This week’s small business superstar is Emma Jones, founder of Enterprise Nation, an SME network that helps support the UK’s growing network of entrepreneurs. We discussed what the best thing about being an SME owner is, how the government is helping small firms and what it was like to be awarded an MBE.
How did you become involved in entrepreneurship and small businesses?
My Mum was in charge of a number of restaurants when we were growing up so I definitely lived in a small business household!
I started my first business when I was 27 and sold it just two years later. With Enterprise Nation, I’ve been involved in helping people start and grow a business since 2005. It’s been an incredible decade for small business as creation figures have risen dramatically and the way SMEs can gain support has changed.
Tell me more about Enterprise Nation – what does it do specifically for SMEs?
Enterprise Nation is the UK’s most active small business network. We help people start and grow a business through a daily blog, lively events, adviser marketplace, modern membership and campaigning voice to government.
The support we deliver to Enterprise Nation members is multi-fold and includes webinars, weekly masterclasses, member meet-ups and discounts on business essentials.
We have a vision to deliver modern business support to today’s modern business owner and that involves delivering expert advice (in lots of ways) and connecting small businesses to each other for peer support. It’s the work to realise this vision that keeps us busy each day!
What is the best thing about being an SME owner?
The best thing about being an SME owner is the freedom and flexibility that comes with being your own boss. This has been one of the reasons behind the surge in the number of startups; people have decided they want to work on their own terms.
This also applies when growing a business – as the small business owner, you put your imprint on the company and are responsible for its direction. This delivers a great sense of satisfaction and meaning to your working life.
In 2011, you helped launch “Start-up Britain”, a campaign that tries to encourage small business creation in the UK. Four years on, how well do you think the campaign has done?
I was one of eight co-founders and I stepped in to run the campaign from 2011 to 2014 so, I’m biased on this, but I think we did a good job during those years!
We hosted industry weeks, toured the country with advice, opened Popup shops and launched the Start-up Tracker to put a number on the phenomenal rise of startups in the UK between during that period.
When we launched the campaign in 2011, my opening comment to people was: ‘‘50% of people want to start a business in Britain but fear of failure puts them off.’’
My job in running the campaign over the next three years was to try and influence the culture and get the message across that starting a company doesn’t have to be a risky business.
I still remember the day, 13th December 2013, when for the first time, the UK recorded 500,000 new startups in the year to date. This was an incredible moment as the UK does well when it unleashes its entrepreneurial talent and it makes our campaign so worthwhile.
How do you relax when you’re not at work?
Going to the gym and reading the FT!
You’re a huge advocate of pop-up businesses. Why do you think there is such a big appetite for these pint-sized stores in the UK?
I do love pop-ups!
First off, they’re a great route for startups to test the market before taking on the lengthy and costly commitment of a rental and rates.
When we launched ‘Pop-up Britain’, we witnessed an appetite from existing online businesses to test the high street, to meet their customers, and to get out of the office!
More recently, we’ve supported a pop-up in Horsham, and studies have shown that around 15 per cent of the businesses that own a pop-up go on to take a permanent shop space. Pop-ups are not only good for small businesses; they’re also good for the high street as they attract shoppers looking for a different retail experience.
In 2012, you were awarded an MBE for Services to Enterprise. What do you think made you stand out?
I’d like to think it was a combination of the hard work that goes into creating Enterprise Nation and the fact we’re always banging the drum for small businesses of Britain!
If you were Prime Minister for a day, what would you do to help more SMEs?
I’d do what this Prime Minister is doing.
The role of government, when it comes to encouraging and supporting small business, is to create the right infrastructure and environment, i.e. ensure there’s confidence in the economy, sturdy broadband, decent rail connections and tax relief for investments.
When it comes to delivering the day to day advice and support for small businesses, it should be delivered by small business, for small business and not by government!
One other great asset government has is its ability to shine a media spotlight on issues and projects. To that end, we’re working with government in three areas; international trade, the powers of digital and small businesses selling to government, as to ensure all opportunities are realised.
There are just 7 women in FTSE 100 companies. Why do you think that is and what more can be done to promote women in business?
On the bright side, there are millions of women starting their own business!
This is the world I see every day; women spotting gaps in the market or taking their passion/hobbies and turning it into a way of making a living. At our events and in our membership we attract circa a 60 per cent female audience i.e. thousands of women starting amazing businesses. They don’t need any help in promoting women in business – they’re doing it themselves!
What advice can you give to young, aspiring entrepreneurs who are thinking about starting their own business?
Just take one small step at a time. Write a business plan, start a blog, share the idea with your friends, go to a few startup events. Keep taking small steps towards your goal as in six months’ time you’ll look back, realise how many steps you’ve taken and how close you are to becoming your own boss!