Thinking of entering the Dragons Den

If you have ever sat there watching a programme like The Apprentice and daydreamed about setting up your own business, you are not alone. Just under 17 million of your fellow British workers harbour the same desire, according to a study* out this week.

For most, it isn’t even about the money. The majority of budding entrepreneurs questioned were looking for more flexibility and freedom from the day to day corporate rat race.

Be inspired

Nearly half said that they saw being their own boss as the main reward. This was echoed by people who had actually taken the plunge into setting up their own business, with "freedom and independence" being cited as another major bonus by nearly three quarters of respondents.

One-fifth of young entrepreneurs aged 18 to 34 who have started their own business in the past five years said they were inspired by business-related television shows. Aside from The Apprentice, another popular programme is Dragon’s Den, which has members of the public presenting schemes to a panel of financiers and asking for funding.

Prepare for all work and little play

However Steve Pateman, chief executive of business banking at NatWest, warns: "Whilst it’s encouraging that TV programmes can inspire an army of armchair entrepreneurs into action, they only really scratch the surface of what it takes to run a successful business."

This is a good point and one that potential entrepreneurs should take on board. It is very tempting to look at the success of business people such as Sir Alan Sugar and think that the key to making a fortune is a simple matter of setting up a business and getting a lucky break.

Learn by example: the Sir Alan Sugar story

However, it is important to realise that there is often a lot of hard work through lean times before success can be realised. For example, Sir Alan was born into fairly impoverished circumstances in the East End of London, the son of a tailor.

He showed entrepreneurial instincts from an early age and by the age of 13 was making more from after school trading in such commodities as beetroots and camera films than his father was making in full time employment.

Sir Alan left school at 16 and set himself up in business straight away, buying a van with £100 of savings he had and selling car aerials and electrical equipment around London. By the age of 21 he had picked up on the personal computing boom and founded Amstrad (Alan Michael Sugar Trading). By building computers with relatively cheap parts and selling them for £300 a piece, Sir Alan set himself on the path to acquiring the £830 million fortune he has today.

Finding the start-up cash

For someone who doesn’t have savings to start off with, a loan can be a useful way of acquiring the capital necessary to start up a new business. Stuart Wilson, senior manager of lending at Lloyds TSB, says that for small firms and new start-ups, cash flow is often the biggest problem.

Banks will often facilitate lending to cover this problem, with loans of a relatively small amounts, he says: "From start-ups and small businesses, it’s more likely that their needs will be slightly smaller, particularly on the lending. All the lending starts from £1000, so basically anything going up from there to about £25,000, is probably the majority of the smaller ticket lending."

Take advantage of government schemes

Alternatively, for anyone who is worried about taking out a loan in the present climate of continuously rising interest rates, government grants and loans might present the answer. According to Mr Wilson, there are "various options for lending out there, both through government and through local schemes and through European funding, specialist sector and so forth".

If you are one of the 17 million workers thinking about starting up your own business and you want advice on how to proceed and where to get funding, a good initial starting point is your local BusinessLink centre. These are government funded offices that exist to provide prospective entrepreneurs with all the advice they need to make a start in running their own business.


*NatWest study

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