200,000 Customers - Surveying the country's small businesses

This month Simply Business welcomed its 200,000th customer.

Small businesses are at the heart of the British economy, continually demonstrating versatility and skill in the face of increasing economic adversity. They are also a diverse bunch. No two small businesses are the same – and it is this that makes the UK’s SMEs so exciting.

In celebration of our milestone, we invited our customers to tell us some more about themselves – about the origins of their business, their achievements, and the challenges they face. You can read the stories of our winner and finalists here.

[View our finalists][1]

As we read through the results, some patterns began to emerge. There were threads connecting many of the responses, even when the businesses in question seemingly had little in common.

In particular, we found that there were several common factors cited as reasons why small business owners started their ventures. We have explored these reasons below.

Can you identify with any of the stories here? What led you to start a business? Let us know in the comments.


With the jobs market in such dire straits, it is unsurprising that redundancy appeared as one of the most common kickstarters for entrepreneurship. Across the country, enterprising Brits are taking redundancy and turning it into a life-changing positive.

Ian Birtwell, now an educational consultant, had enjoyed a 37-year career in teaching he was laid off. “I had built up a depth and breadth of experience,” he says. “Being made redundant, as part of the local government cut-backs, I felt I still had a lot to offer.”


Issues of health are a common factor in many decisions to set up a business. A large number of our customers became entrepreneurs following an accident or illness that rendered them unable to continue in their previous career. Others were looking for a lifestyle change that would enable them to spend more time caring for a relative – and others still were encouraged to follow a long-term ambition following the death of a loved one.


The desire for a better work-life balance is a common motivation, and family is a paramount concern. Many small business owners decided to set up in business to enable them to dictate their own, more flexible working hours, while others chose self-employment after a long period out of work following childbirth.

“I spent years looking after my children as a single mum of five,” says graphic designer Donna Read. “I went on several courses over six years and eventually gained a graphic design degree.”

Accidental entrepreneurship

Some small business owners didn’t set out to be entrepreneurs at all. Instead, what began as a hobby gradually blossomed into a full-time pursuit.

This is a particularly common story in the creative industries. Many self-employed jewellers, cake decorators, and photographers set out doing it for love, rather than money – but ultimately, following encouragement from friends and family, ended up making a career of it.

Photographer Michael Knapp’s story is typical. “Very recently I was asked to do my best friend’s sister’s wedding as a wedding present,” he says. “I accepted, and this led to a friend of the bride enquiring if they could book me as well, on a professional basis. This was the final push to set myself up as a wedding photographer.”


Finally, in true entrepreneurial fashion, many self-employed people simply see an opportunity and run with it. Particularly common are stories that involve a small business owner spotting a gap or an unexploited opening in the industry in which they already work, and then turning that into a business of their own.

For example, engineer Barry Wilson took a chance on his own product design, even when others wouldn’t. “I was introduced to the first battery motorised caravan mover,” he says, “which had serious limitations. I suggested to the manufacturer several ways of improving it. He rejected [them] as unworkable and unsaleable, and I had no choice but to market it myself.”

What led you to start a business? Let us know in the comments!

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