It is often assumed that the only route to success is through influence and contacts.
Indeed, we live in a society where the old adage “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know” is writ large. But things are changing and I’m proud to head-up an organisation that’s helping to lead the charge.
In the 10-plus years that Notonthehighstreet has been going, we’ve been lucky to discover and work with thousands of small creative businesses across the UK.
We have provided them with a platform to compete on a global stage within the fiercely competitive retail sector, a sector previously dominated by large, mainstream retailers.
“They are school leavers, retirees and every age group in between. Those who left corporate jobs and undertook a complete career change”
The 5,000 businesses who sell with us today – many of them kitchen table entrepreneurs – are run by people living in every region of the UK.
They are school leavers, retirees and every age group in between. Those who left corporate jobs and undertook a complete career change, and those who have always been creative and keen to make a living with their hands.
But perhaps most interesting is that 90% of these businesses are run by women, in stark contrast to the UK average for female small business ownership, which stands at just 21%.
Many of these female entrepreneurs are mums who are juggling multiple commitments outside their day jobs and have set up their businesses in pursuit of more flexibility and freedom.
Make money, feel happy
I’m often asked whether these businesses are financially viable. Is it really possible to make a living by setting up a creative business? The simple answer is yes.
Over the last 10 years, our partners have delivered more than £600m to the UK economy and 20 of them turned over £1m with us last year.
The financial benefit is clear, but the founders of those businesses are also happier.
“These businesses highlight the fundamental and, I believe, lasting shift taking place in the workforce today”
Since setting up their businesses, 95% of our partners say they feel a greater sense of achievement, 90% say they enjoy life more and feel happier, 88% feel that their work is purposeful and that they contribute to a meaningful industry, and 87% feel more fulfilled when they wake up each day.
These businesses highlight the fundamental and, I believe, lasting shift taking place in the workforce today.
It challenges beliefs about the need for personal connections and traditional ‘old boys’ networks’ to get ahead and highlights the massive opportunity for tomorrow’s workforce to set up their own successful businesses.
A nation of entrepreneurs
But the entrepreneurs I work with are not the exception to the rule. Across the UK, self-employment has reached its highest level in 10 years as more and more people shun the traditional 9 to 5 in search of work that ‘works’ for them.
Coupled with changing attitudes to careers and work-life balance, the UK’s clear entrepreneurial spirit and flair, and the proliferation of technology that makes it easier than ever to set up a business no matter where in the UK you live, I believe this is a trend that will only gather pace.
It is because I believe in challenging the reliance on ‘traditional’ networks that I decided to speak as part of this year’s Speakers for Schools campaign, ‘Bridging the Gap’.
“I believe that by taking time out to speak directly to young people, we can challenge the assumptions some might have”
Speakers for Schools is an education charity working with the industry-leading figures from all sectors to provide free talks for students in state schools and now helping with work experience to link young people without established networks to opportunities in top companies.
I believe that by taking time out to speak directly to young people, we can challenge the assumptions some might have about the limitations of their existing networks and spark aspirations that will ultimately help them to succeed.
It’s down to all of us to make a difference because after all, this century isn’t the century of the old boy and his network; this is a century of opportunity and creative enterprise.