As alternative business finance providers, at SME Loans we know all too well the challenges facing small and medium sized enterprises in the UK. In January 2020, we conducted a survey to reveal startup statistics on individual’s business aspirations across Britain.
We were intrigued to find out more about the UK’s labour force. Are we a nation of inspiring entrepreneurs? If so, what’s holding us back from pursuing our business dreams?
MOST Of The British Workforce Wants To Become An Entrepreneur
- 64% of the UK workforce wants to set up a business
- 83% of 18 - 24 year olds dream of self-employment
- London, Yorkshire and West Midlands are the UK’s capitals of aspiring entrepreneurs
- Men are far more confident than women that they’ll start a business
Britain is not short of entrepreneurial aspiration. Over half of the UK workforce is striving to set up their own business.
The data revealed that the generation most keen on becoming entrepreneurs is Generation Z, where 4 in 5 in this age group want to set up a business one day. In comparison, Baby Boomers are the generation of least likely entrepreneurs, with just 1 in 3 looking to start a business.
London, Yorkshire and the West Midlands are the regions that have the highest percentage of budding entrepreneurs, with over half of their working population aspiring to found a business.
And when it comes to gender, men are significantly more likely to want to start a business than women. 69% of males surveyed stated their entrepreneurial ambitions compared to 56.4% women.
What’s Motivating This Entrepreneurial Ambition?
- Over ⅓ of the UK workforce dislike their job
- 18 - 24 year olds are the age group most driven by financial gain
- 1 in 3 want flexible working and to be able to work from home
"A small business is an amazing way to serve and leave an impact on the world you live in." -- Nicole Snow
We wanted to understand why people were so keen to ditch their day jobs and go at it alone. The prospect of earning more money was the most popular attraction, shortly followed by the ability to be one’s own boss. Working flexible hours and being able to work from home were also well favoured motivators, appealing to 1 in 3 of all participants.
Unsurprisingly, an increased salary was the most popular factor motivating employees across the UK, encouraging half of all aspiring Scottish entrepreneurs. Perhaps more surprising is the fact that 1 in 5 people working in Yorkshire see starting their own business as a way of increasing their income security.
Most motivated by money are those falling within the 18 to 24 bracket. 50% of people of this age group believe that becoming a business mogul will benefit them financially. The 25 to 34 year olds, however, are more concerned about advancing their career, and enticed by the opportunity to travel with work.
For both genders, the prospect of a better salary was the biggest motivator for wanting to start a business. Our data revealed that women are more attracted to the prospect of being able to work from home, whilst being able to be their own boss appealed to the majority of male participants.
Where people are experiencing a lack of job progression, they are exploring alternative avenues - such as starting a business. 1 in 5 people working in Northern Ireland and 1 in 6 in East England, West Midlands, East Midlands and London see starting their own business as the only way to advance their career.
It was interesting to note that over a third (36%) of the UK workforce dislike their current job. This is most true in Wales (46%) and the North West (40%), where just under 1 in 2 workers do not enjoy their place of work. This job dissatisfaction is fuelling people to consider taking the leap to quit their job and found their own business.
What's Standing In The Way?
- 43% of aspiring entrepreneurs don’t believe they will set up their businesses
- 1 in 10 budding business founders put off by Brexit
- Men worry more about competition and failure, where women worry about not feeling qualified enough or having the relevant skills
- ¼ of aspiring British entrepreneurs are put off by fear of stress
- Women are significantly less confident in their business dreams
"Face failure head on, don't be afraid of it, and people will support and welcome you even more." -- Richard Branson
Sadly, our entrepreneurial ambitions are just pipe dreams for many. Almost half of those who want to set up a business don't believe they will ever actually do it.
The 3 regions in the UK where people doubt themselves as business founders the most are the South West, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Despite desiring entrepreneurship, 1 in 3 people in these areas aren’t confident that they will become business owners.
Just as the opportunity to earn more money appealed to most participants, when analysing the barriers stopping people from setting up their businesses, financial concerns were the most prevalent factor across all regions, affecting just under half of all respondents.
Residents in Wales had the highest percentage of people citing childcare concerns as a barrier, also worrying the most about how running a business would affect time with family.
Amid the confusion surrounding the UK’s withdrawal from the EU, it’s not surprising that close to 1 in 10 people across all regions cited political uncertainty and Brexit as preventing their business dreams, most impacting London (17%) and South East’s workforce (15%).
At least ¼ of the working population in the South East, West Midlands, North West and East Midlands are too scared to quit their current job to make room for starting a business. Another demotivating factor is anxiety over the stress and pressure that running a business could bring. Over 1 in 5 people across all regions worry that being a business owner would be too stressful, particularly impacting workers in Northern Ireland.
For both genders wanting to start a business, not being able to afford to do so was cited as the biggest factor standing in their way, affecting 44% of women and 38% of men. The data also showed that women worry more than men about both having relevant skills and feeling qualified to run a business, just 52% of women who want to set up a business believe they’ll do so.
Of more concern to men is the fear that their business will be a failure, and 1 in 10 worry that competitors already in business are better than them. With that being said, of the men who want to set up a business, 61% are confident they’ll achieve their goal.
41% of respondents across all age groups cited business finance concerns as the biggest obstacle to starting a business. 1 in 4 people don’t believe they have a strong enough business idea and more than 1 in 4 are too scared to quit their job to pursue their business ambitions.
Who Do We Want To Set Up A Business With?
- Mothers are the least popular choice for business partners
- ⅓ of Brits would like to set up business with their husband or wife
- 13% would choose their best friend as a business partner
“The choice of a partner is the single most important decision most people will ever make about their businesses." -- David Gage
The most popular choice of business partner proved to be people’s spouses. ½ of the Welsh working population would choose to mix business with pleasure and set up a business with their romantic partners. The region least trusting in this idea is the North East where just 1 in 5 people would set up with their partner or spouse.
Parents have proved to be unlikely business partners for our aspiring entrepreneurs. Across all regions, mothers are the least wanted source of a business partner. This is most true in the following regions:
- Yorkshire - 3%
- East Midlands - 2%
- South East - 2%
- North East - 1%
- Wales - 0%
Our data evidenced that dads aren’t feeling the love either, as we found more people keen to start a business with a ‘stranger with relevant experience’ than their fathers. The idea of selecting a dad as a business partner is least popular in the North East (1%). The region with most participants choosing a father-child partnership is Wales at a low 5%.
Across all regions, the percentage of people who’d opt to set up a business with their sibling was between 5% and 6%. Scotland was the only region that differed to this, where just 2% of participants deemed their sibling a suitable business partner.
The North East is the area where people most see themselves going into business alone (44%) and London is the place where most people would choose to use their contacts and networks, with 1 in 10 people interested in setting up a business with a colleague from a previous job.
If you're considering starting your own business, then make sure to check out our step-by-step guide, 'How to start a business'.
Tips From Business Owners Who’ve Been There:
As part of our startup statistics research we contacted entrepreneurs who had already taken the plunge and were in their 2nd - 3rd year of business. These business owners are of different ages with businesses in a variety of sectors. Here’s what they had to say….
Soma Ghosh - The Career Happiness Mentor
Soma runs a career mentoring business where she helps women find new jobs, start as freelancers and become new business owners. She is a qualified careers adviser who started her business after experiencing redundancy and workplace bullying.
The aim of the business is to empower women to find their own version of career happiness that suits their personal needs. This may include being a mum who wants to return to work or a woman who wants a promotion but is how unsure how to do this. Or even a woman who is confused and unhappy at work and is stuck about what to do next.
What motivated you to set up your business? I was motivated to set up my business because I had gone through redundancy, workplace bullying and was also suffering from anxiety and depression. I knew I wanted to help people on a deeper level and when I started working with a life coach, I realised I wanted to help women like myself who were unhappy at work.
Biggest Challenges? The biggest challenge for me so far has been when I have been ill physically I have needed to slow down. When you enjoy what you do it's important to have a good balance of work, social life and taking time off too.
Niraj Kapur - Everybody Works In Sales
Niraj Kapur, founder of Everybody Works In Sales, has sales trained for Barclays, Natwest, Santander, Lyonsdown and over 100 small businesses and entrepreneurs to help them get results. From LinkedIn sales training, presentation skills, to call coaching, email writing and overcoming objections, he teach selling techniques and strategies that are not aggressive or sleazy, yet still generate results.
What motivated you to set up your own business? I spent 21 years in corporate London and the last few years have become ruthless. Culture is disappearing. Investment in staff is getting worse. Bosses more rude and have less people skills. It’s all about profit. Profit is not a good enough reason to work for somebody else.
Biggest challenges? Cashflow. My family are all teachers, physios and doctors on the NHS, so nobody could advise me on how to run a business. You have to work longer hours for less money – which makes no sense. However, the satisfaction you get from having your business and making a difference to others is immense.
Do you have any regrets? No regrets. I have the freedom to attend any networking event I want, cook dinner at home, support local charities every week and can work till 1am and not worry about getting the 6.26 train into London not even getting a seat.
Abbie Coleman - MMB Magazine
Abbie Coleman launched MMB Magazine in late 2015 as the modern working parents magazine, supporting parents in the career paths after children along with family , finance, business and networking.
MMB works with businesses to showcase and increase the number of flexible working careers and returner programmes available.
What motivated you to set up your business? I had just had my first child and coming back into the workplace, I quite quickly realised that the perception of me as a working mother meant that certain doors were closed or assumptions were made on what I would want to do and where I would want to take my career.
After talking with my network I very quickly realised that time had not moved on very much and knowing how much talent was being locked out for reasons as simple as flexible working, lit a fire for change in me.
So with a young child, I decided that I wanted to launch MMB Magazine a place were working parents could access intelligent advice on family finance, careers, working rights alongside working with businesses to help support returners and flexible working.
What have been the biggest challenges? Some days I do think have I done the right thing to walk away from a lucrative business to go and fight a battle for change, with my own funds! But that’s passes very quickly, it’s been a huge learning curve with lots of lessons along the way, but to know that I am helping to work towards change and really trying to make a difference is something you can not compare.
Nicola Case - Owner of Pink Spaghetti Milton Keynes and Surrounds
Nicola was made redundant twice in her life, which led to her deciding that she wanted to work for herself. Nicola founded Pink Spaghetti PA Services, a franchise business that covered everything she was looking for in business. An already established brand, Nicola worked hard to make the business right for her, delivering value and expertise to her network.
Any regrets becoming a business owner? No regrets at all. There are moments when I am working super early or crazy late at night and I get the odd pang of “wow, how much easier would a 9-5 be right now” but I would never change what I have now. I am able to work my hours around my family so I get to do the school runs and watch school plays. I will also never be in the position where someone else is dictating that I can no longer do what I love.
One piece of advice for someone starting their business journey today? Being a small business owner is tough! There are some amazing benefits but there are also points when you want to do is cry/scream/throw things so my advice is be honest with yourself, really sit down and figure out your goals and reasons behind why you are wanting to launch your own business. Not because these should dictate whether you should make the leap or not, but rather these are what will keep you going when you hit some stumbling blocks along the way…
Steph Tumba - Sté Tumba Capital
Sté Tumba Capital is a Franco-English conglomerate investing and operating in Africa, America & Europe. The business invests in industry activities such as real estate & investments, retail, toys & hobbies, lifestyle & fashion consultancy and high tech international initiatives.
What motivated you to set up your own business? I always knew that I wanted to be my own boss. I love building things, so, my primary motivation was creating something from scratch. Then, I am a social person so building a team and create jobs was also one of my motivations. Then, came the flexibility of it and the ability to spare time when I want to. And more importantly, I set up my own business to have fun, pursue my passions, and enjoy waking up every Monday to go to the office.
What has been the biggest challenge so far? Recruiting the right people can be a challenge. It’s hard to ignore your heart and go only with facts and maybe a bit of intuition. One should not forget that we are not recruiting a friend but an expert in his or her field. And this has been the most challenging bit so far when I started to tended not to recruit people I liked.
One piece of advice for someone starting the journey today: When faced with challenges, we should always search for experts’ advice, never take rushed and inconsiderate decisions. It often happens to be more expensive. I’d like to add another one, never take a decision or write an email when you”re overly happy or angry.
Claire Nicholls - Helo Interiors
Helo is a creative Home Interior design & styling studio that aims to make great, affordable design accessible to everyone. Helo brings northern heart and soul through thoughtful, simplistic, modern interior design, delivered in a clear, friendly and collaborative way.
What motivated you to set up your own business? I’d had a rewarding career working as an interior designer at a London design studio, then after my second child the daily commute, finances and general work/life balance just weren’t working.
I’d always wanted to eventually work for myself so this gave me the push I needed to give it a go and start HELO a Home Interior design studio. I also wanted to carve out a career that kept me being creative but also allowed me to fit it around my family life and commitments.
Any regrets? I wouldn’t call it a regret but it’s a lot of responsibility running your own business. Trying to keep the projects coming through the door, designing your website, doing all of the PR, Marketing, Networking etc. etc. all whilst bathing the kids and getting the tea on the table everyday can leave you feeling frazzled at the end of the day.
One piece of advice for someone starting their business journey today? I had to overcome a steep learning experience recently when a client refused to pay. I had no Terms & Conditions or any signed contractual paperwork to fall back on and I ended up having to walk away from the project unpaid, so I’d definitely recommend getting all of your paperwork in place and signed off before you start any work. I’d also ask for a percentage of the final bill to be paid upfront before you start any work too, anything that gives you some extra security.
Gemma Stow - The F Movement
Gemma Stow; Founder of The F Movement, empowers ambitious women to stop hiding and supports them to become the version of themselves that there business or work demands.
Gemma understands peak performance and uses high level coaching techniques and accreditation such as ICF/ NLP/ CBT to help female introvert leaders find their fierce confidence and 'do what they can't'.
A former probation officer, and director of an education centre, Gemma utilises her previous career to help her clients work through challenging behaviours, understand the links and breakthrough self imposed blocks to run unstoppable businesses.
What motivated you to set up your own business? I wanted the freedom to work for myself and also make a difference to other people, in a way I knew could work without being held back.
What has been the biggest challenge so far? The biggest challenge is about believing in yourself and what you are doing. This impacts on the decisions you make and the way you want to build your business. It is really important to understand your values and how they can help you be successful.
David Bailey - The Design Print Shop
The Design Print Shop is a commercial print shop that helps businesses with branding products and business printing, such as business cards and flyers. Founded by David, the Design Print Shop also offers a walk-in service for the general public to buy personalised gifts for friends and family, document printing, copy's and passport photos.
Currently, all of Design Print Shops suppliers are from the UK, and they try their hardest to keep it that way. They also care about the environment, and use biodegradable bags.
What has been the biggest challenge so far? The biggest challenge is opening a physical store. I started the company a year ago as an online shop and for the first year I focused on this. My aim during this second year is to focus more on the store I opened called Design Print Shop located in The Blue, Bermondsey. I did this without a penny in my pocket! I managed to secure a small loan, but whilst this has got me started it hasn't been enough to enable me to present the business in the way I would ideally like it. However as a business owner, you need to know how to work around things and adapt. Most of the money and time went in to doing the shop up which took about two months. Luckily I have a great family that got involved and helped. To sum it up I'd say the hardest thing in opening a store is financial help for a new business as there doesn't seem to be much help or support available. There are so many obstacles to overcome, but it's taught me that you need to be positive and push forward.
One piece of advice for someone starting their business journey today? Don't start a business because you want to chase money, start a business because it is something you love to do. I love designing & printing and I love helping businesses grow with branded products and providing clients with advice. I love what I do and that's why I am so passionate about it. Make sure you love, enjoy and believe in your business.
Jessica Andrews - Rabbit & Other Stories
Jessica founded her business Rabbit & Other Stories to help businesses with design and strategy. She was made redundant from her corporate role in 2015, prompting her to take the plunge and give running her own business a go. As a brand stylist, Jessica takes the look and feel of each business she works with, creating physical spaces and products that uniquely reflect the business’ brand.
What motivated you to set up your business? I set up my own business because I wanted to help others with design and strategy, and I wanted to create a life that I could shape a bit more creatively than the standard 9-5. I was made redundant from my corporate role in 2015, which prompted me to take the plunge for the and give it a go. I had created a side hustle before, but never gone all in with a full time biz. My biggest challenges so far have been managing my own imposter syndrome, and the itty bitty shitty committee in my head - mindset is a huge part of entrepreneurship, and managing the feast/famine cycle.
Do you have any regrets? The only regret I have is that I didn’t start sooner. I needed to be pushed out of corporate ultimately to start, rather than give up the steady paycheck. I’m much happier now than I was in the corporate world, and living a creative life helping other small business owners tell their stories through visual mediums and bringing their own dreams to life.
Connor Hoare - Worldlee
Two years ago, Connor and his business partner were on Italy when they had the idea that became the foundation for their app Worldee. Worldlee enables people to discover different places across the world from their current location.
Worldee uses augmented reality to help travelers find instant information on any place by using the camera in their phone. Users simply point the app directly at a place of in the direction on places and immediately discover factual information about each place.
Any Regrets? The biggest regret I ever had was rushing in the beginning, I was so eager to begin the business that you can cut corners if I could go back and change one thing I would have planned things more and researched just a little bit longer on everything. Now I think about everything I do and plan everything to the best I can it makes executing better saving money and time.
Advice to someone starting the journey as business founder today? The number one piece of advice I would give to anyone starting their journey today would be to not focus on the money but making your product or service amazing that people want to always use it or come back to you. The money will come if you have something people love and show they are willing to keep coming back.
Lucinda Batchelor - The Study Room London
Lucinda founded her business after suffering burnout from her career in retail buying. Having always loved stationary, Lucinda decided she wanted to help others avoid the same fate as her, helping them work productively and efficiently. The London Study Room curates considered, design led stationary supplies for the modern creative. Workshops and private sessions hosted to not only to fit into one’s life and work, but to help people become their most productive self using tried and tested colour theory, psychological and practical techniques.
What has been the biggest challenge so far? The biggest challenge has been changing perceptions around productivity. People associate talk around productivity and its tools to be delivered by a certain type of person, I am not that type of person. The ability to be productive can be applied across all disciplines, all career paths and at all levels we should all strive to work to live, not the other way around.
Any regrets? That I didn't take the leap earlier. I have met so many amazing, awe inspiring people who I wouldn't have met if I didn't take the leap.
One piece of advice for someone starting their business journey today? Find your tribe. Starting a business is a lonely experience, especially if you have left a corporate environment of any kind. When I left my job, the silence of my dining room table to work at was deafening. I now have a couple of groups of amazing small business friends, we meet up outside of trading days and vent and it’s perfect. Your friends and families can only take so much!
Research Methodology - Data Accuracy is Everything.
We set about understanding the business aspirations of the 32.2 million people employed in the UK. In order to do so, we worked with an accredited market research company to poll a large, diverse sample of the British workforce.
We worked with 3GEM Research predominantly because the team at 3GEM is made up of MRS and ESOMAR accredited employees. ESOMAR sets the globally recognised standards for information collection in a market research capacity. Its guidelines ensure (amongst other things):
- The data of participants is protected
- Participants are aware of how their data is used
- MRS is a similar body that advocates:
- Fair and unbiased questioning
All of the above ensure we have startup statistics data obtained through a research company compliant with data protection regulation and best practice.
2,000 employed participants took part in our survey. The surveyed participants fell into five age groups:
- 18 to 24
- 25 to 34
- 35 to 44
- 45 to 54
They were from 12 first level regions within the UK:
- South East
- South West
- West Midlands
- North West
- North East
- East Midlands
- East England
- Northern Ireland
All participants were employed (as opposed to self employed, retired or unemployed) and of a relatively even split between men and women. Once we were confident we had the right panel and research provider, we set about ensuring we asked clear, concise questions in order to fully understand the motivations, dreams and fears Britain’s workforce.
The startup statistics data obtained from the survey is available on request. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like a copy.
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