Christmas present. In the circumstances, he knew he had to get creative. He wandered around the house, looking for something - anything - he could turn into a present.

He found his old colouring crayons. The ones he used when he was a child, and saw an opportunity. He melted the crayons down into a colourful wax soup before adding an inch-or-so of string into the top to make a candle.

But before he had time to give it to his mother, a neighbour spotted the candle and offered to buy it on-the-spot. He sold it for twice the price it cost him, pocketing enough to produce two: one to give to his mother, another to sell.

Over the next few years, working with his friends, Michael sold candles to his neighbours, classmates and colleagues. He fit this new business around his studies. And after he'd made enough money, he opened his first store in a sleepy village in North USA.

His company? Yankee Candle. While that might not mean much to British ears, Yankee Candle is an American icon. With more than 550 shops across the US, it's the country's largest manufacturer of scented candles.

Turning hobbies into businesses

The lesson? If, as a government, we want to create a vibrant and dynamic country, it's not enough to concentrate on traditional big businesses. It's not enough think of work in terms of the old-fashioned model of employer-employee hierarchies. And it's not enough to believe that people will hold the same job - that runs from nine-to-five - for the whole of their lives.

Under the Conservative-led Coalition, Britain is rediscovering its love of business and increasingly becoming a nation of part-time entrepreneurs. In my books this is a great thing.

In 2013, more than 500,000 new businesses opened their doors. Between 2011 and 2012, the number of self-employed people rose by 60%. And compared with a year ago, nearly twice as many 18-to-30 year olds are in the process of starting up their own business.

Last year Aviva ran a survey on part-time entrepreneurs. They found that seven in 10 were juggling their businesses around a full-time job. 42% had turned their hobbies, such as photography and baking, into a business. And nearly half of these entrepreneurs planned to take their businesses full-time.

They also found that lots of women ran a part-time business. In fact, women were more likely to run creative businesses and twice as likely to plan to go full-time within the next two years.

Government support for part-time entrepreneurs

This is a new way of working that the government has to get to grips with.

I very much hope that the government's commitment to help parents with the cost of childcare will also help mums and dads running their own companies find the time and money to scale up their businesses.

But the government can help in other ways too. The Aviva survey found that part-time entrepreneurs were most concerned about their knowledge and experience.

For the majority of part-time entrepreneurs, this is their first foray into business. And as might be expected, they often do not know how to run a business, pay their taxes and comply with regulation.

These entrepreneurs need a simpler and flatter tax system, coupled with easy to access advice and guidance. At minimum, the government should establish a website and free helpline so people can get help with tax and regulation. Not only would this make life easier for small businesses, it would also quickly focus attention on those areas of regulation and taxation in need of urgent simplification.

If a physical presence is required, then the new Manchester library is a good model. It now has top-of-the-line PCs equipped with software for web and game development and a dedicated intellectual property centre that can guide founders through business law and other technicalities.

This model has already worked well at the British Library, which opened its refurbished business centre in 2006. Since then it has helped more than 350,000 entrepreneurs create 2,775 businesses and 3,345 jobs.

The government must stay alert to the radical changes taking place in our workforce. And it must adapt to support these new portfolio entrepreneurs.

If we are to win in the race to the top of the innovation and productivity tables once again, then Britain must be the easiest place in the world to produce the next Yankee Candle.

Around the Web

Follow These 10 Steps to Starting a Business | SBA.gov

7 Tips for Starting Your Own Small Business - ABC News

10 Tips for a Strong Start - Successful Business ... - Entrepreneur.com

How to Start a Small Business: 31 Steps (with Pictures) - wikiHow

Tips on Starting Your Own Business - I Will Teach You To Be Rich

Fix a Problem, Enlist Your Clients and Other Tips to Starting a Business

8 Things to Consider When Starting a Business

4 Tips for Starting Your Own Home-Based Business

5 essential tips for starting a successful new business