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Enterprise Nation: Fueling the Small Business Engine of the UK

As the founder of Enterprise Nation, a community of over 75,000 business people from small businesses all over the UK, Emma Jones MBE isn’t resting on her laurels. Far from it, she wants to create the UK’s most trusted business support marketplace, building on her wealth of experience, knowledge and energy which has seen her become a trusted representative of the UK’s small business community for both government and media. Emma was speaking to B4’s Richard Rosser.

Enterprise Nation exists to help people start and grow their own small business and as Emma admits, she and her dedicated team have been doing this for a very long time. “With a General Election looming this will be the 4th time we’ve had a small business debate, so we’re starting to feel quite long in the tooth now as new ministers and new Prime Ministers come in. But we’re still here providing invaluable support to the UK’s small businesses.”

Enterprise Nation, Emma is keen to point out, isn’t a charity or part of the government. “We’re 100% privately owned although we did take on a new investor in 2017 to help grow and develop the business which operates in three key areas.

“Firstly Brand Activated Campaigns where we run national training campaigns for large brands like Facebook, Amazon, O2, Xero. For Facebook we are coming to the end of our third year of running a programme called ‘She Means Business’ where we have trained thousands of female founders in digital skills. For Amazon we have been running large events called ‘Amazon Academy’ which is free training for Amazon Marketplace sellers and trains them to grow their business. Each year we run about 300 events in all parts of the UK, anything from small local meet ups to our biggest event of the year which is our Start Up Show which takes place in January 2020. We will have 2,000 start ups attending our events in London and also, the first time, Manchester.

“Secondly we have the Business Support Marketplace, the online part of the business which provides content 24 / 7 for people looking to start up a ‘side hustle’ and want to access content at nights and weekends – and to those looking to grow who need answers fast. We have actually just gone live with our new version of the online platform which is part of an ongoing investment in the online side of the business. Our aim is to provide answers to questions within three clicks and because we have over a decade of content, we have a massive library of answers to all sorts of questions. Content varies from long written blog posts to podcasts and webinars. So, depending on how the on-line consumer likes to consume information, hopefully we have a piece of content relating to that topic and in a format through which they like to learn.

The platform is also connecting small businesses to each other so you can now find members in your area and the platform can also connect you with advisers who are rated and reviewed by the businesses that use them.

“Content is twofold – there is Enterprise Nation generated content where we generate a piece of content every day through our team but advisers can also upload content. Businesses now want specific, niche content and we have to be able to provide that. For example, if a member is looking for advice on selling coffee mugs into Korea, then we need a homewares trader who has experience of selling product to the Korean market.

“Over the next twelve months you will see us encouraging our advisers to write even more niche content so that we can provide answers to ever more niche requests. Business is changing and we need to reflect that in the content we provide.

“Finally we run Public Sector Projects where we deliver contracts for Growth Hubs, Local Councils, Local Enterprise Partnerships and Central Government departments. We’ve actually just taken on an Accelerator Programme in Oxfordshire which will be completed by the end of this year.

“In terms of reach we engage with over 100,000 small businesses each year, welcome over 27,000 registered attendees for events and a significant number of people coming on line for training (webinars etc….) and information.”

But that’s not it, Emma isn’t standing still and has four key campaigns which Enterprise Nation will be focusing on in 2020, all based on where Emma and her team have identified gaps in the market.

“Our Next Generation programme is ensuring the entrepreneurial future of Britain where we help young people to start a business. She’s got this is economic empowerment for women, continuing on from ‘She Means Business’, we are helping female founders raise money. HeadsUp! is helping businesses with their mental well-being, because in lots of our surveys this year small business owners have been telling us that loneliness is a massive problem. We’re helping them to meet up locally and raise their positive mental attitude.

“Finally we have Clicks and Mortar which is reviving the High Street through enterprise. We are opening up shops and filling them with online sellers. We’ve opened up four shops in five months in Cardiff, Edinburgh, Manchester and Sheffield. The scheme is backed by Amazon, Square, and Direct Line for Business who, like us, have seen that the High Street is clearly struggling and in need of re-energising. We think small business has a critical role stimulating the High Street and the shops are all about making it as easy as possible for them to sell. Amazon are really passionate about helping the small business community and, after all, they benefit from the success of small businesses so it makes sense to provide support.”

With all of these wonderful campaigns and positive energy behind supporting the UK’s small business community, I ask Emma if she sees her personal profile continuing to promote Enterprise Nation or does she intend to play more of a back seat role in terms of profile?

“Funnily enough someone else asked me this the other day. When we first went live with EnterpriseNation.com, I’d learned a huge amount from my role model in business, Martha Stewart, a very successful US entrepreneur. I read every book about how she built her business and I suppose that, by virtue of the fact that the business was named after her, it was very focused on her, her personality and her views.

“So at the beginning of Enterprise Nation I thought that’s what I should do. I wrote books which had my face on the front cover and I was on every page of the website. I look back and cringe that Enterprise Nation was ‘delivered by Emma Jones’. I like to think we have come a long way and that’s not the case anymore. I love it now when I go to events and people ask me what I do at Enterprise Nation! I think it’s a delicate balance you have to strike. It’s important as Founder and CEO that I am the person that’s quoted in press releases and in all media activity, so in that respect my name will always be intrinsically connected to the company, but I don’t think that means to say that the company couldn’t operate without me. I think all business founders should be looking to grow a business that can grow sustainably and exist without them at the helm. That is definitely something that I am working on.”

So as the UK stumbles from uncertainty to uncertainty, ‘will we won’t we’ leave Europe and no clear leader in Number 10, I ask Emma what advice she would give to someone thinking about setting up in business at a time when we have so much domestic and international turmoil?

“I would say don’t let the externalities stop you. We’re still seeing great opportunities for people to start their own businesses – we see lots of niche businesses that find their customer groups. Technology is enabling entrepreneurship to flourish. Platforms like Etsy, Not on the High Street, Amazon etc… are enabling people to sell, social media platforms are enabling smaller concerns to reach global audiences…all of these mechanisms are very much in place to help small businesses succeed. We still have a relatively low tax environment in the UK and it’s a great place to start a business….you can start a business with just £15!
“For anyone starting out I would say ‘Go For It’ and make sure you come to Start Up 2020 in January.

For those businesses that are growing, and this is something that I find enthralling about the UK, we have this base of five million small businesses and most of them are still feeling pretty optimistic about growth …. what we are seeing is their need to have access to communities and I think that’s what Enterprise Nation has spent a decade building, it’s what your organisation, B4, has spent time building. There are so many safe and trusted communities for small businesses to join and grow and gain support from.

“Once a small business has joined Enterprise Nation we’re hopefully not only meeting your business needs in terms of content and support but we’re also representing your views to help maintain the entrepreneurial conditions which attracted you to set up business in the first place. So for start ups I say ‘Keep Starting’ and for businesses looking to grow I would say now is the right time to join a community and get advice from peers and experts and make sure you surround yourself with their support so that when you have difficult problems that you need solutions for, they are available at your fingertips.”

As referenced earlier in the article, Emma took on investment in 2017 and she has wise words of advice for anyone looking to raise funds. “We took investment at a time when we didn’t need the capital but we met Richard Harpin who runs HomeServe and Checkatrade and he also has an investment vehicle called Growth Partner. Up until that point I had been 100% shareholder in the company but the team now has shares in the business through an EMI scheme which I always think is a good thing for a founder to consider.

“My advice is to always to look for Cash PLUS knowledge and other opportunities. For us we were gaining sophistication in running a business and surrounding ourselves with talented people that have helped us to grow. It’s been a great step for Enterprise Nation.”

So how does Emma see the future of Enterprise Nation?

“We are learning a lot from Checkatrade and what I would love is for Enterprise Nation to be the UK’s most trusted business support marketplace. What we see at the moment is a record numbers of small businesses saying to us ‘I don’t have much time and I need to quickly find all of the support that is available to me in my area or in my sector.’ On the other side of that we have a lot of support providers, like Growth Hubs and individual accountants and other advisers saying ‘we want to reach out to small businesses but they’re really hard to find’. So the place that Enterprise Nation wants to be in is the connecting point between those two. We can save small businesses time and money by helping them find the support they need quickly and we can help support providers find the businesses they are looking for so they can support them.

“As I said before, most of the investment in the business is going into the online side. We have just made a couple of important hires of people who have marketplace experience and that’s the vision and the focus of the business for the next couple of years, to build this online resource for small businesses and advisers. I hasten to add that I am definitely NOT a technology founder. My great love in the business is business development and strategic direction but I am not a tech or product person. Having said that I feel that, as a founder, if you are growing in new areas you have to quite quickly become an expert in those areas.

“So this year I have been reading lots of books on how to build a marketplace business and I’ve been reaching out to people who have done just that. That’s a key point for business founders…you never stop learning, especially if you’re taking your business in new directions. Even if you’re just keeping your business alive you have to keep learning best practice and learning from the best.”

Background

Following a degree in Law and Japanese, Emma joined international accounting firm Arthur Andersen, where she worked in London, Leeds and Manchester offices and set up the firm’s Inward Investment practice that attracted overseas companies to locate in the UK.

In 2000, bitten by the dot.com bug, Emma left the firm to start her first business, Techlocate. After 15 months, the company was successfully sold to Tenon plc.

The experience of starting, growing and selling a business from a home base gave Emma the idea for Enterprise Nation which was launched in 2006 as the home business website.

The company has since expanded to become a small business membership community of over 75,000 people who benefit from events and support: online and in person.

Enterprise Nation also presents a campaigning voice to government and the media on behalf of its members.

Backing Britain

In March 2011, Emma was one of eight co-founders to launch StartUp Britain, the national campaign to encourage more people to start a business and support existing businesses to grow.

Over a period of 3 years (March 2011 to 2014), Emma led and managed the private sector campaign that facilitated mentoring, hosted Industry Weeks, toured the UK with entrepreneurs and experts, launched special projects such as PopUp Britain and had a critical role to play in record results of people becoming their own boss.

In February 2019 Theresa May appointed Emma to co-chair the Prime Minister’s Small Business, Scale-up and Entrepreneurs Business Council. A position she still holds.

Books and Events

Emma is the best-selling author of the business books Spare Room StartUp, Working 5 to 9, Go Global, The StartUp Kit and Turn Your Talent Into a Business.

She hosts the popular one-day business class StartUp Saturday in London, and speaks at several other business events.

Emma regularly appears in the media commenting on small business issues.

Awards

In June 2012 Emma was awarded an MBE for Services to Enterprise.

In November 2015 Emma was appointed by the UK Prime Minister as a Business Ambassador with a focus on increasing international trade.

In July 2016, Emma was appointed SME Representative for Crown Commercial Service.

BIO2020

Hear Emma speak at BIO2020, 2nd-4th June 2020. For tickets visit:
www.businessinoxford.com