The attached transcript was typed from a recording and not copied from an original script. Because of the risk of mishearing and the difficulty in some cases of identifying individual speakers



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THE ATTACHED TRANSCRIPT WAS TYPED FROM A RECORDING AND NOT COPIED FROM AN ORIGINAL SCRIPT. BECAUSE OF THE RISK OF MISHEARING AND THE DIFFICULTY IN SOME CASES OF IDENTIFYING INDIVIDUAL SPEAKERS, THE BBC CANNOT VOUCH FOR ITS COMPLETE ACCURACY.

IN TOUCH
Self-employment
TX: 18.09.12 2040-2100
PRESENTER: PETER WHITE
PRODUCER: LEE KUMUTAT

White

Good evening. Be your own boss. Sounds attractive doesn't it - no one to nag you, no one to sack you and especially when you consider that according to the RNIB's latest figures only just over one in three of blind or partially sighted people of working age has a job.


So if you're visually impaired how realistic an option is self-employment?
Well practical enough to justify a conference on the subject in Paris last weekend, organised by the European Blind Union - they represent organisations of blind people. Well Wai-man Leung from Action for Blind People was there and you weren't actually there just as an observer were you, explain what you were doing there.
Leung

I was there as the manager of Vision in Enterprise, which is an Action for Blind People project to let people know that vision impaired people can be successful in business and also to provide the means for advisors of vision impaired people to actually develop their businesses.


White

Okay, well stay with us as we try to tease out how you get started, how you keep going and what kind of help there is for you. First of all what kind of jobs lend themselves to this kind of approach - here's a sample of the jobs some of you told us about.


Mansfield

My name's Marion Mansfield, I'm totally blind, I'm an aromatherapist and I'm self-employed. And I have some backup in the form of a lovely support worker who can drive me to clients who I visit in the community.


Ankin [phon]

Hi my name's Gary Ankin, I'm visually impaired and have been self-employed for the last nine years running my own audio transfer business where we take things like 70 rpm records, such as the one playing in the background, and clean up the sound to get them something like this:


Music
Barnfather [phon.]

Hello, this is Neil Barnfather. I'm totally blind and the chief executive and owner of an insta hosting business.


White

Well with me in the studio are two more people who've gone it alone - first Steph Cutler, your company's called Making Lemonade, not much of a clue there since you don't actually make lemonade, explain what you do do.


Cutler

My business is a personal and professional development training and coaching business.


White

How do you find your customers or do they find you?


Cutler

Networking, getting out there meeting people, lots of marketing, lots of promotion and yeah word of mouth these days.


White

And how long have you been at it?


Cutler

I've been at it - I think I'm in my eighth year, coming up to my ninth year, something like that.


White

So you should have a pretty good handle on the pros and the cons?


Cutler

Should do.


White

Okay. And Paul Nicol you've only just started up with I Can Experiences - what's that?


Nicol

It's a gift experience provider, so gift experience days for primarily or squarely aimed at people with disabilities. So we offer activities such as tandem skydivers, bungee jumps, white-water rafting, falconry, pamper days and more...


White

But when you say you offer them, you check them out - that's what you do - for visually impaired people.


Nicol

That's absolutely right, so yes we're sort of, if you like, a middle man - I go and work with operators of those activities, go and make sure that they're up for working with people with disabilities, understand what disabilities they can work with, what their facilities are like - disabled parking, disabled toilets - put it on the website for people with disabilities trying to find those kind of activities.


White

Then again do people ask you to do this, I mean I want to know how you make money out of this?



Nicol

So to be blunt I make money through - based on - we're on a commission, so everything I sell I make commission out of.


White

You have to get them with your publicity to approach you to ask you for this service really?


Nicol

At the moment it's very much me approaching operators, I have had many people approach me now through the publicity that we've been doing, saying can we come on board, we'd love you to add our activity on, which is great.


White

Wai-man Leung, quite a range of jobs there, so how typical are those examples because it sounds to me that people like Steph and Paul and the people have had to be pretty imaginative in coming up with the jobs they want to do.


Leung

Things have moved on from what people would consider working in say factories for their typical things such as a piano tuner or aromatherapist, now I find that people are in a very, very broad range of work - construction, the internet, financial things like accountancy - so I think it's much broader and much more open to people's imagination.


White

Let's hear another personal story, someone who's opted to run a company in what you might call a more traditional area although not traditional for visually impaired people, that's Seema Flower, she's been in the hairdressing business for the past nine years and I went to talk to her at her newly opened salon.


Flower

When my eyes started to deteriorate about nine or 10 years ago - I've got retinitis pigmentosa - and I was working for the RNIB as an education officer and I really felt as though I wanted to get out and do something for myself and run my own business, I wanted to be in control because when you're working for somebody else it's a bit more difficult. So Martin and I discussed it and we wanted to go into the service industry. It's been the making of myself I think and it's taught me a lot and I wouldn't go back, I wouldn't change things.


White

Why hairdressing?


Flower

Well we wanted to have a business that would be slightly recession proof because everybody wants to get their hair done.


White

What did you know about the business?


Flower

Very little but thinking about people like Richard Branson he didn't need to fly a plane, he was able to just make his business work the way he did.


White

As far as financial advice was concerned that was presumably - you got that in exactly the same way that anyone else would?


Flower

Yeah, by going to the bank. And the thing is I think people probably find it quite surprising when you're in a business and hairdressing is a very sexy, very visual business but the thing is that people are fine, I mean obviously when I'm sitting down people don't actually know that I've got a visual impairment, it's only when I get up and use my white cane that people actually realise I've got a visual impairment.


Actuality - Hairdressers

Are you comfortable there?


Yes fine, good.
How's that water?
Yeah that's fine.
White

Just explain what you actually do?


Flower

I used to do a little bit of reception, that sort of thing, beforehand when my sight was better but as my eyesight's deteriorated quite a lot in the last three years I'm more to do with the personnel, the planning, purchasing, budgeting and just sort of the running of the business behind the scenes.


White

I mean what about looking at balance sheets, working out what your forward planning - that kind of thing - how do you do that?


Flower

I do that with the use of a support worker and technology.


White

And do you get any financial help with that, I mean there are things like Access to Work for example, have you used that?


Flower

I have tapped into Access to Work and they've been brilliant. I think that is essential support that the person would need if they're thinking of going into running their own business as a visually impaired person.


White

So what sort of things have you got from them.


Flower

Some equipment, mostly support worker because a lot of the printed materials that you need to access, like pricelists and supply magazines etc., cannot be produced in a format that's accessible, so the reader support is really, really important for me.


Actuality - Hairdressers

Okay how many colours did we have on Saturday?


Fifteen.
Fifteen colours?
Yeah.
Wow that was good wasn't it. And Friday - Friday?
Twelve.
Twelve okay, okay that's brilliant, okay thank you very much.
White

You talked about purchasing and so forth, so this means knowing how a product works, what you're using in terms of shampoos or so forth, does the visual element come into that at all, you want to see how effective something is?


Flower

My perk is getting a couple of blow dries a week when I'm in, so I'd say to [indistinct word] let's try that product on my hair. Obviously if a rep's come in and shows the product then I would actually say let's have a smell of that, if it's an oil you put it on your palm or the back of your hand and feel the texture of it but usually it's by trying it myself and getting the feel of it.


White

Have you used any of the other organisations? You've told us about Access to Work, there are of course visual impairment organisations around, you've worked for them, have you needed any support help from them?


Flower

Not really no. Sometimes I think some of these organisations can be quite sort of slow in getting information and I think my personality and then the fact of running a business you need information instantaneously almost, you can't hang around waiting for information. And so my route is if I can't get it through an organisation that special to visual impairment then I'll go somewhere else to get what I need.


White

Would you say you are quite impatient?


Flower

I wouldn't say I'm impatient I would say I'm efficient.


White

Seema Flower. Wai-man Leung, am implication there that the specialist organisations were often perhaps a bit slow to react, what would you say to that?


Leung

I would say that Seema seemed really well equipped to deal with some of the issues by herself, so that's really good. But there are other people who need that support from a specialist organisation so I'm talking about things like just getting some support to get somewhere or to enable them to get information in the formats they want and Action for Blind People can help people do that, specialist organisations to deal with a vision impairment have a place.


White

Steph Cutler, I mean you sound confident and well skilled but did you need help and is the help available?


Cutler

Yeah I certainly accessed every piece of help I could find back when I was starting out. I had no experience of running a business before and apart from looking into how viable my idea was I also had to look into what running a business entailed. And I actually accessed mainstream support in my local area and I also accessed support that was available for visually impaired people and I found they were - gave me different things and they were both very valuable.


White

As a part of your job, as I understand it, some of that is talking to people, perhaps who do have aspirations to do this kind of thing or maybe are doing it, what's your feeling about what help's available at the moment?


Cutler

Sadly I think some of the support that used to be available for disabled people and visually impaired people around enterprise simply isn't there anymore, it has been quite significantly reduced and I do think that's a shame because whilst we all live in a big bad world and we need to be part of that world, very much so, I think there is a place for specialist support for some of the things that is specific to our needs as visually impaired people.


White

Is this agency support that you're talking about or is it direct government help that you think is less available?


Cutler

I think actually the support for the specialist visually impairment type support is less so and possibly some of the others as well, some of the courses I know that I went on back in the day simply don't exist, not in the same way as they did then and I think that actually I found that extremely useful in many, many ways in order to get myself in a position to be able to start a business.


White

Right and Paul you're the one who's done it most recently what did you find as far as getting help was concerned?


Nicol

Yes the support that is available is for me relatively limited.


White

Where did you get help from?


Nicol

Well I got Action for Blind and in fact Wai-man was there to help me right at the beginning when I was putting together a business plan and then there's Business Link, which is a government run scheme, which is an online resource now, it used to be much more - you'd get to speak to a business consultant but they've - I think there's again money - turned it into a complete online service now, so less useful. So yeah for me primarily support came from Wai-man. I'm lucky enough to have some support within my family - my parents are bookkeepers, so they know numbers - which is helpful for me and my father-in-law is a retired business consultant, so again those are two very, very important things that I've had help with.


White

Well Seema also mentioned Access to Work, this is a long running government scheme which makes grants for equipment and services which help disabled employees to compete in a mainstream environment. There's a perception amongst some visually impaired people that this hasn't always been available to self-employed people. Basil Rodrigues is Access to Work advisor manager and he explains how the process works.


Rodrigues

The Access to Work advisor works very closely with the individual and their employer and draws up a tailored programme of support. It is available for people who are in paid employment, unemployed and about to start work, unemployed and about to start a work trial and it's available for self-employed people.


White

Explain the kind of things that you can fund for self-employed people.


Rodrigues

Okay some of the examples that we've done to help, for example a self-employed management consultant received funding for travel to and from work, also received funding for travel within work, the person needed a personal reader, a large monitor, CCTV portable and GPS software for mobile phones.


White

I realise every case is going to be dealt with on its merits but can you just explain what the rough criteria for getting funding are if you are self-employed?


Rodrigues

Access to Work would not fund initial set up costs or standard equipment that a business would require to run. Anything additional that's related to a health condition or a disability Access to Work would fund up to 100% of any solutions that's identified for that individual.


White

And at what point can you do that because of course for some people - some people will say well it's in the process of setting up that I need your help. This might be someone who hasn't got even a computer, may have no specialist access software.


Rodrigues

The criteria for a self-employed person would be is when they're about to start the business.


White

But would they have actually had to have earned any money yet?


Rodrigues

We wouldn't necessarily be looking at finance on that basis; the important thing here is that they're not in receipt of any benefits like employment support allowance or incapacity benefit which would disqualify them from receiving Access to Work.


White

Right, actually I was going to ask about that, some people are concerned about losing a vital benefit, so what does permitted work, which is a kind of technical term, mean in this context?


Rodrigues

Well permitted work is when an individual has been given permission to do some employment under restricted rules and continue receiving their benefit. Access to Work can fund individuals that have been given permission to do this and we will provide funding up to 52 weeks.


White

So if you are someone who's thinking of going into business what kind of thing would you have to demonstrate in order to convince Access to Work that you would justify their help?


Rodrigues

Generally I suppose anyone setting a business will have a business plan and also then provide us information on how that will generate an income for them.


White

Basil Rodrigues of Access to Work and we'll have information about how you can apply for that both on our phone in and our website. Steph Cutler, you've got quite a lot of experience of being self-employed, you also talk to other people so what's your overall impression of Access to Work?


Cutler

My personal experience of Access to Work has been really good from the start and throughout, I have no complaints, I actually probably couldn't have started my business easily or at all without it.


White

Paul, have you used Access to Work?


Nicol

Yes, I think my experience overall is similar to Steph's, it has been very good. I think where I had a small challenge initially which was when I was in the start-up phase for my business I was needing to travel around to go and see operators and suppliers before we were able to start trading and that took a little bit of convincing initially but eventually we got there. I had to supply business plans, sales forecasts, so on and so forth and actually make a good case for why it was that I needed some support with that travel as it wasn't just purely a start-up expense.


White

Wai-man Leung, it's not just about financial help, I mean it's about support, introductions to people in the same business, all that kind of thing. I mean I suppose what I really want to know is you had this conference over the weekend, anything that's come out of that that is actually going to make a difference to people like Steph, like Paul and the other people we've heard?


Leung

The project I'm working on - Vision in Enterprise - has a toolkit which would help people go self-employed and be successful at it.


White

When you say a toolkit who's that for, is that actually for the people who want to go self-employed themselves?


Leung

It's a toolkit for people who support people who want to go self-employed, so it supports the visually impaired entrepreneur.


White

Yeah but the worrying thing is we've heard from Steph that that's tending to disappear, so shouldn't the toolkit go directly to the individuals?


Leung

There are people who are visually impaired and they have really good skills and they're quite close to the job market or being self-employed. I'm thinking about people who are sort of further back from that and they need more of the skills specifically supporting the sight loss, so I think there it's slightly different.


White

Steph.
Cutler

Starting a business is taking a big plunge for anybody and I think there are certain things that you need to have - you need support, of course, nobody achieves anything alone, we all need some support and some of us need some specific support. But actually I think enterprise is a little bit different because unless you've got it in you somewhere, even if it's hidden down somewhere quite deep, to be able to take that plunge, have the guts to do it and then to keep trying and keep trying and not worry if you fail and to get back up again and do all of those things that's the mark of somebody who is enterprising.
White

I just want to ask Paul and Steph to finish, if there was one thing that would help what would it be? Paul.


Nicol

I think the key thing is to have confidence and belief and determination.


White

Steph.
Cutler

If I had to just say one thing that you can't know too many people. And actually when I started my business I didn't actually have a lot of money, what I needed more than money was contacts.
White

We'll have to leave it there on a nice positive note - Steph Cutler, Paul Nichol, Wai-man Leung - thank you very much indeed.


As a follow up to this we'd like to look in more detail at some of the ideas people are coming up with so do keep telling us about your ventures - the successes and the failures - you can call our actionline for 24 hours after this broadcast, the number is 0800 044 044 or you can e-mail intouch@bbc.co.uk. And there's a free download of tonight's programme from the website available from tomorrow. From me, Peter White, producer Lee Kumutat, and the team, goodbye.





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