Turning your hobby into a business

Image caption Alice Barrow's luxury candle business has really taken off

For Alice Barrow and Tom Green, starting their own business was a natural next step.

A family business, they began making candles as a sideline, mixing the different colours, scents and waxes at home, and then selling the results in their spare time.

It was a labour of love, but also a lucrative sideline.

The luxury candles - costing around £35 each - sold well, and Alice and Tom were soon faced with a dilemma familiar to many aspiring entrepreneurs.

Should they leave it as a hobby, or give up their day jobs and go full-time?

"We started three or four years ago from our kitchen table, and we quickly started to see that we had a product we could take to market," says Alice.

Image caption The company has recently signed a contract to supply its candles to a High Street retailer

"So we literally took it to the market, a market stall in London, and from there we got a really loyal fan base.

"We then took a step back and thought we can really create a luxury product, and that's where we began."

Today, their company, Wick and Tallow, is thriving.

Small business initiative

Such has been the demand they have outsourced production, and recently landed a contract to supply a major retailer.

It is stories like this that politicians and business leaders are trying to highlight this weekend, as part of the second Small Business Saturday.

The idea has been borrowed from the US, and there are events planned across the UK, including food markets, fun fairs and plenty of free stuff.

Organisers and supporters - who include David Cameron and Ed Miliband - hope the initiative will "support, promote and inspire" small businesses everywhere.

One of its central aims is to highlight the many schemes and grants available to people wanting to start out on their own.

That includes practical advice on how to set up a company, as well as lots of financial support that many people will be surprised to know exists.

Advice for starting a business

Experts Tina Riches and Simon Devonshire have these tips for any budding entrepreneurs:

  • Identify the problem you want to solve
  • Come up with a name, logo and buy the website name
  • Find out what grants and loan schemes are available
  • Don't invest too heavily at the outset - start selling and test the market

"If you go to your local council there are things like grants that can be applied for, once you've got an idea for what you want to do for your business," says Tina Riches, national tax partner at financial advisers Smith and Williamson.

"And if you have got that idea, and you know what you're going to do, you can apply for the New Enterprise Allowance, which is available to people who are unemployed.

"And once you're entitled to that, you can apply for a loan to help finance the business at the outset."

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The chancellor handed out popcorn during an event to promote Small Business Saturday

For many, though, it's getting the initial idea - and turning it into a viable business plan - that is the biggest challenge of all.

And this is where experienced entrepreneurs can be an enormous help.

Test the market

Simon Devonshire is director of Wayra Europe, the part of Telefonica that provides support for digital start-ups.

He is also a serial entrepreneur, having co-founded six businesses, and "entrepreneur-in-residence" at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), which means he gives practical advice to those starting out.

"I think it's the same whether you are the butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker, or you're trying create the next Facebook," he says.

"You essentially need to identify what problem you are trying to solve.

"Then come up with a name for it, design a logo, and if the website name is available, buy it - it will cost you less than a tenner.

"And then I would put all that together in a way where you can go out and really actively start selling."

It's only when you test the market that you begin to understand whether you are on to a winner, Mr Devonshire says.

"Are people prepared to pay for the thing you want to sell? And are they prepared to invest in you?"

Like most experienced entrepreneurs, he believes that it can take many attempts before you hit on the winning idea.

For that reason, he warns against investing too much emotion - and money - in one idea.

"I would do it at the lowest cost you possibly can," he says. "Don't spend a fortune at that level. Just get out at and start selling."

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