As the Prime Minister and Chancellor have often reminded us, Britain is part of a global race for competitiveness and jobs. Our public finances are weak, the sustainability of our economic growth is under threat and youth unemployment is still too high. What Britain needs more than ever is for people to start new businesses and for existing companies to make new investments.
As luck would have it, we Britons have always been very entrepreneurial people. Don't forget the industrial revolution started here, transforming the world economy and kick starting a new era in global trade. Yes it's true that developing nations have the advantage of cheap labour but that's not the beginning and end of business. For a start the UK has a pretty large market in domestic goods and services that can't be imported from abroad for practical reasons. Secondly, Britain has many advantages in the knowledge-based economy. We have skills in science, IT, high-tech engineering, the creative industries and financial services for example that aren't as prevalent elsewhere. And anyway if Germany can make things and export them to the Chinese so can we, as Jaguar Land Rover, Rolls Royce Aerospace and JCB prove.
Now you may be concerned that today's economic conditions aren't right for striking out on your own. I fundamentally disagree. It was those who set up a business at the height of the boom who unluckily got their timing wrong. If you start a business now you can factor today's conditions (and some risk they may worsen) into your plans. Anyway, you don't have to take my word for it. Over 462,000 new businesses have been started in Britain this year. Who says there is no confidence out there?
You may worry that banks won't support a start up. Well I'm not sure banks have ever been able to back people if they don't have a track record, don't have much money and can't give security, that's not their business. The difference now is there has never been more support to help such people become self-employed. There is particular help for young people with both the Government Start Up Loans scheme and The Prince's Trust loans and grants for under-privileged youngsters aged up to 30. Both the Government and the Trust have business mentoring schemes under which experienced entrepreneurs provide advice and support. There have also never been so many "angel" entrepreneurs investing under the tax beneficial Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme, a valuable option for those who don't fit the profiles mentioned above. A good starting point would be to go on the website of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (www.bis.gov.uk).
Okay so it is a great time to act and you can get help but what sort of business should you start and what are the ground rules? My starting point is that businesses should provide goods or services that people actually need and which you would buy yourself if you were in the target market. That aside I would say look to your skills and your passions to increase your chance of success. Ask yourself is there a big enough market for your offering? What revenues would you have to get to cover your costs and provide you with the salary you need? As you won't achieve these on day one how long could you survive before the business breaks even and how will you fund that? Can you get credit from your suppliers, a rent-free period from your landlord or payment in advance from your customers to help bridge the gap?
Sure, starting a business isn't an easy option. But for me running your own company is the most exciting and rewarding way to work. You get to set the strategy and determine the ambition. Its culture reflects your values. Maybe you only want a small business to provide an income? Maybe you want to build a global enterprise? But whatever your aspiration I say this: set out to be the market leading business in the market you're in, whether you're the best local fish and chip shop or the best global bio-tech business. Give people a reason to deal with you and they will. Coming up with the plan can be complex; delivering it can be hard work. But if you can create enough satisfied customers who come back or tell their friends or colleagues how good you are you've a great chance to be successful and reap the rewards of that success. There's never been a better time to start a business. Don't wait a moment, do it now!