Saturday, November 14, 2009

Pass the parcel

So, in my path to become self employed, we were as far as: I need help from Access to Work in order to work, I need a business plan in order to get help from them as a self-employed person. I contacted Business Link (who, as you can see, are a and therefore official) and they referred me to a local business development agency.

The local business development agency said yes, we run free informal courses for people starting up their own businesses, during school hours, locally. Great! Except "locally" is apparently Coventry. To a Normie living where I live, that's £5 for the return train ticket and maybe £2 for buses at either end. For me, it's over £20 each way in taxi fares (big thank you to Warwick District Council for removing the accessible transport scheme).

I'd pay that money quite happily for a one-to-one session with someone who would check that I had ticked all legal boxes for my specific situation - or more importantly, tell me which ones I missed and what to do about it - and confirm with authority that I was ready to start trading. But I don't exactly have it knocking about as spare cash to hazard on fuzzy informal courses that may or may not have any relevance to my business.

Oh, they said.

So they in turn have passed me on to something which might be called the Regional Disability Infrastructure Support Service, or might be the Council for Disabled People, or might even be something else entirely. I'm not sure what this multi-monikered organisation's remit is - whether it's helping with the transport issues or helping with the "setting up a business" issues - but it doesn't matter for now as they can't see me until mid-December.

Meanwhile, I am apparently welcome to use the resources and forum at the website of the Coventry-based business development organisation. The resources are... well, they're very good, nicely laid out, but I am worlds away from their target audience. Here's a small quote from the section on Personal Development and identifying transferable skills that may be of use in your business:

Do you organise yourself, your children and your partner?
Organise the playschool’s fundraising activities?
Act as secretary to the tennis club?
Organise lots of social functions for you and your friends and family?
Cook and shop?
Organise who does what in the local community fair?

In other words, am I a vision of middle-class feminine perfection? Well, no. I have many skills that I use, as an employer of a PA, as an employee of my bosses, as a "customer" of the DWP and Social Services, as a blogger, as an active participant in the disability community, as a friend, as a supportive partner, and as a housekeeper. But I am, in short, not their kind of person, and knowing that makes me wonder how much they will actually help me.

For now, I continue ploughing through pages after page of information that for the most part doesn't apply to me, gleaning out the little germs of usefulness.


Katie said...


This may be irrelevant, but double check with AtW that you do need a business plan. I got away without one.

I'm a TV Producer (for some of the year, anyway). When I turned freelance, AtW told me I would need a business plan because this is what they say to all self-employed people. They turned out to be wrong.

I told them I was not running a business, I was hiring my services out to several different independent companies during the course of any year. Hence I was freelance, not running a business. If I had been setting up my own independent production company, I would be running my own business.

Eventually, they agreed with me and settled for a copy of my contract with the company I was initially working for.

It used to be easy to differentiate because freelancers were taxed in a different way from business owners, but not anymore.

From what you've written here about the work you're doing, I *think* you could very easily suggest to them that you're self employed in a freelance way and that you have no need for a business plan.

It very much depends on the work you're doing, your own AtW adviser, and whether or not you want to write a business plan, which you might want to do anyway.

Whatever, it sucks that the 'local' services aren't accessible to you. Business Link do have step by step advice online detailing how to complete a business plan, but I'm sure you've already found that.

It might be worth asking AtW if they can be flexible on the business plan front, is all. I know it's not just about that, and it's deeply reprehensible (?sp!) that all the 'starting up on your own' advice is not accessible to you.

I will go away and think about other sources of advice that aren't Business Link. Sorry they've not been more helpful :-(

Mary said...

Yes, practically and psychologically it makes better sense to me to think of myself as hiring out my skills and services as a freelancer, rather than "being a business".

Perhaps I could write down something as simple as "I intend to charge £X per hour to independent companies to do admin tasks from my home," and call it a business plan, followed by "the help I need to do this is..." and updating it every time something new pops up.

Either way, I still have a couple of weeks to play with and I have access to the online resources from the agency Business Link recommended - which does include writing a business plan, although, being the person that I am, I am working through the modules in the prescribed order and haven't got that far yet.

While I do really, really, really appreciate all the advice and support you've given me so far, please don't start to feel responsible for guiding me through this - I know you've got quite enough on your own plate. :)

Katie said...


Oops. I have a tendancy to try and be over-helpful on this subject because I went through the mill backwards (or something) when I became self-employed, both generally and with access to work specifically, so I have a lot of really spoddy irritating knowledge on the subject and like to share it, possibly a little too much sometimes.

I know you're perfectly capable of handling it yourself, though I may not have been giving that impression...!

Best of luck with it all.


Mary said...

Oh no, don't get me wrong, I will continue to enjoy the advice and support and general solidarity for as long as you feel happy dispensing it - and it IS making a positive difference. I just don't want you to feel like you have to or like you have a responsibility to me.

butterflywings said...

Wow, yes those examples are really classist and sexist (I love #1, as if men are helpless children who need organising!).
As if the only people wanting help to get back into work are middle-class women with kids and a partner, especially in this economic climate.
I doubt they *mean* to be so exclusive, but they really should have thought. They could quite easily have come up with more neutral examples such as voluntary or community work and organising social events...I mean, the last 3 examples are OK-ish (I'd rephrase 'social functions' I think, and 'community fair' but...)

I can completely understand how you feel excluded by them. Remember, you *do* have transferable skills (as in your examples), I'd say there is nothing wrong with using those examples in your business plan.

I don't know about half of what you're going through, but I do sympathise - and good luck.

(Sorry if any of that sounded condescending, I *really* don't mean to...)

Robert said...

I did the same as you did , and I went around in circles, they even sent me to see a bloke who could help me, they told me he died three years ago. I was then told OK we can send you to this charity that helps people start up a business, down I go the place is now a dentist, talking to a lady in the charity shop she said oh that closed last year as the government stopped it's funding.
It's as if they fob me off not to bother, last July I was told not to attend any further meetings at my local job center, because they had removed the Disability adviser she is now working on no disabled unemployment.

Katie said...

Bats, just seen your most recent comment. Don't worry, I feel no sense of responsibility whatseoever!