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 (www.fightingtigers.co.uk) 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 Foodity.com, 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 (www.resourcefulcook.com), 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 (www.daffodili.co.uk), 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 Create.net (www.create.net) 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
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Finacial products from our partners
Property search
Put the phone down on the coldcallers who see pension liberation as an opportunity to liberate your pension from you

Pension freedoms: How to deal with cold calls from scammers

Sean O'Grady offers advice on keeping your money safe
Switching to a better bank account is much easier than it used to be

More people are switching current accounts – but what do the figures mean?

Experts disagree about the 7% increase over the past year

The chance of getting what appears to be free money can be hugely attractive, especially to first-time buyers who can be fooled into thinking it’s extra cash to buy the essential new items they need for their dream home.

Beware the boom in cashback mortgage deals

Too many mortgages are being sold with misleading gimmicks

The firm’s revenues slumped by a third to £217 million in a disastrous 2014

Wonga results could get even worse this year, chief admits

The firm’s revenues slumped by a third to £217 million in 2014

The cost of a buildings policy has dropped by 10.1 per cent over the year, with the cost of a contents policy falling by 8.2 per cent

Simon Read: Mild winter cuts the cost of home insurance

The average quote for a buildings and contents policy has fallen by 3.6 per cent

Don't count your retirement money yet: employers will stop receiving a pension rebate next year and their staff may lose out

Defined-benefit pension schemes: Rebate change in 2016 may leave you out of pocket

Employees in defined-benefit schemes are held up as the lucky ones, but the state pension scheme will be overhauled in April 2016
Labour will raise the national minimum wage to more than £8 an hour by October 2019 (EPA)

Barclays new Blue Rewards hands cash to customers. What’s the catch?

Joining Barclays Blue Rewards costs £3 a month but then lets customers in for handouts of up to £15 a month

New research reveals that despite the recovering economy, four out of five low-income households have seen no sign of their financial situation improving

Hard-up families could be eligible for financial help

A charity is urging anyone struggling financially to see if they could get help from the state

When is the best time to buy foreign currency?

Video: With an election looming, a hung parliament could hit sterling

General Election 2015: Vote for the party that will boost your finances

Experts warn that the general election is unlikely to lead to stable markets. Simon Read talks to two investment managers who are advising caution

Make the most of your money in 2015-16: The end of the tax year is the beginning of the next...

The new tax year brings with it a raft of new rules and regulations

General Election 2015: Will pension reform be a major factor?

Video: Tom McPhail, head of pensions at Hargreaves Lansdown, says May's outcome could alter your pension

General election 2015: David Cameron's promise brings uncertainty to investors

Video: Simon Read talks to Fidelity's Tom Stevenson

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Money & Business

    Recruitment Genius: Financial Adviser

    £20000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you recently QCA Level 4 qu...

    SThree: Graduate Recruitment Resourcer

    £20000 - £22500 per annum + OTE £30K: SThree: SThree Group have been well esta...

    Guru Careers: Application Support Analyst / 1st Line Support

    £25 - 30k: Guru Careers: We are seeking an Application Support Analyst / 1st L...

    Guru Careers: .NET Developer / Web Developer

    £45K - £55K (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a full stack .NET D...

    Day In a Page

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

    Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
    Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

    Aviation history is littered with grand failures

    But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

    Fortress Europe?

    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
    Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

    Never mind what you're wearing

    It's what you're reclining on that matters
    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence