From the top · 4 October 2017

Self-employment advice from satchel entrepreneur Julie Deane Take incremental steps

The Cambridge Satchel Company store launch
Deane’s independent review into self-employment was published in 2015
Cambridge Satchel Company founder Julie Deane spoke to Business Advice about the current state of self-employment in Britain and offered up the advice she wishes shed been given before stepping into the unknown of business ownership.

Julie Deane has come a long way since launching her ground-breaking leather satchel business, the Cambridge Satchel Company, from her kitchen table with a budget of just 600 in 2007.

In its first five years, the Cambridge Satchel Company grew into a 10m turnover business, employing more than 130 staff and selling handmade bags in more than 120 countries worldwide.

The brand has even gathered a loyal cult of celebrity followers, with the likes of Alexa Chung, Taylor Swift and Zooey Deschanel all having bought their own satchels.

So successful was her entrepreneurial journey that, in 2015, Julie Deane was asked by the government to head up an independent review into self-employment, something the mother of two told us she was honoured? to do.

Speaking exclusively to Business Advice, Deane outlined her thoughts on whether UK self-employed workers were currently able to cut a fair deal for themselves, and expressed her disappointment that successive governments have so far failed to implement many of the proposals laid out in her review.

I keep working hard to get some of the recommendations brought forward, Deane explained. What I wanted from the review was to put together a series of practical measures that would make things easier and more equitable for people following in my footsteps.

I made sure the recommendations could firstly be affordably done, and secondly make a real difference. Self-employed people now make up around 15 per cent of the entire workforce, so it’s something the government must come back to.

Many of the issues Deane attempted to address in her review continue to be a problem for the self-employed. Poor cash flow remains one of the biggest hurdles to starting your own business in the UK today, and a key measure of her review was to make flexible financial solutions more widely available for self-employed workers.

A distinct lack of publicly-available guidance and information on all aspects involved in launching a business was also picked up in Deane’s review as a major UK-wide challenge, and this is another area she feels the government has failed to make progress on over the last few years. It is also the main reason she said yes when asked this year to be Entrepreneur in residence? at the British Library.

Deane told Business Advice: If self-employed could access some of the resources that big companies have, it levels the playing field and makes rapid growth so much more available, and a real possibility.

libraries are places where people of all ages feel comfortable. If they become places where people come to access and share knowledge about self-employment, it’s another reason to keep libraries in local communities, where everyone can gain access. The resources here could be pushed out anywhere. The library system is so pervasive.

Julie Deane
Deane shared her advice at The British Library’s recent Start-Up Day
In addition to turning the country’s libraries into more accessible resources for entrepreneurs and the self-employed, Deane also advocated a shake-up of the education system so that it places a greater emphasis on enterprise and teaches children some basic, practical aspects of business ownership from a far earlier age.

if 15 per cent of school children are some day going to become self-employed, doesnt it make sense to teach them what a balance sheet is, or how to read a profit and loss statement she asked.

because there isnt that education in place now, a lot of people come at it with the fear that self-employment is a path they can’t cope with, especially as they’re unlikely to be able to afford an accountant or a lawyer in the early days for advice.

the school curriculum hasn’t changed in such a long time, and young people arent being prepared for real life. How children can leave the education system with absolutely no knowledge of mortgages, or what the rate of APR means on the credit card they eventually take out, is shocking.

With the number of self-employed workers growing as a proportion of the workforce, Deane also suggested that enough isnt being done to emphasise the group’s diversity.

Far from consisting of high-flying young entrepreneurs, armed with polished Dragons? Den-style business pitches, the self-employed differ in terms of age, background, wealth and work experience, amongst many other factors.

In this way, the self-employed are a difficult demographic of worker to legislate for, in terms of employment protection, taxes and regulation.



Fred Heritage was previously deputy editor at Business Advice. He has a BA in politics and international relations from the University of Kent and an MA in international conflict from Kings College London.

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