As a nation it appears we're getting better at deciding what careers we want, with life changing situations like the recession inspiring young people to think differently. More and more people are taking the plunge and starting up their own business: great for them and great for the country's economy.
Take Joe & Seph's Gourmet Popcorn; they went on a trip to America, which sparked the business idea. They set up the brand in 2010 at the Good Food Show in London, and had complete confidence in the brand. No one had heard of them and they were competing against Tyrells and others who had been around for several years. Believing in their idea worked: they are now stocking their gourmet popcorn in over 1,000 stores. When starting out you need to believe in what you are doing and stick at it.
For me, having worked full time in London for a few years for other people, I was fed up with people telling me what to do. A clean break from the day to day of work meant I went travelling for nine months and, along the way, rediscovered my passion for tasty food, prepared quickly and without fuss. On my return I started my business selling tasty, hand prepared fresh food that could be prepared at home with the minimum of effort: in many ways the antithesis to the dreaded "ready meal", but tapping into the same consumer need which had already driven the £2.2bn UK ready meal market to be such a success. My inspiration came from recognising that in most parts of the world a quick, tasty meal does not involve a microwave, obscure preservatives or worrying processes but, more often, a bunch of fresh ingredients tossed into the pan on the side of the road. The kernel of my idea also recognised there are few things more enjoyable in life than sitting down and sharing some good food with someone else: the food I developed is all about that end of the day moment when we want to sit down with our other half and have some proper time together chatting and laughing over a good meal. I'm delighted that having set up my business almost twenty years ago, we are one the UK's fastest growing food brands: sales have now topped £30m, our food is eaten by over 200,000 people every week and we saw sales growth of 60% year on year for the last quarter.
Starting out can be difficult, it's hard for smaller brands to get cut through in an industry so big, especially when competing with large producers. I think it's all about making sure your brand is different enough, ensuring that quality is your number one priority and always keeping your focus on the consumer.
Everyone who starts a business is different but here are a few tips that might help keep aspiring entrepreneurs on the right track ...
- Talk to everyone, listen carefully but don't follow anyone else's advice. You've got to learn from others but do it YOUR way, not somebody else's.
- Understanding the consumer is everything. Start by testing your product or service out on friends and family but be prepared to read between the lines on the feedback they give you: they will probably be more polite than they should be.
- Be obsessive about the quality of what you are doing. If your making food make sure it the tastiest, freshest, most beautiful, most carefully sourced, most sustainable, best packaged - or at least some of these. Nobody started a successful business by being just OK.
- Learn from your mistakes. I don't think entrepreneurs really make mistakes - more experiments that just didn't quite go to plan. But you'd be foolish not to learn something every time those plans don't quite work out. I'm still learning.
- NEVER give up ...but be prepared to give up at the right moment. A bit of advice I heard recently from a much more successful entrepreneur than me and one that makes perfect sense. You must be unbelievably persistent and be prepared to pick yourself up time after time after time and keep focused on that original vision that got you started. However, also recognise that many entrepreneurs have failures too and that there could just be a time when you are better off moving onto your next idea.
Follow Charlie Bigham's on Twitter @charliebighams or visit the website www.bighams.com for more information