Q&A: Emma Jones MBE, founder of Enterprise Nation

We talk to Emma Jones MBE about launching Enterprise Nation and the advice she has for young people thinking of going into business.

Emma Jones MBE has a naturally entrepreneurial spirit.

She studied Law and Japanese and went on to work at law firm, Arthur Andersen, where she set up the Inward Investment practice that attracted overseas companies to locate in the UK. She left and built techlocate.com, selling it 15 months later. Her experiences of starting, growing and selling a business from home led her to create her current business, Enterprise Nation.

We ask her more about the firm and how young people can realise their business goals.

How did Enterprise Nation come about?

Mainly out of personal experience. So, I had started and sold techlocate.com and in growing that business I noticed there were a lot of people starting businesses from a spare room or a home base and there wasn’t much info out there for people doing it.

When it launched a decade ago, Enterprise Nation went live as the Home Business Website. As we’ve been going for a long time, many of the businesses that we’ve worked with have outgrown the home environment, so we’ve become more of a small business network. Our focus now is about starting to grow successful businesses.

We also have our advisor marketplace where small businesses can connect with the likes of social media experts, mentors and coaches. This year we’ll run over 300 physical events around the country from start-up workshops to growth events. We aim to help them to grow, access finance, meet journalists, that sort of thing.

The third element of what we do is campaigning – we run campaigns for certain groups like young people, who we’re working with right now on Next Generation.

What questions should young people be asking themselves when deciding whether to start a business?

Firstly, have they got a good idea for their business? Every business starts with a good idea. Then ask if there’s a gap in the market. Have they ever needed this product or service themselves? However, the most critical one is whether they have got the right support around them to take the idea and turn it into a reality.

This should be made up of your peer group and support from experts in the areas that you’re not.

If you’re starting a business selling T-shirts and finance isn’t your strong suit, you need to learn about finance but also connect with an accountant. This can scare a lot of young people. They think: “Oh my goodness, will I have to spend loads of money?”

We advise young entrepreneurs to beg, borrow and barter. Go to the people with the expertise that you want and say: “I’m a young entrepreneur, I’m just starting out. Would you be kind enough to mentor me (for example) in exchange for me buying you porridge once every two weeks?” This is the great thing for young entrepreneurs now – there are so many people out there who have started, run and sold businesses who are now willing to give back to the next generation.

Make sure you have a mentor who can help navigate tough challenges. You won’t necessarily have to pay for it as you’re starting up. I wouldn’t say take advantage – once your business is making money, pay people for the time they’re giving you. There’s a lot now that young entrepreneurs can do by asking: “Can you help me out? Can you give me your time?” The ones that are doing that are getting the best support.

Where do you find mentors?

Sometimes people think they’ll go on the internet and find one as you can find everything online now.

I’d say you’ll find your mentor by being out and about. You’ve got to be out at events and going to bootcamps, out pitching – through that, you will identify people you feel attuned to – with a mentor it’s so important that the chemistry is right.

We talk about two types of mentor. There is one who will advise you to do this, do that, go to this person to raise money, hire really quickly. That kind of mentor will tell you what to do based on their experience.

‘I’d say you’ll find your mentor by being out and about’

The other is a kind of mentor who we think is more valuable and a good listener. The young entrepreneur who already has a lot of questions in their head can sit down with this mentor once a month or once a fortnight. They can ask: “Right, I’m thinking of raising some money, should I do that? Do I have to give up equity, is that right?”

This mentor is the person who just lets you talk it out and you’ll come up with your own answers that feel right for you.

Related: Is having a mentor key to small business success?

You talk about being entrepreneurial in the workplace – what do you mean by that?

Quite a few young people who come and take our course say they want to be more entrepreneurial in their career or their outlook but decide that starting a business isn’t for them. If we can encourage a more entrepreneurial approach to work, I’d say we’ve done our job.

Employers love an entrepreneurial mindset. This is someone who looks at a problem and comes up with a potential solution. They don’t see issues, they see opportunities to solve. Time-keeping is important too, putting value on yours and others’ time.

The employer gets the most out of promotion skills as young people tend to be good at self-promotion through technology. All of these skills are amazingly regarded in the workplace now.

Of course, financial skills are helpful – creating a cash flow forecast, for example. All in all, a positive, can-do approach is essential.

Anything that involves engaging with customers is useful to have as a soft skill. Businesses that we’ve seen the most success from are collaborative. Entrepreneurs need to have empathy in order to liaise and sell. What is it customers want, what problems do they have, which ways do customers want to be communicated with? Listening is critical.

‘Anything that involves engaging with customers is useful to have as a soft skill’

I was at an event where an HR from a bank talked about how they welcome employees with a side hustle. She said they’re more entrepreneurial – they’re focused on their day job but they’re bringing skills from their side hustles and the company isn’t even paying for the training!

How do you decide whether to take your passion forward as a business or carry it on as a hobby?

People do get nervous that when their passion becomes their income: will they lose the love for it?

I have to say, I haven’t met many entrepreneurs who have lost the love for their passion. One of the first pieces of advice we ever give a young person is build a business on something they love – if you don’t feel passionate about what you’re doing, you won’t put the hours in that you need when starting a business.

It's a tough decision taking your hobby to a business

It’s not for everyone – if you love design, it doesn’t necessarily mean you should become a designer – they can keep it as a hobby and that’s fine. And for those that say that they want to make it their livelihood, we can help make it into a business, as small or as large as they want it to be. It’s up to you as an entrepreneur to decide how much you want to grow it, at your own pace.

A lot of businesses have started from home and they want to grow outwards – how do they do that?

A lot of young entrepreneurs are living on their own and there has been a real growth in single-person living. If they’re also working from home, it could cause more isolation. Consider getting out of the home office and into a co-working space – you can work with them but it’s also good to have them around for human company and to feel normal.

Rather than leaving the home and going into big offices, you can work from home and spend a couple of days a week in a co-working space to start. What we’re seeing a lot of people do is tap into a workspace and build up their time there and then go full-time in that space.

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