Smalls businesses benefit from more than just light touch support

16 August 2013

Natalie Blakeley was juggling working for a national chain of cosmetic clinics and two small children when it struck her that she wanted to set up her own business. “It seemed obvious to me,” says Natalie, 38, from Weybridge in Surrey. “I was a doctor specialising in cosmetic procedures having to travel the country a lot, working in an area where I knew I could set up by myself.”

Three years on from that moment in 2009, Natalie now runs the Light Touch Clinic in Guildford, specialising in a range of cosmetic procedures and employs four staff.

Natalie is also one of several women who are benefiting from the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses programme, which this year has launched for the first time in London. Designed to provide the very best in both practical business education and support to owners of small business and social enterprises which are seeking to grow, the programme in the capital is being delivered by business experts at University College London’s centre for entrepreneurship, UCL Advances.

The Light Touch Clinic had been up and running for just over two years when Natalie decided to apply for the programme. “I’m a doctor, not a business person,” says Natalie, “and I thought if I could do some more formal training, rather than just muddling along, it would help me massively with building my business.”

Natalie has already seen the benefits of the programme to maximise the growth of her business. “Starting the programme was really exciting – and now I’m beginning to realise why and how I should grow my business.

“I’m taking on new staff earlier than anticipated and have brought forward plans to buy new equipment, like a laser hair-removal machine, by nearly a year.”

Natalie’s advice for other entrepreneurs chomping at the bit to start their own businesses is to be realistic. “Not everyone is going to be as excited by your business idea as you are,” she says.

“You really need to think how an idea is going to work in reality, and sit down and write a business plan. Most important is having support from the people around you – I have two small children and I’m lucky to have a husband who is really supportive.”

Finally, if you don’t understand something or need help, look for it, says Natalie. “I’m still astounded all the support I’ve got from the programme is totally free. I’m making friends with other businesspeople and growing my business beyond anything I could have imagined.”

Tim Barnes, Director of UCL Advances, agrees. “There’s good support out there for people starting their own business but not enough for people who’ve gotten an idea off the ground successfully but have reached a stumbling block on how to grow further.

“Universities are well placed to bring together the elements of a practical programme to help small business leaders who are in that situation. We can combine our experience of teaching in supportive environments and bring in speakers and trainers from our networks who can share their knowledge and experience, too.”

With more support out there than ever to help them thrive, it seems the future’s bright for the Light Touch Clinic and hundreds of other small businesses like it.

Visit the Light Touch Clinic website www.lighttouchclinic.co.uk

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