Life as an entrepreneur isn’t without its challenges. The past two years in particular have demanded that founders show great resilience, determination and innovation, often in the face of uncertainty.
But there are many upsides to running your own business – and four in 10 UK workers say they’d like to start their own venture one day, according to a survey by market research company DJS Research. Another poll found the most popular reasons for doing so among would-be entrepreneurs were because they wanted to work for themselves, to focus on a passion, and because they don’t like being told what to do. Others see self-employment as a way to spend more time with family.
Small business founders can often enjoy more freedom to write their own rules, take control of their schedules and choose their own pace. But to make the most of this potential flexibility, you need to build it into your business, for instance by taking advantage of services that can give you freedom to scale up or down as demand determines. The car-sharing service Zipcar has helped many businesses adopt this approach when it comes to transportation. Here’s how it is helping three entrepreneurs embrace that flexibility and self-determination.
‘I couldn’t afford £20,000 for a van. But I could afford £10 an hour’
Coming from the West Country, Jono Lipfriend has always been a big fan of cider. When he moved to London post-university, he found the local offering sadly lacking. So he decided to make it himself. “I got a job as a barman at a local brewery and then pestered them until they let me become a brewer,” says Lipfriend. “I did all my training and then quit to start Against the Grain Cidery in 2019.”
It’s been a funny few years to start a brewery – “I didn’t imagine an instance where every pub, restaurant and bar in the UK would shut” – but he’s since built a loyal customer base London-wide, and as far afield as Cornwall and Manchester. He admits the biggest challenge is managing cashflow, particularly because he has to pay for apples and other ingredients upfront. But being an entrepreneur has given him freedom and allowed him to indulge his creativity too. He was inspired, for example, to create a limited edition batch of London cider, with apples sourced from the city’s trees. “I cycle around on my bike and knock on doors when I see someone has an apple tree in their garden,” he says. “Then I come back with my Zipcar van. Last year, I got about 300kg of apples from someone’s tree.”
Access to flexible transport has been essential for Lipfriend as he’s built the business. As pubs and restaurants reopened after the pandemic lockdown, he started to deliver kegs citywide once a week. “I couldn’t afford £20,000 for a van but I could afford £10 an hour. I don’t think we’d be able to do what we do now without Zipcar.” He likes the certainty of the fuel, congestion charge and insurance all being included in one price, and how helpful the customer service team is. “I once had a nail in my tyre and didn’t realise until I was halfway across London. The team were very understanding and helped me sort it immediately.”
‘It gives me time back in my day’
Founder of The Fit Biz Coach, Jayne Nisbet, was once a champion high jumper. But when she retired from professional sport after competing at the Glasgow Commonwealth Games in 2014, she decided to focus on building her personal training (PT) business. She had more than 40 clients a week and hired another coach to help her, but felt there was a limit on how big her business could grow. “The internet was around but there wasn’t much social media. I wanted to do online coaching but there wasn’t the technology there is now,” she says.
Eventually, she moved to London and worked directly with gyms and personal trainers on their business strategies. She’s rebranded herself as a consultant, helping fitness instructors differentiate themselves, developing a proper marketing strategy and business plan. “PTs are so busy every day, you’re trying to juggle loads of different things, you’re trying to figure out how you’re going to get the next client. It’s a bit of a dog-eat-dog world, everyone’s competing,” she says.
For her, the biggest challenge as an entrepreneur has been time. “You’re always networking and trying to be available. If I can meet people face-to-face, I really try to, because that’s how you build the best relationships.” She uses Zipcar a lot – driving to meetings or just popping into the gym for an early morning workout session. “It might take 45 minutes off the journey for me, compared to taking public transport,” she adds. “It gives me time back in my day, which obviously as an entrepreneur, is everything. Plus you get your own headspace to process your thoughts. You can just get in, put on your own music, and drive.”
‘It’s been a gamechanger’
With a degree in international relations and a family history of winemaking, New Zealander Will Jack probably didn’t expect to be one of the first to open a specialist craft beer shop in London. But he and co-founder Tom McKim did just that in 2014. “All of these new London craft breweries were starting to emerge, but there weren’t dedicated places that you could go in and buy beer in the same way that you might buy wine,” says Jack. “We were really well received and busy from day dot.”
Fast-forward eight years and the duo have built something of a business empire under the Clapton Craft umbrella, with nine stores dotted around London. Growth has been steady, but not without its challenges. “Growing without investment is tough,” Jack adds. “There were points where Tom and I had four or five shops but we were still doing 30 hours each in the stores.”
The biggest site, the Clapton Craft Depot opened in 2020 and operates as a hub for the other eight sites. The team now buys pallets of beer directly from breweries, gets them delivered to the depot and then splits the order across the other eight stores using Zipcar. “As we’ve gotten bigger, our buying power has been that much better,” says Jack, which has meant more competitive pricing for customers. Having access to wheels also came in handy during lockdown, when Clapton Craft offered free overnight delivery to customers living within seven postcodes in London. “We had about six or seven people on our Zipcar account, who were coming in, loading up a Zipcar van to the brim and delivering door-to-door,” he says.
He admits they have considered getting their own electric van but local parking issues and a nine-month lead time put them off making the leap. “Every now and then I do the math to see if it would be worth having our own van, but Zipcar is really simple. It’s just so easy, especially when there are so many other moving parts within the business. It’s genuinely been a gamechanger.”
With more than 3,000 cars and vans available via its app, using Zipcar for your business gives you convenient, on-demand flexible access to vehicles, whenever you need it