Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Turning chutney into cheques (and dreams into dosh)

I could do it though, couldn't I?

I could bite the bullet, take the leap, make the first move towards setting up my own business, whatever that business might be.

I've sort of done it, several times.  B and I looked at premises for a soft play centre.  We registered with an estate agent.  We worked out the maths.

I set up the website for my millinery (since taken down). I worked out the maths.

We fantasised about a wine shop.

And, you guessed it, did the maths.

Because the maths doesn't add up.  My friend J summed it up in three questions when I had just started working as a consultant and was pondering a move to millinery:

How much could you sell a hat for?
And how long would it take you to make that hat?
And how much do they pay you an hour to be a lawyer?

I don't want to sound as though money's the be all and end all, but we have four children, and a house, and all the outgoings that follow those five very expensive things, and we are, at the moment, pretty well paid.  We have, at the moment, security.  We have pensions and health insurance.  We have life insurance and employee rights.  (Well,  B has all those things).  We (he) have paid holidays.  I have the ability to work when I like and as many hours as I want and still be there to pick the children up every day.

To start our own business, to say goodbye to the jobs we have, and the security (and in my case flexibility) that comes with them, is a risk too far.  At least for us.

Perhaps if we really loathed our jobs; if there were more of an impetus than a vague feeling of grass-is-greener-ness and a yearning towards creativity.  More than an unformed desire to build something that is ours.  More than an envious impulse when we watch friends go it alone, or read about this or that entrepreneur;  perhaps then we'd do it.

But for now, no.

But it doesn't stop me dreaming.  And so, when innocent, whose founder Richard Reed recently hosted BBC3's  Be your own boss, in which he searched for start up businesses in which to invest , asked me to blog about the moment that inspired me to turn my passion into pounds, I laughed.  Probably bitterly.

And I said to them (and their very nice PR who had already sent me a box of goodies):

I just wanted to (possibly) warn you in advance that I may end up writing something that's totally not what you want.  The thing is that I have lots of these entrepreneurial ideas, all of which involve me making something lovely at my kitchen table and finding there's massive demand, I get featured in Grazia and I suddenly wake up a millionairess (sp?!) but after several years of inspirational moments which lead nowhere, I'm now rather jaded and cynical about what I read somewhere were called chutney dreams. 

That's not to say that Richard Reed's story isn't inspiring, just that I don't have a passion to pounds moment at all, and I've actually been pondering writing a blog post about that very subject for a while - I've worked out, sadly that what produces the pounds is being a lawyer, even if that's far from being my passion! 

And they said, Ok, fair enough. Would you like to talk to Richard to see what he says about all this?

I told you they were lovely.

So I did.  And, rather depressingly, I was right.  Mr Be Your Own Boss, successful businessman and now telly star Richard Reed, co-owner and founder of multi-million pound company innocent and recent author of an e-book of tips and hints on setting up your own business , (who had, possibly misleadingly, been told I was an "influential blogger" (whoops!)), didn't say,
 "Oh yes, you should definitely go for it. Everyone can succeed in business, and everyone should set up their own business, it's the best thing ever Now, how would you like to spend your first million?" 

What he did say was more honest and sensible than that.  Of course it was.  He said that in creating innocent he and his co-founders had very little to lose. They were young and had no responsibilities.  They had good jobs with every confidence that they could go back to them or find another one if it didn't work out.   While it felt like a huge risk at the time, with hindsight, he said, it wasn't. 

He said business success was about finding the business idea that gave you the lowest possible risk (I looked at my outgoings) with the highest possible upside, which didn't necessarily or purely mean financial. 

The great thing about running his own business, Richard said, was that it drew on every aspect of his brain.  He said he had a creative brain but a "talentless" body: he has lots of great ideas but he's not "creative" in the way we usually think of it. Running a business, he said, was an enormously mentally creative endeavour; one that allows him to draw on every aspect of his brain, to be both ruthless and empathetic, creative and analytical and he loves that.  

That's it!  A real upside.  I could do that.  I'd love to do that.  Because I think my chutney dreams aren't necessarily dreams about macarons or t-shirts, they're dreams about creativity.  But I also think that if I were purely being creative, sitting at my kitchen table crafting, the bit of my brain that does, if I'm honest, quite like being a lawyer, the bit that relishes the wordiness of this blog and of the letters I write for clients, that secretly enjoys working out complex tax calculations, or wading through impregnable legislation, might get just as frustrated as my creative side is now.  

If a business can give me all that,  I want it.  So I thought about our various ideas, and I thought about the various upsides (autonomy, creativity, productivity, right and left brains working together), and the downsides (money, security, very (very) hard work) and I thought,  

No.  That's not for us.

Not yet, anyway.


Innocent did, as I said, send me a box of goodies.  But this post, or something like it, has, as you can probably tell, been brewing for a while.  It's also probably not what they wanted me to write, but hopefully they'll forgive me.  

I owe them huge thanks too - for the goodies, but mostly to Richard himself for being so nice as to take the time to talk to me when he really didn't have to.  We were already massive fans of innocent and consumers of vast quantities of "moothie", but it was still a huge delight to find out that their "really nice people" image isn't just good PR.  


  1. There's different times in life to start a business, and if you have shown eagerness in the past you probably will again.

    1. Thank you for your vote of confidence. I suspect that I (we) lack the confidence ever actually to do it... but if we do consider yourself invited to the opening party!

  2. I think the problem is really that kitchen-table creativity is not properly valued today. So long as bankers and lawyers and their ilk can be paid hundreds of ££s per hour, it will be impossible to compensate for that reward in any small creative business.

    I know, I left life as a city lawyer and set up a family-friendly (what they call 'lifestyle')business. We do well, in small-business terms, but could never support the family on this alone. It is hard to make people see that time spent making a beautiful thing deserves financial reward, when they can get something similar from India for a fraction of the price. Neither eco-friendly nor sustainable, and certainly not supportive of British business.

    I don't know the answer, but it is a problem that needs a solution

  3. You've definitely struck a chord with me. And I suspect lots of other people. I'm on maternity leave right now from what really is a lovely, and not too badly paid job, but it's hard to stop my mind wandering to more flexible and creative endeavours. Most ideas get thrown out before I even consider the maths as it's pretty obvious they don't stack up. And reading Gaby Hinsliffs book, Half a Wife, made me realise that actually I have a pretty good work situation compared some people (like high powered lawyers in the least forward thinking companies!). The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence eh? I'm sure one day I'll have the right idea at the right time and shake things up bit! But like you - it's not now.


I know. I'm sorry. I hate these word recognition, are you a robot, guff things too, but having just got rid of a large number of ungrammatical and poorly spelt adverts for all sorts of things I don't want, and especially don't want on my blog, I'm hoping that this will mean that only lovely people, of the actually a person variety, will comment.

So please do. Comments are great...