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From little acorns: One FSB member’s story of success

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You’re a graduate, you’ve finished uni, and you’re at something of a cross roads moment in your life. What’s your next move?

For many, if they haven’t been bitten by the travel bug, the natural tendency is to apply for as many jobs as humanly possible; start making inroads in to paying back that thumping great debt you’ve racked up. Cue the shotgun CV, fired out to as many companies and recruitment agencies as possible.
 
Not so Kelly Gilmour-Grassam.
 
The Yorkshire-bred entrepreneur, now 25, had other ideas when she graduated from the University of Nottingham in 2014. Unlike many of her peers, Kelly wanted to take her time before deciding a career path. Having made a modest income during her uni days doing freelance writing work, she elected instead to travel South America while she had a think, and made ends meet by wordsmithing along the way.
 
Kelly soon found her client base growing, and on her return to the UK things quickly gathered pace. She explains: “I’d got a few freelance gigs at uni, and I had started to think, ‘I wonder where I could take this?’. 
 
“At the time though I’d thought I would go down the employment route and get a grad job, but I was soon wondering whether self-employment might actually be a better route for me. Eventually I thought, ‘why not give it a try?'” 
 
And so she did, setting up her business, Making You Content, and moving to Manchester for networking opportunities, using her initial freelance work for the foundations on which to build. This was around the time Kelly joined the FSB. 
 
“I’d met the local membership advisor on several occasions at various networking events, and thought it might be a good idea to join. I really knew nothing about starting a business so I felt it was important to have some backup. When I look back now it was the best decision I could have made.”
 
As the months went by, so the business grew, and more work came in. Kelly’s thoughts soon turned to bringing in someone else to help ease the workload; making the ‘leap’ from self-employed to employer – often seen as the biggest barrier for many self-employed, bringing with it genuine and significant new responsibilities, with pensions, contracts, and payroll systems to consider.
 
Again, she was pleased with the support she had from FSB. “The legal hub was brilliant, particularly when I took on my first member of staff as I had no idea. It gave me a clear knowledge of my responsibilities as an employer, and they were really very helpful – in fact it was a godsend. There was lots of information,  and these days you can’t afford to take any chances when it comes to employment law.”
 
Four years on, Kelly has moved to larger offices, now employs five people and is planning for a sixth member of the team later this year. She has just returned from a business trip to New York where she has won her first overseas client – making her an exporter - and is now thinking about future plans for the business.
 
But Kelly has also made use of her FSB membership more than most having engaged locally as an activist, which in turn led to her involvement with FSB’s Women In Business Taskforce, a policy group that meets in London to look at some of the specific issues affecting female entrepreneurs.
 
Kelly’s activism has seen her on the BBC Breakfast couch, visits to Downing Street, the Treasury, and host FSB events in Manchester from city centre networking to an International Women’s Day event.  
 
So what’s her standout memory of FSB activism? “It was probably meeting former US Small Business Administrator in the Obama administration, Maria Contreras-Sweet, that was really interesting. We heard about the US model for business support for small firms. They’ve got a really great system there,” she said.
 
“But being an FSB activist is great for your profile as a business too, and my advice for others is just to get involved. Go to the local meetings, keep speaking with the FSB team locally, and don’t be afraid to have a go. FSB does so much advocacy work for small businesses – most people don’t realise just how much! It’s genuinely made me feel like I’ve been able to make a difference,” she added.

If you’d like to be an FSB activist in Greater Manchester, e-mail robert.downes@fsb.org.uk