The economic downturn has hit us all hard and, as careers professionals, it has produced numerous challenges to the ways we support our clients. Since the recession hit in 2008 the UK has seen a rise in numbers of people in self-employment of close to 400,000 (ONS, 2013). And whilst this trend has been more pronounced among older workers, is has certainly seen reflection in the ambitions and attitudes of our undergraduates, many of whom are shunning the more traditional graduate employment routes and seeking advice on ‘going it alone’.
Of course, the economy and the flooded graduate job market can’t be the only reason for this. At the risk of sounding like a bad UCAS personal statement, TV programmes such as the Dragons Den and the Apprentice have also played their part in highlighting the many success stories of those willing to take the risks of starting their own businesses, and so the cult of entrepreneurship seems to be taking root. Whilst the general consensus opinion suggests that you can’t teach entrepreneurship, that it is something either have or you don’t, that doesn’t mean that we can afford to be complacent as advisers. Whilst we may not be able to teach our students the innate skills involved, we can certainly support them and guide them in their quest. Many campus career services are now providing specialist advisers to deal with entrepreneurship queries, and a great many more are running information events for this client group. But there are ways that we can all be helping, by providing clear advice on the framework that exists to support them, and the essential ‘must do’s’.
The demise of the governments Business Link service has certainly left a gap for initial start-up advice but pockets of impartial support still do exist through the National Entreprise Network . Additionally, the HMRC website provides useful information and range of e-learning presentations which cover many of the legal and financial aspects of being your own boss.
The importance of research
Never has market research been more important than in understanding (and challenging) the viability of new businesses. Students who have a product to sell would be well advised to investigate pop-up shop opportunities (the internet is awash with information on these) to see if their enthusiasm carries through to the general public. If students are providing a service then researching competitors (and their pricing structures) should be a clear priority. This information should be built into a robust business plan – the gov.uk website provides downloadable templates.
It’s not as simple any more as just visiting the bank – risky start up investments rarely fall within their ideal lending model now that we’ve all had to learn to tighten our belts. However, organisations such as The Princes Trust and Shell LiveWire can provide limited financial support (as well as business advice) to people up to the age of 30. Alternatively, students should understand and consider the potential of crowdfunding and/or angel investors as way of getting their ideas off the ground, along with more traditional venture capitalists.
With many industries moving towards a preference for temporary or freelance workers, it is unlikely that self-employment is a trend that is going to disappear any time soon. It will be interesting to see how support for these students develops over time.