Friday, 7 January 2011


I was in Hemingways for coffee earlier and I read an article in today’s Independent about business start-ups (or rather entrepreneurs starting businesses) during the recession.  You do have to admire people who do this, even out of a recession.  The dedication and conviction needed to drive a business idea through to success is extraordinary.  Anyone who manages it at any point on the economic cycle deserves my praise.
Having the idea is easy.  I have several schemes on the drawing board, from recycling Christmas wrapping paper and decorations into garden gnomes to mini-anaerobic digesters for supermarkets, powered by washroom waste and out of date food.  But what I lack is the dedication needed to turn these brilliant schemes into fortune-making businesses.
Even the start-up money seems, recession or no, not too hard to come by.  There are a range of private and government funding organisations (the Dragons Den being the least likely to give you a penny).  And credit for new businesses is still there, even if not loans.
But the work!  One lady described getting up at 5 every morning to boil up stuff on her cooker and pour it into bottles to supply outlets.  ‘When I got my first order for 20,000 bottles, I knew the business was taking off’.  20,000 bottles!  Bloody hell, I thought, how big is her saucepan?
But scale is always the key, isn’t it.  I remember watching a young lady in Osaka setting up a beret outlet.  Berets were incredibly fashionable at one time in Japan.  I was interested because many of the berets were made in England (particularly fashionable then).  But, I confess, I remember thinking, how many berets is she going to have to sell to pay her rent?  Well, you do the maths.  It was a lovely boutique, but I’m sorry to say it didn’t last very long and the failure must have been a great disappointment for its owner.  But an order for 20,000 berets – that would be a different matter altogether.
By coincidence (I wonder if it was), there was an article in the Mail on Sunday about ladies who set up their own businesses during the recession.  Whilst these were also by dint of hard work and dedication and were also successful, I was struck by the types of business they had started up.  Was this the reporter’s or the editor’s choice or do women mostly start up businesses aimed at women?
I accept that women tend to know women better than men, so perhaps it’s best if they, rather than men, open shops for tending eye-brows (calliblepharicure?) or selling yoghurt health drinks, but I can’t help but feel that these businesses are less ‘gaps in the market’ than new ways to prick the vanities or insecurities of women and milk them of their cash.  I don’t know.  I am still amazed at how much ladies pay for things they could do perfectly well for themselves (not to mention the several times more they pay than men do for the same thing) (well, I don’t pay to have my eyebrows pruned) (it’s fairly obvious actually if you look) (even from a distance).  And perhaps women have a lot of disposable income, since they only eat a stick of celery for lunch and an apple for dinner.  So perhaps these really are successful recession start-ups.  But I thought the ladies (in amongst the men) found by the Independent, who had businesses like design consultancies and psychotherapists, were rather more business-like.  They were certainly more hard-nosed.  ‘I had good advice from the bank,’ said one.  ‘I thought I should wait until after Christmas to down-size (not ’throw the people who work for me out of their jobs’ note), but they advised me to take action before end of year bills had accumulated (or ‘so that my employees didn’t spend all their unemployment benefits on having a nice time at Christmas’)'.  Maybe I’m just too soft to run a business.

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