Every business is different: A matter of life and debt

Every business is different: A matter of life and debt

On Monday 9th October 2017, a new series launched on BBC1, looking at some of the financial challenges facing people in the UK today, and showcasing some truly incredible, resilient, business owners.

Every business is different - A Matter of Life and DebtIn the first episode, available on BBC iPlayer, it is “all about the dough” when a baker gets a loan to set up his own specialist pie shop. It also featured a single mum who proved the high street banks wrong by creating a successful language school after starting at her kitchen table, and one woman’s journey from being a successful entrepreneur to having £10 to her name… and back again.

Watch “A Matter of Life and Debt” on BBC iPlayer >>

It’s all about the dough

There are many responsible lenders in the UK willing to take a chance on people who want to start up their own business but find it difficult to get credit elsewhere. It’s the support from ethical lenders that’s helped one Preston bakery to rise above the rest.

The first show opens with bakery owner Robert, who at the age of 25 wanted to own his own bakery. This is not some entrepreneur with a university education or an incredible technological breakthrough at his fingertips. This is the story of a normal young man, who didn’t want to work for someone else, but aspired to buy and run his own business.

“I was lost before I discovered baking. At 18 I joined my dad on the night shift at a local bakery”.

Robert’s dream was to open his own bakery. From the age of 18, this was all he wanted. And nine years on, the dream is now a reality.

But with little financial acumen, let alone business experience, starting out was hard. Robert’s application was rejected by the high street banks. He borrowed £10,000 from his sister – but needed £25,000 more to buy the business. A year down the line, he was desperate.

“First of all I tried the bank, which was not very successful. They passed me on to Chorley Council to see if they could help with government grants or anything like that to buy the business. That wasn’t successful. I weren’t really getting anywhere. After a year I was still in the same place – not anywhere in terms of securing the finance. I never felt like giving up, but I knew my enthusiasm was waning. I was actually getting to the point where I thought I might need to change career.”

Then Robert heard about Lancashire Community Finance, which is a local not-for-profit organisation and a partner of the government backed Start Up Loans – a subsidiary of the British Business Bank.

“He was at the end of his tether in knowing where to turn to … and found the whole process very difficult.

His enthusiasm won us over even before we got deep into his business plan. He knew exactly what he wanted to do. For us, putting it on paper was quite easy. But for him it was quite a challenge.”

Having secured the finance, for Robert, the feeling was unbelievable. His mum was worried, but luckily his family had experience, and now they all work together. “We have to do it. It’s a family concern, this business is”.

Robert was keen to grow the business. “Having one flavour of pie wasn’t a good idea!”.

He has since secured further funding, and the staff, the work, and the wage bill have doubled. Lancashire Community Finance have helped him to secure further finance through a different scheme to create new shop front, and secure his premises.

“I’ve counted before now, more than 27 people in the queue. And that’s with 3 people serving. It’s tremendous.”

Running a business is hard

There are more than a million small businesses operating in the UK today, but in the last year alone, 15,000 companies have gone bankrupt.

“Having a business idea is a brilliant thing. But you need to protect yourself, and getting some decent financial advice will help you to do that. If you are thinking about taking on personal debts, you really need to think twice, because that can put your personal life in financial jeopardy.”

This situation is far too common. The first episode of “A Matter of Life and Debt” features entrepreneur Sue. When Sue’s successful business made the decision to move manufacturing to the UK to service a major new client, they borrowed more than £200,000 against the value of their home. Every penny was essential to make ends meet.

They had a big customer, and things were good – but stressful. But then they lost that big customer, and the debt kept growing. Eventually, this affected Sue’s home life, and her marriage broke down. The business amassed debts of more than £250,000, and the bank was about to repossess their home. So, she put her home on the market, cut her overheads, and started talking responsibly to all her creditors.

The process of clearing debts took more than ten years. But looking back now, Sue is clear, “I’m loving life, and if I can do it, so can anyone”.

A staggering number of UK businesses face financial struggles like this every day.

But they don’t need to. With a profusion of avenues to explore for advice, support, and funding, there is often a way out of what seems like a terrible situation.

For advice and support, there are many opportunities for business owners. Talking to people is extremely important too – however challenging your financial situation, with a million small businesses in the UK right now, someone else will be experiencing exactly the same worries as you.

Your journey, your way

The Business Finance Guide is designed to help you at every stage of your journey, offering impartial information and links to lots of resources designed specifically to help you grow your business.

Friends, other business owners, and your extended network can all give you valuable insights and connections. But also seek professional advice from your accountant, business adviser, or named manager at your bank.

If you’re just starting out, the government-backed Start Up Loans company, featured in “A Matter of Life and Debt” offers new business owners the ability to borrow between £500 and £25,000, as well as lots of useful information and support. Start Up Loans offer an affordable source of finance to help new and early stage business owners bring their plans to life.

Local support for businesses across England

The government supports many local initiatives across England which help smaller businesses grow, address financial challenges, and access finance. You can find out what is available in your area by contacting your nearest Local Enterprise Partnership through the LEP network website.

Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs for short) are local not-for-profit organisations created specifically to help grow businesses in their local area. Individual LEPs may offer different services, but all will be able to offer information on finance options, tax and business planning, and many also run events and are able to connect you with other like-minded businesses in your area.

Growth hubs

Growth hubs are public/private sector partnerships under the governance of the Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP). Growth hubs bring together public and private sector partners to promote, coordinate, and deliver business support. They provide a mechanism for integrating national and local business support, so it is easy for businesses to access.

Growth hubs aim to make it easier for businesses to start and grow, by ensuring business support is:

  • simpler – providing a single local access point for all public and private sector business support
  • more connected – local support is aligned with national programmes to improve coordination and reduce duplication of business support
  • easier to access – through the promotion of business support locally, assessing business’s needs, then connecting them with appropriate support, as well as enabling contact with other businesses for advice, support and mentoring.

There are currently 39 growth hubs (one in each LEP area). You can find out more on the LEP network website.


Watch “A Matter of Life and Debt” on BBC iPlayer.

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