|Marie Farmer receives her award|
Marie developed the Mini Mealtimes App which allows parents with fussy-eating toddlers and new mums to wean their children onto solid food, and to gain a clear idea of how much nutrition their child is absorbing. Marie received £3,000 in prize money and will receive ongoing mentoring to grow and develop her business. The 28-year-old, who came up with the business idea during her maternity leave, said: “ I’m so pleased to have won this award, as the prize money and ongoing mentoring will really help me develop my business idea further “The support you receive throughout the process is wonderful. I would definitely encourage anyone with a business idea to enter the competition next year. It gives you an extra boost of confidence and will validate your idea.”
My family have run small businesses in Mill Hill since the 1940's. My parents started a business in Bunns Lane works in Mill Hill to make chairs for the Festival of Britain in 1951, they then started to manufacture reflectors for cars, when they were made compulsory for cars. From this, my father got into the crash repair business and ran a crash repairer called Mac Metals in Bunns Lane Works, Mill Hill until 1984, when he retired. My parents bought the freehold to their business in 1977. Both of my elder brothers worked in the business in the 1970's. In 1979, my eldest brother started his own business "Bunns Lane Welding Ltd". He is the one person in Mill Hill who loves Potholes, as he repairs broken alloy wheels and is doing a roaring business. Shortly before Laurie started his business, my own studio business was formed. Unlike my brother, I didn't start it with any plan for a business. I just needed a place to rehearse. The business grew organically over the years. Now we employ 12 people, some are students struggling to survive with debts and student loans. We've employed several people with long term industrial injuries over the years. We share our estate with a dozen or so other businesses, there is a car steam cleaners, a fitness company, a party facilities company, a fabricator, a crash repairer, a couple of mechanics, a hair products company which specialises in products for African ladies, a tree surgeon, a kitchen design company, a builder, a tree surgeon, a cardboard box supplier and a reggae sound system company, to name a few.
The way small businesses work has changed beyond recognition. In the early 1970's my father employed enough people in his business to run a football team. There were three ladies in his office doing the books, invoicing and sorting out the billing. The chap who runs the crash repair business employs five people and does all the billing himself. IT, power tools etc mean that far less people are needed to do the same work. Whilst most of the work my Father did was for insurance companies, now they run a virtual closed shop and the work is all private, people not wanting to lose their no claims bonus.
As for my brother's welding business. When he started, it was fixing rustbuckets for old ladies who's cars had failed MOT's. Now it is all alloy wheels and classic car restorations. My studio business is no longer sweaty, hairy rock and rollers, who roll up with ciggies and beers. Probably 50% is lessons, dance and photography, the ciggies have long been banished to the wild outdoors! Bands no longer unload crates of beer before they unload their guitars. Most rehearsals are "dry", as people want to work efficiently.
To survive as a small business owner, you have to adapt. When we saw the upsurge in interest in X-Factor, Pop Idol and Britains got talent, we realised that we had to change or die. We built a new, purpose built studio block, with modern facilities which was accessible. The business has thrived ever since. in March we saw double the number of sessions we'd had in March 2013. This is the payback for our hard work and investment. As well as our staff of 12, there are 30 other people who indirectly rely on our studios to make a living, we have a ballet school, private tutors, a violin school and all manner of other people using the facilities as a key part of their business.
Mill Hill is a great place to start a business. The transport links are great, the high street has excellent cafe's for impromptu meetings and there are plenty of like minded people, who are there to support you. If you are interested in starting a business and want some help, come along to Cafe Buzz next month for the networking session and have a chat, as Marie has shown, if you put the work in and have the ideas, it can change your life for the better.