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Tim Campbell: Running a small firm is not for the faint-hearted


As I enter my 40th year, I get reflective, writes Tim Campbell, founder of Bright Ideas Trust and winner of The Apprentice.
I think back to an apparently simpler time when I had this crazy idea to help more people start their own businesses. Ten years ago I founded Bright Ideas Trust, a charity established to support the next generation of small business owners. I started it because I was frustrated with the lack of opportunity for people under 30 to get access to significant start-up investment capital and advice from successful business owners, as well as ad hoc guidance from expert business advisors. 
A decade later, the environment for aspiring small business owners from underserved backgrounds, and the wider start-up market, are much more positive. We now have open access to information online and from institutions such as Mintel and the British Library’s Business and Intellectual Property Centre. We also have access to start-up and growth funding, democratised by peer-to-peer platforms and social networks such as Funding Circle. 

Having helped start more than 250 businesses ranging from hairdressers to cleaning firms, we have seen what works and what doesn’t. Every business we have supported has been founded by someone who ‘knows their onions’. It is not enough to have the desire to be a florist if you don’t know your chrysanthemums from your carnations. Doing what they know and love makes the start-up process easier.

The desire for many to be ‘your own boss’ is a compelling one, but the reality of running a business is that it takes lots of hard work and long hours. Ask any business owner about time off and holidays in the first couple of years, and I bet you get a puzzled ‘what do you mean, holiday?’ look back. Running a small business is all-consuming. It often gets hard and is a lonely place to be, but with amazing rewards for those who make it through those sticky patches. 

Sometimes business owners believe they need to have all the answers, when our most successful business investments have been with owners who admit they do not know all the answers, but surround themselves with people who can help when required. Whether it’s mentors, advisors, employees or just a mate who will be a friendly sounding board, surrounding yourself with the right ‘team’ will be one of the most important things you do.
Small firms bring innovation and create jobs, so it is imperative that governments understand the vital role they play, and create an environment that lets them thrive, with supportive legislation, a tax regime that promotes growth and incentives to attract capital.

I’d love to see more from our Government on educating young people at schools about how business works, or how they can learn skills that will allow them to be more entrepreneurial once they leave. I’d also love to see more successful business owners passing on their wisdom to the next generation. No matter what changes on the macro-scale, the need for small businesses will remain.

Tim Campbell will be hosting the FSB and Worldpay Awards on 10 May, at the Underglobe Swan, Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in London