Ruth Evans owns and runs two businesses in Carmarthenshire, West Wales. I was very interested in her experiences and opinions having come to the world of business and entrepreneurship later in life
What brought you to the world of self-employment? Was it necessity or personal preference?
Both! It was a personal preference in as much as I had a need, a necessity, to not work for someone else anymore! Having spent many years working in the health sector, a role that is completely and utterly focused on the needs of other, usually vulnerable people, I was emotionally exhausted. The emotional demands of the job coupled with the horrendous level of bureaucracy meant I had to find another… um… way.
What do you think are the key personal attributes someone needs if they’re to be successful as a self-employed worker?
You need an unshakeable belief in yourself. Not arrogance as such, but a belief that you can do it. Of course there are doubts, sleepless nights and moments of sheer panic but there’s also excitement, anticipation… the allure of unfulfilled dreams!
And on a practical level?
Self-discipline is crucial, as is researching your idea thoroughly. There’s no point fussing around the edges, doing a little bit every couple of months. Even if you’re still working for someone else when you embark on the road to entrepreneurship, you pretty much have to set-aside most of your spare time to nurturing the idea or dream. I know so many people that have tinkered at the edges of their ambition for years! Nothing happens.
What are the pros and cons?
Control is a major advantage. OK, so there are always things that are beyond your control, but the general level of control you have over your own life is huge compared to working for someone else. For the first time ever, I started to feel that I actually “owned” [she actually does the quotation marks with her hands] my own life!
The downside is that you’re less protected. Less protected against the vagaries of the economy but also when it comes to holidays or illness – if you don’t work you don’t get paid… at least not in my case.
What are your experiences working with young people?
I haven’t had much experience employing young people. The work I’ve contracted to others has largely been suitable to an older demographic. However, there have been ‘odd jobs’, perhaps seasonal work or paid work experience where I’ve employed school-leavers and whilst they usually do an OK job, they don’t always have a sense of pride in what they’re doing: they’ll ‘do it’ yet try and exert as little effort as possible in the process! I appreciate it may be difficult to whip-up a lot of enthusiasm for something that appears to be a one-off or ‘just pocket money’, but they haven’t yet learnt to appreciate the personal satisfaction to be gained from a job well done, or that a good impression can lead to more opportunities and even recommendations to others in the business community.
If you could do it all again, is there anything you would do differently?
I’d have definitely made developing IT skills more of a priority! It’s difficult when you have very little personal interest in something. The Internet and social media are pretty crucial these days, I have to depend on others to deal with most of it. I suppose if I had to I’d pull my finger out and go on courses. Who knows, I may even not hate it?
In your experience, what do you think is the main cause of business failure?
There are so many! Some that are avoidable, others that are not. Sometimes, despite someone’s best efforts, it just unravels. However, I would think the quickest route to failure would be a lack of self-discipline or insufficient reinvestment.
If you could give a young entrepreneur one piece of advice, what would it be?
Beware the poisoned chalice that is the business grant! [We both laugh] No, seriously, some are great. Even though you have to jump through hoops to get them they are certainly worth looking at. Others are just non-starters.
Well, there is a scheme to ‘reward’ or support employers who take on apprentices, or grants that increase according to how many ‘extra’ people you employ. These are great IF you actually need these people but an absolute false economy if you don’t. I know of businesses that have taken on staff just to access the funding – it has cost them a lot of money and they end up having to let staff go because the work isn’t there for them.
Thank you so much for your time. I really appreciate it!
You’re very welcome.