It's a good time to get to grips with a business idea

Despite the slowdown new enterprises are starting up in record numbers. By Rob Griffin

Andrew Chambers certainly doesn’t lack fighting spirit. The 32-year-old entrepreneur has defied dire economic conditions and local bureaucrats to achieve his long-held ambition of setting up a dedicated martial arts centre.

The experienced kickboxing and Thai boxing instructor has ploughed more than £50,000 into establishing a state-of-the-art Fighting Tigers Gym which opened in February in his hometown of Hastings, East Sussex.

And even though he is fully aware of the potential problems associated with starting a new venture at a time when the country is mired in recession, he is confident that it’s worth the risk.

“It was a massive decision but I weighed it up,” he says. “The fight game is very fashionable at the moment with the UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) and MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) on television so I’m hopeful of making a decent return over the next few years.”

Stressful wrangling with both the local council and the highways authority tested his resolve, but with the help of a close-knit circle of friends and wife Rachel, he turned an empty industrial unit into a fully functional training centre in three months.

As well as offering daily lessons in a string of disciplines, including kickboxing and jiu jitsu, the gym runs bully proof classes for children and circuit training, and offers experts in nutrition, fitness and physiotherapy.

Mr Chambers, who has funded the start-up costs out of capital from his two existing electronics firms, is also launching a dedicated website and online shop ( and harbours longer-term ambitions to expand into sports management.

“We already have a couple of fighters on our books that we are training up as professional fighters and acting as their management,” he says. “If we can influence people to get involved in the fight game in the right way, with respect and discipline, then that will be a significant achievement.”

For the time being, however, Mr Chambers is focused on getting the gym on a stable footing along with Paul Bridges, the gym’s manager.

“It’s a massive risk and if this goes wrong my other businesses may fail as I’ve taken so much out of it, but I’ve given myself four years to pay it back,” he says. “I can see the bigger picture and am confident that hard work will bring results over the coming years.”

It’s never been a more popular time for starting businesses. A record 480,000 companies were formed in 2011, and the number of self-employed is at an all-time high of 4.5 million. So how can you get on the road to being your own boss?

Doing your homework

The first step is to come up with a business idea. What product or service are you planning to offer, and how does it differ from what’s currently available? Will there be enough demand? Will it have a unique selling point to make it more attractive than a rival offering?

Great ideas can come from anywhere. Johnathan Agnès, 39, the co-founder of, says his wife, Hannah, was behind the concept which has led to the creation of online tools, technology and websites that enable people to eat healthily and within their budgets.

“My wife felt there was a desire among people to eat well but make their grocery pound go as far as possible,” he explains. “There was nothing available that let people combine computer software, published nutritional data and online grocery information.”

The company has established recipe sites such as The Resourceful Cook (, where, for example, the ingredients match pack size quantities to cut food wastage.

“A clear idea is important because it gives you focus and something you can convey to people,” he adds. “If you have a defined idea you have better prospects of developing it successfully.”

You also need to work out the finances. Savings or money from friends and family can help. Alternative sources include grants from business organisations, funding from “business angel” investors and, of course, the banks.

Know when to make the leap

If you are working then it’s an idea to keep the day job and build a new business in your spare time. That’s what Catrin Siôn, 28, and Paul Formosa, 36, did when they were establishing Daffodili (, an online store selling kids clothes and gifts.

They kept on their jobs – in publishing and credit control, respectively – for six months efore making the switch.

“Working full-time when setting up our business was the most difficult part,” says Ms Siôn. “We’d be up until 2am packing sales and Paul would have to go to the Post Office before work. We would also have to take days off in order to be here to receive our products.”

As sales grew, it got harder to balance two working lives. “We were ecstatic when we realised we could make a living working for ourselves and felt we had the potential to grow it into a profitable business,” she adds. “We do miss our monthly wages as money can be tight, but we see it as a short-term sacrifice for a better future.”

Make the most of technology

It’s never been easier – or cheaper – to put your business in front of potential customers, thanks to social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and even YouTube, not to mention free blogging tools via the likes of Wordpress and Blogger. Even establishing a dedicated website doesn’t have to cost the earth. Specialist companies such as ( provide all the tools you require – including domain names, templates, and online shopping facilities – from as little as £2.99 a month.

Problems to acknowledge

Pierre Williams, spokesman for the Federation of Small Businesses, warns anyone thinking about starting out on their own to prepare thoroughly and accept they will have to overcome myriad problems in their first few years, such as tough trading conditions, late payers and raising finance.

But he says: “More than four in 10 small firms are planning to grow this year, whilst just 7 per cent plan to downsize. That’s an encouraging statistic for anyone thinking of starting up – provided it’s combined with solid research and a realistic approach.”

Opportunities knock

Emma Jones, founder with her partner of Enterprise Nation, a website for small businesses, says the recession has led to a growth in start-ups.

“People are using the fact they have been laid off to kick-start the business idea they’ve had for years,” she says, while others are just deciding that they want the freedom and flexibility that comes with being their own boss.

“The biggest factor that holds people back is fear of failure but it’s actually a great time to be confident about starting a business,” she says.

“Despite the recession, technology is giving us access to two billion customers around the world.” Businesses that can make the most use of websites and social media, therefore, have a fantastic opportunity to turn their ideas into viable operations almost overnight.

"You can start on a budget, keep hold of the day job until you’re ready to make the switch, work from home, and begin trading immediately,” she adds.

"Rather than being cautious, it’s time to embrace all these opportunities. As long as you’ve got the right idea that caters for a niche audience, then there really is no time like the present to get started.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Homeless Veterans charity auction: Cook with Angela Hartnett and Neil Borthwick at Merchants Tavern
charity appeal
Amir Khan is engaged in a broader battle than attempting to win a fight with Floyd Mayweather
boxing Exclusive: Amir Khan reveals plans to travel to Pakistan
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
Ched Evans in action for Sheffield United in 2012
footballRonnie Moore says 'he's served his time and the boy wants to play football'
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Finacial products from our partners
Property search

Simon Read: The point of having protection insurance? The right cover can help reduce your financial concerns at a time of extreme worry

In May Nicola Groves got a massive shock. The 45-year-old mother of two was told, bluntly, that she had breast cancer. "When I heard the words, 'You do have breast cancer and you are going to lose your breast', I felt as if time stood still," she says.

Mark Dampier: Maybe boom, maybe bust, but we'll probably just muddle along

It's that time again when the media looks back over the past year and forward to the next. I am reminded of an old film, The Day the Earth Caught Fire (1961). Near the end of the film a newspaper prints two headlines – which one it uses will depend on whether the world is saved or doomed.

Sainsbury’s sank 7 per cent to 234p; Tesco fell 3.2 per cent to 180.2p ; and Morrisons dropped 5 per cent to 159.9p

Money Insider: Supermarkets: the real challenger banks

The supermarket banks have always excelled at offering simple, no nonsense products, and savings accounts is another area in which they fare well

Pat and Richard Astbury at their home in Norton Canes, Staffordshire. They have benefitted from the Community Energy Project aimed at helping council tenants with their energy bills. They have had solar panels installed.

Locals in Staffordshire to save hundreds after new council-backed project to install solar panels

The sun is shining on people who struggle to heat their homes and it’s thanks to a sense of community

Gross household debt reached a historic high of around 160 per cent of combined incomes in 2007

Simon Read: Give people struggling with debt some breathing space

Struggling people need help, understanding and forbearance, not ill-thought-out pronouncements

A person walks through the City of London during the early morning rush hour in London

Simon Read: Caught up in the scandal about leaks at the regulator

You won’t find me bashing the banks for the sake of it, but sadly they’ve deserved all the criticism that’s been sent their way in recent years

There were around 750,000 victims of mobile phone theft in England and Wales last year, according to official figures

Money alert: Stolen mobile phones

Gillian Guy, chief executive of Citizens Advice: 'The injustice of shock bills for crime victims must end. The Government must stand up for consumers and cap bills from lost or stolen phones at £50'

Indian workers boil sugarcane juice to make jaggery, a traditional cane sugar, at a jaggery plant in Muradnagar, Uttar Pradesh's Ghaziabad district

Mark Dampier: A hot investment story is taking shape as India lets the light in

Stirring the pot: the Indian Government’s reforms of labour rules offer hope of a brighter future for businesses 

An AA patrol man helping a woman whose scooter had broken down.

Bargain hunter: Whisk up those leftovers instead of just throwing them in the bin

Knight of the road, look out: you’ve got a new rival 

How to raise money for charity this Christmas

There are so many ways you can raise money - and awareness - for charity. Rob Griffin explains how easy it is to donate and reap financial rewards

Simon Read: The Chancellor has stamped on an unfair tax. But will the delight of homebuyers mean misery for others?

Were you surprised by the sudden reform of the rules for stamp duty on property purchases? I certainly was. I've been calling for ages for a change in the tax to make it more fair – and, at a stroke, George Osborne did just that on Wednesday in his Autumn Statement.

Santander, whose ads have been fronted by the Olympic gold medallist Jessica Ennis-Hill, was among the banks where there were potential pitfalls with shared licences

Best savings rates are not all they might seem

Consumers can sometimes think they are shopping around for a rewarding account when in one important aspect, writes Samantha Downes, they are not
The sunlit uplands: switching out of a final salary pension may seem like madness, but there could be cases where it makes sense

Gold-plated pensions – the key to retirement freedom?

With some people are weighing up whether they will be better off cashing in their final salary pension next spring, Samantha Downes asks the experts

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Money & Business

    Carlton Senior Appointments: Private Banking Manager - Intl Bank - Los Angeles

    $200 - $350 per annum: Carlton Senior Appointments: Managing Producer – Office...

    Carlton Senior Appointments: San Fran - Investment Advisor – Ind Advisory Firm

    $125 - $225 per annum: Carlton Senior Appointments: San Fran - Investment Advi...

    Sheridan Maine: Commercial Finance Manager

    Up to £70,000 per annum + benefits: Sheridan Maine: Are you a qualified accoun...

    Sheridan Maine: Regulatory Reporting Accountant

    Up to £65,000 per annum + benefits: Sheridan Maine: Are you a qualified accoun...

    Day In a Page

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
    The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

    The 12 ways of Christmas

    We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
    Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

    The male exhibits strange behaviour

    A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
    Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

    Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

    Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

    The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

    Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

    Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
    Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

    Rodgers fights for his reputation

    Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
    Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

    Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

    'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
    Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick