The number of entrepreneurs in Britain is at an all-time high, with nearly 660,000 new companies established in 2016, up from 608,000 the previous year, according to the Centre for Entrepreneurs, a think tank.
This record is likely to be broken again this year, with workers increasingly encouraged by the success stories of budding businessmen and women featuring on TV shows such as Dragons Den and The Apprentice.
Funding is one of the biggest issues for aspiring entrepreneurs, however, with many now relying on investment through peer-to-peer lending or crowdfunding, as banks have tightened up their lending to small businesses since the economic downturn.
Others choose to work multiple jobs to support a start-up business, pumping any income they receive from their employers into their own company to get it off the ground.
Paul Tanner, 38, and partner Kirsty Whyte, 37, work seven days a week and have taken just one holiday in five years in order to pursue their dream of creating a start-up watch company.
The London-based pair still work full time – Paul is head of furniture for Marks & Spencer, and Kirsty is creative director for Soho House, the chain of members’ clubs, and both put in at least 40 hour weeks at their respective workplaces.
But the couple, who met 10 years ago while working for furniture store Habitat before both joining Made.com in 2010, also work evenings and weekends to ensure their side business, Freedom to Exist, continues to grow and becomes a multi-million pound company.
They have no employees, so must do all of the packaging, labelling, photography, website design, marketing and advertising of the business themselves. The company achieves most of its sales through advertising on social media. A promotional Facebook post, which costs them £250 to buy, will convert to around £600-700 worth of sales, Mr Tanner said.
The firm was founded in 2015 following a shopping trip to London during which Kirsty failed to find a watch she liked for her birthday. The watches on offer were too “blingy” or heavily branded, and most were too big for her small wrists.
This sparked an idea for the couple to create a watch brand that suited small to medium-sized wrists, and which were classically designed and well made without being too expensive (their watches typically retail for around £150).
Mr Tanner said: “Both of us have long had an entrepreneurial spirit and we were inspired, particularly from our time working at Made.com, a start-up which has grown to be hugely successful, to create our own business.
“We would regularly discuss ideas at the weekend and after our shopping trip, watches seemed like a great business opportunity for us.”
Since trading began in 2015, Freedom to Exist’s turnover has doubled. Its turnover this year was £55,000 – up from £25,000 between 2015-16. Next year, they expect to make £100,000.
While initially the couple had to use their main salaries from M&S and Soho House, plus savings, to grow their start-up, it is now sustaining itself. “All the money we earn through Freedom to Exist is put back into the business so that it will grow and we can build a team and open our own studio,” Mr Tanner said.
He says that their employers are supportive of their side business because there is no conflict of interest. “We made the business different enough to our main jobs to ensure there were no clashes and it wouldn’t create a bad environment at our workplaces.
“We ultimately want to work full-time on our own business. We’ve seen several watch brands turn into multi-million pound businesses, so that’s the direction we want to go with our company,” he said.
How to start your own business while still in a full-time job
People buy stories, not products
You need to have a “why” for your project, as this will attract your first customers and will motivate you when times are hard.
“It’s unlikely that your side business will make you rich for a number of years, the average is around 10, so the ‘why’ is going to be your motivation when money is tight and things feel overwhelming.
“The ‘why’ is also what the media is interested in, so it will be easier to market your product,” Mr Tanner said.
Be open with your employer
Starting a side business is stressful, and it will be compounded if you are anxious or wary about being caught working on it by your employer.
Aim for something that uses your skill-set and experience but is not a conflict of interest. Most employers will be fine with it as long as your performance or time-keeping doesn’t drop at work.
Invest in marketing and PR
Whatever you invest in stock, make sure you invest the same amount in public relations and marketing.
Mr Tanner says that while getting to market is easier than it’s ever been, it’s also more competitive. “Social media is no longer free, it’s very hard to get any form of traction on Facebook and Instagram without paying for it, so make sure you don’t spend everything on a new product that no one knows about.
“With hindsight, we should have bought less stock and launched with three watch colours rather than five, and spent more money promoting our brand before launch to build up demand.”
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in telegraph By Sophie Christie