Public to Private: Can You Start Your Own Business?

“The private sector has not responded to public sector layoffs by rejoicing at the sight of a shrinking government and embarking on a hiring spree.”  Paul Krugman, Nobel prize-winning economist and New York Times columnist.

Self-employment may be the only option for those who can’t find a new job in the public sector or make a transition to private. If you set aside interim roles or consultancy – which may be suitable if you’re the right sort of person – a business start-up could be the answer. But do you have what it takes to make a go of it?

Ask an expert

I spoke with Hilary Farnworth, Manager of the Centre for Micro Enterprise (CME) at London Metropolitan Business School. The CME programme was designed to take absolute beginners and turn them into business owners. CME has helped over 700 women – many from the public sector – to start small businesses. Hilary says, “It takes strong determination and passion to succeed. Typically, someone will use expertise developed in their previous career, or they build a business based on a hobby or special interest.”

Hilary introduced me to Sue Scott-Horne, who is 62 years of age and an enthusiastic alumnus of CME. Sue credits Hilary Farnworth as her inspiration and the person who set her on the road to success.

How did she get started?

Sue had no start-up experience and she lacked confidence – two common problems for those in mid-life who have always had mainstream employment. Attending Hilary’s course was the beginning of Sue’s business education. At CME, she encountered other women in a similar situation and felt connected. With Hilary’s encouragement, Sue took additional business courses at the British Library, and she joined the British Association of Women Entrepreneurs which gave her the opportunity to meet Peter James. Over lunch, Peter listened to Sue’s business idea and convinced her she was on to something.

The big idea

With 25 years in education – 13 on the front line and 12 in senior management – Sue decided to use her knowledge and experience to start EGAR (Educational Games And Resources). The idea sprang from her concern about teenage murders in London. Sue felt she had to do something to make a difference, so she developed a series of 25 card games to help teenagers talk about issues ranging from sexuality to gang violence and knife crime. Suitable for educators, youth workers and parents, the games can also be used for one-to-one assessment and crisis intervention.

“Education is a difficult market,” says Sue, but she reckons she’s begun to crack it. EGAR will be in profit next year. Sue’s goal is to make the company the market leader in teenage education resources. At the moment, the main obstacle is funding for marketing. She is also seeking a mentor to help take her to the next level.

Sue Scott-Horne is a great example of someone who created a company based on passion and previous experience. She has huge amounts of determination and enthusiasm for her business. Her age, sex, and public sector background were not the impediments she thought she had when she started.

Look into it

What do you feel passionate about? If you think you have a business idea, ask yourself these questions: Who would buy your product or service? Why would they buy it from you?

The next step is to seek advice. Business courses are an excellent start.

Further info:

Starting in October 2012, The Centre for Micro Enterprise is offering a paid course for men and women, led by Hilary Farnworth:

“Business Start Up Success and Survival” with 8 x 2 hour sessions at London Metropolitan University.

For information and application details contact either Hilary Farnworth on 0207 320 1573 or or Lucy Timms on 0207133 3675

If you’re struggling with your decision, my book FINDING WORK AFTER 40 includes an excellent chapter on starting your own business.


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