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UKBF helps to solve the challenges associated with owning and building a small business via resources, podcasts, videos and networking.
Richard Osborne (pictured above) is the founder and CEO of UK Business Forums (UKBF). Since its formation in 2003, every month over 270,000 company founders turn to UKBF for peer-to-peer support and guidance as they develop and grow their businesses. We sat down with Richard to find out more.
What is UK Business Forums and why is it important?
When my daughter was born, paternity leave wasn’t really a thing. The day I became a dad for the first time, I was at work and my wife rang me to say her waters had broken. I dropped everything, fled the office and started my two-hour motorbike ride home from Camberley to Luton. We went to the hospital together, my daughter was born and just like that I was back at work. I only had one day off work.
For the next six months, I left for work at around 5am in the morning and didn’t get back home again until 10pm at night. My days were long and gruelling and the little time that I was at home was spent sleeping. I only saw my daughter in her cot at night and my weekends were spent asleep because I was completely and utterly exhausted. It’s fair to say the situation was far from ideal for any of us and that is one of the main reasons I started my own business. Of course, I was earning the money to pay the mortgage and put food on the table, but I wasn’t present.
I started my own business when my daughter was six-months-old. It was a very lonely and scary place having no one around to ask questions to, people to bounce ideas off, peers to speak to about worries and problems. UK Business Forums became a lifeline to me. It was a safe space, somewhere that I could speak to people in the same situation as myself, running their own businesses.
Today, UK Business Forums has over 270,000 small and micro-business owners in its community who come together to ask questions, share experiences and support each other to start and grow. I strongly believe that there are no new questions in business, but it can be difficult to know where to look for answers, particularly in the noisy world of social media. UK Business Forums helps cut through that noise with its library of small business guides and resources and it offers a supportive community environment to help anyone who is starting, or thinking about starting, a new business.
What are the biggest issues you’re targeting at the moment?
I’m concerned about how there is such a lack of financial management and business life skills education in schools. You can learn how to create a great marketing poster, but you don’t learn how to do your self-assessment tax return. You learn how to do your eight times table, but you don’t learn how to plan for interest rate changes on your mortgage repayments. It worries me that every year, around 10,000 16 to 17-year-old children choose to start their own business rather than go to college, but they haven’t learnt any of those essential business skills in secondary school. Where can they go for advice on their legal obligations on running a business? When we see the state of financial illiteracy in young people, I worry about the next generation. Especially with the ease in which it is possible to get into debt, an issue that has existed for years now.
What do you think is the current state of family-friendly policies in UK business?
We’re in a period of change at the moment with legislation and generational opinions. The two come together and sometimes it is complementary and sometimes it’s not. As horrible as it has been, I feel as though the pandemic has brought ‘family’ to the forefront of work/life balance conversations in a way that it wasn’t before. Before COVID-19, when would it have felt safe and acceptable to juggle your day around school runs, childcare and family time? It would have been a rare occurrence for a working father to say to their employer that they were going to spend the afternoon with their children, so they’ll catch up with their work later. During the pandemic, that became normal and we have seen that it can work!
I remember one of my early Zoom meetings with, who I very quickly realised, a working dad. The meeting started and we were just introducing ourselves to each other, but then he quickly announced, “I need to go! My daughter has just peed on the floor!”. He then just cut off the call. I sat there, staring at the screen for a moment, then laughed in the realisation that this was now normal. We have all been forced to adapt, work in ways and situations that we would never have even considered and out of that has come a different level of support and understanding.
What would you like to see change in terms of flexibility and parental leave?
I’m wary of imposing changes in legislation to force change. I think employers need to be encouraged to appreciate and value flexibility and parental leave. We have seen how increased flexibility around working days can be successful and employers must continue to develop and adopt flexible working policies in their organisations.
The pandemic has pushed through an era of change. Looking back at how many businesses were forced to adapt and change their approach and attitudes towards flexible working, and also reflecting on what that has done for working families as a whole, I think it’s normalised balancing family time with work. Spending time with your children has moved up the list as a priority that’s recognised by employers. That is a good thing. I really hope it stays that way.
What governmental policy changes do you think need to happen moving forward for UK business in the wake of Covid-19?
Small businesses up and down the country have had the roughest of rides over the past two years and they need every possible means of support to help them recover and move forwards. The Government coined a phrase calling small businesses the backbone of the UK economy, which shows how essential they are for this country. Many couldn’t survive the pandemic, but those that pivoted and adapted to change are the ones that did and they fared the best of all. In the wake of the pandemic, various programmes and schemes have been set up to support small businesses, and there has been a lot of talk about plans to ‘Level Up’ the country. These plans and policies must not just be empty words. What needs to happen next is action.