THE BLOG

Britain: A Nation of Startups

14/01/2015 15:59 GMT | Updated 16/03/2015 09:59 GMT

Starting a business isn't easy. It is not short on sacrifices. Plenty of self-employed people work longer hours and earn less than their salaried counterparts. There are innumerable disappointments and setbacks. There is no guarantee of success.

Yet there hasn't been a time like this in modern British history, with more people starting businesses than ever before. At the start of 2014 there were 5.2 million small businesses; that's up by 330,000 from 2013. By any standards that is really striking.

There's a fresh generation in Britain - of all ages - who currently more likely to be determined and optimistic. Because those are the qualities you need to start and run a business. It's not about being original and inventive, it's about getting out there and doing it. And more of us are.

Not only that, many of these small businesses are feeling confident. In a recent Business Perceptions Survey more than four out of five owners of small and medium-sized businesses said that they felt capable of growing their business - that's an eight per cent increase compared to October 2013.

Nearly half of them reported increases in turnover on their previous year - that's nine per cent up compared to this time last year.

And six out of ten small and medium sized business were planning to take on more staff in the next 12 months - that's a whopping 17 per cent higher than a year ago.

What's interesting is the variety among these optimists, self-starters and entrepreneurs - there are people who started as apprentices in factories and boatyards to clever, geek-chic techies, there are home-based craft businesses to ambitious employees who have jumped ship to sail on their own.

Back in the mid-1990s, I did that too. We co-founded a media publishing company that was the first to launch a magazine for entrepreneurs and growing businesses - Real Business. At the time, it was a mould-breaker. It talked to business owners about the daily challenges and problems of running a business. We found practical answers, pointed out where to find support and advice, and provided inspirational stories from successful peer businesses. It was a big success because such information was difficult to access quickly and easily, and was usually leaden and bureaucratic in its language.

Today's startup is not short of such advice. In fact, advice is everywhere. There are detailed (but easy to follow) business plan templates available with a keystroke. There are schools for startups. Social media has transformed the way in which entrepreneurs can learn from, and connect with, each other. There's the Start Up Loans scheme and the Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme: from mentoring to tax breaks, the startup environment has never been more benign.

Not every startup will succeed, of course, but right now a cultural revolution is changing the face of business in Britain.