There are 5.82m small businesses in the UK and they make up 99.3% of the total business population. They range from owner-managed one-person bands through micro businesses (ie fewer than 10 employees) to the largest small firms (ie up to 50 employees and/or a turnover of up to £10.2m).
Small businesses are vital to the UK economy. They provide jobs for about 13.3m people (48% of the total UK workforce) and have a combined turnover of about £1.6 trillion (source: FSB). Small businesses often have inspiring, insightful stories to tell. Here are six such businesses and the key lessons you can learn from them.
1. Being daring and provocative can pay off…
Martin Dickie and James Watt were “bored with the industrially brewed lagers and stuffy ales that dominated the UK beer market.” So, the 24 year olds started their own craft brewery in Aberdeenshire in 2007. After creating their BrewDog brand, they brewed small batches, filled bottles by hand and made sales at local markets out of the back of an old van.
A year later, BrewDog created the UK’s strongest-ever beer, which “resulted in a huge media storm”. Their beers were banned, but undeterred, in 2009, they created the world’s strongest-ever beer (32% – Tactical Nuclear Penguin). The duo wanted to “push boundaries and smash people’s perceptions of what beer can be”. In 2010, they brewed a “55% ABV beer and packed it into roadkill, making it the world’s most expensive beer ever”.
After moving to a new brewery and opening their first bar (they ended up with 70 and a hotel), BrewDog continued to court controversy, including projecting a naked image of themselves onto the Houses of Parliament. Challenging convention has proved a successful strategy. BrewDog is now worth some $2bn (source: Forbes), but its founders remain no less passionate or uncompromising.
2. If you’re good enough, you’re old enough…
Liv Conlon started her first business aged just 13, selling fingernail foils she imported from China. Being bullied at school increased her determination to succeed. Although her teachers wanted Liv to take A-levels, she left school and would soon start her second business, The Property Stagers.
After her mum was struggling to sell her investment property, 17-year-old Liv had an epiphany. “I knew about staging – giving your home a ‘show home’ look to achieve a quick sale – and we decided to engage a staging service provider,” she remembers. “However, we couldn’t find anyone at an affordable price. So, I did it myself.” Just three days after staging her mum’s property, it sold, above the valuation, with a tidy profit also made on the staging furniture.
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Now offering home-staging services throughout the UK and furniture packages for landlords, The Property Stagers has 10 employees, furnishes about 300 properties a year and turns over more than a £1m. Multiple award-winning 22-year-old Liv has written a book (Too Big for Your Boots: How I Built a 7-figure Brand as a Young Entrepreneur with No Startup Funds and No Experience) and speaks at conferences around the world.
3. Having a strong, appealing brand can really fuel your success…
Famous for its “superpower-infused” leopard print loungewear and vibrant designs, award-winning Scamp & Dude is a “British purpose-led fashion brand with a huge heart”. It was created by former fashion and beauty PR, Jo Tutchener-Sharp, and it’s proof that sometimes good can come from very bad things.
In 2015, Jo suffered a brain haemorrhage and had to leave her children for a long stay in hospital to undergo life-threatening brain surgery. “I was thinking about kids who had to be separated when their parents are ill,” she explains. “I thought what I’d really like to give them is a superhero to watch over them. That was the start of it.’
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Three months later, Jo registered her company name and had developed her first product, Superhero Sleep Buddies, cushions with a pouch into which a photo of a loved one could be kept. For every one sold, she donated another one to a child separated from their loved ones. T-shirts and other items soon followed. Scamp & Dude opened its first store in 2018 in Highgate and celebrity fans now include Robbie Williams, Giovanna Fletcher and Billie Piper. The brand has an army of fiercely loyal customers, advocates and Instagram followers.