Made redundant? Struggling with unemployment? Starting a business could be the answer

According to AXA, a third of UK start-ups were born from redundancy or unemployment. Get inspired to be your own boss by the people who turned career misfortune into start-up success

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If you’ve been made redundant or are struggling to find a job then you’d be forgiven for thinking that your options are limited.

However, did you know that almost 30% of all small businesses founded in the UK between 2011 and 2016 were started in response to redundancy or long-term unemployment?

And would you be surprised to discover that 80% of that figure claim it was their life crisis that had, in fact, taught them the survival skills needed to make it in business?

As Darrell Sansom, chief customer and innovation officer of AXA, puts it, “Entrepreneurs are coming from a wider diversity of backgrounds than ever before. They’re giving our economy a huge shot in the arm, bringing fresh ideas, creativity and life experience to business.”

So, rather than viewing redundancy or long-term job-hunting with dismay, it’s time to view it as an opportunity to start a business and be your own boss.

However, we realise that you might not want to take our word for it…which is why we’ve gathered five inspiring individuals who faced redundancy or unemployment and successfully used entrepreneurship to bounce back.

Heed their words of advice and learn from their business stories and you’ll see how, with a bold step and restless determination, you too can go from zero to hero.

Bank manager to ice cream man

Entrepreneur: Darren Whyman
Made redundant as a bank manager five years ago
Manx Whippy

“When you work for a company for so long you feel institutionalised and fear the unknown.

“This feeling meant that, whilst working in an employed position, I had never foreseen redundancy so never considered self-employment. However, after you recover from the initial shock your mind starts to evaluate your options.

“I had never foreseen redundancy so never considered self-employment”

“I felt like I wanted a complete change. I also wanted to use my redundancy package to help build something via the self-employed route, to enable a lifestyle change.

“The ‘fear’ that comes from being institutionalised is in my view a myth, as when you have taken the leap of faith you quickly come to realise the extent of the transferable skills that you can employ to harness your own business.

“I brainstormed a number of business ideas with a fellow manager who was also going through the redundancy process. One idea in particular excited me and merited follow-up. The real acid test was the reaction of my wife, Louise, who luckily was equally as optimistic about the prospect.

“So, after months of research and planning Manx Whippy was born.”

“When I bought the ice cream van the previous owner was very helpful and encouraging, but in essence I had only 60 minutes training in how to run an ice cream van/business to equip me to move from senior management in banking to perfecting a 99!

“And the greatest challenge has undoubtedly been moving into an environment where you have to be totally versatile and flex your skills. Gone are the office meetings or teleconferences, with activity now ranging from rigorous cleaning to dismantling machinery, and of course serving all of my lovely customers.

“I feel privileged having moved out of the corporate world to now doing a job I love where effectively I get paid for making people happy – no one ever comes to an ice cream van without a smile on their face!”

Darren’s advice for starting a business from redundancy:

  • Redundancy often provides a notice period. Use this time wisely. You can never do too much research or planning. For example, consider whether you need to attend training in your new venture or alternatively take a qualification to support your change of direction.
  • Explore the availability of grants to support your business, I applied for the micro-business grant run by the Isle of Man Department for Enterprise, which also enabled me to pick up some really useful information on setting up a business.  I would say you should also examine and understand the competitors in your chosen market – what can you learn from them? How can you be better?
  • Confide in others you can trust and brainstorm ideas, but to also take care to retain confidentiality, especially if your idea or opportunity is a new one.
  • Once you are set on your vision throw everything at it and devote yourself to its success.
  • Learn to love learning: Unlike the perhaps ‘safe’ employed position, when you are self-employed every minute of every day is dedicated to you and your future – I never stop learning and always aspire to do better tomorrow.

You don’t have to beat the odds on your own. With the help of AXA Business Insurance, you can get a level of business protection that’s right for you. So, you can focus on executing your vision and building a legacy to be proud of.

‘Unemployed bum’ to employer of 23 people

Entrepreneur: Ryan Jackson
School drop-out and self-proclaimed ‘unemployed bum’ who started a business in 2012
Gemini Parking Solutions

“I came from humble beginnings – in my teens and early twenties I thought success was about being lucky, or something you were born into.

“I under-achieved at school and some of my friends began getting in trouble with the police for various things and I could see myself heading down the wrong path.

“After leaving school I lacked direction.  I tried going to college but dropped out after a year and became what I would describe as a ‘bum’ – someone with no purpose, low expectations of life and no goals for the future.

“I signed on to Jobseekers Allowance and slept in until midday every day. I had dreams of being more, but I honestly didn’t have the comprehension that huge success can be achieved by anyone.

“It was until I picked up a book about Pablo Escobar’s life story* that I made that discovery. It sounds unlikely, I know, but his rags to riches story made me realise that anything is possible. I became a voracious reader of books by Tony Robins, Jim Rohn and the like, which all inspired me to seek out my own success.

“I set up Gemini Parking Solutions in 2012.

“After starting as a one-man band helping small businesses to control their parking, I soon had so many clients I was able to take on additional personnel that enabled me to solely concentrate on growing the business.

“Shortly after that we won a large contract from a national restaurant group.

“Since then the company has gone from strength to strength and has now established itself as the only values-based business operating in the UK with multi-million-pound revenues and 23 employees.”

“You have a major advantage over the majority of those trapped in the rat race and unlikely to ever leave”

“Many people are stuck in jobs that are unfulfilling and do not compliment their natural skill sets. Few come to this realisation and even fewer have the strength of character to depart the train and pursue their life’s passions.

“For those considering starting a business from unemployment, I would say you have a major advantage over the majority of those who are trapped in the rat race and are unlikely to ever leave, as you have blank canvas to choose an occupation.”

Ryan’s advice for starting a business if you’re unemployed:

  • Set goals: Identify defined targets that direct you towards the job or business you want and where you want to go. Make your overall aim as specific as possible.
  • Then reverse engineer: Once you have your goals, simply work backwards – this process is called reverse engineering. So, if you want to achieve something in 12 months’ time, where do you have to be in six months’ time? To hit your six-month goal where do you have to be in three months? Then continue to follow this process working backwards until you have a clear understanding as to what your daily and weekly goals look like and you have clearly set your milestones.
  • Be resourceful: Unemployment can often feel like being stuck in a hole with no way out, but rest assured others have been in your situation, found a solution and shared the experience either within a book or online. We are in the information age and so we have access to masses of knowledge and expertise, all at a click of a button. For example, if your hang up is surrounding improving your communications skills there are numerous websites and books dedicated to helping you overcome your challenges and steering you through to success.

You don’t have to beat the odds on your own. With the help of AXA Business Insurance, you can get a level of business protection that’s right for you. So, you can focus on executing your vision and building a legacy to be proud of.

*All views are the individuals’ own”

From working in a PR company to founding a PR agency

Entrepreneur: Matthew Ridsdale
Made redundant as a PR professional in 2011
Cannon PR

“When I discovered the company I worked for was closing its Sheffield division, it turned my world upside down overnight. Within the space of just a few weeks, I had gone from working in a job and a business I loved to facing a very uncertain future.

“It was the first time in my long career I had faced redundancy, and it made me question everything.

“I quickly realised I was facing some big decisions: Relocation? Long commutes? or was there a glimmer of light in self-employment?

“I’d considered self-employment previously but at the time I felt that it wasn’t really a viable option – after all, I would be going from a secure job with a regular income to taking a big step into the unknown.

“This was my ‘now or never’ moment”

“This time, it was different. I’d worked as a PR professional for over a decade, and knew inside-out what the job entailed, but I also knew that job or no job, I still had bills to pay.

“The prospect of self-employment was one which had always appealed to me and I realised that this was my ‘now or never’ moment. I was uncertain as to whether it was the right move, or indeed whether the business idea was viable, but I felt there was an opportunity within the local market, there were few competitors in my sector delivering similar services and I felt I had the skills and experience to make the business idea a success.

“During my first month as a new entrepreneur I spent as much time as I possibly could learning about the different aspects of running a business.

“I attended a range of business workshops, helping me to understand my very different responsibilities as a new business owner – everything from bookkeeping, managing cashflow, my legal responsibilities, and of course not forgetting ways of generating new business. There was clearly a lot to learn!

“I first began to believe that I was onto something in 2014, three years after starting the business when I was awarded the title of Yorkshire and Lincolnshire’s Outstanding Freelance Practitioner of the Year by the Chartered Institute of Public Relations.

“It was the first time in the long history of the awards it had been presented to a South Yorkshire-based PR professional and I felt incredibly honoured that my work was being recognised alongside some of the best-known agencies in the region.

“It gave me a huge confidence boost and encouraged me to continue building and investing in the business.

“Today, we’re busy preparing ourselves for future growth. Earlier this year we became patrons of Barnsley & Rotherham Chamber of Commerce and ahead of exhibiting at our first business conference, we’re busy re-developing our company website which is due to go live within the next few weeks.”

Matthew’s advice for starting a business from redundancy:

  • Update your LinkedIn profile: I changed my LinkedIn profile status from being ‘employed’ to ‘self-employed’ and I began to receive enquiries from other agencies who were looking for freelancers. This provided me with a valuable source of additional income, giving me time to continue to invest in my business ideas, whilst also generating regular income.
  • Self-employment can be a high-octane, roller-coaster ride but it’s a journey which isn’t without risk. Weigh up the pros and cons and decide whether it’s right for you. Spend time planning and researching your business idea and look for help from those who can support your business journey.
  • In South Yorkshire, programmes like the Sheffield City Region Launchpad programme provides access to free business support in the form of access to workshops, one-to-one business advice and even mentoring. There are many similar schemes which operate throughout the UK, if business support is available in your local area, use it!
  • Always be aware of the different responsibilities you have as a business owner. When you start a business, you aren’t simply responsible for the products or services you are selling, but you need to be an accountant, new business manager, marketer and business strategist.
  • Always keep on top of your financial and legal responsibilities – and avoid taking short cuts: I’ve seen some shocking examples where inexperienced entrepreneurs have got themselves into hot water by relying on cheap business insurance or template contracts printed from the internet. Remember you’re investing in your business, and your reputation: Spend time getting it right from day one.

You don’t have to beat the odds on your own. With the help of AXA Business Insurance, you can get a level of business protection that’s right for you. So, you can focus on executing your vision and building a legacy to be proud of.

A lack of job prospects to viral success running children’s raves

Entrepreneur: Mike Pickets
Unemployed and a new father, Mike Pickets took the last £1,000 in his bank to launch a business
Raver Tots

After going to numerous job interviews and being repeatedly unsuccessful, I started to conclude that perhaps the reason was genuine and that my heart wasn’t in it.

“I decided that I should do something I actually felt passionate about.

“As a father and an ex-party animal, I basically joined the dots of the two biggest passions in my life to come up with the idea for Raver Tots.

“I’d heard of similar sorts of events around, although nothing on the scale of Raver Tots, so I actually approached them offering to franchise. But, again, I got another knock back and there was no interest in my franchise idea.

“So, I decided the only option was to make this happen on my own – no-one else was going to help me!”

“I used the last £1,000 in my bank, made a Facebook page, and used my contacts within the music industry to host my first Raver Tots event.

“It was a moment when preparation met opportunity”

“The day our first video went viral, I know we had something big. Within a week or so it had been seen by millions of people. I had the BBC on the phone and all of a sudden it started to feel very real.

“The truth is years of hard work went into getting to this point, it was no fluke, just a moment when preparation met opportunity.

“Raver Tots events now take place every month around the country and this Bank Holiday Monday we hosted our first festival which had over 5,000 families in attendance.”

Mike’s advice for starting a business if you’re unemployed:

  • Don’t be afraid to give something a go. If you’re worried, start something with low overheads and you could even consider supplementing your income with a part time job. For many years I’ve juggled a few projects, I always felt secure knowing if one thing went down, I’d still have other income to reply on as a back-up.
  • … And know how to strike the balance between work and personal life. As a business owner, I find it incredibly difficult to switch off sometimes, but family always comes first for me.

You don’t have to beat the odds on your own. With the help of AXA Business Insurance, you can get a level of business protection that’s right for you. So, you can focus on executing your vision and building a legacy to be proud of.

Senior IT manager to self-employed Google AdWords guru

Entrepreneur: David Rothwell
Went from £60,000 salary to £0 overnight after being laid off as a European Information Services Manager in 2001

Consultancy firm David Rothwell (also a published author and conference speaker)

“I was laid off after a 20-year career in IT from a senior management role which meant I was both experienced and expensive.

“The dotcom crash at that time closely followed by 9/11 meant there were hundreds of people chasing every IT job going and although I applied for many and was prepared to take a more junior position at less pay no-one was prepared to even interview me.

“I spent well over a year trying to get back into IT without success, so I had to think of something else.

“I realised the only way to create money for myself was by going out there”

“In my career, I had very successfully started up new departments and functions from nothing and hired staff, so I became more confident I could create something new for myself rather than an employer.

“I realised the only way to create money for myself was by going out there and doing anything at all, no matter what, that would pay me money, any amount of it.

“I was doing manual jobs part of the time and I also wanted to offer my experience as an IT and Telecom manager to small and medium local businesses in our area in a freelance or consulting basis.

“I really had no clue how to best go about it though, so I ended up doing a few of the traditional things like newspaper ads and email marketing. Ads were a total failure. I bought a small part of a bigger email list from a marketing company and was very selective about the kind of businesses I was going to email. I expected some addresses were out of date and about a third were.

“From what I had read at that point about marketing it seemed like you could expect a 1% “conversion rate” of email to getting a lead. I had about a thousand names so I was hopeful to get about 10 leads from it. I only ended up getting one! (0.1% conversion rate, pretty bad). However, they interviewed me and I got a regular day a week work then for a couple of years looking after their IT network and telecoms.

“I then realised that it was crucial to have a website and show up on Google when people look. I built a website from scratch but had no clue how to get it showing up in search results. Then by accident I discovered Google AdWords, tried it, and saw my ads almost instantly. It was revolutionary!

“I played with it a bit to start with then got more seriously interested it as I saw how powerful it was. It was also a fascinating environment and very technical, right up my street. As I got better at it I realised I had accidentally learned a valuable skill that others would both need and find hard, as I had to start with.

“Being from a technical support background I decided to try offering this service to other businesses literally around the world since I could do it from my bedroom.

“My first client was a lady in real estate in Houston Texas. She asked me how much I charged and I had to think of a number ($100 a month). Then I had to figure out how to take the money off her (my first PayPal account in 2005).

“From there I knew it was just a matter of time to get more clients and make more money from this service.”

David’s advice for starting a business from redundancy:

  • Advertise your services. There are many freelancer websites where you can offer your time and perform a valuable service and get paid, for clients all over the world. Even if you’re only a little bit better than they are, they will pay you money to save their time and get work done. You can get paid to learn and improve on what you can do.
  • Do something you know and like, find easy and has value to others.
  • Try and find a way to make what you offer a recurring service so you don’t have to hustle for every single new customer all the time. If you can help people in their business make more money from what you provide, you’ll have a job for life.
  • Go to business libraries, trade shows, conferences, exhibitions and get to know people and be known by others. Offer value for what you do and prove it.

You don’t have to beat the odds on your own. With the help of AXA Business Insurance, you can get a level of business protection that’s right for you. So, you can focus on executing your vision and building a legacy to be proud of.

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