Monday , July 22 2024

In Praise of Trade

My sister-in-law spent her working life selecting and selling dresses.  When I think about this my jaw drops.  How on earth do you select a dress that will outsell your competitors?  To make good money out of that for an entire working life is extraordinary.  Having succeeded at making a profit from dresses she then had to rent premises, pay staff, be an expert at interior decoration etc. etc.

My first experience at business was after becoming disenchanted after years in scientific research.  I had had enough of stuffy academia and having been trained in building construction and, having rebuilt two of my own houses, became a builder.  The marketing was extremely difficult because I did not have the spare cash for advertising but I got some reasonable contracts, then some recommendations, and was up and running for seven months.  Unfortunately the winter was very cold and in January no-one wanted a builder and I had a big mortgage.  I got a job with a large company using my scientific qualifications and lamented the end of my enterprise.  Twelve years later I set up another business, this time producing software, and was successful.

Why do people do it?  When I switched from working for a large corporation to running my own business I was earning many times the average wage and had a company car but still took the gamble.  My motivation to run my own business was partly the desire to be independent and partly because I enjoy living on my wits.  When your mortgage payments and the family’s future depend on your skill you know you are alive.  Before “bigging myself up” too much I should explain that when I risked the second attempt I was highly qualified in several areas of work so could get a job if it all went wrong and my wife had become prosperous in her own right so could support the family.

The best time to start a business is after a decade or two of experience in the workplace as an employee.  Use your employer to get experience and qualifications, move from production to sales or sales support while you are protected by someone else’s enterprise.  When you are in your thirties or forties you will have the skill and gravitas to succeed.  Keep your eyes open all the time for gaps in the market.  Start the business small and low risk, preparing as much as possible while you are still in work – avoid bank loans.

Other people just cannot imagine themselves working for an employer for any length of time, even to get experience.  They might have an artistic or technical flare and launch themselves headlong into business.  A part time job grinding floors could end up as a specialist wooden floor recovery and concrete floor polishing business.  A love of art could resolve into the only successful gift shop in town.  I admire the courage of people who can do this, they are truly diving into the flow of life.

Sixty per cent, almost two thirds, of employment in the UK is in small and medium sized enterprises.  Even the big enterprises usually started as small businesses a generation or more ago.  Only government owned business such as the BBC, NHS and state services such as education and civil service did not start with entrepreneurs.

The bulk of enterprise is outside of the corporate and government sector but education and training are run by this sector.  The corporate sector “tries”, for instance I can remember a government run lecture on small business that I attended in which a senior executive from a giant car company tried his hardest to tell us what was needed.  It was irrelevant.  A talk by the guy who founded, owned and ran the local garage would have been much better.

The worst problem for business are the education and broadcast media sectors.  Education has invented its own unreality where money is obtained by demanding more, if necessary with menaces, and the ultimate success is to be an academic.  The broadcast media are staffed by stars of the education system and have the same disdain as eighteenth century aristocrats when they talked of “trade”.

Perhaps they are jealous of the skills and daring of those who regard the monthly pay cheque as the price of imprisonment.

Unfortunately the education and broadcast media sectors are ascendant in the twenty first century.  Most of them do not make the money that pays their wages.  They use the model of the world that has served them well.  In this model there is an infinite source of money that is being withheld by evil politicians.  Those involved in trade are in league with politicians because they are always arguing that their overflowing coffers should not be drained to pay for “victims”.  The reality is that the coffers are often almost empty and without those involved in trade there would be no money at all for victims.   Few teachers and broadcasters even give this a moment’s thought.

Bias is the suppression of information. The way to stop the bias in the education system and broadcast media is to make at least five years work outside of education a requirement for teaching so that teachers are aware of reality and for Ofcom to monitor the BBC and Channel 4 for suppression of real, statistical information about the effects of taxes and regulations on small and medium sized business performance.

This post was originally published by the author on his personal blog:

About John Sydenham

Dr John Sydenham has worked in International Pharmaceuticals and for one of the "big four" International Consultancies. He ran a successful company for 15 years and after selling the company devotes his time to travel, science, black labradors and freedom.

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